I get questions from people who wonder how they would go about finding a good personal trainer. In the post Fitness Professional Smell I outlined a few important considerations. I have been asked to create a more refined list for people who may not have the experience in the industry or with people who stand to benefit from selling you something to put those tips to work.
The goal of this post is to help you interview your future trainer to unpack what they are all about and how they might be able to help you if there is agreement that you’ll work together. The tips will be broke down in two ways. The first is a list of things to ignore the second is a list of things to consider or ask. The ignore list is more important because the things that appear on the list take advantage of shortcuts we’ve created to help with problem solving or decision making. The term heuristic is used to describe these rules of thumb and they leave us vulnerable when someone uses one of them to circumvent logical thought. The list of things to consider or ask is only possible when we are thinking logically, or at all, so triggering a heuristics will fire an automatic response that will see us respond in a way that doesn’t necessarily represent our best interests or desires.
Things to ignore:
Social proof in terms of positive recommendations - how often do we see bad recommendations or testimonials? It is very rare that we’d read a testimonial that says “trainer was constantly late, and didn’t seem to value my time” or “trainer was verbally abusive, but there was an element of truth in what they said” or “coach knew everything and responded poorly to feedback. Their painful insecurity prevented them for hearing my questions as anything other than a personal criticism” or “I trained with them for 2 years and nothing ever happened. Apparently it’s my thyroid although my doctor says the blood tests show levels in normal ranges.” People who are seeking to grow their business will not use these types of customer testimonials to help enroll new clients. They use good or glowing ones so they are for all intents and purposes meaningless. You can put them to use for you by asking specific questions about about the person who gave the testimonial and then connect with them to find out if what was said by the trainer was true.
Beautiful things in the office or gym. This one is a little tougher to overlook. Multiple studies have drawn the conclusion that “what is beautiful is good.” Blond pretty women will get more tips than women who are less striking with darker coloured hair when the level of service rendered is controlled for. More attractive defendants will receive shorter prison sentence and those with greater physical beauty will be automatically viewed as having higher skill levels in other areas even before there is any information to judge. The two barbers puzzle is an example of the beautiful is good heuristic can lead us to the wrong conclusion. This doesn’t mean that you should seek out gyms with nothing but unhealthy people, but you should be aware that you’ll form an impression in the first 15 feet of a building and within 10 seconds of meeting someone and that this impression can be easily influenced. I suggest you ignore the first impression because sellers know how to manipulate it.
Things to ask:
- If you are having a consultation with a company, ask about the turn over rate for their trainers. Good trainers tend to stay with good companies and they tend to work for good leaders. If the staff are relatively new and no one has worked there for longer than a couple of years there may be a problem.
- Ask the seller, if they are not the person doing the training, why people leave the company and how many of them are still working as trainers. Negative experiences with a company are a key reason why people leave the fitness industry. If the leadership of a company doesn’t know what the people are doing now, that is also a big red flag that the workers left on bad terms. This does not mean that they are not skilled trainers, they just may not be very good at relationships with their staff.
- Ask how much the trainer will get paid if someone other than the trainer is selling you the sessions. Good trainers know their value and will seek out and stay working for companies that pay them what they are worth. If you are paying $75 per session and the trainer isn’t getting $45 to $50 of that, you are not likely to get full value for your money. A company does have a right to profit from the labour of their staff BUT the payment needs to be fair. If it isn’t, the staff will do sub par work.
- Ask the seller about the some of the mistakes they have made in the past and what they would do differently now. Intelligent people know that they are fallible and will readily admit these mistakes. They’ll accept that they know very little in the grand scheme of things and will rely on evidence to move their understandings forward. Be very aware of the trainers who know too much or lack the humility to learn from their mistakes.
- Ask the seller about the other ways they make an income, ask them if they recommend supplements and, if the answer is “yes”, ask directly do they sell supplements? ANYONE who sells the things they recommend CANNOT be trusted to offer objective advice about those things. Evidence based practitioners know about this conflict of interest and take appropriate steps to avoid it.
Do not be afraid to be very blunt or to challenge people about what they know and what they believe. Effective trainers know that there are a lot of under-qualified people in the industry and accept that potential clients should be skeptical. They’ll rise to occasion and give concise and honest answers to your questions. IF anything you say does the relationship in, it wasn’t going to be much of a relationship anyway.