Mike Roberston posted a fairly provocative blog post recently, entitled "Finding a Personal Trainer - 2 Questions You MUST Ask.
First, go read his blog and come on back here.
It's sparked a lot of comments, and it sparked some thought from me. I don't disagree with Mike Robertson on this, and I'm not trying to drum me up some blog hits by arguing with him. In fact, I think he's on the right track in getting people to question their personal trainer's qualifications. But I realized, I'd suggest people ask two somewhat different questions when they want to find a personal trainer.
First, I'd say that it's not necessary to be in the industry for five years to be a good trainer. If you insist on five years of experience before hiring someone to train you, aren't you essentially saying "learn on someone else"? If everyone did that, where would new guys get their experience? How long you've done something isn't always an indicator of your ability, just of your persistence. So, instead, I'd ask:
"What is your experience training people in general, and for my goals in specific?" If I've got 1 year of experience but it's all in fat loss training and you're looking for a fat loss trainer, we might be a good match. If I've got 6 years of experience training guys for MMA and you're an older woman looking to rehab a knee injury, maybe we're not. It's not how long I've been doing this, it's how long and how successfully I've been training people just like you.
Second, it's not that important to do this full time. I'm not working full time, but that doesn't mean my clients are getting a raw deal. They get the benefit of all of my (unpaid) study time, my own training, my prior experience. Does it really matter that I haven't assembled enough clients to pay my rent without another, non-training job? It doesn't to me - my own trainer doesn't just train me, he also does other work that isn't training people. My MMA coach isn't a full-time MMA coach, either, he's got other work that he does too. Does that make him a worse coach than a guy with a school full of kids paying the rent on the building? No, why should it? What's important to me with both of them is what they know, and how thoroughly they apply themselves to staying current. My S&C coach knows more about training MMA fighters than I do, despite me making it a point to learn everything I can about that subject. My MMA coach seems to watch every fight that occurs in every pro fight, and most of the amateurs that might fight his own fighters as well. That's the key - continuing education.
So I'd ask a different question. I'd ask:
"How do you stay abreast of current developments in training, and what kind of continuing education do you do?" If someone says, oh, I learned all this stuff in school, that's not adequate. You want someone who is reading blogs, online magazines, books, forums, and trade journals. You want someone who wakes up in the morning thinking about a better way to get your pullup numbers up or your body fat down. You want someone who, when you go to tell him or her about this "new thing" you heard about, can tell you more than you got from that news story. Or who read it already and has been applying what he or she learned. That is what matters. Job status isn't relevant, it's whether or not this person applies themselves to learning more. Fitness isn't a static field, so don't hire a static person.
I'm sorry this isn't as punchy as "5 years, full time" but in my opinion, this is what you want to ask.
Thanks to Mike Robertson for a thought-provoking post. This has been stuck in my mind since I read his post yesterday and I've been mulling this over since then. I'm going to count that as continuing education.
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