Whether you live in the Northampton, MA area or sunny California, whether you're male or female, young or "vintage"... When it comes to personal training (and gyms, fitness and exercise), there’s no one-size fits all. Like any good business relationship, for personal training to work, you need three key ingredients:

1.) Alignment of Your Needs and Personal Trainer’s Capabilities.

You need someone who’s the right match for you in terms of moral support, expertise, coaching, etc.  Most clients don’t need a lot of expertise, but they do need a baseline that will keep them training safely and keep them progressing in terms of fitness, abilities, wins, whatever their definition of success is based on their personal goals.

It can be hard for the layperson to be able to really assess a trainer’s competence. Here’s some things that can give you a clue:

  • PROPER PACING: Be wary of trainers who push too much in a first session(s). Working with a trainer who is more cautious (and caring about preventing injury) may feel like you’re not doing “enough” at first, but it’s a smarter and more sustainable way to train.

  • LEARNING: You should feel like you’re learning something: About technique, form, exercise. And hopefully about yourself!

  • COMMUNICATION: Good communication is key. Your trainer should be listening to you well and sharing knowledge with you. The basis for your training should start with a conversation about your goals. A good trainer will periodically initiate a check in about how you’re feeling about results, goals, etc. This doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. It can just be worked in at the beginning or end of a session. But it should happen.

  • BALANCE OF CHALLENGE AND SAFETY: You should feel like you’ve got the right balance of pushing your abilities and being confident and comfortable doing the exercises set before you. A “good kind of sore” is good. If you get injured, don’t automatically conclude you have a bad personal trainer. Exercise is always walking a line between pushing yourself enough, without overdoing it. But back to communication, a good personal trainer will pay attention to how your body is responding to exercises and adjust your workout design accordingly.
  • CORRECTIVE EXERCISES, MOBILITY & STABILIZATION: It’s not all about gung-ho power and lifting the heaviest weight possible. A good personal trainer who can help position you to be someone who can exercise for life. This means there’s attention given to fundamentals and form so that you’re body is, literally, positioned in a way to get the most out of the exercise with minimum chance of injury.

  • TRUST: Our gut instincts and our ability to make observations about what’s good and right for us (at a level that we’d never be able to articulate) are usually spot on. If you don’t feel like you trust your trainer, then trust your instincts and run! Find someone else.

  • PROFESSIONALISM: A good trainer should be professional, friendly, and “appropriate.” This isn’t a flirting session. It’s a working session.

  • CREDENTIALS: I put this one near the end because, even though it’s what people often look to, I don’t think it’s the most important thing on this list. The truth is, from trainers I’ve talked to, getting a certification is fine and dandy. But it’s nothing to the actual experience of training people. And that brings me to...

  • EXPERIENCE: Years of experience and number of clients worked with. Does this mean you should never work with a rookie? No it doesn’t mean that. But if you are working with a newer trainer who demonstrates the above, and just doesn’t have the years of personal training experience under their belt, then that trainer should be “apprenticing” or being overseen by a more senior personal trainer who does have the experience.

2.) Chemistry

You gotta like the person enough that you look forward to working with them on a regular basis (usually 1 to 3 times per week). And vice versa. This is key. I once saw a personal trainer at a different gym I was at who was so cynical and passive aggressive. I used to cringe when I saw him working with people. I kind of wanted to smack him, and I’m not a violent person. (If you don’t believe me, I’ll come to your house!)

3.) Budget Alignment

Rates being charged have to be affordable to you. It’s worth mentioning that most people think they can’t afford personal training. But if it’s something you’re really interested in, I’d challenge you to look at areas of your life where you can open up some affordability. Do you buy coffee at Starbucks every day? What else have you invested in for health and fitness and where has it gotten you? What's it cost you to be out of shape and unhealthy -- both now and in your future? When you look at the whole picture, the right personal trainer can get you better results in less time/money than you might have spent otherwise.

If you’re on the fence about 1-1 training, my advice? Give it a shot.

How do you find a trainer? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Word-of-Mouth - Ask people you know for referrals. You’d be surprised at the wealth of connections around you.
  • Try a personal trainer at your gym - If you’re already a member of a gym and you like it there, try out the personal training staff there. And don’t be afraid to try working with a few trainers to find the right match.
  • If you live or work in Easthampton, MA (or Northampton, MA or another neighboring town), you can’t go wrong with Fitness Fusion.

About Christine Mark

Living in Northampton, MA, Christine Mark is a Fitness Fusion founding member, 400-meter hurdler, track & field coach, indie author, blogger, dabbler of piano and singer/songwriting, web designer and co-founder of gravity switch, a Massachusetts-based web design & marketing agency that works with businesses, higher education and non-profits. She’s also a wife of 1, and a mom of 4.