You often hear that it’s a good idea to work with a fitness professional. Someone who can help you reach your goals. Someone that can teach you how to do the exercises that would benefit you. Someone to help you wade through the sometimes overwhelming world of fitness information. But how do you know if a fitness professional is good? What qualifies someone as “good”? If they are in better shape than you, is that enough? I realized that I often suggest FM readers connect with a fitness professional. I also realized, without giving at least a little direction as to how to go about looking for a fitness professional, I may be sending folks on a wild goose chase.
Well, reader, look no further. Actually, you may need to look a little further, but this will be a good start.
I reached out to my pal Keith Gacrama. He is a Strength Coach and Personal Trainer, as well as the owner of keithgacrama.com. The man knows his way around a fitness facility. He gets people strong, fast, and looking good. You name it. We chatted about the topic of what to look for in a fitness professional.
“Why should I work with fitness professional, anyway? I’ll just watch YouTube videos or follow a DVD!” You might say to yourself. Well, friend. Yes, you are right. There are lots of videos out there. The problem with watching a video and trying to copy it, is that it’s difficult to know if you’re doing the movement correctly. Even if you think you’re doing exactly what you are seeing, without a trained eye helping out, that’s rarely the case. Without knowing faults in your movement, you won’t be able to correct them. If you aren’t moving in a way that you should, you’re not being efficient with your movement. Also, without doing movements correctly, you risk injury. A fitness professional can help lower your risk of injury, while you progress towards your goals. “We’re only given one body. We need to make sure it’s running properly” explains Keith.
It’s important to note that simply because it seems that someone knows more about fitness than you do, doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best choice for a trainer or coach. Finding a professional who is certified is a great start. However, there are so many certifications, and so many ways to apply the information, there’s more to it. Keith suggests looking out for fitness professionals who can break explanations down into simple terms and movements. It’s not simply about using technical terms. It’s important for a trainer/coach to help you understand why you are doing what they have you doing. The more involved you are in what you’re doing; the more you understand WHY you’re doing it, the more likely you are to stay motivated and work hard to reach your goals.
A good conversation to have with a potential trainer/coach, is how they progress their client. Now, the goal that a person has, will determine the type of progression/program a trainer will choose. However, it’s still an important question. It’s not as simple as making each workout harder than the last one. Keith explains “there’s more to it than running yourself into the ground or beating yourself up each and every workout.” He explains that pain or soreness are not indicators of an effective training session. You hear many people referring to how good their workout was, because they are in so much pain. Now, this is different than people sharing their experience. It’s true, sometimes we get super sore, and it can be funny when a day or two after doing squats, it can be tough to stand up off of a chair. What we want to be careful with is the idea that one only knows they had an effective workout, if they are in pain.
When first working with a fitness professional, make sure they plan to put you through some sort of screen or assessment. These are important as they point out dysfunction in our movement. If a trainer doesn’t do this, they wouldn’t know what to correct or build on. Jumping right into an exercise program without knowing what movement dysfunction needs attention can be dangerous. “If they don’t do that (screening/assessment), I’d look elsewhere” suggests Keith. In addition to having a client go through a movement screen, keep an eye out for the trainer to have a plan as to how to address what they found. It’s important to know what needs work and how to improve it. “Even elite athletes need screenings done. It’s how we lower the probability of injury during their season” explains Keith.
It’s also important to see how well you get along with your potential fitness professional. Do you enjoy conversation with them? Do you feel they care about your well being” Do you feel that they listen to you? These things seem obvious, but it’s important to feel comfortable with your trainer/coach. Think about it. If you don’t enjoy your time with your trainer, or if you just don’t get along, you won’t be likely to stay consistent with the plan you both set. Some trainers are more firm in their delivery than others. That’s okay. Different people respond to different approaches. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with, and what you feel is a healthy connection that will keep you consistent with your game plan.
In the end, it’s about being your own biggest advocate. Whether or not you are able to work with a fitness professional in the near future, you should still educate yourself. See what seems to make sense. See what doesn’t make sense. See what information clashes with other information you read. What have you learned from your experiences? How do those experience coincide with what you have read or heard. There are many fitness personalities/authors/trainers. The more you learn about what folks have to say, and the approach they have, the more you’ll start to learn about what direction you may want to try.
Granted, all trainers/coaches need to start somewhere. I don’t mean to sound like if a trainer doesn’t know everything in the world, go somewhere else. Learning never stops. Maybe the rates of a more experienced coach or trainer are a bit higher than you can do right now. Maybe a trainer that you are working with doesn’t have prestigious certifications yet. We all have to start somewhere. These are simply ideas to think about when on your search for a fitness professional. If who you speak with doesn’t have all of the answers right away, but is clearly actively working to improve their body of knowledge and ability to deliver that knowledge, that’s a good sign. See how you feel about who you are working with, be smart, and take it one step at a time.