Looking for a Personal Trainer? 10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring One

By Patricia Salber, MD, MBA

Medically reviewed by Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD

Updated on April 19, 2021

Bringing on a personal trainer can be a key to finally getting fit. Here are 10 questions you should ask before hiring one.

Be sure to ask your new personal trainer what equipment you need to have before your first session. (Photo source: iStock)

Have you decided (once again) that this is the year you are going to get fit? And, this time, you are really going to stick with it way past the third week in January. Then hiring a personal trainer might be the ticket to your sustained success. Not only will a personal trainer help you optimize your exercise routine but committing to another person, one who motivates you, can be just the thing that gets you in a permanent exercise groove. Whether you are new to personal trainers or in the position of having to get a new one for whatever reason, you should do your homework before hiring someone so that you end up with the trainer that is just right for you.

New Dr. Michaeli’s Review Notes appear at the end of the story.

Hiring a personal trainer is a journey

Hiring a personal trainer who suits you is sort of like dating before marriage. Not everyone you try out is going to be a good fit for the long haul. In fact, as Audrey Throne (the previous author of this post) noted,

“There’s a lot more to choosing the right partner than just going out with a person with the best abs in town.”

Remember, just because somebody has the body you always dreamed of doesn’t mean that they are going to be a good fitness coach. You need to know if they are able to articulate exactly how to get similar results. And it would be best if you resonated with their style of training. Are they like the sergeant at a boot camp, or are they more like your mother, gently nudging you to get it done? Which style works best for you?

Related content: Want to Make Fitness a Lasting Habit? 5 Strategies That Will Help

So, how do you find a personal trainer?

The first step in the journey is to ask your family and friends for potential referrals. I have had two personal trainers in the last 15 years that came from referrals from my sister-in-law. She found them, tried them out, and then passed their names on to me.

But not everyone is going to be that lucky. If you have to start from scratch, the best way is to research the fitness facilities and private studios in your area with the best reputations. Who are their trainers? Why do they like them? Are they available for private hire? If not, are you able to access them by joining their gym?

If you are open to online instead of in-person training, explore what type of trainers are available in your time zone and price range. Watch their videos. Try out their work-outs. It might be helpful to leave a comment and see if you like the response. Contact the ones you like to see if they are open to one-on-one (or small group) training sessions.

Questions to ask before hiring a personal trainer

When you have finally narrowed down your search, you should ask the candidates a series of important questions prior to hiring them.

Here are some basic ones that can help you avoid a mismatched exercise regime.

1. How much do they charge?

Before you get attached to the idea of anyone trainer you have found after doing your research, be sure that you are willing and able to pay what they are charging. And understand their policies related to payment issues.

  • How much do they charge by the hour?
  • Is there a discount if you purchase a package? Do very long packages (e.g., 6 months) get a bigger discount? If so, do these sessions have to be used within a certain time period.
  • How do they want to be paid? Check? Credit card? Cash? Venmo? Paypal? Who pays the fees associated with certain types of payment?
  • What is their payment policy if you have to cancel a session (no fee? no fee if canceled within 24 hours? no fee if rescheduled?)
  • How often do they raise their rates? Is there any consideration for long-time customers?

Don’t be embarrassed about asking these questions. The more you know and the more explicit the trainer’s answers, the better off you both are. It is always helpful to know the rules ahead of time.

2. Ask about the trainer’s training and certifications?

It goes without saying, proper education and certifications are important for a quality experience and for staying safe as you get fit. Here’s a link to a description of some of the best certification programs available.

3. What is the trainer’s specialization?

Beyond the basic training and certifications, you should look for an area of specialization that reflects your needs. For example,

  • If you want to shape up after giving birth, hunt for a post-natal fitness specialist in your locality.
  • Do you have any limitations due to chronic pain or other disabilities? If so, ask what their experience is working with people with the type of issues that you have. For example, I have osteoarthritis in one of my elbows. I needed a trainer who knows how to modify exercises to accommodate that limitation without skipping certain types of strength training routines altogether.
  • Do you have a specific goal, such as building visible muscles (body-building)? Or do you want to get strong without looking like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of your time with a personal trainer and tailor your questions to be sure that the trainer you are interviewing is going to meet those goals.

4. Ask them to describe (and then try out) their training style

Make sure to try out some sessions with your potential trainer before committing to a long-term training program with them. It is important that their personality and workout style appeals to you. After all, hopefully, you are going to be spending a lot of time with him or her.

You may already know if a certain style motivates you and another irritates you. For example, you may do your best with someone who acts like a sergeant in boot camp. Or you may thrive when the trainer is more nurturing and applies a gentler approach.

When I was looking for a trainer in a city that I had temporarily moved to. I got suggestions from people in my condo. I tried them both out. The woman I was considering was ebullient, fun to talk to, and firm, but not a taskmaster.

The other, a guy who looked like someone out of a bodybuilding magazine, was no-nonsense (you couldn’t distract him up with stories in order to make the session easier). What’s more, his exercise routines were always challenging whether we were using the machines in the condo’s gym or kickboxing with gloves and pads.

I couldn’t decide which one I like best — so I hired them both. One came on Tuesdays, the other on Fridays. I ended up with the best of both worlds. BTW, they knew about each other and tried to be sure my overall weekly workout was well-rounded. It was great.

5. Ask them to describe a typical session

Variety is the spice of life, whether you are talking about food or exercise. Does your trainer mix things up? Or do they prefer to do the same set of exercises, session after session? Which style works best for you.

How are they at correcting your form — this is especially important to ask about if you are hiring an online trainer. Can they help you make adjustments by verbally suggesting tweaks to your form? Or are they helpless if they can do this hands-on? It makes a difference.

6. How will they help you meet your specific goals?

No matter what the individual goal is, these trainers will have their clients practice bodybuilding, cross-fit exercises, or whatever that got them to their current fitness level. Make sure to hire someone who will help you work towards your individual goals and understands your specific body requirements before getting started.

7. How will they measure your progress?

In order to decide if a continued investment is worth every penny, be clear with your trainer on how you will measure your progress. For instance,

  • if weight loss is your current goal, then decide between measuring body fat or following the number on the scale.
  • if you’re looking forward to improving your upper body strength, get baseline measurements, and re-test once you’re a few weeks into the program

8. What equipment will you need for their recommended home exercise program?

If you are just getting started with a home exercise program, chances are you don’t have much equipment. You will want to ask your potential trainer to tell you what equipment they recommend you buy to get you started. Remember, there are many ways to do a total body strength training workout. You can do it with free weights, a TRX (love it), bands, or exercises that leverage your body weight without equipment.

Buy just what you need to get started. You can always add equipment to mix things up as your commitment to a lifetime fitness program firms up.

My husband and I turned our guest room into a gym more than 20 years ago, adding (and removing) equipment as time went by. We now have a pretty complete home gym with the following:

  • different free weights ranging from 3 lbs to 50 lbs (remember this accommodates two people with different capabilities)
  • yoga mats
  • yoga blocks
  • roller
  • Bosu
  • various bands
  • a pilates circle
  • bench
  • balance ball
  • treadmill
  • elliptical

Although the big investments were the treadmill and elliptical, they’ve turned out to be the most used equipment in our gym.

[You can find some of the equipment we use (and recommend) in our Amazon Influencer store — we receive a small commission if you purchase through the site.]

9. Ask for references. Can they put you in touch with current or former clients?

The importance of talking to current or former clients or reading their testimonials can not be overemphasized. Amongst other things, ask them the following:

  • different free weights ranging from 3 lbs to 50 lbs (remember this accommodates two people with different capabilities)
  • yoga mats
  • yoga blocks
  • roller
  • Bosu
  • various bands
  • a pilates circle
  • bench
  • balance ball
  • treadmill
  • elliptical

10. How should you prepare for the first session?

Ask your trainer for advice on preparing for the first session?

  • If you have an am session, how much time after waking up should you get started?
  • Should you eat before the session? If so, how many hours before?
  • Should you stretch before? Or will stretching be part of the warm-up?
  • What should you wear? Loose clothing to be comfortable? Or more body-conforming garments so the trainer can better observe your form? Shoes on or not? Socks on or not?
  • If you are doing an online session, can you sign in 5 or 10 minutes before the scheduled session to be sure everything is working correctly?

The first class is usually a modified version of what a regular session might look like. If you have not already discussed goals, limitations, current lifestyle, and measurements, the trainer may want to do this in the first session.

The bottom line when it comes to hiring a personal trainer

The most important question is to ask yourself is if you like the trainer. The next most important are you confident that she will fulfill your specific requirements. Hire someone you click with and who you feel is committed to helping you reach your fitness goal. Physical fitness is a life-long journey. Is this the person you want along for the ride?

Let us know if this article is helpful or whether there are other topics you would like us to address. Best wishes for a successful fitness journey, The Doctor Weighs In team.

Medical Reviewer Notes by Dr. Michaeli

I like the exhaustive list of what to look for in selecting your personal trainer. Of all the items listed by Dr. Salber, I found this one the most important: see if you click with the trainer’s personality and style. as she is describing.

Some people require nurturing, others need a taskmaster. I personally am prone to inventing, modifying, improvising exercises to suit my own needs. Some of the taskmaster types would not tolerate deviation from their routines; a deal-breaker for me.

On the whole, this list is very comprehensive and I think quite useful when you are looking for a personal trainer — a very important person in your life.

Originally published 5/17/17. It was completely revised for republication on 1/7/2020.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder. CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In (TDWI). Founded in 2005 as a single-author blog, it has evolved into a multi-authored, multi-media health information site with a global audience. She has worked hard to ensure that TDWI is a trusted resource for health information on a wide variety of health topics. Moreover, Dr. Salber is widely acknowledged as an important contributor to the health information space, including having been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018.

Dr. Salber has a long list of peer-reviewed publications as well as publications in trade and popular press. She has published two books, the latest being “Connected Health: Improving Care, Safety, and Efficiency with Wearables and IoT solutions. She has hosted podcasts and video interviews with many well-known healthcare experts and innovators. Spreading the word about health and healthcare innovation is her passion.

She attended the University of California Berkeley for her undergraduate and graduate studies and UC San Francisco for medical school, internal medicine residency, and endocrine fellowship. She also completed a Pew Fellowship in Health Policy at the affiliated Institute for Health Policy Studies. She earned an MBA with a health focus at the University of California Irvine.

She joined Kaiser Permanente (KP)where she practiced emergency medicine as a board-certified internist and emergency physician before moving into administration. She served as the first Physician Director for National Accounts at the Permanente Federation. And, also served as the lead on a dedicated Kaiser Permanente-General Motors team to help GM with its managed care strategy. GM was the largest private purchaser of healthcare in the world at that time. After leaving KP, she worked as a physician executive in a number of health plans, including serving as EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Universal American.

She consults and/or advises a wide variety of organizations including digital start-ups such as CliniOps, My Safety Nest, and Doctor Base (acquired). She currently consults with Duty First Consulting as well as Faegre, Drinker, Biddle, and Reath, LLP.

Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization. She chairs the organization’s Development Committee and she also chairs MedShare’s Western Regional Council.

Dr. Salber is married and lives with her husband and dog in beautiful Marin County in California. She has three grown children and two granddaughters with whom she loves to travel.

Originally published 5/17/17. It was completely revised for republication on 1/7/2020. Updated and published at https://thedoctorweighsin.com on April 19, 2021.

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