After months, maybe even years, of going it alone in the gym and possibly not getting the results you want, you’ve decided to take the plunge and hire a personal trainer—a great plan if you’re ready to take your training to the next level. Or maybe you haven’t exercised much recently and want to get started again, but could use some help and guidance along the way. Whatever your reason is for considering a personal training session, here are a few key things to know ahead of your first personal training session so that you’ll arrive prepared, sans surprises.
What Are The Benefits Of Working With A Personal Trainer vs. Exercising Solo?
Nearly anyone who’s spent any time working on their fitness has done it alone in a big box gym—with varying degrees of success. Perhaps you saw results initially and then plateaued or struggled to mix up your programming and got into a rut doing the same ole, same ole. We spoke to F45 fitness studio owner, NSCA-certified personal trainer, and exercise therapist Drew Tyler about the advantages of hiring a personal trainer (PT) and what to expect once you do.
“Working with a personal trainer one-on-one means that you have someone that can not only give you specific direction for your goals—whether it’s fat loss, building muscle, increasing strength and endurance, or sport-specific training—they create a program to ensure your body is constantly changing. And adapt it when things aren’t working,” he says. “A personal trainer reviews a client’s progress on a monthly basis to see what needs to be added or changed within the program. The biggest thing is that you eliminate the guessing to ultimately get results faster.”
We’ve all seen the social media memes of clueless gym-goers flinging their bodies around recklessly or using machines entirely backwards, a mere rep away from an injury. So, it’s no secret that a lot of people come to the gym not knowing what to do or how much to lift.
Oftentimes, gym-goers are just watching other people or following programs that don’t suit their individual needs. It becomes something of a vicious cycle because when they don’t see results, they stop coming to the gym, Tyler says. “They think it’s not worth it. So that’s the biggest difference you get with a personal trainer is careful guidance—and you’re also learning. When you eventually decide to stop personal training, you’ve learned all the essentials about how to program as well as how to phase out your workouts so you’re not doing the same thing repetitively over and over again.”
What can new clients expect during their first appointment?
Don’t show up to your first appointment with a PT thinking you’ll be smashing out your first hour-long session pumping heavy iron. The first appointment is more of a get to know you and your goals. It’s an assessment session.
This is where trainers get to learn more about your training and health history, they go through some formalities about any potential injuries, health background, and basically anything the trainer needs to formulate a safe and successful program for you.
Here’s your first session, in a nutshell:
- Fitness activity readiness questionnaire: The very first thing you’ll do is complete a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (Par-Q). A Par-Q has you complete information about health risks and general health in order to help your trainer safely prescribe you a program.
- Goal discovery: Next, the trainer will dig into your goals, learning more about why you have certain goals and what’s important to you, health-wise. This is what makes it more than just about coming to the gym. It’s coming to the gym with a purpose. For example, if you have high blood pressure, that would be one of your “whys” that the trainer would mark down as a focus. “It’s very important to know why people are coming to see me,” says Tyler.
- Fitness assessment. Next, you’ll head out on to the floor to assess your knowledge and level of fitness with your trainer. “Initially, I assess their primal movements – the pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, planking, and twisting – because these movements are the essential movements that you use in all exercises,” says Tyler. “That also allows me to understand where we’re starting from. Where they are tight, where they are rounding, perhaps where knees are caving in or are hips swaying. Depending on what the trainer finds, they’ll zone in on retraining some motor patterns to get the mind and muscle to connect. During the assessment also expect to have your body composition evaluated (lean muscle mass, fat mass, and water), your posture examined, and more.
- Programming: Next, it’s time to break down your goals and map out realistic time frames for reaching them. The trainer will begin to formulate a program that’s specifically suited to your needs. With a trainer, there is no cookie-cutter program. They create a program periodizing your workouts in different stages: the macro, meso, and micro stages (which is the year plan, the month plan, and the weekly plan, respectively). “This plan should give you confidence, knowing that there’s something in place for you to feel and see that there’s progress and accountability in place to ensure results happen over a span of time. We create SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Framed,” Tyler adds.
- Pricing: if you haven’t already purchased a PT package, this is where you’ll discuss pricing packages and settle on an option that works for your budget.
Do clients get a say in the kind of training they’ll be doing?
This will depend on how specific your goal is. If you’re a bodybuilder training for a competition, you would seek that out specifically. And if you’re into Crossfit, you’d hire a Crossfit trainer. At a conventional gym or fitness studio that employs various training styles, the methodology is left to the trainer, who is the expert.
Think of it like going to the doctor, Tyler suggests, “You’re not going to go to a doctor’s office and when the doctor hands you your prescription, you say, ‘I was actually hoping for another prescription.’ That doesn’t make a lot of sense. You go to a professional to get pro advice and guidance.” That’s where qualified trainers come in.
What does a typical program look like?
In most cases, trainers will use a four-stage periodization programming. Here’s what that looks like:
- Foundation: Here’s where you’ll establish proper positioning and strength in your natural movement. This is where you’ll work on neuromuscular adaptation to improve movement and coordination to ensure your body is technically sound to avoid potential injuries and add corrective exercises to improve posture and imbalances, before loading the musculature.
- Strength phase: Next, you’ll focus on getting stronger. You’ll start doing more complex compound lifts doing anywhere between three to five sets in a movement, and anywhere between three to six reps, with longer rests.
- Hypertrophy: This is where you’ll start to build further on strength, isolate muscle groups and increase lean muscle tissue to switch up the stimulus, progressing to anywhere from eight to 12 reps and six sets with less than 90 seconds rest.
- Conditioning. In this phase, your trainer will employ various full-body exercise programs that focus on high-rep volume and shorter rest periods or timed bouts of exercise combining three to four exercises in a row. This will help increase respiratory and cardiovascular endurance as well as muscular stamina, which will allow the body to reduce body fat and fat mass stored as energy. Depending on the frequency that you meet with your new trainer, if you’re training four times a week on a hypertrophy phase, you might do two days on, one off, and another two on. If you’re coming in twice weekly, you might go in on a Monday and then again on Thursday.
How pricing structure works
According to Tyler, the most important factor that influences pricing structure is your goal. “If someone has to lose 60 pounds, you’re not going to get that done in two months. We set SMART goals. With that SMART goal in mind, for someone who has to lose a lot of weight, we’re looking at a twelve-month period. If someone wants to gain 18 lbs of lean mass, then maybe ten months.”
Anywhere between a six- and twelve-month package is the typical timeframe to get a realistic, specific result. In six months, you may only get 50 percent to your goal or even 25 percent, but at least it’s giving you time for your body to see the benefits. “Anything less than six months and you’re not giving yourself—or your trainer—a chance to see what you can do. I always tell my clients that they have to have patience and trust the process,” he says.
When it comes to the trainer’s rates, it will range depending on experience—whether they are newly certified or seasoned vets. Newer trainers start at around $25 an hour, while highly qualified trainers with a breadth of certifications may charge around $150 per hour.
Tyler says an entry-level trainer can be just fine for a client that doesn’t have any injuries or complications, but if you’re looking for a trainer that can work around more complex client needs and problem solve, you’ll want a trainer with a plethora of certifications (at least ten) that are also diverse.
“It’s not just kettlebells and all the fun stuff,” he says. “It’s also exercise therapy, postural analysis, things that are exercise assessments and are going to be an added tool to the trainer’s toolbox.”
Picking the right trainer matters
Just like how your personal trainer interviews you about your goals and needs, you need to interview the trainer to make sure she, or he, is the right fit for you. Ahead of meeting them in person, research their background and then sit down and ask them some key questions.
Good questions to ask are, “What is your experience? What are your credentials? What type of results have you materialized with people that have had similar needs to mine?”
Personality is important too. If you’re going to train with someone that’s very quiet and you’re an outgoing person, that may not work. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad trainer, they just may not be very interactive, but know their stuff.
Also, ask yourself, “What do I need?” Do you need a rah-rah coach or a PT that just does their job and coaches you effectively without the boisterous energy? “Some people don’t want that “military-style coach while others do want that extra push,” says Tyler. “That’s also important.”
It also doesn’t hurt to look them up on social media—but be wary, Tyler warns. Some people claim to be fitness coaches online and don’t have any credentials aside from a legion of followers and some high-quality content. Never be afraid to ask to see their credentials.
What to wear and what to expect at your next session
Show up to your first session wearing comfortable athletic gear, good training shoes, and bring a towel and water bottle. Even though you won’t be doing a complete workout at your first session, it’s good to get into the habit of arriving prepared.
At your next session, you’ll start on your official program and be off to the races on your way to chase your goals!
A great way to experience your first zero-risk personal training sessions is by getting one for free! From now until June 28th, when you buy any Purely Inspired product, it comes with a free wellness gift* up to $50, in partnership with the National Wellness Network.
*Valid on purchases of participating Purely Inspired products between 5/3/22 – 7/17/22. Contiguous US only. Must be 18+ years of age to participate. Credit card may be required. Limit 1 reward per person. Additional Terms & Conditions apply at purelyinspiredrewards.com
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