The personal training industry is tricky. It lacks regulation, seeks to demoralize it's hopeful clients and is chock-full of arbitrary certificates and qualifications. Here are a few ways to tell if a trainer is a schmuck or a saint.
1. They Train you According to Their Goals, Not Yours
Jane is a new personal training client seeking to lose a few pounds and tone her legs up. She hires Ashley, a fitness fanatic who loves working out and is a powerlifter. Within a few weeks, Jane is being taught how to squat, bench, and deadlift maximal weight. Jane gets stronger and according to her trainer, is making great gains. However, once her package of sessions runs out, she doesn't re-up. That's because Jane didn't want to be a powerlifter and Ashley only knew how to train people as she trains herself. As a trainer, too often do I see or hear about "Ashleys", or people wanting to become trainers simply because they like working out and have had personal fitness success. Personal training is only partly about having a love for working out, but it's mostly about knowing how to help people reach their goals, not yours.
2. They Can't Educate you "Why do you have me doing a lunge with the weight in my opposite hand and my foot on a BOSU?" "Uhhhh, it makes it harder and I saw it on Instagram?" A poorly educated personal trainer is a bad personal trainer. Especially since training can be dangerous to some degree, it's incredibly important for you to trust that your trainer knows what they're doing. A great personal trainer is a master of the human movement system. They understand how muscles work not only independently, but as a system. They understand how to progress and regress exercises, and don't stick to flashy exercises that falsely make them appear more knowledgeable. Try to find a trainer who has a health or wellness related degree (i.e Exercise Science, Kinesiology, etc.) and nationally accredited certifications (NASM, NSCA, ACE, etc.)
3. They don't have a plan. Unless you're an aspiring Cross Fit athlete that requires a sporadic and unpredictable type of training, your trainer should have you on a path. If it seems like your trainer is making it up as they go along, they probably are. A personal trainer's job is not only to provide high-quality training sessions but they are also responsible for crafting your exercise program. This involves preparation and having a plan on how to get you closer to your goals, not just making you sweat a few times per week.