12 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Personal Trainer

Must Reads | Personal Training 15 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

You have big goals to accomplish.

You want to be healthier, stronger, leaner, and happier.

You want to look good, and feel great.

You’ve tried to eat healthier, exercise regularly, and for some reason you just haven’t seen the success you’re after.

You’ve finally decided that maybe it’s time to hire a professional.

Working with a personal trainer is a proven way to ensure you are successful making fitness your habit.

Working with the right personal trainer for you is essential, and if you haven’t worked with one before you may not know what questions you should be asking to ensure the best fit possible.

Here are some questions you should be asking to make sure the professional you are considering is worth your hard earned cash.

1. Who Will I Be Working With, and How Do You Decide Who I Will Be Working With?

In most gyms the person that conducts your fitness consultation is not the person you will be working with on a daily basis. You may love the professional that is asking about your goals and educating you about their facility and systems, but what if you don’t jive with the trainer you are assigned?

At Seriously Strong Training we match clients with the perfect trainer using three criteria: schedule, specialization, and personality.

First, you want to ensure that the trainer you are being matched with will have the availability that works with your schedule. If you don’t have times that line up, no matter how great that person is, it just isn’t going to work.

Second, you want to know that the trainer you will be working with has the skillset and experience to help conquer your goals in the most efficient manner possible. You want results now, and knowing that the coach you will be working with has a proven track record is important.

Third, it is important that you like the person you will be working with. This is a person you will be seeing a few hours every week for at least a few months. If your personalities clash or their coaching style just isn’t a good fit for you then your odds of success are diminished.

Bonus Question: What if the coach I am assigned turns out to be a poor fit? How will you handle that? You don’t want to feel stuck with someone that isn’t the best for you. It happens, and you want to be sure you can be matched with someone that is a better fit without ruffling any feathers.

2. What Certifications Do You Hold?

The “you” in the above question is tied to the previous question in that you want to know what certifications your potential coach holds, not the person conducting your consultation.

There are countless certifications in the fitness industry. A basic personal training certification through one of the major nationally accredited institutions (ACSM, NASM, ISSA, NSCA, ACE) is a must. This ensures the coach has a baseline education.

Additional certifications can be gained that focus on nutrition, behavior change, or working with special populations.

Certifications are not the end-all, be-all when it comes to qualifications (experience will always trump a certificate), but this question provides helpful insight into a coach’s specialties and their preferences.

3. What Continued Education Do You Engage In?

To keep most personal training certifications current a coach must engage in regular continued education. The science of fitness is continuing to evolve every day, and you want to be sure your coach is always up-to-date on what studies say are the most effective techniques for accomplishing your goals.

Continued education can take many forms. Conferences, articles written by industry leaders, scientific journals, books, specialty certifications, and spirited discussion with other fit pros are all great ways for a personal trainer to continue to sharpen their game.

Be sure that the person you are considering entrusting with your health is always updating their skillset.

At Seriously Strong Training our coaches meet one-on-one with their mentor each week to learn helpful techniques and to discuss new studies. Our entire staff meets weekly to share insights and to help each other tackle unique challenges they encounter.

4. How Many Hours of Personal Training Experience Do You Have?

Personal training is not a side gig or part time job. You want to work with someone whose sole focus is fitness. At many gyms a personal training certification is the minimum requirement to begin working. This means that you could be paired with someone that studied the book, passed the exam, but who has no real world experience in helping people succeed.

Most personal training certifications prepare a coach to work with the average person. Someone that doesn’t have an extensive injury history, someone that is relatively coordinated, and someone with modest goals to accomplish. If you are brand new to fitness, have some nagging aches & pains, or big weight loss goals, your coach’s experience will be a crucial factor in your success.

Asking about your potential coach’s experience ensures that you aren’t paired up with a rookie when you need a pro.

At Seriously Strong Training we require all coaches to go through our rigorous three month internship that bridges the gap between textbook knowledge and real world application before ever working with someone. Our interns are paired with a rockstar mentor that prepares a coach by guiding them through our Level 1 Strength Trainer course that imparts years of experience in just a few months time.

5. Have You Helped Others Reach Similar Goals To Mine?

This question is huge.

Does the coach you are considering hiring have a proven track record with goals like yours?

Just like doctors, most coaches have specialties. You wouldn’t want an ear, nose, and throat doctor working on your knees.

If your potential coach is a powerlifter or bodybuilder they may not be the best person to help with your weight loss goals.

Asking for testimonials or case studies of their successes with other clients ensures you will be working with someone that can help you navigate the world of fitness and come up with the best solutions for your goals.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Be sure your potential coach has a wide array of tools in their toolbox to get the job done.

6. How Will You Track My Progress?

Things that get measured get managed. If you have body composition goals like dropping body fat or putting on muscle you want to be sure that your progress along the way is being tracked.

Checking your weight on the scale is a must, but it doesn’t tell the full picture. If you lose a pound of body fat and put on a pound of muscle, your body weight will stay the same. It’s important that not only your weight is being measured but also your body fat and muscle mass are being tracked accurately.

In addition to your body composition, a great coach will track your body measurements with a tape measure and with regular progress photos.

Combining tape measurements, pictures, and body composition goals on a scale like the InBody ensures that you are getting the most accurate data regarding your progress.

If your strength is something important to you then that metric should also be tracked. Periodically testing your strength on major lifts like the squat, bench press, and deadlift are great ways to ensure you are continuing to get stronger.

At Seriously Strong Training we monitor all of these metrics in our online training portal called Trainerize. Trainerize is used to record your workouts, your progress towards your goals, and provides an app on your phone that makes it easy for you to perform workouts outside of your personal training sessions.

7. Will You Give Me Homework to Do?

There are 168 hours in a week, and most people meet with their coach for 2-3 of those hours. That leaves a lot of time in the week that you can be using to progress towards your goals.

A great coach will ensure you are given homework assignments that help you continue to move forward in between your meetings.

Homework assignments can come in the form of at-home workouts, stretching/mobility routines to help you recover, and self-care routines.

Homework assignments also help establish your new fitness habit by keeping your goals on your mind on days you aren’t meeting with your coach.

8. What Is Your Approach to Nutrition Coaching?

Proper nutrition is vital to reaching your goals, and a personal trainer’s role is to educate you on the best strategies for your lifestyle.

Simply telling you what to eat or giving you a meal plan does you a disservice.

The old saying “give someone a fish and feed them for a day, teach them to fish and feed them for a lifetime” is appropriate here. A great coach will educate you on how to make good dietary choices so you can feel confident in your nutrition even when coach isn’t around.

A great coach will ask you to keep a food log so they can review it regularly and use it as an education tool.

I recommend downloading MyFitnessPal to track your meals and to begin gaining an understanding of just how many calories are in the foods you commonly eat.

If you would like more information check out this article about how to get started with weight loss nutrition

9. How Will You Hold Me Accountable?

We all know that to lose weight we have to burn more calories than our bodies take in. This is most often summed up as move more, eat less (a gross oversimplification).

If it was really that simple then you wouldn’t be considering hiring a coach.

The part that isn’t so simple is sticking to the plan as long as it takes to reach your goals.

First you need a good plan, but more importantly, you have to continue to execute that plan for months.

A great coach will hold you accountable both inside and outside of your training sessions so that on those days where you want to just say “screw it”, you don’t. This accountability should occur through regular phone calls, text messages, and updates during your training sessions on what you are doing outside of the gym.

At Seriously Strong Training our coaches have scheduled office hours where they review your homework assignments, provide coaching on your nutrition logs, and check in with you on days they don’t see you in person. This high level of communication and accountability keeps you on track between training sessions so that you are making progress every day of the week.

10. What Will My First Day Look Like?

Your first day of training should be a lot of strategizing with a little bit of exercise.

If your first training session is the first time meeting your new coach then you want to take the time to get to know each other, explain your goals in depth, and come up with a plan to get there.

Because so much of your progress will happen outside of the gym through the establishment of good nutrition habits and the execution of your homework assignments it is important to get on the same page from day one.

If the person that conducted your consultation is not the same person that will be your coach then it is important to ensure that your needs, history, and goals have been communicated clearly.

Once you have clearly established where you want to go a great coach will take the time to accurately assess your starting point. This means taking things slowly so you aren’t overwhelmed and so that you don’t wake up the next day too sore to get out of bed.

We use the 5% rule. It means that once we have a clear understanding of your current fitness level we will challenge you 5% above where you are today. This is just enough difficulty to challenge you but not too much to discourage you.

11. How Will You Customize A Program For Me?

You are paying for one-on-one personal training. That means your program needs to be customized to your unique goals, history, current level of fitness, and not some cookie-cutter routine that is used for everyone.

A great program is an ever-evolving plan that is regularly updated to reflect what you want. As your fitness level improves and you progress towards your goals it is highly likely that your preferences will change.

A great coach will ask for your feedback often and routinely to ensure that your program is optimized for your progress and enjoyment.

Sitting down for 15-30 minutes with your coach at the beginning of each month to assess your program is crucial to success.

12. What Is Your Role In My Journey?

This is your journey. Your story. You are the protagonist. You are the hero.

You are Luke Skywalker, and they are Yoda.

A great coach recognizes this and knows their role in your story.

Your coach is there to guide you and help you learn what works best for your body. You are the captain of the ship and your personal trainer is the navigator.

Their job is to help chart the best course to your destination based on your input, but ultimately you are the one calling the shots and setting the pace.

Choose to work with a guide and not a drill instructor.

*Bonus Question* How Long are Training Sessions?

Your strength training sessions need to last long enough for both a quality workout and a quality education. 

How long does that take?

About an hour.

It is common in many gyms to offer 30 minute training sessions, and that is simply not enough time. 

My first job as a personal trainer had 30 minute training sessions and it was incredibly frustrating for both my clients and myself. This is because a 30 minute session doesn’t actually last 30 minutes. It ends up being closer to 20-25 minutes when you factor in the warm-up, briefing on the day’s workout, and travel time through the gym. This meant I always had to choose between educating my client that day, or performing an express workout.

If 30 minute training sessions aren’t enough time then why are they so common?

Money, that’s why. 30 minute training sessions are cheaper than 60 minute training sessions so it is easier to stomach the price. What you may not immediately realize is that 30 minute training sessions are rarely half the price of 60 minute training sessions. Usually they are 60%-70% of the price so you actually end up paying more per hour.

This also means that personal trainers have to train twice as many people each day to make their paycheck. This means that they are spread thin trying to remember who is who in their whirlwind of a day.

If the gym you are considering working with offers 30 minute training sessions I highly advise you look elsewhere. 

How To Use These Questions

These 12 questions should give you the most accurate idea of what it will be like to work with a personal trainer short of committing to the training relationship.

A well-prepared personal trainer will answer most if not all of these questions during their presentation before you even have to ask.

I recommend saving these questions for after their pitch to allow them the opportunity to provide this information.

The less questions you have to ask at the end implies a more prepared, experienced, and high-quality coach.

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.