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How ‘expert’ is your expert? Personal trainers

August 5th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Looking for a personal trainer, or wondering if yours is ‘the one’? Fitness expert Dan Roberts coaches personal trainers himself, so he knows a thing or two about spotting a good one…

Whether you’ve just stepped foot in the gym, are training for a particular challenge or simply want to inject your workout routine with a big hit of expertise, hiring a personal trainer can change your life. 99% of the time said change is for the better, although rogue traders that don’t necessarily have your interests at heart, or simply the qualifications to back up their service, have been known to cause upset, or worse, injury. How do you ensure that you’re getting a high quality service, not to mention results? Over to straight talking strength and conditioning coach and fitness industry legend Dan Roberts...

What are the benefits of seeing a personal trainer over classes or working out alone?

A personal trainer will look at your body, personality and your goals and then create an evidence-informed exercise programme that is 100% bespoke to you. There is no better way of optimising results than having a dedicated professional coaching you.

I'm just starting out- how do I go about finding a personal trainer?

It depends on what type of trainer you are looking for, I would do plenty of research. Any gym will have trainers and there are tens of thousands of freelance trainers around the UK. I would expect those trainers that are serious about their career to work at a good gym or have a website, so Google is always a handy resource.

Asking friends who they recommend is always a good place to start, and if you wanted a more high profile trainer then magazines or the GTG directory is good source.

What qualifications should I be looking out for? How are PTs regulated?

All trainers in the UK have to be level 3 qualified and have a valid first aid certificate to be insured, so always check that they are insured! This is the absolute minimum level.

After level 3 there are many qualifications trainers can do. Be it yoga, pilates, pre/post natal or strength training. The list is endless! I would look for these specialist qualifications. For example, my background for many years was in the physical preparation of pro athletes. My level 3 would simply not be good enough, so I completed the USA’s most respected strength and conditioning qualification, known as the CSCS. If a trainer has that, it's a safe bet they have more technical knowledge.

It's tricky for consumers, as across the globe the industry isn't really that well regulated. Aside from qualifications, I would look at the body of work that the trainer has accumulated. Hours of training, evidence of results and enthusiasm for truly helping are things I look for when I hire personal trainers to work for my company.

What should happen during my first training session? What might set alarm bells ringing and what's a particularly good sign that they know their stuff?

The first session, assuming they have already completed an in-depth consultation, should be some sort of physical assessment. I would recommend you ask your trainer why you are doing certain things. Trainers love showing off their knowledge! A bad trainer will be defensive or not be able to fully communicate the reasons. Be wary of this.

Approximately how much might a training session cost? In general how often should you be seeing your trainer? If I'm on a, budget, what are my options?

The average price of personal training session is around £40 in the UK and £65 in London. (the most talked about trainers are usually over £150). Taking my company as an example, we have trainers in London and New York, whose rates range from £50 to £200+ an hour. Having said this, the way in which I run my company is quite unique. I create a bespoke package for every new client, which may involve one session a week for £50, or alternatively consist of a more comprehensive and intensive daily exercise, nutrition and wellbeing programme. This would bring in a few of my team and incorporate such activities as pilates, massage, yoga, weight lifting, self-defense training and daily fresh food delivery. It’s almost like having your own fitness and wellbeing concierge service.

As for how often you train, the ideal frequency of training depends on a variety of factors. Most trainers in the industry see their clients 2-3 times a week, however, you can have one session a month and learn all about weight lifting or techniques in order to then train better on your own. I call these education sessions and it's something we do as a company regularly. Not everyone time has the budget for regular training, it doesn't haven't to be all or nothing.

Are PTs required to attend regular training/ complete further courses?

No, it's not a legal necessity. Good ones will continually educate themselves though. Most trainers in my experience are of the good variety!

Should my trainer be giving me dietary advice or monitoring what I'm eating?

Not necessarily. If they are qualified in nutrition, then yes. I think it's best to take advice from specialists. A trainer will probably know about nutrition more than most and can give some great advice, but I would recommend hiring a certified nutritionist or dietician.

How much can I expect my body and lifestyle to change after seeing a personal trainer? Can a trainer help me with particular health and wellbeing issues or goals? How can I get the most out of my training time?

This depends. Yourself and your trainer have to be clear about how to measure your progress, be it in looks, performance or mindset. What do results mean to you?

Talk to your trainer. Ask them what they think too, as it should be very much a team effort. When you are both in agreement and have open communication, then you’ll be amazed at what can be achieved.

I'm in pain after training. How long should I wait before I go back? Should I be in pain after every training session?

When you do new exercises then you may get DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness). I find that it takes a couple of weeks to get used to the movements and shift in lifestyle. The more you train, the less this will happen as your body gets used to the shock of it all.

A bit of pain is fine; not being able to walk isn't. When we are with clients intensely, let's say to train an actor before a big movie role, he or she will be training for three hours a day with us, five days a week. That actor will experience a lot of soreness, and in that scenario when results are more important than fun, he or she will just have to toughen up!

Should my trainer be teaching me how to stretch and recover?

If that's part of your of your programme, then yes. It's not a given that you should be doing flexibility work, though. It depends on your body and your goals, and every person is unique. If you have a client that is hypermobile and you do 90 mins of kick boxing, then stretching after the workout wouldn’t be advisable. It would do far more harm than good.

That being said, recovery is essential to optimise results. This is what you do for the other 23 hours that you don't train! Good quality sleep is key, as is a varied, healthy, nutrient-dense and balanced diet.

Stress is a massive factor too. If you're stressed out fat will cling onto your body and muscles. So if work is stressing you out, either consider applying for a new job, or change your thinking about it.This is also true of relationships or money worries. We have two choices; to actively change the stressor, or to change our response to it. Easier to say, harder to do, but still true!

I'm not getting the results I expected. Should I end it with my PT?

It’s hard to say. Were your expectations communicated to your PT? Either way, if you have doubts , it's nice to talk it out with the other party.

If after a conversation you still have a niggling feeling that he or she isn't the best fit for you, leave. There are lots of wonderful trainers out there.

Fancy trying a workout devised by Dan? His new Methodology X class is exclusive to BLOK and incorporates everything from Brazilian capoeira moves to barre techniques and burpees. Click here to give it a go.

Follow Dan on Instagram @teamdanroberts and Anna @annyhunter

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