How to Pick the Right Trainer/Coach for You

So you decided you want to change your workout, nutrition, or lifestyle habits to live a healthier life? AWESOME!! However, there are SO many coaches and trainers out there. Do you get one in person locally, do you do virtual, or just online check-ins? How do you know this is THE COACH for you? Let’s talk about it. Here’s my input based on being in the health and wellness industry for over 5 years working with clients.

  1. Decide YOUR Goals

So I listed this first because, more than anything, you need to decide what you really want. Make it tangible. Do you want to lose 30 lbs for a wedding? Did your doctor tell you you have high cholesterol and need to make some lifestyle changes? Do you want to change your life or just add something to it? You can’t choose someone to help you if you aren’t really clear on what you want. So first things first, what do you want?

  1. How Much Support Do You Need

How much help are you going to need? Are you the type of person that someone gives you a blueprint and you can follow? Do you need weekly or even daily check-ins to make sure you are staying on top of the changes you need to make? Do you work better when someone tells you face to face what to do or will you follow directions from an email? Check yourself! Really think about how you work, the kind of accountability you need to make changes in your life, and does a group setting or one on one work better? Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. This is important to know because coaches work differently.

  1. Interview Multiple

I highly encourage you to interview multiple people. I know from being a personal trainer, I get deep with my clients. You want to like this person, get along, and LISTEN to them. It’s extremely important that you feel comfortable telling them honestly about your life and struggles. It’s a journey to make long-term or sometimes short-term health changes, so make sure you can get along with this person. 

Also, and just as important, make sure they have the knowledge to get you to your goals. Every coach has different specialties and experiences. If you have any sort of injuries or complications, make sure they know how to work around that. I will tell you from personal experience over the last 5 years as a trainer, working with many other trainers, and hiring/managing other trainers, experience makes a big difference. I was a terrible trainer for the first couple years. Did I hurt people? No. Did I help people in the most effective way? Definitely no. I see this across the board. Now is working with a newer trainer bad? Not necessarily, but it really depends on what you need. Newer coaches do tend to be less expensive, so that is a consideration as well. 

Lastly, in the interview, make sure you ask about their approaches to fitness/health. I know I have a very different style than many other personal trainers. Make sure the coaches’ style fits with what you are looking for and need. If you want a 3 month extreme plan to get you to an event, make sure they do that. Do you need help making lifestyle changes that you can implement forever, make sure they can do that.

  1. Personal Trainer vs Health Coach vs Nutritionist vs Others

So there’s a lot of terms out there. Let’s go through a few of the big ones and how they typically work.

Personal trainer– A personal trainer is specifically trained in how to create and implement fitness programs. This can include getting a degree in a field related to this (i.e. Exercise Science) or taking a short test online to get a certification.Some of the best are certified and have no other “formal” training, and so are some of the worst. The two biggest things that I look for when hiring trainers are how well do they communicate information and are they able to appropriately change programs based on the client. You can get this information usually from the interview process by asking their fitness philosophy or how they approach training. Most personal trainers do a free consultation of some sort, and this is a great place to get an idea of what they foresee your program looking like. Some personal trainers can do nutrition, but many can’t or shouldn’t. Find out their experience with nutrition. Do they write meal plans (my least favorite), work strictly around macros, or a more holistic approach?

Health Coach– This is a little bit more of a newer field. I’ve done pretty extensive research on many of the health coaching programs and know quite a few health coaches. Keep in mind, I am a personal trainer by trade, so I have a little bit of a biais, but for good reasons I think. From talking to many health coaches and researching these programs, health coaches are taught primarily how to coach people with a very broad range of knowledge of exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle. They do not dig deep into any one area and, therefore, their knowledge is pretty limited in many instances if this is their only certification. Many of them also tend to work only online, which I will get to later.

Registered Dietician and Nutritionists– Registered Dieticians (RD) are more clinical by nature. They have a degree in nutrition and also did supervised clinical hours (1,200 in most cases). From my personal experience, they can often give specific recommendations based on diagnosis. For example, for high cholesterol they have a standard diet that they put everyone one. In many cases, it can seem less individualized person to person, but very good if you have multiple diagnoses and many factors to take into consideration. Now, nutritionists is a very broad term and is regulated differently from state to state. Some states do not regulate hardly at all. If you are working with someone on nutrition who is not a RD, make sure to get more info about their education. Some common ones I know are Nutritional Therapy Association (NTA), Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), and MindBody Institute. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, so just ask some questions regarding their education and experience.

  1. In Person vs Online

Whether to go in person or virtual can be a tough decision. In today’s world, SO many coaches are virtual. Once again, I encourage you to figure out how you best work. Do you want to see someone in person, can you hold yourself accountable with just weekly emails from a coach, or do you want something in between? I will caution you, if you are looking for a personal trainer or someone to help you out with a workout routine, try to find someone who has experience training in person. I have looked at dozens of online programs and educational materials put out by personal trainers who have only ever done online work, and it is VERY apparent. There are numerous details that you learn after training people in person. If you feel a pain or something doesn’t feel right in a certain movement, I know from experience it is most likely from a couple things. I can do a couple quick tests and figure it out. Someone who doesn’t have that experience, will not be able to cue you or resolve those kinds of issues the same way.

  1. Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

The last part is there are a lot of coaches right now who are backed by a multi-level marketing company (MLM). If someone is talking about a lot of supplements right off the bat, unless some sort of testing has been done, it should raise a red flag. There are countless of these companies out there with supplements that promise to get you healthier than ever (i.e. Arbonne, Shaklee, Shakeology, etc). I think using supplements here and there are fine (or once again if there has been testing done that shows specific deficiencies or issues that’s a different story), but using them as the PRIMARY way to reach your goals is not necessary. 

Hopefully, this gives you some great resources in how to choose the right coach for you! Think I might be a good fit for you? Click on WORK WITH ME, and let’s schedule a discovery call!

My Fitness Philosophy

How I have approached fitness has certainly changed over the last 5 years since I’ve been in the industry. I first really started working out seriously in my mid-20s. I was running an outside sales company working a lot of hours, drinking 5-6 nights a week, eating out regularly, and still suffered from pretty severe anxiety and depression. I knew I needed to make a change to feel better. I felt tired all the time, miserable was an understatement, and could barely sleep. I noticed changes within about 1 month of consistently working out. I was sleeping better, my anxiety and depression were more manageable, and I just felt better. I started studying for my personal training certification immediately and got a job 10 days after I passed. I didn’t know a whole lot, but I talked and watched the other trainers in the gym and did as much studying on my own as I could. I trained as most new trainers do with circuits, some strength training, and lots of HIIT (high intensity interval training).  

I was really interested in the body building community for my first few years and started training in more of that style. Body builders focus on muscle connection, lots of angles/exercises for muscle groups, and lots of macro counting. I trained implementing a lot of these principles along with the HIIT. Then, in September 2017, I was in a car accident. It was seemingly not a bad accident, but it has sent me down a whole health and wellness journey that I would probably have never tapped into had it not been for this accident. First, it was lower back pain. I tried natural remedies with massage therapy, floating, cryotherapy, and yoga. I then moved towards the doctor route seeing a chiropractor, multiple orthopedic doctors/surgeons, many physical therapists, and a spine/pain specialist. I got some relief from the chiropractic and physical therapy work, but nothing lasted. Finally, they did an MRI and saw a disc protrusion at L5/S1 that was also sitting on a nerve. 9 procedures from the spine/pain specialist later, the right side of my back was better day to day, but I had pain the the left side and nerve pain down my right leg. Sitting, standing, and driving were all painful for more than 20-30 minutes. I also was told by everyone not to workout.

I started looking inside the body to see what else could be going on. I did a food sensitivity test and eliminated those foods, saw a functional medicine practitioner with a ton of blood work, did a 4 month elimination diet, and had some relief. I had a lot of markers with inflammatory issues and deficiencies and started to resolve them through nutrition and supplements. I incorporated meditation, hypnotherapy for childhood trauma, and acupuncture. I now am seeing another functional medicine practitioner, pelvic floor physical therapist, and managing stress through acupuncture, massage therapy, self-hypnosis, and meditation, but still searching for some answers.

So how has my working out changed? I am working out again (yay!). I didn’t see the greatest relief in my back pain until I started doing big lifta again (squat, deadlift, rows, bench, and overhead press). Now, I did a dual focus on mobility and strength and didn’t just jump right into these big lifts without having been able to work out consistently for the better part of 2 years. Mobility focuses on reestablishing proper movement patterns through having the flexibility to do full range of motion and have strength/control through those movements. Basically, I was making sure that I could move how I am supposed to. Now, I have little pain as long as I keep up with my workouts, manage stress, have really good digestion, and sleep well.

So how do I think about fitness now? I wanted to explain my experiences to help people understand how I approach fitness now. Health is about the whole body, mind, and spirit. My goal is to help people change habits so they can live their best life. I try to educate everyone I work with on reestablishing proper movement patterns, strength training, eating whole nutritious food, stress management, sleep, self-care, identifying triggers, and much more. Health is so much more than looking a certain way. Getting to a certain weight won’t make someone all of a sudden be happy. Creating habits that revolve around fostering happiness and living one’s best life is really what I aim to help people with.

Group Exercise: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I started teaching my first group exercise class about 5 or 6 months after getting certified as a personal trainer. I was at a Gold’s Gym with mostly Les Mills classes and decided to go through the new Grit training. This was right up my alley. As a new trainer, the harder the workout for my clients the better. What better way to add to my knowledge than to teach a 30 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) class. Now, I’ve been teaching group exercise classes for about 4.5 years ranging from HIIT to bootcamp and kickboxing/boxing classes with groups as small as 3 up to about 30 people. My feelings, especially as a personal trainer, have certainly changed about group exercise, so I wanted to share a little bit of everything on group exercise classes. I do want to note, my overall philosophy is some movement is better than no movement. However, here’s a look at what I really think about group exercise! 

The Good 

  1. Provides a sense of community 

One of the best things that group exercise classes do is provide a sense of community. That is also one of the reasons why people stick with classes a lot longer than individual routines. Whether it’s a big box gym, small boutique, or one of the many franchised classes that are so popular now, people develop a sense of loyalty to the facility, instructors, and each other. I have seen some of the most consistent people be those who attend group classes. I think that is amazing. Accountability is really hard for people to do one their own, and group exercise classes really help with this. This is my favorite thing about group classes. 

  1. Something is better than nothing 

Like I said in my note in the intro, movement is better than no movement. If group exercise classes get people moving in any way, that’s far better than sitting on the couch watching Netflix. It could be yoga, Pilates, cardio, strength, etc., it’s something.  

The Bad 

  1. Long term success, or lack thereof 

One of the biggest problems with group exercise is people do the same thing over and over again, oftentimes for years. Now, if you are just looking to maintain wherever you are or you use group exercise to compliment another routine (I.e. doing Yin yoga 1-2 times a week to get extra stretching), it totally works. However, most of the time I see people start with something like an Orange Theory, lose 15 lbs (yay!), and continue it forever, never seeing any other results. Here’s the thing, anytime you add a new stimulus to your routine, you should see changes. That’s why kids or people who have never worked out before can astounding changes when they start working out. Our bodies are really smart though and will adapt in as little as about a month. More often than not, I see the same people in the same classes for years still working towards a specific goal,whether that’s a weight or aesthetic goal. Sorry to say, if you do the same thing and still expect change and results, it’s not going to happen even if the class changes slightly (quarterly for Les Mills, each week for Orange Theory, etc.). It’s still the same format.  

  1. Group exercise instructors 

I started taking group classes back in high school. Throughout college I got into cardio kickboxing and then a variety of others in my early 20s. I really looked up to a lot of the instructors thinking they knew all about the body and how to lose weight/look good. I remember the first time I realized this was completely false. I was a brand new instructor and still a baby trainer getting ready for “launch” (Les Mills quarterly came out with new classes, and there was a big party to celebrate). I was teaching with a very seasoned group exercise instructor. She taught an average of 6 classes each week (usually closer to 10) mostly cardio based, worked as a realtor, and had a couple kids. She was a very busy person and always on the go. She was talking to me before class about a weight loss challenge she was participating in over the next few weeks. Her goal was to eat about 1200 calories per day, if not a little less to try to lose the most weight and win. Even as a newer trainer, I was blown away by this. She was going to starve her already overworked body to force a change and promote more stress on the body. She was not a super thin person and, even at that time, I knew she was under eating and not recovering from everything she was doing. That’s when it clicked. I started looking around and talking to more instructors (mostly female and only certified group exercise instructors) and none of them knew a thing about nutrition, progressing the body, and recovery. Now this is not the case with all instructors (particularly those with a personal training, physical therapy, or nutrition background), but group exercise instructors (especially ones who teach a ton of classes) are some of the unhealthiest people I know to date and are unaware of it. A lot of them teach and fully participate in the majority of their classes (sometimes 2+ classes 4 or 5 days each week), their own workouts, and work other jobs and/or manage families. Be mindful of this. 

The Ugly 

  1. Hello injuries 

Two of the most popular types of group exercise classes I see exploding right now are CrossFit (not quite as much as it used to be) and Orange Theory. I have taken these classes and done a lot of research about their fitness philosophy. The instruction on safety, form, and mobility is not there by and large. I have seen more injuries and people who have gotten hurt from these types of classes than any other type of group exercise class out there. As a group instructor myself, I know you cannot watch everyone and take the time to perfect everyone’s form. It’s impossible. Even training 2 people at once, it becomes much harder to do the work each person needs individually to have 100% perfect form and movement patterns. People are more likely to get injured, especially in the more intense classes that have strength training involved. This is across the board from the previously mentioned formats to bootcamp classes and BodyPump.

  1. All about the HIIT 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is not for everyone, especially on a consistent, regular basis. Sorry to pick on them, but CrossFit and Orange Theory are once again huge contributors to this problem of people thinking HIIT is the best way to workout. Why do people love these types of group exercise classes so much? It’s short and overstressed people (especially women) love cortisol spikes. Working out is a stressor on the body. A good one but still a stressor. When you take someone who is already overworked, overstressed, not properly fueling their body, and poor sleep, and add in a HUGE stressor on the body, you’re asking for an injury, burnout, and lack of consistency. Personally, I cannot do HIIT still because my body is not in a place to take that kind of stressor even though I focus on quality food to fuel my body, meditate, sleep 7+ hours each night, take supplements for any deficiencies, hydrate, and make stress management a top priority. HIIT can be great when used appropriately with the right person, but it’s a very dangerous thing to add to someone’s routine who is not in the proper place to do so. 

I do want to make another note about everything. Coaching matters immensely. A great coach can get people a whole lot further than a bad one. Good coaching and solid programming can make all the difference. The issue: I don’t see a ton a great group exercise coaches in the industry, and a lot of the really good ones are oftentimes limited by the facility or format where they teach.