| September 21, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 7 min.
The accessibility available today online allows people to reach out to nearly any personal trainer, nutritionist, therapist, or any type of practitioner that puts their name and contact information out there.
When it comes to personal training, online training has exploded over the last year (much from global circumstances) but is seemingly still here to stay. With gyms and facilities opening back up, there are no shortages in demand for coaches for those seeking to improve their health either.
The most common and credible approach to finding a coach to work with you typically comes from a referral. Credibility from first hand experiences from someone you trust, as well as industry leaders are people who naturally stand in front of the line. But there are always personable, social, knowledge, and experience based factors that may not always make the working relationship efficient.
In my experience, I know first hand that there are people I will not likely be able to work with well. Not every trainer is a perfect fit for everyone for a variety of reasons. So when you are out there on your own search for a coach, or not sure if your current one is working out, here are some important considerations.
This is a very important point as communication is a broad term that covers many important details. Firstly, a coach should have consistent communication throughout your working relationship in order to properly guide you along your journey. This one is pretty straightforward and a very common expectation.
The second aspect of communication would be use of language. The easiest way to sound smart is to use large words all the time. Many coaches, especially new ones, tend to get carried away and try to impress prospective clients by using proper anatomy and physiological terms. For example, they may say something along the lines of “make sure you squeeze your scapula to properly engage your lats during a demo of a row. While this is technically correct, someone without the same technical knowledge won’t understand. Are they speaking in terms that you can understand? Or are you always nodding while everything they say goes over your head? (Remember, you can always speak up about this too).
The last point of communication comes down to how much (or little) they actually speak. Poor coaches tend to breach a level of professionalism if they begin to get off topic often and even start mentioning things about their personal lift. They can end up rambling, and even if you have a good friendly conversation, they may not be aware of how much time they are taking up. Remember how much you are investing in them for each session and see if you are receiving the proper value with your interactions.
On the other hand, some coaches may not speak much at all. This can be either a good or bad thing. They might be having a bad day and distracted, in which case you have the right to stop the session if you’re not getting what you want out of it. On the other hand, experienced coaches may have learned the skill of brevity and don’t need to say much to get their point across. In fact, cues for lifts are shown to be more effective when they are clear, short, and concise.
Again, remember how much you are paying for your sessions with your coach. Professionalism is an expected trait and a coach should always be 100% dialled in with your time. Sure, you can still have fun, but at the end of the day it is important for them to understand the goal of the workout. If they get distracted easily, look around a lot, or their body language is a bit off, then your coach may not be giving you their undivided attention.
Energy levels and enthusiasm are also important. Take note of the time of day and see if you have an idea of where you are in your coach’s schedule. Are you the first client of the day? Are you the very last? A good coach will present themselves the same manner either way. If your coach is half asleep and clutching their cup of coffee during your morning workout, chances are you may not be getting the same quality of a session for someone else in the middle of the day. Likewise, if your coach is seemingly rushing you to finish as their last client after a long day at work. The good coach will have their approach in check and provide the same energy to your session on a consistent basis throughout the day (or at the very least, there will be noticeable effort).
A great coach is also a great networker. Coaches who take their craft seriously spend a lot of time learning about new concepts, ideas, attending courses, and generally interacting with others with various levels of expertise. It is a social job after all, and meeting new and different people is a natural responsibility.
There are coaches out there who do know a lot, but not everything. If your coach is unable to provide you the answers you need, they should be able to at least refer out to someone else who does know more. This should show that they are not only humble, but competent enough to not lead you astray by dancing around your questions.
Self-awareness also comes in the form of knowing when to be honest about you too. Having a coach does not automatically ensure your goals because you have to put in your efforts. Some coaches do blame themselves for their client’s failures, but a good coach will not be afraid to be confrontational with you when necessary. Although there are different approaches they may take, knowing when to lay down the law and interrogate your reality is another key skill.
Not necessarily in a literal sense (although one’s who are usually stiff as a board probably could employ more mobility and recovery work), but more in terms of how they are flexible with your changing goals. Many coaches, particularly ones that “specialize” in a particular field may employ a rigid “my way or the highway” approach. Sometimes you may want to dabble in something else that may not be in your program, but have interest in exploring. For example, you may be on a strict strength training program, but perhaps you also want to improve your calisthenics or sports performance. Ultimately, the best coaches are the ones who truly have your best interest at heart. Since they do have more experience, it would be in your best interest to let them know and see where they can make adjustments and make room for your additional activities. Communication goes both ways, and as long as your coach can be open and honest about realistic expectations, then getting the go ahead to stray off the path will be okay.
Your results are always inherently tied into their level of success. You are obviously seeing a coach because you want a custom made plan for your goals. The expectations should be set and reviewed along the way. As a client there should always be clarity on what to expect. A coach will always tie in their actions for you as a means towards achieving your goals. It is up to both the coach and the client whether or not they want to get into the details, but the coach will always rely on what they know.
Great coaches will also help with formulating positive behavior. They understand that even 100% adherence may not yield the expected results, but keeping you focused by encouraging good habits is where your relationship truly pays dividends. Even if you struggle to keep up with the specifics of the program, if a coach influences your behavior in ways such as consistency with diet, physical activity, and rest, they will be happy that you are trending in the right direction.
While there are exceptions, most people will gravitate to coaches who practice what they preach, or have physiques similar to what they hope to achieve. First impressions do matter initially, and many coaches likely do miss out on opportunities when this doesn’t work in their favor. In fact, there are even studies that support this bias when it comes to people associating knowledge with how a trainer looks. Of course, this isn’t always the case but if you had to ask yourself “do I want to train with someone who doesn’t follow his or her own advice?”, I think the answer would be pretty clear most of the time.
On a final note, do remember that above all else that professionalism, diligence, and kindness are ultimately the best differentiators if you are ever wondering about who to work with. Taking your time trying to understand your coach as much as they (hopefully) try to understand you is just as important. You are investing your time, money, and energy so choose wisely.
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