What Everyone Should Know Before Hiring a Personal Trainer

personal trainer illustration
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Personal trainers must have the easiest jobs: they get paid to work out and chat it up with their clients, they can make their own schedule, and have access to the latest fitness classes and gym equipment, for free.

Actually, fitness pros would love for you to drop those stereotypes like an Olympic weightlifter holding a 400lb barbell. No matter how much of a gym rat someone is, there are a lot of preconceived notions about what personal trainers do, and what it means to sign up for a session with one. A few trainers reveal what's most misunderstood about their career.

Fitness knowledge is only part of the gig

Remember this job stereotype meme that went around a few years ago? It's cheesy, but true; working out can be an emotional experience for people, and a trainer becomes more than just the person counting reps.

"Sure you have to know your stuff with the science and have the certifications, but you have to be able to connect with your client right away in order for them to get results," ACE-certified personal trainer Ben Boudro says. "You wouldn't believe the stuff I hear from my clients. They open up to me about everything: divorce, kids, boyfriends, money, secrets. Once they open up with me, I can almost guarantee that I'll get the best results with them."

Don't let your trainer become your BFF

You want to train with someone you like and respect, and enjoy spending the hour with. But sometimes, clients and trainers cross the line from being professional to being too buddy-buddy.

"This results in lackluster workouts where the trainer is too busy chatting, or being distracted by other outside stimulus," NSCF-certified personal trainer Virginia Kinkel, owner of Bodymass Gym in Arlington, VA, explains. She says if the relationship becomes too casual, the trainers themselves can become flaky, blow off their clients, and scheduling could be a nightmare.

"Remember, as a client, you are spending a lot of time and money to get a result," Kinkel adds. "If your trainer isn't delivering, no matter how nice of a person he or she is, don't be afraid to move on to another!"

Try not to bother your trainer when he or she is with a client

Trainers also become regulars at their gyms, and form a friendly rapport with the members and staff. But it shouldn't bleed into their one-on-one time with clients.

"Other gym-goers will interrupt me and break my concentration while working with the client," ACE-certified personal trainer Shane McLean says. "It's the client's hour, not theirs, and it takes my time and energy away from my client."

Training is expensive, and paying clients deserve to get the most out of their scheduled hour.

There's a lot of pre-planning involved

Trainers don't just show up to the gym and wing it; they tailor plans specifically for clients, which means lots of behind-the-scenes work.

"We prep for the session by writing the workout based on what you specifically need, like, or have goals for," Jessica Thiefels, ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of Honest Body Fitness, says. "The entire session we're giving you motivation and cues, all while watching your form and keeping you on track. Afterward, we write notes on how the session was, how you were feeling, what seemed difficult or easy for you, etc. It's not just one session; so much more goes into it for us."

They can tell when you're lying

Think you can cheat on a few reps, skip a couple workouts, or down a whole pizza in one sitting and your trainer will never know the difference? Think again. "Inflating your workout numbers drives your coach insane and hurts your future training plans," warns Meghan Kennihan, NASM-certified personal trainer and running coach.

They don't like those know-it-all clients

Let this be a lesson for life: nobody likes a know-it-all, especially the people you're paying to be experts in their field. Throwing questions your trainer's way is a great way to learn the methodology behind the exercises, and it's OK to push back if something feels really wrong. But it's important to let the professional be the professional.

"If you're interrogating every single workout and switching the plan to be the way you want it to be, you may need to look in the mirror and ask: 'Who's the expert here and why am I paying them for their advice?'" Kennihan says. "I hate when athletes ask their friends or the internet for advice, and then take it without first discussing it with me. This affects their future workouts and my plans for their progress."

"Let me put it this way: I suck at finances," Boudro says. "Do I try to act like I know what I'm doing? No. I let the experts help me out and my finances are safe. Fitness is the same thing. You might know a little bit from gym or your lifting days in college, but you are not the expert. Back off and let us do our work!"

Their income depends on if you show up or not

While you might be used to a traditional 40-hour work week and salary, trainers certainly aren't. Sometimes trainers are fortunate enough to make their own schedules, which is a great work perk. This also means lots of early and/or late hours to accommodate clients with traditional 9-to-5 jobs, and a reliance on the paying clients to actually show up.

"When we don't work, we don't get paid. Many people do not understand this," ACE-certified personal trainer and CrossFit instructor Christian Koshaba says. "If I take a vacation, I forfeit a lot of income or have to work double to make up for it. Cancellation and rescheduling (more so within a 24-hour window), and the negative impact this can have on our workload and income, is huge."

They consider themselves walking advertisements for their business

Put more bluntly, you're probably not going to shell out good money for someone who doesn't look like they can comfortably run a mile. "Many people think, 'Oh, you're a trainer, you live in a gym, it's easy for you to stay in shape,'" NASM- certified personal trainer Brooke Taylor, founder of Taylored Fitness, says. "What they don't know is that sometimes trainers have to work twice as hard to make time for themselves and push themselves harder. I practice what I preach because this is my life and the lifestyle I choose to live."

But they're not the perfect beacons of health

Balance is the name of the game: "It's just as hard for us to abide by a workout plan or nutrition. There are plenty of days I am dreading my workout or wanting to cheat with my meal planning," Koshaba admits. "We are just as human as everyone else. Dedication, motivation, and perseverance are key."

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist who would make a terrible personal trainer. Follow her @ChristinaStiehl.