7 Qualities to Look For in a Qualified Personal Trainer

As a fitness and health expert who’s been in the industry for nearly 6 years (and acting like I was in the industry years before that,) I’ve worked with and have met many other trainers, coaches, and fitness experts along the way. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to say that all of the fellow professionals I’ve worked with in those 6 years have been qualified.

That means that not only have I been in the company of trainers with a reputable reputation, but I’ve also been able to learn from those around me, and continue to do so today. Some of their methods I didn’t necessarily practice myself, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate them.

That said, I’ve also come across more than a handful of not-so-qualified trainers in those 6+ years – at gyms that I’ve been a member at, trainers who have stopped to workout in my gyms, or out in the street/on social media. They’re very easily detectable to me, because I know the difference between someone who acts like a trainer, and someone who actually knows their stuff.


Because let’s be honest. Unfortunately, the average gym-go-ers who wants to get in shape can be easily influenced by said unqualified trainer’s persuasive personality, bulging biceps, and yammering off some jargon that’s way over the potential client’s head. And that’s not to say that average client is dumb, it’s just that fitness and training isn’t their field of education or occupation. That person might be an accountant, and know everything there is to know about accounting, but it’d be hard for them to know the difference a personal trainer with legitimate knowledge and know-how and a dummy.

Although yes, it’s a good thing when a trainer takes care of him or herself, works out, and practices a healthy lifestyle, a good physique doesn’t always equate to a great trainer.

What does equate to a great trainer?


1. They ask questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Before your trainer even begins talking to you about programs, training, pricing, schedules, etc, they should listen. I find that the only way I can help my client successfully meet his or his goals is by gathering all of the possible information about him or her that I can. I ask about their medical history, their access to equipment (or if they just will using their own bodyweight) their training history, background, their body image/self image where they grew up, where they work, how do they like their job, are they happy with their family life/work life/social life, what their downfalls are, what their successes are. Oh – and possibly the most important of the questions – why? why? why?

Part of the reason I do this is to know as much as I can about the client, so that I can put together a training program and nutrition program that the client is most likely to succeed doing. The other part, is because perhaps they haven’t asked themselves these questions, and they need to hear it themselves. I’ve had quite a few tears in that initial conversation when really getting to the bottom of why they are coming to me now.

phew – that was long-winded. I’ll try and make the others shorter!

2. They perform an assessment before even beginning to write a program.


After having that initial conversation with a (potential) client, your trainer should take you through a workout – not a balls to the wall workout, but a simple workout with basic movement patterns. During this “workout” the trainer should be able to note and assess  any muscle imbalances, weaknesses, postural issues, etc. as you move.

I can tell so much about a person when I take them through simple movement patterns like a body weight squat, small step up, hip flexor stretch, bird-dog, wall RDL, and split squat. From seeing them perform those movements, I know what we need to focus on and strengthen in their program. Notice that I haven’t even talked about pricing yet – that’s because I haven’t talked to the client about pricing yet. This comes after that conversation and initial assessment.

3. They can explain exactly why you’re doing the exercise they’re having you do.

Your trainer should be able to tell you why you’re doing a seated row in the middle of your workout – and not just because it “works the back.” They should be able to tell you why they’re having you do that glute bridge at the beginning of the workout, which muscles it’s working, and why that benefits you and your goals. I actually love when clients ask me questions about the workout. It not only makes them more knowledgeable about their movements, but it allows me to show them how much thought I put into their programming.

4. They can modify an exercise on the spot if it’s not working for you.

If an exercise isn’t feeling quite right, or you’re not feeling it where you should, your trainer should be able to cue your form so that it feels right. If they can’t, then they should be able to substitute an exercise with like-movement patterns in place of it. Because they are always alternative exercises to choose from – like all of the alternatives to squats and to deadlifts!

5. Going along with that, they should be able to explain how and why they wrote your program how they did.

Your program should be written for you. I’ve seen trainers just recycle workouts and programs that they’ve grabbed off of bodybuilding.com or a strength training book (no joke – I once witnessed a trainer taking her client through one of Jamie Eason’s workouts. SMH.)

I write my clients’ programs after numbers 1 and 2 above, and I write it for THEM. Not one of my clients does the same workout. Just like I write my own programs for me, I write my client’s programs for them, and any trainer who doesn’t, is doing their client a severe disservice.

6. They know how and when to progress you.


On that token, they should also know when and how to change up your program, when it comes time for that. You should always feel challenged and like you’re getting better and/or stronger. This means that they know how to progress (or regress) you and your workouts as you continue to get stronger.

I think I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but one of my clients asked me the other day, how in the world are there SO many exercises?!

In actuality, there really are only several movement patterns, but tons and tons of progressions to those patterns!

7. You are making progress toward the goals you set.

Are you achieving what you set out to achieve? You should be feeling better after working out with your trainer several days a week – sleeping better, more energy, higher confidence, fitter, etc. But you should also be on your way toward achieving your aesthetic and fitness goals as well.

I can’t for the life of me remember in what book I read this, but what I read I took it to heart and made it my own truth. Whoever it was, said that they take on full responsibility for their clients’ goals. And I completely agree. When a client hires me, they are hiring me to help them achieve X goal. If I can’t help them reach that goal, then I’m not doing my job. I’ve actually only had to let one client go, but the reason I did was because they weren’t meeting their goals after 6 months of training. Something in me couldn’t convince them to do what they needed to do – I couldn’t complete my job, and it was only fair to let that client go.

There are probably a few more qualities that could be added to this list, but the seven qualities above will make for a pretty darn qualified trainer. Of course you also want to consider the trainer’s education. Did they do the work it takes to get a nationally accredited certification? How long have they been in the industry? How many clients and client-types have they trained? etc. If you hire a trainer, make sure you get the most out of your money – one who will help you effectively, passionately, and most important – safely achieve your goals. You deserve that as a client!

Of similar interest:

3 Qualities to Look for in a Personal Trainer

Have you ever hired a personal trainer? What was your experience like?

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  1. this is great! so many people ask me this question and not gonna lie, they often go with the trainer that looks the best or is the cheapest…. OH SO WRONG

  2. great tips! i’ve had a personal trainer once and i loved him! he did all of the things you wrote about!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..FitFluential Facebook GroupsMy Profile

  3. excellent post!! And number two is one of the most neglected (that I’ve seen). A proper assessment saves me TONS of time later on!!
    Lindsay @ Lindsay’s List recently posted..discussion post – “why do we cook on snow days??”My Profile

  4. I love this. I can’t afford a personal trainer (hell, I can only afford Planet Fitness as a gym), but I’ve always wanted to. For now, Google is my best friend (and your blog, of course).

    When I joined PF last year, they offer “free personal training”. I decided I would check it out. They list it in hour long blocks, but what they don’t tell you is that it’s really two people per block, so you only get 1/2 hour with the “trainer”. They had me fill out a quick backside of a form for them to look over. I sat down with him at one of their tables, he reviewed what I had written down, asked me one, or maybe two, questions and then he took me over to the machines. He showed me which machines he thought I should use, what reps to do, etc. He had me try a couple of them while we walked through and that was it. Done. I think I already knew more going in to talk with him than when I came out. Very disappointing, but I guess that’s all you can expect from a discount gym chain.
    Courtney @ Don’t Blink. Just Run. recently posted..Happy Birthday, Tara!My Profile

  5. love this! I have never had a personal trainer, but I would so want you as mine!
    Brittany @ Delights and Delectables recently posted..Ending Where it All BeganMy Profile

  6. Absolutely love this post! Spot on! #4 is so important. I have clients that have had surgeries that have to have modifications since some things don’t work for them. So important to understand a clients needs and restrictions.
    Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) recently posted..Friday Fodder…Refocusing and Finding Inner PeaceMy Profile

  7. I really appreciate this post. It’s wrong how people pretend just to make money. I will definitely keep this in mind when choosing a trainer for when I recover from my injuries! :)
    Natalie recently posted..Thinking Out Loud #4 – What A WeekMy Profile

  8. This is great! I totally agree with all of your points.

    Especially with building the program FOR your client. I think it’s important to take their preferences in to consideration so that it’s a program they’ll STICK to. I’ve had clients who hated to sweat. It’s kind of hard to get around that one but I can atleast get them lifting weights until they see results!
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  9. I love this article of yours. My trainer have done everything you stated here except he did number 2 differently. He did not do an assessment before but during the first 2-3 sessions. In session no 4 he told me precisely where my muscle imbalances are and on what areas we need to work more on and why.
    I still trainer my my trainer as he have now become my bodybuilding coach and I am starting my sessions from next week with him on a twice weekly. I usually only saw him every 6-8 weeks and continued on my own but decided to see him twice weekly from next week, as I am becoming more serious about my goal and I am embarking on a rock climbing expedition in June 2014 where I need his insight. I am a newly qualified PT but still learning a lot. Don’t have clients as of yet, but hopefully soon :)
    blackhuff recently posted..Performing and training for sportsMy Profile

  10. This is a great article. As a physical therapist, I have a lot of patients who get injured exercising too aggressively or in the wrong way either alone or with a personal trainer. I was starting to really feel negatively towards personal training, I feel it was become more of a hard core strength and intensity workout which just isn’t the right kind of exercise for certain people, especially those with an injury or recovering from one. I actually started working with a personal trainer before my wedding but I was very skeptical. I ended up loving working with him and he really opened up my eyes to what a personal trainer should be and what a personal trainer should be doing for their patients. He fits every single one of these 7 qualities. I’m so happy to have found this article and will share it with my patients fr wen they are ready to return to exercising with supervision!

  11. Great post! The most frustrating thing is to see trainers who don’t know what they are doing and even worse when they are putting people in danger of injuries. Not to mention no results!
    Monica recently posted..John Cena Bodybuilding WorkoutMy Profile

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  19. Fabulous in blue says:

    Great article! One I should have read before hiring my last pt. Such a lovely lady with 20 years experience and came with recommendations. I suspect people hire her as she is a very kind and friendly person. I was very surprised she did no assessments nor did she write anything down on our first meeting. When we met again she gave me something to do which I knew I shouldn’t with a back problem. She apologised and said she had forgotten. She worked me very hard and then said she was taking what she had given me and doing it with a class in two hours time. Not good enough when I work hard during the day and outlay $30 for half and hour.

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