A few good trainers ( Lyle McDonald and Mike Robertson) have written extensively about what to look for when you are seeking a good personal trainer. I wanted to review what a beginner (what the majority of people looking for a good trainer are, even if you belonged to a gym for years or have been a runner or other athlete for years) needs and should focus on when starting out.
- Individualized Assessment and Understanding of Specific Needs: I mentioned that most books, dvds, and even exercise classes are just cookie-cutter programs with no individualization. A trainer can and should individualize training based on the individual's needs. And the only way this can be done is to assess a clients needs. The assessment should include an interview to find out about the client's: medical history, old and current injuries, current physical activity and exercise training, nutrition, goals, expectations, commitment, etc. Additionally, the assessment should include some objective physical measurements. That is, a new client should have passive joint range of motion checked, along with other basic, active 'screening' exercises. While these specific active "screening' exercises can and do vary even among good trainers, they can include: standing, sitting, walking, maybe running and some calisthenic-like exercises that can help show a client's posture, flexibility, joint stability, balance, coordination, strength, and even "compensations". This important information will help guide the trainer design an appropriate program. Body fat and resting metabolic rate can be measured/calculated and are helpful, too.
- A Good Movement Foundation: Most beginners are looking for the biggest bang for their buck. "What exercises will help me burn fat the fastest? What is the best lower back strengthening exercise?" Unfortunately, there are no special, "best" exercises. As a general rule, more intense exercise is needed to get the best results, but high-intensity exercise is probably not appropriate for a beginner. Beginners need to learn proper technique and how to move efficiently. Sitting 8 to 10 hours per day for years is going to significantly alter your posture, muscle activation patterns and movement efficiency. Spend time developing a solid fitness foundation and movement competency. I can't emphasize this enough. Movement competency (ie good technique) is critical for long-term success and to stay injury free. It takes some time and is a combination of having or developing good joint mobility, stability, coordination, appropriate activation patterns, body awareness, and strength. Rarely, is it done by the average fitness enthusiast. But, it is a solid training principle that I use with all clients. If you don't have the basics down and look like you know what you are doing, you have no business doing anything more advanced.
- A Basic Nutrition Framework: I don't write out diets for clients. I do, though teach them basic nutrition principles, have them submit a diet log, and help them apply basic, healthy eating principles, like my diet rules. I am interested in educating clients for life, not selling them the latest supplement. You don't need any fancy, expensive supplements. A multi-vitamin/multi-mineral daily supplement will do. If you are concerned about iron, calcium, vitamin D levels, etc., see your physician who can monitor these for you and give you better guidance.