Why a Personal Trainer is Exactly What You Need

For any fitness goal, big or small, everyday people can level up with a trainer

A personal trainer might sound like a luxury used only by people with lots of cash to indulge at the gym. All the A-listers have one, you know! Conversely, a personal trainer might sound like a necessity for people with injuries or chronic health problems; a circumstance that justifies the cost of paying someone to help you workout. You might think only people with serious fitness goals hire a personal trainer to prepare them for an athletic competition or event. And although personal trainers are great for getting Hollywood stars cut, helping people recover from injuries or train athletes for an event, a trainer is also the best way for you to achieve that fitness goal you’ve been putting off or just haven’t been able to reach.

I’ve Tried It All - A Brief History of My Quest For Fitness

Although I’ve been active and athletic since childhood, I have had times in my life when my body needed some serious work. I was extremely overweight after my pregnancies, having gained over 80lbs with each child. I’ve also gone through stages of feeling too thin, usually during high stress periods in my life, and wanted to fill out without gaining unhealthy weight. Clothes are not cute when they hang droopy on a beanpole body. I’ve had big and small fitness goals throughout my life, and until I found my personal trainer, I was essentially unsuccessful in getting there. But, I tried! Here’s what I learned.

Gym Membership: FAIL! Jumping on the latest gym membership deal screaming at you from the billboards about no money down does not work. I’ve done this more times than I care to admit, and every time ended up the same way. I’m highly motivated the first week or so and hit the gym hard. Then, I got bored doing the same exercises, because they were the only ones I really knew. I'd go less often until I wasn't going at all and suddenly three months have passed since my last workout and at that point, I gave up.

Another common issue with a gym membership is simply not knowing what to do with the vast array of options surrounding you. The free weights area is intimidating, the machines are confusing, and the cardio equipment isn’t enough to build lean muscle. I was overwhelmed by possibilities that were hard to make sense of without guidance, so I'd quit going.

Fitness Classes: FAIL! Don’t get me wrong, fitness classes are awesome! I’m talking about any type of fitness; yoga, barre, spin cycling, Zumba, bootcamps. Classes are a great way to stay motivated to workout, because you usually pay upfront for a certain amount of classes, therefore you attend (damn it)! Plus, it’s easy to make some cool new friends. The problem is once that time is up, and you’ve taken all the classes you paid for, it’s hard not to take a break...a really long one. If the classes are drop-in, meaning you pay only when you go, the motivation to return slips away even faster.

The other downside to fitness classes is that you typically get only one type of workout, even if each class provides some variety in fitness sequence. Classes are taught by a number of different instructors, and like anything else, some are better than others. Switching instructors can obstruct the consistency you need to get on a steady fitness track. Finally, classes are taught in groups, making it difficult to get any personal attention or one-on-one instruction. You could be doing the exercises wrong 80% of the time, but you wouldn’t know it or learn how to fix it. I love using fitness classes to supplement my regular workout sessions with my trainer. Although, the classes alone do not sustain my ultimate fitness goals.

Fitness Apps: FAIL! Fitness apps can compliment personal training, helping you keep up with workouts when you’re out of town or not seeing your trainer. Aaptiv is a popular fitness app for which I actually forked up the dough to subscribe. It has videos and audio instructions of some decent workouts. It’s almost like having a personal trainer, because all the workouts are built for you, so you don’t have to think about what exercises to do. You can select what body area to workout, be it legs, core, arms, or abs, and there are limitless options of workout programs to try.

These apps fall short on two critical factors that a personal trainer provides in spades: accountability and form checking. It’s way too easy to skip out on the exercises that hurt, short yourself a few reps, or end the workout early. A personal trainer keeps you accountable for completing your full workout with NO (unintentional) cheating! A good trainer also corrects your form during each exercise, which makes all the difference in getting the most gains in the least amount of time. An app can never do that.

At-Home Workouts: FAIL! Working out at home following a DVD or an online program has the same shortcomings of working out with an app or at the gym. There’s no accountability, no one corrects your form, and it’s easy to get bored. Running on a treadmill or outside, in a park or around the neighborhood is legit, but it won’t help you develop lean muscle like resistance or weight training. Reaching a fitness goal will be much harder if you stick solely to at-home workouts, but they are worthwhile to fill in the gaps between personal training sessions.

Personal Trainer Workouts: WINNING! Never has my body looked as strong, toned, lean, and swole in all the right places as it does when I’m working with my trainer. I believe it’s entirely possible for someone to achieve their fitness goals without a trainer. I don’t deny your sheer will and know-how. I was once a skeptic of the trainer and thought I could get myself in shape without one. I knew a lot about nutrition, fitness, and enough about supplements. But, I couldn’t quite get where I wanted to be until I got my trainer.

A trainer is worth every penny they squeeze out of you in sweat and tears. Here are my top 3 reasons why, and then some honorable mentions.

Accountability - A good trainer cares about you in and out of the gym. They are just as invested as you are in your success. You have someone in your corner making sure you are staying on track. The days you aren’t seeing your trainer, your trainer will text you to help you plan your workouts between sessions. It’s almost impossible to slack! Your trainer will know. And then punish you through incessant squats.

Form Checking - Proper form is one of those things you don’t realize you’re missing in your life until you have it in your life, and then you wonder how did you go so long without it! A good trainer can see the tiniest adjustment needed to make an exercise effective in its intended purpose. Sure, you can work muscles even with less than perfect form. But a fraction of an inch adjustment in how high or low you are lifting, pulling, or leaning makes a huge difference in developing the group of muscles you are targeting. Huge. Getting you where you want to be faster. Like my hot yoga instructor said, "Correct your bad form now, before it becomes a bad habit."

Anatomical Knowledge: Personal trainers are nerds. They nerd out on isolating small muscle groups, exercise mechanics, and body alignment. When you tell a trainer that you want to lose weight around your waist, grow a booty, and tighten your core, your trainer knows exactly how to target those muscles. They can spot your weak areas and strengthen muscle groups to compensate for a bad knee or misaligned hips. You’ll learn why your solo efforts toward these goals haven’t worked, based on your anatomy and body type. Priceless.

Honorable Mentions:

Nutrition and Supplements: I use a food logging app while I’m working with my trainer. I personally like MyFitnessPal, but any will work. The key feature to look for is tracking macros (macronutrients - carbohydrates, fats, proteins). Your trainer will adjust your nutritional needs based on your current diet and progress. Trainers also know the right supplements to take, based on what your diet and exercise alone aren’t quite accomplishing.

Unique Workout Mixes: My trainer has an uncanny talent for dreaming up new workouts. She puts me on an exercise machine and asks me to use it in ways it was never meant to be used! Good trainers are creative and your workouts will never be stagnant, because they can see beyond the regular use of equipment and come up with completely original exercises, you wouldn’t get anywhere else. It keeps your workouts fun, unpredictable, and sometimes shocking. “I’m doing what with that???”

Pushing Past a Plateau: I call this “leveling-up.” Your trainer will know how to enhance your workouts to get you past a plateau and you will feel yourself leveling up. It’s normal for your body to slow down its progress and hit a wall. Trainers knock you out of that quickly.

Teach You How to Safely Use Weights: I recently got my fifteen year old son a personal trainer because I put my money where my mouth is, and I wanted him to get the most out of his time at the gym. I was most worried about him injuring himself by using the machines or weights incorrectly. Instead of risking injury, he’s doing 6 months twice a week with a trainer, learning about his body and how to use gym equipment. Mom feels good about that.


Finding Your Personal Trainer

Personal trainers, like real estate agents, are everywhere! How do you decide who to work with to achieve that awesome one-on-one fitness connection? First, look for gyms you might be interested in joining and ask for a complimentary session with a trainer. Most personal trainers offer a free session to assess your needs and give you a taste of their style. Don’t settle! Choose someone who is clearly knowledgeable, attentive, challenging, and confident.

If you care about your health and fitness, a personal trainer is the best investment you can make in yourself. I’ve been working out with my trainer for a year now, and she’s taken me to multiple levels of fitness, depending on my goals and the time I can commit. It’s a fluid and dynamic relationship centered on strength and progress, not perfection. Ups and downs are normal, but working together to adjust goals is the key to taking it seriously, but keeping it fun.

Here's a montage of my personal trainer, Nicky, at work with me. You'll notice how much she guides me, adjusts equipment to properly fit me, and corrects my form when it's off.

People are just as picky about the way they work out as they are about anything else. Therefore, no one can tell you what you need in a personal trainer. Whatever style you prefer is available to you, among a plethora of personal trainers to choose from when you’re ready. Whatever your age, weight, or fitness level right now, a personal trainer will help you beyond your expectations. What are you waiting for?

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