Hiring a Personal Trainer

Hiring a personal trainer can be a costly expense, so I wanted to cover some points before you invest your time and money into this service.

Know Your Goal

Before you even think about hiring a trainer, I would recommend knowing exactly the reason why you want one in the first place. Your reasons could vary from wanting to ensure you are moving properly, learn a new skill set, improve athletic performance or just wanting to make sure you are doing the right type exercise for your goal. If you are hiring a trainer because you need someone to be accountable to – thats fine, but don’t rely on your trainer to be your source of motivation; This won’t be a lasting relationship.


The cost of a personal trainer will vary between city and facility. In Peterborough, Ontario a single training session could cost between $30-$60. In Toronto, a single training session could be between $50-$120+ per session. Some gyms may require you to have a membership in addition to personal training services. Most trainers don’t sell training sessions by a single session – so you could be looking at a package of 10+ up sessions which you may be required to pay up front or have some sort of pre-authorized payment system. In a commercialized gym setting – your trainer is making between 30-50% of the training cost. Before you commit to pre-authorized payments or paying for your training up front- I would HIGHLY recommend familiarizing yourself with each gyms refund policy. The turn-over rate for trainers in commercial gyms can be high – and if the trainer you initially hired is no longer employed with the facility – you may not get a refund – and your only options could be working with another trainer or sell your sessions to someone else.

I know someone with a goal  to pass the police fitness test and she paid $1200 to work with a trainer who has had experience with the police testing. After her trainer was no longer employed with the facility, she wasn’t able to get a refund. Her only option was to sell her sessions to another member or use another trainer at the facility. 

30 minute session or 60 minute session? See below about “What should my workout look like”  – I would say 60 minutes if you can afford it – if not – go for the 30 minute and get there before to do your warm-up/mobility and corrective exercises.

My advice to people seeking personal training is to not pay for large packages of training up front. If the facility allows, I would break it up into 4 or 6 week packages. And for the love of kittens – don’t buy something you can’t afford; I have worked for a very large Canadian chain of gyms early in my career- I’m well aware of the sales training that goes on with these trainers.

Interview Your Trainer

I have worked for 3 gyms in my 8 years of training. Not ONE has ever asked to see documentation that I have any credentials or certification. Not one. I have worked with over 400 people – not one person has ever asked to see my certification.

I will let you in on an industry secret: A certification is proof that you have attended a course or passed a series of practical or written testing that shows you demonstrated the ability to meet safety standards. It doesn’t mean the trainer is proficient in the skill. There is a well known Canadian company that has personal training certification courses almost every weekend. You can take this course. Your grandma can take this course. Anyone can take this course and become a Certified Personal Trainer. 

If I were hiring a personal trainer, without a doubt, I would be looking for a  certified personal trainer through Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.  The prerequisite for this certification is a Fitness & Health Promotion diploma (2 years of college) or a Kinesiology degree. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean the trainer is any good – but at least they have taken courses in anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics- and that to me could be more meaningful than your grandma who just took a weekend course.

Within the realm of the fitness industry, there are other certifications available as a part of on-going education. That being said, if your trainer advertises that they teach CrossFit, they should have a CrossFit Level 1 or 2 certification. If your trainer advertises they teaches Pilates, Yoga, Kettlebell, Barre, TRX – it is in my opinion, they should have done some training in such field.  I’ve seen all too often trainers claim to teach things without any formal training, and its a real PISS off to people who actually do invest money and participate in ongoing education.

Just an example of this, there was a trainer in Peterborough who was advertising on their Facebook page they teach CrossFit at their studio. I thought this was interesting because I know their style of training typically isn’t lifting, so I investigated further. I knew that in order to advertise you teach CrossFit, you have to be an affiliate ($3000 annually), and in order to be an affiliate, you have to be a CrossFit coach ($1000 + course) Long story short – they weren’t a coach or an affiliate and the CrossFit company has a legal team that goes after people that do this – its theft. 

Questions to Ask

How long have you been training? I read a statistic somewhere that most new trainers last between 1-3 years in the industry. You will know that the trainer is invested if they are past this time frame. I also feel 1-3 years is a significant amount of time to gain some valuable experience. 

Who are your typical clients? Let’s say you are a 65 year old female with signs of osteoporosis- is it appropriate to hire a trainer who specializes in hockey? Probably not. If you are a 20 year old male who wants to compete in bodybuilding, would you hire a trainer who mostly works with long distance runners? Maybe not the best idea. These are things that need to be asked because mark my words- they will reflect in your workouts.

What things have you done for on-going education? This will show you a commitment to their career and clients. In an industry where things change so quickly – it is important to stay current with knowledge. I would say that 1-2 events per year is an acceptable minimum.

Who are the professionals in the industry who have influenced your career? This is a question that only a trainer would think to ask another trainer, but this is IMPORTANT for you to ask. It’s 2014 – More information is available and accessible than ever before.  Who are the people who are influencing the way they train? Who are the people they look up to in the industry? Who are their mentors? I would say a trainer should have minimum 5 professionals they they follow in the industry. If any of these “professionals”  are on a TV show – do not hire that trainer.

What does a typical workout look like? After a movement assessment, your trainer will program your workout to make you better at moving efficiently first- not how much weight can you lift as fast as you can. If you can’t squat or deadlift properly, there will be no benefit to continuing those movements with bad form. Gray Cook said it best when he said “Don’t strengthen dysfunction.”

–  A good trainer should ask how you feel that day first. If you got 2 hours sleep and are stressed to the max, and then expected to do a workout that kicks the crap out of you – this isn’t desirable. I really like a good warm-up that  increases blood flow, dynamic range of motion, corrective exercise, some breathing/bracing exercises, the strength part of the workout, possibly a short (Under 10 minutes) met-con, followed up with some foam rolling.

When to Fire Your Trainer

As with any relationship, there are times when its best to move on.

  • Under no circumstances, should your trainer yell at you. You are not in the military.
  • If you feel like your workouts are a non-stop attempt to make you puke. This isn’t legitimate programming.
  • If a part of your paid training session involves you being on a piece of cardio equipment. You shouldn’t be paying for this.
  • My personal pet peeve – If your trainer has convinced you to replace meals with shakes. If your trainer is involved with a nutrition Multi-Level Marketing company – know that they make commission off selling you an unsustainable lifestyle. Move on.
  • Being unprofessional at any capacity. If you know details about their sex life, dating life, and the amount of shots they took at the bar on the weekend  – you are not a client anymore – you have become a friend or therapist.

When Your Trainer Should Fire You

Without a doubt, this is one of the hardest things for a trainer to do. It happens from time to time, but remember- this is our job and most (good) trainers love their job. I will let someone go if I feel they are taking away from my love of the job.  I have a form that outlines expectations that clients sign so nothing comes as a surprise.  If you are a trainer reading this, I would highly recommend having an outline of expectations – this will protect you and save you from those unfortunate headaches and an awkward conversation

In closing, hiring a trainer can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for your health and fitness. Hiring the right trainer can prevent you from wasting your time and help you achieve your desired results faster. Do your research and you should come out with a good investment.