How to choose a fitness trainer?

During the first few days at a gym, trainers will walk up to you or be assigned to you, for an initiation process. It’s a part of their job to help you figure out how to use machines, correct your form, and in some cases even help you with organising your weekly routine, at least initially, while you’re still a newbie. Basically, they are there to prevent you from feeling lost when you enter the gym. You could also engage a trainer for more personalised training. You could be a master at figuring out your plan, or you could be a newbie, but choosing a trainer could still make a huge difference to how you get to your goals. With the deadly second wave of the covid-19 pandemic raging, no one will be going to a gym anytime soon, but what I talk about here holds true for online trainers as well.

In the past few years, I have used gyms all over the country, from Chembur in Mumbai to Pune and Delhi. I have trained with gym owners who claim to be qualified trainers with their only advice being to eat a lot of food. I have also trained with calisthenics trainers who have taught me how to do a muscle-up, flip 360 degrees in the air, grab the bar again and execute another muscle-up. I have had boxing training and learnt CrossFit moves in Delhi basements with industry leaders. Some of these experiences were amazing, and others, quite disturbing. Harshwardhan Rathore, who went to gym with me in Pune, has gone through the same cycle of trial and error until he met a trainer who took him from 78kgs to 65kgs and oversaw a 7kg muscle mass increment in his physique. The trainer he had before that ignored his complaints that he had asthma and made him do so much cardio that he passed out.

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Choosing the correct trainer is vastly more important than you may think: you are entrusting your body to his or her expertise, and there is no bigger responsibility to give to a stranger. So how do you choose a trainer?

“The most important question to ask a trainer when they approach you over their services is to ask for their area of expertise. A generic answer is a red flag. Every trainer has a USP— they are good at something or the other—some are brilliant at teaching calisthenics, some will use power-lifting to take you to your goals and some are particularly good at combining muscle gain with weight loss,” says Tejaswini Pandit, who is an IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness) pro athlete and works with trainers toprepare them for a career rife with unique challenges.

“Ask them: what do you give me that another trainer can’t? Why should I choose you?” she says.

There is no easy way to have this conversation. Trainers are taught to be sales professionals as well and will try to control this conversation but you must remember that you’re conducting an interview. You are the one hiring a person to reach your goals.

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Trainers do tend to “oversell” themselves, says Pandit, and that means you can’t go into this process blind. Before even thinking of choosing personal training, it is important for you to know your body, what it can do, what schedule it is tuned to, earlier injuries, and some basic understanding of fitness.

“You can’t lean completely on the trainer. There will be people who will sell you stuff to complete goals or targets. You have to educate yourself in terms of nutrition and training. Watch the right videos, read the right articles, and prepare yourself to ask the right questions. For example, what is your caffeine tolerance if someone asks you to take a pre-workout drink? These are things you may have to figure out on your own,” says Dubey. He worked with three trainers in the past three years, before eventually settling on the one he calls his “brother and mentor”.

Trainers have different styles too, which they should ideally be flexible with. Some people like a completely hands-on approach which includes being woken up every morning and urged to come to the gym. Others like their trainers to be more accommodating with their scheduling. You have to understand what kind of motivation you need and accordingly decide on the level of involvement you’re looking for.

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“When you are speaking to them, there needs to be a clear plan and a broader strategy on how to achieve your goals. Trainers need to understand your barriers to achieving these goals, what can prevent you from getting there, and what can help you get there faster. Somebody who is experienced will be able to understand what you see as a challenge and motivate you to go past them,” says Pandit.

The key is clear communication. Always take two or three trials, which most trainers will offer, and while it is understandable that they will be at their best behaviour then, at least you will get an idea of what the routine will be like when you begin in earnest.

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The other factor that potential clients are always worried about is trainers suggesting the use of a host of supplements. “Draw a line you won’t cross, and then you will understand their ethical boundaries too. And always talk to them one-on-one, so fellow trainers can’t put indirect pressure on saying yes to a particular trainer,” says Pandit.

Don’t be shy to take a stronger position in these communications. After all, it is your body on the line, and that thought alone should make you more confident in terms of dealing with offers from trainers to get you to sign up.

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.


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