How to Work With Your Personal Trainer

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
January 11, 2016

Some do’s and don’ts for life with your new gym buddy.

Hiring a personal trainer is one way to make sure you follow through on an exercise plan, often alongside a diet. Trainers can teach you proper form so you don’t injure yourself, which allows you to take on challenges and progress. There’s some science indicating that you’ll do better with help from a supervised trainer than on your own. Part of the job is to keep you motivated and both realistic and upbeat about your health. You need to communicate enough to come up with a plan you can follow — then stick to it. 


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Be honest and candid. Bare the facts about your health habits, over the last year up through the last two weeks. Hearing the truth from your own mouth could be an eye-opener. We humans are good at fooling themselves.  You may think you’re eating pretty well, but hear yourself confess a bowl of ice-cream every night or two cans of soda a day. You may think you get daily exercise even though that hasn’t been true for two years. Detail medications you are taking and any injuries or surgeries you’ve had. Medications can affect your heart rate; some moves aggravate osteoporosis and can make your condition worse. Trainers are required to keep health information confidential. 

Set short and long-term goals. Be specific, including timelines, and ask your trainer directly to let you know if you’re on track. For example, if you want to slim down, ask your trainer to measure your fat using a calipers and re-measure after perhaps three months. If you’re building up stamina for a hiking trip, do your research and tell your trainer how many hours a day you’ll be on your feet and the elevations. 

Dress the part. Have good sneakers and wear clothing that allows the trainer to see your body’s angles. An oversized T-shirt and sweat pants will get in the way.  

Respect the stopwatch. Timing counts. Trainers specify 30- or 60-second breaks between sets and ask you to hold the intensity of cardio intervals for specific durations. Cooperate and your results will soar. 

Stick to the plan. Your trainer should give you routines to do in between sessions that balance an upper and lower body workout and focus on any weaknesses you need to remedy, says Philip Goglia, PhD, a Santa Monica–based personal trainer, registered nutritionist, and author of “Turn Up the Heat: Unlock the Fat-Burning Power of Your Metabolism.” You might think it’s okay to push yourself harder, but let your trainer know at the next session. On the other hand, if you’ve agreed to go to the gym two times a week in addition to your regular session — and it hasn’t happened — confess.

Provide feedback. During your sessions, if the “burn” is starting to feel like actual pain, say so. Getting injured helps no one. If you want your trainer to yell at you Marine-style, and she’s on the gentle side, tell her. On the other hand if you feel beat up after your sessions, try being candid before you quit. You can say, “Lighten up, please.” A good trainer will hear you and adjust.

Trust your trainer. It’s OK to ask questions about the reasons for certain exercises, but interrupting and arguing can hurt the relationship, frustrating both of you. Trust means being open. Trainers hate to hear “I can’t do that,” or “No way.” Give it a try. Enthusiasm will go a long way. 


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Waste time. Most trainers would like you to come early and warm up before the session begins. Definitely don’t show up late and say, “I think I need to fill my water bottle,” “Let me get a dry towel real quick,” or “Oh, I need another bathroom trip.” Don’t arrive on an empty stomach, coming off a cold or stomach bug, or on four hours of sleep. Don’t take time to text or email. 

Most planners prefer to conduct focused 30-minute sessions rather than an hour with a lot of dawdling. That includes chit-chat. Trainers often are empathic people and become a confidante. If you do pour out your heart one session, minimize conversation on the next go-round. Your trainer could get overwhelmed or angry if your workout is the last thing on your mind every time you meet. 

Complain. You’re paying a trainer to help you grow stronger and fitter. There’s a difference between giving feedback — “I need a minute” — and whining. Be a grownup and do those last few reps. 

Be unrealistic. Your trainer is there to motivate you, but you still have to do the work. You also need to get enough sleep and eat in line with your goals. If you aren’t seeing progress, don’t just drift off. It’s time for another discussion about what you’re doing outside the sessions. Your trainer may need to push you harder. It’s also possible that you’re doing well and are beating yourself up for no reason. 

Coast. A good trainer will frequently tweak your plan and move you forward. You shouldn’t be doing the same exercises at every session or for months. Notice how you feel before, during, and after your training sessions. Do you anticipate sessions, feel engaged at the gym, and empowered afterwards? If you’re coasting or bored, are you the problem? Decide to put more heart into it, or find a new trainer. 

Accept unprofessionalism. Good personal trainers hate it when they see their peers flirt or touch clients inappropriately, double-booking, watching TV during a session, missing appointments, selling supplements, or providing bad diet advice. Move on. 


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April 08, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN