In his eye-opening and excellent expose of Wall Street Trading practices, Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis recounts his journey from naive, wide-eyed trainee to a fully fledged bond trader. In the book Lewis talks about the importance of a 'jungle guide'; someone to see you safely across the metaphorical quicksand and to help you avoid those snapping crocodiles that haven't had a decent meal in weeks.
It's in this spirit that I offer the following advice regarding choosing a personal trainer. Perhaps slightly contradictory, the first bit of advice is that a PT might not be for you. Personal trainers are expensive and not for everyone. If you have a high level of self-motivation and experience of exercise then you might decide, entirely reasonably, that a PT isn't for you. The bottom line: it won't do you or your trainer much good if you go along to a few sessions and then quit. Before you go make sure this is something that you can commit to.
Right, let's get some of the obvious points out of the way immediately. The best way to pick a personal trainer is through a personal recommendation. If your friend, colleague, lover, whatever, has trained with someone and really rates them then this is a promising start. Of course, if your friend's training goals are to look like someone from the BodyPower stage and they thrive on being shouted at, and you just want to tone up and prefer a softly-softly approach, then their trainer might not be for you.
Which bring us almost seamlessly onto the next point; if you have specific goals or considerations then you need to make sure that the trainer can deliver what you want. Most people's goals are pretty generic; lose weight, build up muscle, get bigger arms or a tighter bum and, even though some trainers brand themselves up as 'fat loss experts', the truth is that all half-decent trainers should be able to deliver on the above goals. However, if you've got a bad back then it's going to be worth your while looking for a trainer with a level four diploma in specialist exercise (lower back pain). Similarly, if you are obese then you should look for someone with experience and qualifications in this area.
I can't emphasise enough how important it is that you and your trainer get on. I don't mean that you need to become super-best buddies, but you do need to have a rapport. If you like your trainer then when you're trying to squeeze out those last few reps their words can be encouraging and motivational. If you don't like them it just makes you want to smack them in their stupid face. Before signing on with a PT ensure you get a free consultation session with them and also ask for a 10 minute chat before or after the session. This will give you a better idea about how well your personalities will mesh.
There is a way potential clients can check the qualifications of potential PTs: The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPS). However, in order for a personal trainer to be on the database they have to register with REPS for £38 a year, rising to £93 with insurance. I know a lot of personal trainers who think they don't get an awful lot for their £38 a year. By all means use the REPS data base to search for a PT, but don't write someone off just because they aren't on REPS.
I had a PT for over a year and found that it helped me immensely. Most people don't think twice about spending £40 on a night out, but baulk at paying this for a training session. I think this is skewed logic. I've also had numerous sessions with trainers that I have been interviewing or know in the industry, and there really are some great ones out there. If the cost of a PT is prohibitive then ask them if they do small group training. This will give you the opportunity to train with other people for a fraction of the cost, while still receiving structure from an expert and some personal attention.
The final rule is one that's cast in iron, I'm afraid. It's non-negotiable. If your trainer ever says, "No pain-no gain" or "Feel the burn" then you have to terminate the relationship there and then. That's the law.