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Finding A *Good* Personal Trainer or Coach
What Qualities Your Coach Should Have
One of my biggest suggestions for anyone ready to take their fitness seriously is to find a good coach or personal trainer.
A good coach is worth their weight in gold. They can ensure you are working out properly, with good form, and doing everything correctly to maximize your results.
A good coach will save you years of wasted time and trial and error. They will point you in the right direction immediately instead of you realizing years later you’ve been doing things wrong and could’ve made much more progress than you have.
In my case, if I had started with a coach, I would easily be 5 years ahead of where I am now, and in the case of competitive bodybuilding this could mean tons of opportunities and being a high level pro.
The main issue is most coaches are absolutely horrible - a quick glance at a globo gym or even online can show you that the true experts are few and far between.
The advice of “find someone that looks the part” *might* work, but there are a ton of idiots who have no idea what they’re talking about who do look the part.
It’s not that easy to spot one without actually knowing what you’re looking for—therefore, I’m writing this article so you know what to look for…
Defining a “Good” Coach
When you’re evaluating someone to coach or train you, you have to consider this is one of the most important investments you can make.
If this goes right, you are setting yourself up for life-changing fitness results, a wealth of knowledge, and longevity in the gym.
If this goes wrong you’re looking at bad habits (“training scars”), waste of time and money, and potentially setting yourself up for injuries/bad exercise mechanics.
If you get this right, it’s pretty much 1 and done. You really only need a coach for a brief period of your life to teach you the foundations and principles. Then you should be able to go on and be able to coach yourself (unless developing a further goal like going pro).
I couldn’t give you a real number, but it feels like bad coaches outweigh the good coaches about 100:1, it’s a very bad industry with a low barrier to entry and not necessarily the best demographic for minds.
Because of this, when it comes to finding one, we are better off filtering the bad ones immediately to make our search easier. There are certain “qualifying” aspects you should look for in a coach. This will be rather obvious and immediate to notice.
At surface level, what you’re looking for at a minimum is:
This is somewhat easier though there is even a chance one doesn’t exist if you live in a smaller area - beware of that.
In shape/looks the way you want to.
Passion and seems very interested in *you* when you first talk.
Should have years of experience and a busy client roster (this means they are sought after).
Caveat, they shouldn’t be *too busy* to focus on you.
Good word of mouth from others at the gym
This is the wild west and a total crapshoot. Just looking at Twitter we have guys with 1-3 years TOTAL gym experience who are coaching because they look good and have a lot of followers.
Realistically, this is where the best coaches are—online—but it’s hit or miss depending on the app. Instagram has the best coaches in the world but huge client list/wait times - Twitter is great if you know where to look.
All platforms are full of grifters and under-qualified coaches. As I mentioned, tons of guys have very little experience and/or very little knowledge but simply look good. Then you also have to sift through the marketers disguised as “coaches” who will squeeze you for every penny and not deliver quality service.
Ideally, off the bat you’re looking for:
Again, looks how you want to
Expertise is your actual goal (if you want to get bigger, hiring a powerlifter is a dumb move)
Has a good track record/testimonials
Interacts/friends with the right people
Speaks on the subject with authority and unique experience
This is just a preliminary vetting process for both avenues—when it comes to working with and evaluating a coach, it goes much deeper.
Vetting A Coach
After you’ve initially preliminarily screened and have come to a list of options, there are some questions you need to ask and things you need to look for when it comes to finding the right coach for you.
A coach should offer you the following:
Text/email (within designated times)
regular check-ins & questions/feedback
Personal, 1-on-1 training sessions
show you how to train properly (form & technique)
provide feedback/critique during sessions
Meet with you 1 - as many sessions as you deem necessary (or can afford)
1 minimum to ensure training/nutrition is going in the right direction (goes back to regular check-ins)
more if you need extra focus/support
Custom macro breakdown/meal plan
should be discussed prior to receiving plans - food likes/dislikes, allergies, medical issues, etc.
Local meal prep service recommendations
You should have text/email/whatever messaging medium access to your coach and be able to ask questions and get feedback in an appropriate, timely fashion (ideally within the designated times they stated).
*Most in-person coaches will set their contact hours to 8AM-8PM and off on weekends (this is reasonable for most clients, so if you need to contact your coach after these hours, you need to continue researching for the right fit).*
With this access, you also need to inspect what kind of feedback and accountability they provide. You should have regular check-ins, get critiques on your form/technique in real time, and some type of protocol where you document results/feedback for your plan and they make adjustments as necessary.
(Most of the time these check-ins can be done prior to sessions before you begin training, but a GREAT coach will want to document your progress digitally (via text/email/messaging domain) so they can compare your results over time—meaning they will have a weekly check-in day just like online coaches).
You also want someone who will be able to meet on your terms. If you want to book 3 sessions a week, you need to find a coach that has that kind of flexibility! Some coaches only meet their clients once a week, and some clients prefer it that way as well. Others, for example, will book to meet with you 5 times a week if you ask to meet that frequently. How often you meet all comes down to what you want/need from a coach.
This should also come with a diet plan - depending on how you wish to diet. For some it will just be calories and macros, for others complete custom meal plan.
Your coach should also be able to recommend local meal prep services that will fit your macro requirements if necessary/asked. Experience usually means your coach has a great network among the local gyms, supplement stores, meal prep services, etc.
Lastly, pricing should be fair. Most coaches will offer hourly sessions, weekly sessions, monthly sessions, and so on. They typically define their pricing through their experience. To give you an idea of what average pricing of most popular packages look like - hourly sessions cost between $80-125 per session and monthly usually between $250-500.
*I highly recommend doing a comparison of pricing among local trainers to get a good idea of what is actually fair in your area. The prices I stated above are pretty universal (as you’ll see in the online section), but some locations give this range variation.*
Most of the qualities to look for in online coaches will be the same as in-person coaches.
A coach should offer you the following:
Text/Email access (within designated times)
regular check-ins & questions/feedback
Evaluate your form and technique
provide useful “how-to” videos/links
Custom program and macros/diet plan
should be discussed prior to receiving plans - likes/dislikes, allergies, medical issues, etc.
The first thing is availability. Is this service going to be 24/7 - (meaning you can message them any time - not that they will message you back promptly at 3am or on the weekends).
Just like with in-person coaches, you should have text/email/whatever messaging medium access to your coach and be able to ask questions and get feedback in an appropriate, timely fashion (ideally within 24 hours or otherwise stated - some take weekends or have a designated day off).
Next, what kind of feedback and accountability do they have? You should have weekly check-ins, be able to send videos and get critiques on your form/technique, and some type of protocol where you send them results/feedback for your plan and they make adjustments as needed.
As stated above, this should also come with a diet plan - this will also depend on how you wish to diet. For some it will just be calories and macros, for others complete custom meal plan (think same meals everyday type deal, no one is going to craft a new meal plan for every single day).
Lastly, we need to consider price. Sure, some marketers will tell you “you get what you pay for” and “I know my worth so I charge $xyz amount”. But we have to consider that this is an open market and you can get quality for a fair price.
Price will vary, but you don’t need to be spending thousands of dollars a month on a coach - even $1000 is pretty insane. Personally, I have worked with half a dozen coaches and coach myself, and the going rate is between $250 and $500 a month - these are/were pro level coaches.
There is simply no “magic knowledge” someone is going to have that can justify a thousand+ of dollars a month outside of good marketing and sales skills.
When it comes to your plan, it should be 100% custom and tailored to you, not some cookie cutter program they send to every client. You have a unique body, exercise preferences, limitations, etc.
*The program you get should reflect this.*
Why You Need To Do Your Research
Here’s a scenario of an In-Person Coach Experience (specifically for Bodybuilding):
You’re 8-10 weeks out from a competition and decide you want to do it so you start looking for a coach - what an interesting time to decide to get a coach…
*(In the future, plan much further out. A good coach will want to train you in the off-season as well because they understand what you do in the off-season is just as important as competition prep-season).*
You find a coach that checks all the boxes (or so you think) - looks how you want to look, passionate and has experience, plenty of testimonials (mostly word of mouth), etc. etc., BUT they get all your plans back to you within a day of reaching out to them (AKA they just sent you a cookie-cutter plan).
Now you have 2 daily 60-minute cardio sessions programmed along with lifting weights 6 days a week, leaving only one day of rest each week. (You told them you didn’t want to lift more than 5x a week and limit cardio sessions to 4-5x per week).
The meal plan they sent doesn’t fit any of your macro requirements, and they put salmon on the plan when you absolutely HATE it!
“But they sent me a questionnaire? I told them exactly what I liked/disliked and gave them all my metrics.”
In this case, you were just another dollar sign to them, unfortunately. They didn’t pay close attention to you at all and there was some kind of misunderstanding.
So what went wrong?
It’s likely that you got the information of what the coach offers via text/email (that questionnaire mentioned earlier) after briefly speaking with them or hearing about them through a friend/peer at your gym.
Sure, you have the questionnaire, but do you know for sure this coach is right for you? It’s important you communicate with them and determine your compatibility before agreeing to hire them & request custom plans.
To avoid a cookie-cutter experience, I HIGHLY recommend you have a short interview/meeting period where you as the client speak with this potential coach—ask them questions, find out & fully understand what to expect from them as a coach, and lay out your requirements as a client.
If both parties agree, you just found yourself a new coach! If not, you have the ability to keep searching for the perfect coach.
(Note this EXACT experience happened to myself before one of my first few shows 5-6 years ago)
Putting It All Together
If you want to be a pro or expert in fitness whether powerlifting, bodybuilding, or any other type of training, you should hire a coach at least once in your life. Even if not going for expert level, hiring a coach is beneficial for building a strong foundation & learning basic form and technique.
There are many qualities to look for when vetting a personal trainer or coach. You’ll want to identify and check all the right boxes before hiring them.
For in-person, you want a coach that looks the part, is passionate about the training they provide, pays attention to and focuses on you, and has plenty of experience and client reviews/testimonials.
Along with what you’d be looking for in an in-person coach, you’ll want to look a bit deeper with online coaches - ensure they interact/friend with the right people (type you’d associate yourself with), have an expertise in a training method (the one you’re looking for) and are well-rounded on the subject and have unique experience.
Beyond these qualities, you’ll want to do a bit more research on your coaching choices. They should offer texting/emailing/some type of frequent communication, regular check-ins, individual personal training sessions (if in-person), show you how to properly train (form and technique), provide meaningful feedback, provide insightful videos/links or supplemental info (if online), custom meal plans/unique macro plans, and fair pricing.
Like I said before, there’s no “magic knowledge” someone is going to have that can justify a $1000+ a month outside of good marketing and sales skills. Don’t get scammed.
When it comes to your plan, it should be 100% custom and tailored to you, not some cookie cutter program that gets sent to every client. You have a unique body, exercise preferences, limitations, experience, and many other attributes that need individual consideration.
To avoid scenarios where you could get scammed, I recommend you have an interview/meeting period with this potential coach…
Ask them questions in the beginning, find out & fully understand what to expect from them as a coach, and lay out your requirements as a client before hiring them. This will ensure you will have a good relationship with your coach.
Be smart & always do your research!
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.