How To Find A Good Personal Trainer: 20 Top Tips

If you’re looking for the best personal trainer you can find, chances are, you’re going to need to stump up a decent amount of cash because these guys aren’t cheap.

If you’re going to be paying top dollar for exercise instruction, you’ll want to make sure that you’re hiring the best around so won’t be disappointed with your choice.

What are the top signs and signals you can look out for to help you understand the best way to hire a personal trainer?

Well, I have good news for you today my friend, I’ve worked as a personal trainer for over ten years in London, so I’ve met a lot of PTs, some of them good and some of them not so good. With this information, I can let you know exactly what you need to be looking for, and what to avoid.

Let’s go….

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how to find a good personal trainer

Have VERY clear and defined goals

Whoah, whoah, whoah, I know what you’re thinking “This article is about how to find a good personal trainer, shouldn’t they be the ones to decide what I need?”.

The problem with this approach is that not every trainer will know by looking at you what you want to achieve, and it’s not professional to assume that someone wants to lose weight for example, when in fact they may want to get into powerlifting.

Before you even begin to look for a trainer, you should sit down (or stand, it’s up to you), and decide exactly how you want to look, feel, or be able to do. Only then can a trainer prescribe the perfect exercise routine for you.

It’s also pretty useful to add timeframes for when you would like to achieve your goals if you are not sure about what is realistic or not, that’s fine, a good trainer will tell you upfront whether or not what you have asked for is realistic, or at least how close they can get you.

Let’s take an example, saying to a trainer “I want to lose weight”, is great and everything, and probably something they hear three or four times a day, but the key factor here is “By when?”.

Stating that you have a wedding to go to in three months and you have a dress or suit you’d like to fit in for the event is much easier for the trainer, as they will be able to prescribe the workout, and the correct number of sessions required each week to get you as close to reaching your goal as possible.

Trainers are great, but they aren’t mind readers, giving them as much information as possible will help them create the perfect exercise routine for you, helping to turn mediocre results into fantastic results.

Decide what you want from your trainer

There are many aspects that some would consider makes a good personal trainer, but rarely would two people have the same ideas of what these aspects would be.

For example, one person might decide that a trainer that pushes them to their absolute maximum each and every rep is what makes their trainer great, for another, the opposite could be true, they may hate the idea of being constantly pushed to breaking point.

You should decide for yourself exactly what it is that you are looking for in a personal trainer. Do you want your trainer to be chatty or quiet? Should they be shouting motivation or quietly encouraging you? Are you looking for a friendly face to help you enjoy workouts, or do you want things to stay strictly professional?

These are the sorts of questions you need to decide before you begin your search because only you can decide what makes a good personal trainer.

Look for the busy trainers in your gym or local area

There is an old adage that you should never eat in an empty restaurant, why’s this? It’s because if there are no customers, chances are, the place does not have good food, or maybe it does, but the customer service might stink. Either way, it’s not a place you want to visit.

The same can be said for trainers in a gym or in your local area. The trainers standing around all day looking at their phones and not training anyone are either no good or brand new to the gym. If they are new, there is still no excuse to be standing around all day, they should be out looking to meet people and form bonds with the gym members.

The trainers you see that are always training people and looking like they know pretty much every gym member are the ones you want to go after. The reason they are busy is that they are probably some of the best in the gym. If people see how great a trainer is with their clients, they will flock to them for training.

The obvious downside to this approach is that it may not be easy to get sessions booked with these busy trainers, and you may even have to be put on a waiting list. Then again, going back to the restaurant analogy, if there is a waiting list for an exclusive eatery in town, chances are, it must be pretty great.

Watch trainers whilst they are working with their clients

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This is the point where you’ll need to get yourself a pair of large dark sunglasses and a newspaper to hide behind so you don’t look suspicious!

Watching other sessions is a great way of telling the great PTs and the terrible PTs apart. Don’t think of it as being creepy, it’s more like market research.

I’m being completely serious with this point, because once you start to watch the sessions going on around you closely, you’ll be able to tell what type of training you would enjoy most, and the type of trainer you would like to work with.

It all comes down to your personality and wants. If you are a strict person who is really looking for a coach and not a friend, look for trainers that are closely timing every rest period, making notes on program cards, and pushing their clients to the max.

If you are looking for someone that will help you get in shape, but also make the gym a little more fun to be in, look for the guys talking to their clients during rest periods, laughing and joking, BUT still taking the session seriously.

Avoid trainers that are excessively cheap or expensive

There are two sides to this coin, and you’ve gotta be pretty careful of both!

Hiring a trainer that is super cheap may sound like a sound option if you aren’t made of money but want to get in shape, but, as I have pointed out in other posts, you get what you pay for in life.

A trainer that is substantially cheaper than others in the local area is cheap for a reason, they are usually desperate for clients (not a good sign) or they don’t consider themselves good enough to charge the same rate as others, (also not a good thing).

The other side, is, of course, hiring a trainer that is ridiculously expensive.

Let me be clear about this, there is really no reason to pay well over the odds for a PT unless they are specifically certified in a very particular niche that you require training in, anything other than this, and you’re probably paying for a whole bunch of bells and whistles that won’t make a single bit of difference to the results you’ll get in the end.

So what’s the right course of action here?

As usual, it comes down to performing a little research and due diligence in your local area before you sign up for anything. Do a few internet searches, ask gym managers what the average rate of PTs in your club is for the session lengths you’re looking for, and compare those to other local gyms.

Ask for a consultation session if one isn’t initially offered

personal training consultation session

Establishing a price you’re willing to pay and is right for the services you need is very important, but the fact of the matter is, if you don’t try before you buy, how do you know if you will get on with your trainer and enjoy the sessions?

Every, and I mean every PT should either be offering consultation sessions or at least grant you one if you ask for it. Starting a training regime is no short-term thing, it may take several months for you to achieve what you’re looking for, so you really need to be absolutely certain that you are willing to commit to both the sessions AND the trainer before you sign anything.

Do I know of personal trainers that refuse to give consultation sessions? Yes, do I agree with this practice? not in any way!

The main defense for not giving consultation from trainers is that they don’t want to give away their time for free as they have rent to pay. I get this, but in my mind, it’s a pretty harsh practice. They wouldn’t want to buy a new £800 phone without at least seeing what it can do and feeling it in their hands, so why should you as a potential client not get to try before you buy?

I’m not saying that if a trainer denies you a consultation session they are bad, It’s their business so they can do what they want, but I think the best way for you to see what they are like as a person and a trainer is to train once for free with them. If you like them, you carry on, if not, you can move on.

Test their attention span (very important)

I’m sure at some point you have gone out with friends or family, and whilst you’re deep in conversation, they look down at their phone and start scrolling.

How did this make you feel? I’m guessing that it got you pretty annoyed, and so it should, it’s really rude.

So, how about taking that feeling and then imagining that not only were you not being listened to, you were paying for every second of being ignored? I’m sure the idea of that almost gets your blood boiling.

Why do I create these imaginary tales you ask? Because I see it happening all the time, and it drives me mad to see trainers doing it.

You’re paying for a trainer’s time and dedication when you sign up for sessions, and this is exactly what you should be getting at all times. Every second they are looking at their phone is costing you money, and that’s not on.

One small caveat here is that it’s possible that the trainer might be using their phone to make notes of weights or time rest periods, but it’s fairly easy to spot when that’s the case, it should take no more than a few seconds to record weight progressions and then the phone should go away and the focus brought back to their client.

One thing that is essential for you to test in order to see if your trainer is any good or not, is their attention span. If during your consultation session, they consistently show a lack of attention to you, say thank you at the end of the session and move on to another trainer that will be fully committed to you.

Ask to read any testimonials from previous clients

good personal trainers

What’s the closest thing to being recommended a personal trainer by word of mouth? Reading positive testimonials from previous clients.

A good trainer may have a list of client testimonials they have collected over time that allow people to explain what fantastic results they achieved. Often, there will be several paragraphs explaining why they enjoyed the training, and sometimes there will be a before and after picture to hopefully show dramatic changes in body shape achieved by both client and trainer.

Not every single trainer will have testimonials, it must be said, but a lot will. The thing to remember with testimonials is that a PT will only keep the positive ones, there’s no reason for them to keep a piece of paper that says someone didn’t enjoy their training, so take everything you read with a pinch of salt.

That being said, I honestly don’t believe that many trainers would stoop as low as creating fake testimonials, so you should be confident that your potential trainer really can help you achieve your goals if he has helped others in the past.

Make sure you connect on a personal level

You’re going to be spending a long time with your trainer over the coming months once you’ve signed up for training sessions, even at only a single hour-long session once a week, that’s more than some people see their best friends!

It’s imperative that you get on with your trainer, so you need to make sure you are on the same level. That’s not to say that you need to be meeting up for drinks each week and inviting them over for Christmas, but you really should be able to enjoy spending time with them, or your weekly training session will not be something you’ll look forward to.

One of the reasons I’ve added this point to the list is because I’ve seen awkward sessions happen in real life where both trainer and client sit in silence during rest periods, and it’s so horrible to watch, you can feel the tension from across the other side of the gym.

Now, I would also say that for some people, the relationship between client and trainer is not important, at all. Some see training sessions as they would attending a class in school, tuition, and nothing more. For the majority though, having a trainer they can get on with and enjoy talking to makes a huge difference in how well they perform with them.

A PT can have a fantastic level of knowledge and great methods, but if you can’t stand being with them, you won’t get the full benefit. On the other hand, you can have a good trainer with a decent knowledge of exercise and training methods that you can’t wait to see each week. In this situation, you will often find you will get far more from your training sessions.

Read PT bio’s

This might seem like the most ridiculously obvious thing to point out about how to find a good personal trainer, reading the profile boards that tell you all about them, so why am I advising you to take the time out to have a quick read the next time you’re in the gym? Because hardly anyone ever does, and I think I know why.

In a typical chain gym, there are maybe fifteen or twenty trainers, all looking for clients, all the time. So when they see someone looking at the profile boards, they know you are a little interested in hiring a trainer or at least having a taster session.

What scares people off, is they know as soon as they go over to the board, some trainer is going to pounce on them to try to pick them up as a client. Here’s the good news, all you need to do is say “I’m just looking thanks, but can I take your card?”

I’m very confident that this will be all they need to hear, and they should leave you alone. If they insist on training with them, just remember what I’ve previously said about desperate-looking trainers, a good trainer would never come across as desperate for new clients, so remember that you are in control of this situation and not them.

Reading through bio boards will allow you to get a feel for the trainers’ training styles, and specialties and maybe even give you a hint about their personalities too.

Look for specialists in your desired outcome

how to find a good personal trainer 2

Every PT is going to say they can help you out in terms of reaching your goals, they need the clients, and, more importantly, for them, they need the money. This means they are highly unlikely to turn you away if you approach them, even if what you’re asking for is not something they specialize in.

Now, there are some fields that pretty much any personal trainer will be able to help you out with, these include:

  • Weight loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Strength training
  • Endurance

These are the main concepts PTs are taught during their certifications, however, just because they have been taught about something, doesn’t mean they are experts by any means.

What you should be looking for is a trainer with a strong history of getting clients results in your area of need. For example, if you’re looking for fat loss, find a trainer who has several client testimonials that demonstrate that they have helped them achieve great results.

In particular, you should be looking out for before and after images showing impressive results, as it is possible for trainers to “invent” written testimonials, so photographic proof helps to back these claims up.

This goes for any goal you have, you should never go for the first trainer that approaches you or the first one you come across, you should ask each one specifically what they specialize in and ask to see the results of previous clients before you sign up.

Avoid PTs that try to “break” their clients

This point is very important because I think the general public’s idea of a good personal trainer, is one that should be absolutely destroying them each and every session, to the point that they are nearly in tears as they are leaving.

This incorrect assumption has been created by TV shows that show rapid weight loss in a short period of time (which is neither healthy nor sustainable). This is not what training is about, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Training correctly takes time, and that’s not just so the trainer can make more money off you, it’s to make the training safer and more effective.

Again, this is something you should look for whilst performing your due diligence when scouting out your trainer. Look at their sessions, there is nothing wrong with seeing clients that are tired and sweaty, that’s fine, but are they drenched with sweat, gasping for breath, and looking like they are really not having a good time?

This is not what you should be looking for in a trainer, and often, this is the sign of a PT that is new to the industry and has misunderstood what is required in order to get their clients’ results. It’s also common for these types of trainers to boast and brag about how hard they work people, this is immature and not a sign of a good personal trainer at all.

Look for a PT who will tell you how it is

The hard truth is that sometimes you need to be told the hard truth. If you aren’t eating correctly, training correctly, and aren’t training as often as you said you would, you won’t reach your desired outcome, it’s as simple as that.

A good personal trainer will tell this to your face, a bad one will let you keep on as you are, not achieving anything because it means you will need to stay with them for longer and pay them more of your money.

There’s nothing wrong with being friendly with your PT, as previously stated, it can be a good thing, however, you need to find the right mix of someone that will make your workouts enjoyable and effective, whilst still being authoritative enough to sit you down and take accountability.

Avoid trainers using needlessly complicated exercises

good personal trainer

Before I start this point, I should point out that I’m totally biased on this one and certain trainers would totally disagree with me but I’m cool with that.

Training does not need to be complicated or confusing. You don’t need to use every piece of equipment in the gym each session, and you certainly don’t need to be balancing on a Bosu ball whilst doing biceps curls.

There, I said it!

I understand that some people get bored with exercise and may need to try something new to keep them engaged every now and then. This is completely fine, but I’m referring to trainers who needlessly overcomplicate things so their clients cannot go off and do the exercises on their own, either because they need to be watched closely, or are just too complicated to remember.

In my view, you can stick to very simple exercises that have been around for a very long time (because they are effective), and throw in a few fancy ones every now and then for something fun to do. Remember, you’re paying for results, so whilst the old-school exercises like squats, presses, and rows might not be as sexy as single-arm anterior chain cable presses, they are seriously effective and should be used.

I’ll put my hand up and say that when I was a new trainer, I was totally guilty of doing this, trying every new fad and exercise that came out until I saw that no one was getting the results they were after. I took a more simplified approach to training and low and behold, we started seeing positive things happen.

Sometimes, simple is best.

Avoid trainers that won’t work around injuries

Imagine the scenario, you’re midway through your training cycle, you’re getting great results and everything is going great. You decide to go on a skiing trip with your friends and whilst you’re away, you damage your knee.

So what happens now? All your training has to stop until you’ve recovered in 3-6 months’ time right? And I guess you’ll just have to be ok with the fact that you’re going to lose tons of the great results you’ve already got. Oh well.

No way!

A great personal trainer should not only be able to deal with this kind of situation, but they should also be able to help you out of it too. A PT with a basic understanding of exercise, but very little knowledge of injury prevention or rehabilitation will run a mile if you tell them you have an injury, whereas a great personal trainer will be able to prepare your body to prevent injury in the first place, and if it does still occur, rehabilitate you whilst continuing to help you achieve your desired outcome.

Let me be clear that I don’t mean “working through the pain”, that’s not what this is about, and that would be a sign of a terrible trainer. Instead, they would continue working the unaffected areas of the body in a way that will achieve results, whilst using much lighter movements and specific rehab exercises to promote recovery and strengthening.

Everything should not have to stop because an injury has occurred, it’s part of life, and it can be a part of training, accidents happen and your trainer should be able to deal with them.

Find a trainer that encourages you (but not too much)

good personal trainers

For some, having a trainer scream in their face for an hour several times a week is the definition of a great workout session, after all, it’s what we see those trainers doing on those extreme weight loss shows, right?

This is so unnecessary, we are grown people and don’t need to be screamed at through every lunge and chest press. Don’t get me wrong, encouragement towards the end of each set when things start to get really tough is important, and really something you are paying for, as this is where most of the results are made.

The point is, what you may have seen on TV is not what real personal training is about, and if your trainer is already shouting at you after your first rep of ten, they also may have misunderstood what being a personal trainer is all about.

Now, I know that for some people, this is exactly what they want and need from a trainer, and in that case, fine, but for the vast majority of the public, all this is going to do is annoy them. You should look for a trainer that is confident in themselves, and not trying to live up to stereotypes of what a trainer SHOULD be.

Ask to see their certifications

This is directed more at online coaches and freelance PTs working in local parks or coming to your home, as every gym that hires people to work as trainers need to see that they are qualified so they can be covered by the gym’s insurance.

Freelance trainers on the other hand have no restrictions, as far as you’re aware, they may not even have any certifications at all, and might just really enjoy their exercise and be happy to take payment to train you.

It’s important in this case, to check the trainer out yourself. Ask to see what certifications they have, what company they studied with, and what courses they have taken. This might feel a bit awkward, but any decent trainer that is fully certified will not have a hard time finding these for you.

Tell your PT if you’re not happy with something

what is a good personal trainer

So few people do this, and it drives me crazy. If you go out to eat and have a terrible meal, you wouldn’t think twice about sending the food back or asking to speak to someone.

For whatever reason, if a client is unhappy with the service their trainer is giving them, it’s very rare that they ever confront them on this and ask for better. You’re completely in your right to say if you are unhappy and if your trainer is any good, they should take criticism without being offended.

Pulling your trainer up on something you’re not happy with should not mean the end of working with them. If anything, it should mean even better sessions going forwards once you are both on the same page.

Of course, the ideal situation would be that you shouldn’t need to do this, but even the best trainers make mistakes, so watch out for this and don’t ignore something that is bothering you, say something ASAP or it will be harder to correct further down the line.

Only work with trainers that have a plan

Just as there are trainers that pride themselves in trying to completely destroy their clients each session, there are others that consider never planning their sessions as an affirmation of how incredible they are.

I’ve never understood this because I am the type of person that likes to plan everything down to the last detail, as I feel that’s the level of service my clients deserve. Now I know a lot of other trainers wouldn’t agree with me on this point and would swear blind that they can easily remember each individual’s weights, reps, sets, and so on. The thing is, I just don’t believe it. If you’re seeing twenty to thirty people each week, I really don’t see how you can have all that data in your brain.

The majority of the time, these trainers will be guessing what weights to use, what exercises they should be doing, and what their clients want to get out of their training.

Guessing is a great way of making sure that no results are ever achieved. When you write things down and have a solid plan, it’s easy to measure progress and success.

Will you get a good workout with these trainers? Yeah, maybe, but only because they are pushing you to your maximum each session without any real direction in mind, and we have already discussed why this is a poor signal from a trainer.

If it’s not working out (pardon the pun) move on

How do you know if you have a good personal trainer

If you’ve followed all the steps in this list to find yourself the perfect trainer, but somehow things still aren’t working out, what are you to do?

You could talk to them as previously suggested, but what if your concerns fall on deaf ears and nothing improves?

In all honesty, your best bet is to leave that PT and find a better one. It may sound harsh, and it may seem like something a lot of people would struggle to do, but this is your money and you’re paying for a service. If you don’t think you’re getting the service or results you want and you’ve given it your best shot, stop paying for sessions immediately.

If you do anything other than this, you are simply helping the trainer pay their bills and make an income off your back, and this is not on.

How do you know if you have a good personal trainer?

  • They listen to you
  • They understand your likes and dislikes and take them into account
  • They will do everything they can to help you achieve your desired results
  • They are fully certified
  • They measure results and take notes during sessions
  • They can back up their claims with testimonials
  • They encourage you without being annoying about it
  • They plan your workouts
  • They can accept criticism
  • They are honest with you
  • They don’t overcomplicate things for the sake of it
  • They have a great connection with you

If your training is ticking a good few of these boxes, you can be pretty confident you’ve got yourself a pretty good trainer.


If you’ve made it this far, I take my hat off to you. I really hope that this article has taught you how to find a good personal trainer. Remember, you’re paying for this service, so you are completely in charge.

A major point of this article is that if your trainer is not matching up to these standards, talk to them, or move on if you need to.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today, and good luck with your exercise journey, it’s totally worth all the sweat in the end, I promise you.

Have a great day.

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

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