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The right communication style is key to finding a trainer that can keep you motivated.

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A classic New Year’s resolution list would be amiss without at least one mention of notorious one-liners like “get in shape,” “lose 40 pounds,” or “run a marathon.” Ambitions such as these have their place, but can leave fitness newbies (or oldies) discouraged and overwhelmed when they realize results aren’t matching expectations.

What’s worse, according to fitness trainers, is that 15 to 20 percent of their January/February clients find their fitness focus fizzles within six months. That’s hardly enough time to burn off the damage from all that holiday baking! Receive a gym gift card for Christmas? Pros have some advice on how to mentally and physically get the most out of your personal training sessions and keep those resolutions sound.

Prepare Properly

A pre-workout consultation is essential to getting off on the right foot. By meeting with your trainer-to-be either in person or over the phone you can ask questions about their credentials, experience and work history, client retention rate, and more. It’s also a good time to explain your goals for your training and align physical reality with emotional expectations.

“We often get people who have really lofty goals for short time periods,” explains River Oaks Gym owner Chad Evans. “The last thing I want to do is to dampen someone’s enthusiasm about getting in shape, but our policy for healthy sustainable weight loss is about two to three pounds per week at most. I always remind people they did not get out of shape in a few weeks so don’t expect to get into shape in just a few weeks.”

Sean Lester, owner of F3 Cross Training, adds that the consultation helps the trainer determine what kind of feedback a client needs, such as positive or negative reinforcement. Prefer to be yelled at during your session versus gentle encouragement? Letting your trainer know beforehand will ensure the right communication methods are utilized once you get in the gym. Furthermore, a consultant will introduce you to each other’s personalities and whether you actually want to work together.

“You can have a really good trainer and just not click,” explains Lester. And that’s okay. That said, he cautions, “There is that line of finding somebody that you click with, but you can’t really be true friends with them.” In other words you are at the gym to work out, not have a 45 minute chat fest. 

If you do nothing else during the consultation, focus on the trainer’s credentials. Both Lester and Evans emphasize that this is imperative to ensure your safety; after all, you wouldn’t hire a contractor to work on your house without knowing his or her certifications so why wouldn’t your body demand equal treatment?

“Never assume that your trainer knows what he or she is doing until you see credentials,” stresses Lester. “That’s absolutely hands down [the most important thing].” Look for national certifications, of which there are many, but strong ones include NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), NASM (National Association of Sports Medicine), and ACE (American Council of Exercise). Evans adds that insurance and a degree in a fitness-related field are important criteria to consider as well.

Workout Wise

Some clients have the misconception that the trainer is responsible for getting them in shape, when the opposite is more accurate. “People tend to think that intensity comes from the trainer, and comes from the workout—it is so much the opposite,” says Lester. “That intensity comes from the person who comes into the gym, not the other way around.”

Lester says that you should aim to be “smarter than the average trainer” which means embracing the education and knowledge a qualified trainer has to offer so that you can take this with you when you leave. Come to your first gym session wearing comfortable clothing and ensure you have some food in your system, which is especially important if you are working out first thing in the morning. And don’t forget to pack a good attitude in with your gym socks and water bottle.

“People need to get into the right mindset and typically people are not in the right mindset before they come in to train,” says Lester. “About 100% of our job is mental and the other 100% is training. It’s a lot of work on both ends.”

Pay attention to your workouts and keep track of your volume and intensity (a good trainer should be doing this too). The motivation and intensity you bring to your workout will crossover into the motivation your trainer will have to push you and support you. It’s a two-way street that often leads to a dead end when efforts become one-sided. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, otherwise you’ll spin your wheels and progress will stall.

As the weeks progress, remember that you are training for a lifestyle change and not a “quick fix.” Generally speaking, changes will require persistent, consistent effort on your part. Evans says when someone gets injured after trying to do too much too soon, "they have a tendency to give up their resolution.” As with so much in life, success comes with moderation. Speaking of moderation, nutrition is yet one more component that many clients focus on—as they should—but with sometimes misguided expectations of their trainers.

“I have no problem talking about healthy eating habits, but when it comes to meal planning and creating a menu, that should be left to the dietitian or nutritionist,” explains Evans. “Writing meal plans is out of the scope of practice for a personal trainer unless they are also a nutritionist or dietitian.”

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