Which Trainer Is Right For You?

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Looking to lose weight or improve your fitness level? Maybe you’re entering a marathon or a fitness competition and are looking for specific coaching. Traditionally, you would have to head to a gym and sign up for a personal trainer, locking yourself into a long-term, pricey contract. These days, technology has given us a new option with the introduction of online trainers.

There are a few different varieties of “online trainers” available. The first type is a membership-based website in which a trainer provides more generic content for everyone who subscribes – nothing is customized for you. Generally, these memberships are low-cost (approximately $10 per month) and provide the option of selecting the length of your subscription– with price breaks for longer periods of time. Once you have access to the site, you can watch training videos, read educational articles, and download training and nutrition plans created by the site host. In these situations, there is no contact with the trainer at all; you simply have access to their portal of information.

The second type of trainer, and the focus of this article, provides customized plans created for clients to achieve their specific goal. In this case, the trainer-athlete communication is all done through email or text, and possibly the occasional Skype or Face Time conversation if warranted. You might be wondering how these plans can be accurate when there’s no face-to-face interaction. Commonly, clients are required to send regular progress pictures, and their current weight, to their trainer who can then use this information to change their nutrition or training plan.

Finding The Perfect Fit

If you’re in the market for a personal trainer, you might be wondering which route is best–will an in-person trainer at a gym help you reach your goals, or is an online trainer your better choice? There are a number of different pros and cons of each option to consider before you commit to anyone.

One of the most important factors in deciding which type of trainer to choose is how comfortable you are with exercise. If you’re new to weight training, or are recovering from an injury, you might feel more confident with a one-on-one trainer who can watch and correct your technique. Remember that this can be an option with either route – if you go with an online trainer, you can likely purchase a small package of one-on-one sessions at a gym near you to kickstart your plan safely. Take your plan with you and have a personal trainer guide you through it until you’re comfortable executing it on your own. Your safety should always be your primary concern!

Weighing the pros and cons is always a great way to reach a decision, it’s one of my go-to solutions at least. Check out the information below to help you decide which option is best for you.



Online Trainers   – More affordable than personal trainers- Geography doesn’t matter; technology makes it easy to communicate with everyone face-to-face via Skype, video messages, etc.- No long-term contracts in place (usually)- Accountability can be enforced through weekly progress check-ins (pictures don’t lie!) – No face-to-face time (unless you live in the same city and arrange a few meetings)- Can’t hold you accountable to get to the gym- If you’re new to training (or injured), safety won’t be monitored- If they have a lot of clients, your communication may be limited

– No enforcement of certification requirements

Personal Trainers   – You can be held accountable to get to the gym for your training session (you don’t want to stand someone up, and you’ve paid for it already!)- Trainers working for chain gyms are usually required to have up-to-date certifications and basic first aid training – Packages are usually quite expensive- May be locked into a long-term commitment- Many are only required to have training knowledge and lack nutrition education, a major component of your goal

Now that you’ve made a decision (or are a little closer to making one), keep the following questions in mind when shopping for any kind of trainer:

  • Do they have certifications in training, fitness, and nutrition if they are providing these plans? Look up their certifications online through the organization, but be aware that a certificate doesn’t always mean that they’re knowledgeable.
  • Ask to read previous client reviews or look at progress photos.
  • Are they knowledgeable about your fitness focus or any special needs you have (e.g., power lifting, fitness competitions, injury rehab, pregnancy)?
  • What’s the frequency of program updates and changes you’ll receive (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, monthly)?
  • How frequently do you need to check in with them (e.g., weekly, monthly)?
  • What access do you have for questions and feedback? What’s the turn-around time, and are you limited to a certain number of emails, texts, and phone calls each week?
  • Ask about diet variety and food group inclusion. Ask how nutrition plans are structured and how your lifestyle is factored into them.
  • Ask about the number of current clients they have to gauge the attention you might receive.

Don’t hesitate to talk to a variety of trainers before signing up, and ask them plenty of questions. Another great way to learn about a trainer is to talk to their current or previous clients about their experiences. Finally, if you aren’t fully satisfied with the service you’re getting, raise your concerns to them or gym management. You’re paying for the service and if things aren’t going the way you expected, you have every right to look elsewhere. Your goal is important, so make sure you’ve got the right team in your corner. Happy training!

Ashleigh is a national level women's physique competitor with a Masters degree in Human Kinetics. She puts her passion for the fitness industry to good use - she's a health promotion specialist, group fitness instructor, competition prep coach, and loves to apply her education through research and writing. In her free time, she can be found training at the gym with her husband, or spending time with her dogs.

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