Hello everyone! A few years ago I became much more focused on my personal fitness, and anyone who’s every stepped inside a gym has seen people working out with a personal trainer and questioned if it’s worth it or not.
Now whilst prices vary for a personal trainer, they’re not that cheap. Being a finance blog and generally inclined to the more frugal end, you might have thought this article is a long winded way of saying “No!”.
However a couple of years ago I took a series of sessions with a personal trainer and I think the debate is more nuanced than that, so I thought I’d write an article on it today.
My reasons for using a personal trainer
Long story short, I’d become rather unfit in my mid-20’s – out of the habits of exercise and working too hard at the office alongside some unhealthy eating patterns were taking their toll.
I was in the process of remedying that already, and felt a need for a challenge alongside wanting to do something for charity, so I enthusiastically signed up to the Spartan Race to try and raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. (A really excellent charity, which I’d recommend making a donation to here if you have some spare cash).
(Also, check out this article on why we encourage giving to charity and ways you can do so).
My enthusiasm dimmed slightly on receiving a training tips e-mail which included a section on box jumps for doing a “fire jump” at the end, and I quote “because you don’t want to be set on fire”. They were right. I did not want to be set on fire. I practised my box jumps!
As I got closer to the race and trained harder, my thought process began to shift that this race was not just something I wanted to do, but something I wanted to do well at and decided I’d enlist a trainer for a set of sessions to help me on my journey.
Choosing a personal trainer
My experience with choosing a personal trainer
I spoke with staff at the gym letting them know what I wanted to achieve (strength and stamina) and asked them to suggest which trainers might be best matched to me given their background.
I then look a lot at their qualifications and how they pitched themselves. The person I worked with was qualified to higher levels, and had a background as a professional athlete who had to cut their career short after an injury.
A big part in picking a personal trainer though is comfort – pre or the early part of your first session should focus on sitting down and understanding both your goals and how they work.
I got this first time – I liked that my trainer was focused on gradual but consistent improvement rather than comparison. He encouraged me to push myself hard, but didn’t yell at you to “just do one more” – if he could see my form was beginning to fail at the end of a difficult set, we’d move on and come back.
My tips on how to choose a personal trainer.
- Always look at and consider their qualifications. Anyone can yell at you to do or lift more (I’ll do it for a very reasonable price) – understanding form, technique and how the body works is important and shouldn’t be underestimated.
- Understand their background and if they have training specialisms, and if this aligns which what you’re looking to achieve.
- It’s important you feel comfortable with your trainer and understand yourself what kind of motivational encouragement you respond to. Do you feel they understand you and your goals? Do you feel comfortable with the instruction and encouragement they’re providing? If not, don’t be put off personal training – it’s fine to switch until you do find your match.
Does using a personal trainer help?
Yes, in a number of ways:
A personal trainer can improve technique
This was the biggest benefit I got, and something I never really considered going in.
In my training so far I’d been focusing on weight training, and lifting increasingly bigger amounts. I was putting a lot of effort into the “lift” phase, and whilst I wasn’t dropping the weight on putting it down my motion was definitely a lot quicker, using gravity to do the work.
My personal trainer started by studying my existing form, and correcting me to focus equally on both the lift and pull motion, to train the muscle more completely. We slowed the overall movement down on both sides to more of the controlled motion, and initially reduced the weight until the form was right.
This alone was one of the most valuable things I got out of using a personal trainer – I was really pleasantly surprised about how in making a few changes I saw the benefits I was getting increased substantially.
Even now when I’m working out, I often his hear his voice in my head going “slowly and with control” and it reminds me to check my form!
A personal trainer can introduce variation to your exercise routine
Another reason I was looking to take on a trainer was that I was conscious that my exercise routine had become a little bit stale, often deviating between the same routines.
It’s an easy trap to fall into – we all get comfortable with what we’re doing or have preferences, but when it comes to fitness it’s often not a good thing. The muscles become very used to what you’re doing, and the gains become much more limited as a result. For real progress, you need to mix things up.
I spoke to my trainer that I wanted to be introduced to exercises outside my normal ones, and as such we were able to add some great new things in which add more variability into what I do through to today. Sometimes it helps to have someone shake things up.
I personally don’t regularly use a trainer on an ongoing basis now except when I’m aware I’m falling back into a training rut – then I get them on it to move me onto something new.
A personal trainer can provide confidence
I don’t mean outside the gym, but that can be a good side effect of the payoff of all your training!
It’s more that there’s always some machines that you look slightly enviously at the person on mid-workout, but you just feel a little bit unsure about how to use it, and worry that if you try it’ll end up in injury or a sweaty mess.
A trainer can help you steer on those things you’re just not too sure about (but be aware you don’t need a trainer for this if it’s 1 or 2 machines – gym staff will be very happy to help if you ask!)
A personal trainer can help with nutrition and other lifestyle elements.
This one can be a little bit more variable depending on the trainer involved and your personal needs – not all offer it but at least advice on it comes up frequently.
There’s an old saying that a body is half built in the gym and half built in the kitchen, and there’s plenty of truth in that – making changes outside the gym can be just as important.
Now nutrition is a bit of a minefield – there’s plenty of unqualified advice and misinformation out there, but a good trainer should be able to help steer you in the right direction on this front as well.
A personal trainer can help with avoiding injury
If you get a personal trainer with good qualification, they should have a good fundamental understanding of how the body works and what creates stress.
There’s two different angles on this point. The first is that a good personal trainer will show you how to take care of your body when training and avoid injury – especially as you get older, learning how to warm up and stretch your muscles effectively before you start working out becomes more and more important.
The second angle is for someone who has an injury history or has had surgery. It can be difficult to know what to do that won’t aggravate or inflame that injury, and a trainer can give guidance on this.
Where I don’t think a personal trainer is worth it
There’s one reason that some people might be considering using a personal trainer, and that’s to help with motivation – the idea unless someone has a personal trainer there to push them, they won’t go to the gym at all. As a result you end up with a personal trainer for every session, rather than to provide occasional guidance.
Now employing a personal trainer will solve that problem, but I remain unconvinced that it’s a very expensive way to solve something which is far easier – the core problem here is you just don’t like the gym that much as your form of exercise.
And that’s fine – the key to fitness and exercise is to find a form of exercise you do really enjoy and it’s not a chore to commit to – believe me, there’s one for you! I absolutely detest running, and can’t think of anything worse than getting on a path each week – but get me in a pool and I’m happy as anything.
So it’s not a sign to give up, it’s a sign you might want to try something different.
How much should I pay for a personal trainer?
Most trainers will charge you somewhere in the £30-£80 an hour bracket, but it’s a question with some variety, because it depends on where in the country you are, the experience level of your trainer and what services they offer etc.
For my sessions, I paid £50 an hour, but received a block booking discount where I bought six sessions at once and so got one free, making it effectively £41.
It’s always worth asking about discounts for block booking. However, I recommend not jumping to buying a block straight away even if it seems good value – have a single session first to evaluate that chemistry test of if you work well and feel comfortable with your trainer, then look to build up that relationship.
Have you got further questions about our experience? Or have you tried working out with a personal trainer and found it good or bad? Or are you a personal trainer and think we’ve missed anything? We’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a note in the comments below.
And that’s it!
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