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More than a few years ago now I was in Thailand at the famous Pat Pong markets. I was walking through stall after stall looking at fake watches. Back then it was obvious which were fakes and which weren’t.

Maybe the colour of the badge was wrong, or the weight of the watch was too light. But it was always easy to spot them. These days things have changed. I challenge anyone other than a jeweler to tell the difference between any Thai Rolex or Tag and the real thing.

In the world of fitness things aren’t much different. back when I started training people the internet was in it’s infancy. Email was so uncommon that it was odd if someone had an email address. So all the ways that trainers have now to spruik their services didn’t exist. It was easy to spot the good ones – they looked fit and their clients were changing shape every week. Back then there were almost no PT studios so having your clients visibly getting fitter each week was a powerful business card to the rest of the gym.

But things are different these days. I feel bad for people looking for a personal trainer in Bayside where Read Performance Training is located. Around us are the affluent suburbs of Brighton, Hampton, Sandringham and Bentleigh, and within those suburbs are many training locations ranging from laces like Recreation and Fitness First to Crossfit and other functional training studios. If you’re not a jeweler, if you don’t have vast experience in spotting fakes in the fitness world, how on earth are people supposed to know good from bad?

Let me help you…

The first thing you should ask your prospective trainer is how much experience they have. I understand that everyone had to start somewhere but there is never a time when less experience is better than more. And with the way people enter the personal training business these days it is entirely possible that they actually have more relevant experience than most trainers do anyway. Take, for instance, a friend of mine who was a professional boxer and coach, but who had been a police officer for most of his working life. He decided to get into training people. Now, he had about thirty years experience as a coach and athlete at that point, so even though he wasn’t super experienced as a personal trainer he clearly had enough experience to be worth spending your money on.

Make sure that they have coaching experience There’s a world of difference between someone training on their own for decades versus receiving and handing out world class assistance.

Secondly. have a look at their appearance. I’m going to get slammed for this, but so be it. If you are looking for someone to be a role model for your health and fitness journey don’t you think it’s important they can see their own toes and aren’t smoking two packs a day? I have always said that as a trainer you don’t need to look like you can bench a house or run a sub three hour marathon but you should like like you actually are strong and could run around the block without dying.

The next one is also going to be controversial – check how many certifications they have. You may think that the more the better, right? No, it’s actually the opposite. What you’re looking for is a subject mater expert. Someone who has two years experience (the average length of time for most personal trainers to have worked) yet has four or five different types of certification, with perhaps a few levels of each having been done, is not the person you’re looking for. While it does show a desire to educate themselves and learn more – a great thing  – what it also shows is a lack of understanding of any single method or tool. A great trainer knows a few things in great detail. The saying we use in the RKC is that our system is an inch wide but a mile deep. You’ll be much better off if your trainer has done maybe just the HKC or RKC and FMS.

As an example, in my nearly twenty years I’ve only been to five different things – strength and conditioning courses, weightlifting courses, the RKC and some of it’s add on courses (such as RKCII or CICS), FMS and Thump (when I used to work for them). I have to laugh when I hear people say things like they know the RKC system or the FMS system after seeing it once. I’m not so arrogant as to think that I still don’t have anything to learn and can say quite honestly that despite having been to more RKC events in Australia (18 and counting now) than anyone else I am still learning about kettlebell training. The same goes for barbell training. Despite having taught barbell lifting to some of our nation’s greatest athletes and spent time learning under the likes of Robert Kabbas (Olympic silver medalist) I am also still learning that.

If your trainer has been to a huge array of certifications and claims to know everything yet has little work experience be very wary – their arrogance could lead to danger.

Finally, the thing that is most important is that the personal trainer in question should be a professional. Imagine how you’d feel if you went to a dentist and he started cleaning his teeth at the same time as yours? Yet how many trainers do you see training alongside clients? The moment they start to sweat they’ve forgotten all about who is paying their mortgage. A hundred percent of their focus should go on the client all the time. If a regular session involves them looking like they just managed to roll out of bed in time, hugging their coffee or texting their mates then find a new trainer. There are 30,000 in Australia – do not have an emotional attachment to one who is doing an ordinary job no matter how likeable they are.

Make sure they do what they say they’re doing too. I can’t count the number of trainers who talk a good game, like used car salesmen pushing a rusty old heap on an unsuspecting granny. If they claim to be able to help you run better then take note of your times – if they don’t drop then fire them or ask for your money back! (Better yet, ask for proof of people they’ve helped do something similar). By this stage it should be obvious if you’ve found a good one or not – like a mirage in the desert most of the illusions that personal trainers seem to spread will vanish once you look closer. You’ll soon dig deep enough to see that the person who is held up as being great was a real estate agent five years ago, or that military record they spoke of turned out to be time spent working as a computer technician.

Don’t be fooled by a constant changing of programming either. It’s not functional nor does it keep the body guessing. It slows down progress and is the sign of an insecure, inexperienced trainer. Imagine Michael Phelps being told by his coach to do something other than freestyle, butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke? It doesn’t happen because the best coaches know that the way to get the most out of training is to adapt to it and the only way to do that is repeated exposure to the same stimuli.

Don’t feel shy about asking your trainer these questions. A great functional strength coach will be able to answer all these questions the right way – with a proven track record, their professionalism and integrity and by the visible results you’re getting.

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