What I Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer for My Gym

I’m in the process of hiring a personal trainer (or two) for Custom Strength, to avoid having to turn new clients away. But it’s a fine balance, as our clients expect a certain level of knowledge and ability from their trainer. It thrills me that our clients expect this, and I love that it keeps me on my toes and keeps me learning so that we can continue to provide great training. It does, however, make hiring a challenge. There are some great trainers out there, but most are already enjoying a rewarding career elsewhere (although if you’re a great trainer in Ottawa who is no longer enjoying your career, please shoot me an email). There are also many not so great trainers out there, and then there are the new or soon to be trainers.

The new or soon to be trainers may be great from a personality and potential perspective, but they just don’t possess the knowledge and experience necessary to work with my clients. I’ve come to the realization that in order to grow Custom Strength, I need to help develop some trainers. And I’m happy to do so as I love to teach, especially to those who are keen to learn. Unfortunately I’m very busy, which means I have to be somewhat discriminating with my time. This may be a good thing, because it means I have to pre-screen who I am willing to help. I was reminded of this recently when I interviewed a few potential trainers, and then took them through a couple of training sessions to get a feel for their training and movement knowledge and ability. There were a couple of people I really liked in the interview, but their knowledge just wasn’t there. It is true that I can teach it, but I actually don’t think that’s the right start. Instead I am putting the ball back in their court. Here’s my response to an email from one of these individuals, who had expressed frustration in the circle of not having experience, but not being given the opportunity to get experience:

“To your frustration, I get it. And I would like to help, but I guess I need for you to have a bit more knowledge first. That said, you may be able to get that outside of work. There are some books and a website that I can suggest that will help you learn some of the basics that strongly influence how Custom Strength works. Unfortunately this stuff is not taught in the certification you took. The good news about that, is that learning this can catapult you way ahead of where you are now.

Training Resources I wish all Trainers would read:*
1. Movement or Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook
2. Advances in Functional Training or Functional Training for Sport by Michael Boyle
3. Any Core Performance book by Mark Verstegen
4. Any New Rules of Lifting book by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove (the Women’s one is co-written by the amazing Cassandra Forsythe)
5. A membership to StrengthCoach.com. Read articles from it, and follow the forum threads. This is a gold mine of knowledge. Also members can download a free ecopy of Advances in Functional Training.
6. Ignite the Fire by Jon Goodman. This one is about the personal training profession, including things like how to market yourself. From the perspective of your frustrations about not being able to get experience without having experience, this will be especially helpful.

This is not an exhaustive library, but rather what I would consider a solid introduction to the style of training that we do at Custom Strength. More importantly, it’s an introduction to what I believe is a solid approach for how a trainer should look at the needs of the body. As you read these books, you’ll notice common themes. That commonality is the underlying body of knowledge that I want any trainer who works for me to have. I’m happy to help develop and train it further for the right person. But please understand that training and developing someone to help them be the best trainer they can be takes time and energy. Before I will commit my time to helping develop someone further as a trainer, I need that person to commit to their own self-improvement. I want to invest my energy in the kind of person who will see this list, and excitedly go buy them (or get them from the library) right away.

Put another way: If you’re looking for work in a field where you don’t have a lot of experience, you’re effectively asking to be assessed on things like personality, potential, drive, and enthusiasm. Your actions in response to the reading list above speaks volumes about drive and enthusiasm.

Once you’ve spent a month or two reading, email me back and let me know that you’re ready to meet again. Just be ready to talk about what you’ve learned. I don’t expect you to have memorized anything, so don’t stress. Think of it as an opportunity to talk about what you’re learning, to ask questions about things you didn’t quite get, and to even bring up anything where you disagree with the authors. Here’s the real point of this (on top of you learning): I am a geek when it comes to training, and I will happily offer my time to help someone else who is interested enough in training that they want to read and then talk about what they read. The flip-side of this: if you’re not much of a reader, then realistically, you are going to have a hard time becoming a trainer. If that is the case though, definitely pick up Ignite the Fire as a minimum. It alone won’t help you get work at Custom Strength, but it is a great resource to help you get work and clients.

Lastly, while you’re reading, try to apply the training principles you learn to yourself and to your friends. You can try to do this by coaching yourself, or by following one of the training programs in one of the books above, or hire a great coach who is experienced in the type of training these books espouse. If you’re in Ottawa, you could consider getting trained at Custom Strength for a while. Or if it would feel weird to hire me and then apply to work for me, there are other great choices: The Athletic Conditioning Centre, John Zahab at Continuum Fitness, and Jonathan Chant at Fitness for Freedom. Note there are other great training options in Ottawa where you can learn, but I didn’t list them because I’m not as familiar with the approaches of others or how similar or different they are from what we do at Custom Strength.

Good luck with your learning and I hope to hear from you in a month or two.”

Addendum: If you are an experienced trainer in Ottawa, and you have read most of the books above, and maybe you’re thinking, how come she didn’t include Supertraining, Periodization Training for Sports, Low Back Disorders, Diagnosis and Training of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Athletic Development, or anything by Eric Cressey? Great question! And if you are looking for a change, or maybe to add a shift or two each week somewhere different, I definitely would love to hear from you.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is eager to find great people to join the team at Custom Strength. Those great people don’t need to have experience if they are willing to put in a little effort.

* Note that the links to the books and website above are all affiliate links. I don’t have any reservations about earning a few bucks for recommending solid resources. If, however, that bothers you to be a part of the whole affiliate system, then instead of clicking the links above, open a separate browser tab and search for the book title or website directly. I won’t know the difference, and if I did, I wouldn’t be offended.

5 thoughts on “What I Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer for My Gym”

  1. Hi Deana, That’s an area where I specialize although I don’t write about it a lot. Dean Somerset is also very good at this area and I think writes about it more. I am writing a Training Around Injuries book that will cover much of that but it won’t be out for a while – hopefully spring 2016. If you want to be sure you get notified about it, subscribe to my newsletter (it’s very non-spammy and not that frequent – I aim for once per month but it’s usually less).

  2. Great article, & quite interesting… But I’m interested in anyone (blogs, books, websites) who is knowledgeable about training seniors with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, rehabbing from surgeries. Any suggestions?

  3. If i lived closer ( I live in Texas) I would throw my hat into the ring. Jon Goodman tagged me in a post to read this and I glad I did.

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