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How to Choose the Best Fitness Pro to Keep You Motivated

If you already have a personal trainer who you love and see regularly or you’re a long-time member of an exercise class where the instructor makes the hard work fun, you may not need this article.

But maybe you’ve recently moved to a new location or want to try Pilates for the first time and you’re wondering how to find a fitness pro who will help you realize your aspirations for a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise. Here are some ideas to guide you.

You have choices! There are tens of thousands of certified personal trainers working at gyms and health clubs across the US and the UK. And since the pandemic began in 2020, online exercise programs are booming. The market is full of options from free home workouts on YouTube to membership programs from big companies like Peloton and small businesses like mine.

Know Who You’re Working with

Pros are proud of our certifications, affiliations and years of experience. Many of us have invested years in learning our chosen movement methods. Our reasons for that investment of time (and money) are foundational to the classes and programs we offer to our clients.

Check our credentials! Read the bios on our websites and social media platforms to gain a sense of who we are, the clients we serve and what they have to say about us. Look for authentic testimonials that speak both to our skills and to the results achieved by people who participate in our programs.

Our best (and most honest) referrals always come from clients. Ask your friends to tell you about a trainer they’ve worked with and find out why they would recommend them to you (or why not). Clients appreciate a knowledgeable instructor who is able to offer a safe, fun and challenging experience to everyone who enrolls in their programs.

Instructors are responsible to recognize the varying needs of our clients of all ages and abilities. You should be asked to complete a health history and sign a liability waiver form before you begin. Ask to see our current certifications and insurance certificates to assure yourself of our commitment to your safety while maintaining the highest standards of our profession.

Put Your Interests First

This will apply whether you choose a trainer at the local gym or join an online membership program. Pricing varies widely based on factors such as geographic location, program venue and trainer experience.

Look for a free introductory period, trial membership or seasonal discount. Make sure you have access to the classes you want at times that are convenient to your schedule. With so many online programs, you may find an instructor in California or Canada who offers just what you are looking for.

When contracting with a coach for one-on-one training make sure that you’re getting a program designed to meet your specific needs and goals. Beware of cookie cutter programs that offer the same thing to everyone. And steer clear of trainers and coaches who seem eager to tell you what you need without listening closely to what you actually want in an exercise program.

Be prepared to disclose your health and exercise history, including past and current injuries, joint replacements, osteoporosis diagnosis, pelvic floor issues, foot problems or anything else you’d want a coach to know. Run away from anyone who insists that you lose weight or eat differently.

Movement is for everybody – all types, ages and sizes. Don’t work with anyone who believes in the dangerous motto: “No pain, no gain.” It’s just not true.

What’s Your Favorite Fitness Flavor?

So now that you know what to look for in a fitness pro, and some of what to avoid, let me ask you how you want to feel during and after your coaching session or exercise class.

Think about the intensity level and pace you prefer in a class – do you like to sweat and pump your way through a workout or unwind from daily tensions as you relax and breathe easy? Maybe you like a slow flow in the morning and a fast-paced high-energy session to complete your day.

It’s great for your body and brain to switch up your workouts. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to exercise. It’s good for your muscles and bones to move in many ways over time, not just the same way every time.

What about the tone of the instruction? It’s never OK for a trainer to berate or belittle you for any reason. Do not believe for one second that you need to suffer through a workout. Whether the instructor is live, recorded or right there in front of you, you should feel welcome and safe to move your body with their guidance.

The best instructors make it easy to learn and always laugh with you, never at your expense. And if you’d like to be able to ask questions before or after a class, choose live instruction that offers the opportunity to engage with the teacher whether online or in-person.

Why Motivation Alone Can’t Change Behavior

Most people think that if they could only find the right motivator, they would do the thing that they should do. For example, we aspire to be healthy and exercise more often. But the specific behaviors needed to achieve such an outcome may not be obvious to you.

That’s when it may be time to work with a coach to clarify your aspirations and explore the actual behaviors that will bring you closer to your goals. These behaviors need to be

  • effective for realizing your aspiration
  • something you want to do and
  • something you can do.

You may want to get stronger, but if the strength class is only available early in the morning and you’re not a morning person, signing up for that program will not ultimately motivate you toward your goal. A more effective way to begin might be to sign up for individual coaching sessions or join an online membership program that offers video replays that you can use anytime. Then schedule your sessions at a convenient, regular time and ask for a reminder email that will prompt you to attend.

Pack your gym bag or set up a space in your spare room with exercise equipment. Write a positive and encouraging post-it note and stick it to your mirror. Get a friend to join and workout with you. Behavioral scientists confirm that change happens when we feel good. So celebrate each and every time you take a tiny step toward your goals. And keep going!

A great coach or trainer will help you do what you already want to do. And will work with you to develop fun and effective wellness habits to support your aspirations for a healthy life.

If you want to learn more about motivation and behavior change, I highly recommend reading Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.

Featured image: Nancy Allen Burns coaches a client at Body Wisdom Studio. Photo by Rita Gardner

What was the best thing you’ve ever heard about motivation from an exercise instructor or personal trainer? What’s your favorite online exercise site? When will you be ready to go back to in-person classes or training at a gym, health club or fitness center?

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The Author

Catherine Stifter believes moving well has no age limit. Her Restorative Exercise programs help restore strength, mobility and balance at any stage of life. Join her online Aging Well Book Club, specifically designed for curious movers who want to learn together. Catherine can be contacted at

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