The Benefits of a Personal Trainer: Do I Really Need One?
If you’re serious about fitness, there’s a good chance you’ve considered hiring a personal trainer – or PT – at some point. But are they worth the expense?
According to the latest figures from insurance company Insure4Sport there are 13,770 registered PTs in the UK, the majority of whom (80 per cent) work on a freelance basis (i). The cost of a session with a PT will depend on several things, including where you live (you’ll pay more in London than elsewhere, for instance), how long your session is and how experienced your PT is – the National Register of Personal Trainers reckons you could pay anything between £20 and £100 an hour (ii).
Add that to the cost of your monthly or annual gym membership and you can see that having a PT can be an expensive business – though it’s fair to say you don’t have to be a gym member to train with a PT as you can choose exactly where you want your sessions to take place. So what could you expect to get in return for all your hard-earned cash?
If you already know your way around a gym and have a reasonable knowledge of fitness principles, you may be quite happy to go it alone. But before you decide, here are some of the questions you should ask yourself to find out if a PT could help you achieve your fitness goals faster, more safely and more effectively:
Are you a complete beginner?
You could argue there’s never been a better time to get into fitness. Today there are tons of books and DVDs about fitness to choose from, not to mention vast numbers of websites and YouTube workout videos that you can access with just a click. But choosing which resource might be the most useful to you is itself a daunting task, not to mention time consuming.
If you know someone in the fitness industry or you have a friend who can recommend effective and trustworthy learning resources, it’s not a bad way to start. A PT, however, can help you set realistic goals – whether, for instance, you want to lose weight, build muscle, improve your cardiovascular health, boost your performance in a particular sport or activity, or prepare for a sporting challenge or event – and show you the ideal activities and fitness programmes to help you achieve them, whatever your fitness level.
Do you have a charity challenge coming up?
Your heart may have been in the right place when you signed up for that charity run, but as the date gets closer you may be finding yourself increasingly concerned about how fit you are and whether or not you’re capable of even finishing the challenge. If this is your first time you may not know much or even anything about the type and amount of preparation you should do. This is where having a PT can come in useful.
According to the National Register of Personal Trainers, depending on the challenge you may need a PT with particular skills – though most have the experience to help with runs up to 10k and smaller events.
PTs can also help if you play a specific sport and want to improve your performance and/or technique by planning the right type of workout to up your game.
Do you have – or have you ever had – a sports injury?
You don’t have to be a professional athlete or sportsperson to have experienced a sports-related injury. One study, published in the Emergency Medicine Journal back in 2004, estimated that each year between a million and a million and a half people go to A&E departments in Britain with an injury related to sport and exercise (iii) – these days, that figure could even be higher.
This may explain why a growing number of PTs are specialising in rehabilitation, which means helping people get back into fitness after they’ve had a fracture, strain or sprain or other injury. According to the National Register of Personal Trainers, some PTs take extended courses to gain the know-how to help you train safely after an injury – plus they can give you advice on what you could do to avoid any similar problems in the future (ii).
Similarly, an experienced PT can help if you have a medical condition that may make exercising more difficult than usual, such as arthritis, heart disease or diabetes, or if you’re pregnant. You should, however, always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise programme if you have a medical condition or if you haven’t been very active lately.
Do you skip training more often than you should?
Motivation is a key issue for most people when it comes to training and working out. We’ve all been tempted at one time or another to skip a session, especially when it’s cold and dark outside and the sofa looks more inviting than usual. Indeed, finding an excuse to give the gym a miss every now and then is something most of us are pretty good at.
But if you really struggle with motivation, having a PT could be the answer, especially if you’re on a budget. That’s because it’s highly likely you’ll have to pay for a missed session, and the thought of the money you’ve invested being wasted could be the nudge you need to put on your trainers and get out the door. Knowing you have a session with your PT at the end of the week could even help you stay motivated throughout the week too.
Are you getting results?
This is arguably the biggest question you should ask yourself. Most of us have some sort of goal in mind when we commit to getting fit. But if we don’t see any positive results within a reasonable timeframe, there’s a good chance we may get bored and throw in the towel, giving up on our goals altogether.
If you’ve been working out by yourself and you’re not seeing any improvement there’s a good chance you won’t have the knowledge or experience to figure out why. But an experienced PT can offer a fresh perspective to your workouts. They can assess you and what you’re doing, and tell you why it’s not working – for instance, your technique may not be quite right, which could mean you’re not targeting the right muscles, or you simply may not be pushing yourself hard enough.
Most importantly a PT can help you make changes to your fitness programme that will work for you and keep you challenged and progressing, whatever goal you have in mind.
How to find the right PT
Currently there’s no official governing body for the PT industry, which means in theory anyone can set themselves up as a professional PT, even if they don’t have any qualifications. That’s why it’s important to do some homework if you’re thinking of working with a PT.
Qualified PTs will have the following:
Level 2 Gym Instructor Qualification and/or Level 3 Personal Trainer Qualification accredited by the Registry of Exercise Professionals (REPs)
A valid first aid certificate
Personal trainer insurance that covers client injury
It’s also a good idea to choose a PT who’s registered with a professional body, such as the National Register of Personal Trainers, REPs or the UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA). Also ask them if they have references or testimonials that will give you an idea of their expertise and specialities (this can help you see whether they have the necessary know-how to help you achieve your specific goals).
If you have a busy lifestyle you need to be able to schedule your training sessions at times when it’s convenient for you, so make sure your PT can accommodate you. If it’s difficult for either of you to commit to a suitable regular training time, you could end up spending more time cancelling and rearranging sessions than actually doing any exercise.
These days some PTs are qualified to give advice about nutrition and sports supplements, since it’s thought that what you eat is an essential part of getting good fitness results. If this is something you need help with, find out if they can offer the relevant experience before you sign up.
If you’re going to be spending time with your PT on a regular basis it goes without saying that you should make sure you’ll get on well with them. If you don’t like them, it’s unlikely you’ll be having sessions with them for long.
Also look for someone whose teaching style is right for you. For instance you may respond best when someone really pushes you, or a PT who offers plenty of positive encouragement may be more suited to the way you learn best. Just ask any prospective PT about how they get the best out of people – they’ll want the relationship to be a good fit just as much as you will.
What should you expect?
If you haven’t already worked with a PT you may find the idea of your first session a little intimidating. But before you start, ask whether or not your PT can offer a free initial consultation. This will help you to get to know them, ask them questions and find out if you’ll get on with them in the long term. During the consultation they may also ask you questions about your health and fitness history, your lifestyle and what goals you have in mind, such as what you expect to get out of working with them.
Many PTs will also give you a series of tests to assess your current level of fitness – either during your initial consultation or your first session – including:
Body composition tests to establish your height, weight, body fat percentage and sometimes other factors such as bone density
Cardiovascular fitness tests where you have to walk, run, cycle or use a step machine
Muscle fitness tests to check your overall strength level (these can include exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups)
Flexibility tests to check the range of motion in your joints and your muscle flexibility
How long do sessions last?
Most PT sessions are between 45 minutes and an hour, though your trainer may be willing to be more adaptable. How many sessions you have a week is up to you – most people train with a PT once or twice weekly.
Finding and working with a PT who can motivate you and help you enjoy exercising can transform your approach to fitness completely, though it’s also fair to say that one-to-one training isn’t for everyone.
To find a PT near where you live, ask at your local gym or leisure centre, or visit one of the following:
National Register of Personal Trainers
Register of Exercise Professionals
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.