The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 4 - November 20, 2013


How to pick a personal trainer

Recently I was asked, “What makes a good personal trainer or running coach?” I’ve had conversations with many trainers and coaches and we all ask ourselves that question. The answer changes over the years.

I had a lengthy conversation with a trainer who at least at one point worked with a lot of celebrities. He echoed the same sentiment I’ve heard from many other trainers who say that the business is very fickle. People often change trainers by the week, month, or year. It does seem rare that some people will stay with the same trainer for more than a year, though it can vary by the time of year, location, and age of the client. Way before I ever became a personal trainer, I had two over the years that really stood out. They seemed totally focused on my goals, past and future, and medical history as it affected the reality of the goals. They asked many questions and focused on clients, not themselves.

I remember learning while getting my personal training certification that a gym often attracts people because they want a sense of community more than they want a specific exercise plan. At first that surprised me. But then I reflected back on my decades-long memberships at health clubs. I have been a gym rat so long that one of the first exercise machines I remember was the exercise jiggle belt. If you are old enough to remember that, then I know how old you are. And if you do remember those, then you will join me in being thankful that we have all of our internal organs intact. Many people like me enjoy going to a gym to see other people who share the values of health and fitness and committing the time it takes. We all seem to have a common understanding that there is no magic bullet.

More than any certification, it is the experience of life and fitness and trials and errors in the gym that makes a good trainer. I believe it is also important that a trainer and/or coach have a significant athletic record of accomplishment. All the busiest of trainers may say that they do not have time to take care of themselves. Yet role modeling is also very important as the trainer. No matter what the sport. Excelling in that sport tells the client, “I put my money where my mouth is. I follow my own advice, routine and exercises.” A good personal trainer will also be a good listener. Why is that important? Because a trainer needs to really hear what your goals are, and what your past medical and exercise history has been.

Listening to what a person says their goals are, and dealing with what is realistic can be two very different things. For example if a client says they would like to do an endurance race over rugged terrain including tree roots, mangroves and steep hills, and if the client has had knee surgery in the past, that may not be a realistic goal. It certainly isn’t as sexy or exciting to say, “I’d like to walk or run a three-mile road race and finish without injury.” But that can be as valid as any other goal.

It’s important to know if the trainer has been injured, and why. Accidents can always happen, but if you get the sense that the trainer has been overzealous in their own exercise life, that might be a reason for you to at least be cautious of any program that seems to be over the top or challenging for you. That doesn’t give you an excuse to wimp out, but it may be more important to look at a trainer who has not done all of the extreme sports and perhaps has the maturity to say, “I want to be doing my sport when I’m 100.”

And you really should observe the training style of each individual trainer to determine if it is a right fit for you. And don’t be afraid to ask for referrals.

As we head into the time of year when most weight is gained over the holidays, and most New Year's resolutions are made, more next week on what to look for in coaching and training.

You can follow Island resident Ellen Jaffe Jones on her Facebook page and keep up with her just released book:,"Eat Vegan on $4 a Day," or her website: She is also a nationally certified personal trainer and running coach. For training in a gym or private hire, contact Ellen at or 941-704-1025.

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