Considering hiring a personal trainer? Before you commit, find out what they can do for you—and what you have to do yourself

By Kat Tancock

What a personal trainer can (and can

A personal trainer is the ultimate investment in your personal fitness—an expert devoted (at least for an hour) to your needs and goals. But it's important to know what you're getting into before you commit. "We can't provide miracles," says Toronto-based personal trainer Nathan Bower.

Trying to decide if you're ready? Here are some tips on what a personal trainer can do for you—and what you need to look for elsewhere.

A personal trainer can... motivate you

"I was never a 'crunchy granola' type—more like an ice-cream-aholic—so I figured I must pass along what I have learned to others," says Teresa Misty Mozejko from Durham, Ont., who lost 120 pounds with her personal trainer. Now she’s become a personal trainer herself. "I know that my story can motivate and inspire others and I also know that if I can do it, so can they."

Whether you require real-life stories like Mozejko's as inspiration or just need the personal attention that a trainer can provide, motivation is a key tool in a personal trainer's arsenal—and one of the main reasons many people keep going back.

A personal trainer can... target your goals

Losing 10 pounds or reducing belly fat are valid goals, for sure. But if you have other ideas in mind—like perfecting your golf game or shaping the perfect tank-top shoulders—a personal trainer can help you attain those, too.

Toronto fitness blogger Kirsten Jordan, for instance, is trying to improve her marathon time, and is working with a trainer to do it. "I've been working with someone who runs, too and understands what strengths you need to run a strong marathon," she says. "We've been doing a lot of core workouts!"

A personal trainer can't... provide instant results

If you really want to get fit, you have to put in the time, effort and commitment. "Changes don't happen overnight," says Bower. "You have to trust the trainer and stick with the program." That doesn't mean you shouldn't see results, just that they'll be gradual. "There's no way you won't see results unless the trainer isn't doing what they're supposed to."

A personal trainer can... create a tailored program

This is where the "personal" part of their title comes from, after all. So make sure your trainer is working with your abilities, needs and goals rather than just giving you a one-size-fits-all program to follow. "Any good trainer will sit you down and have a conversation in your first session," says Bower, adding that common questions should include why you've chosen to see a trainer, what your past fitness experience is and what you are aiming to achieve.

Bower adds that your trainer should be checking in with you to see how your body is reacting to the program so that they can adjust your plan if necessary. "They should be asking you: Are you sore? Where do you feel it? How did you feel after the last workout? Were you tired?"

Your trainer should also be tailoring your program to your lifestyle, wherever possible. When Mozejko scheduled her first session, for instance, she had a six-month-old baby to work around. "I was so nervous about my son screaming the house down or having a diaper explosion halfway through," she says. "The trainer decided to take us to the park with my son in the stroller so he was happy and content the whole time. It worked like a charm!"

A personal trainer can't... replace your doctor, nutritionist or physiotherapist

It's natural to ask your trainer for advice about your body—it's an extension of what you already do with them. But don't mistake their expertise on fitness for expertise on whole-body health—no matter how well-read they are, they can't replace a trained medical professional.

"We are limited in what we can tell you with confidence," says Bower, who recommends checking on your trainer's qualifications before expanding what you ask of them. While some trainers may have training in nutrition or rehabilitation and are qualified to help you out in those areas, many don't.

That being said, your trainer is a specialist in healthy living, and probably knows a lot of people in the business. So make use of them as a resource to find other health professionals you may need. "Ask your trainer for referrals," suggests Mozejko. "They will most likely know the best yoga studio, massage therapist and chiropractor in town."

A personal trainer can... give you homework

Maybe you want to meet with your trainer three times a week and never work out alone. But if you're too busy for that, or it doesn't fit your budget, your personal trainer should be able to give you a program to follow on non-training days.

For instance, Jordan suggests asking your trainer for a written copy of the workout you did together. Then you can follow it a specified amount of times between your sessions. Ideally, each new session will come with a modified routine.

A personal trainer can't... do everything for you

Your trainer can show you what to do and how to do it, and encourage you to follow the routine, but they can't be there all the time to hold your hand. "We can help people change, but we can't force them to change,” says Bower.

The key to success with a personal trainer? Know exactly what you want and use them to help you get there. "We can improve mind, body and spirit," says Bower, "and most clients are looking to feel better, look better and walk out of the gym happy."

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