Picking The Right On-Site Fitness Trainer

Some companies, when they go whole hog on a wellness program, build an on-site fitness center complete with personal trainers, nutritionists, and medical facilities and personnel. Of course, these tend to be the largest among the corporate sphere: Honda, for example, has several wellness centers.

In any event, selecting the right fitness specialist is essential.

What muddies the waters these days is that your average Joe can get a personal training license through online certification. Simply having an NASM CPT certification doesn’t mean a candidate is worth anything. At the same time, a degree in exercise science or kinesiology doesn’t mean a candidate is good at forming coherent training programs.

Certifications and education are important. Don’t get me wrong. They just don’t, and can’t, tell the whole story. (I wish more HR recruiters/hiring managers knew this.) Some people with master’s degrees in exercise science or kinesiology are exceptionally strong at creating individual programs. Some aren’t. And some people who have certifications out the wazoo are morons when it comes to exercise science. Example: Mr. Don’t Squat To Parallel.

I’ve encountered several trainers who, despite having certifications and experience, are rock-dumb when it comes to exercise science. Rock. Dumb. My favorite memory was when I was a member of LA Fitness and went in for a training assessment. The guy actually told me it is dangerous to the knees to squat to or past parallel. (It isn’t. In fact, it’s essential for maintaining healthy knees.) There are a lot of old dogmas out there that won’t die, most of which are based on bad science. Another favorite myth? That women shouldn’t lift weights, or that if they do, they should only do low weight, high reps.

Even worse, the company representative interviewing the trainer candidates probably doesn’t know a bunch about fitness. (Hey, 2/3 of the country is overweight/obese. I’m not making a baseless guess here.) That makes the task of interviewing that much more difficult, because shoddy trainers can slip through unnoticed.

Shoddy trainers make for shoddy routines and form. Shoddy routines and form cause injuries. These injuries can keep your employees out of work, discourage them from exercise, raise their medical expenses (chiropractors aren’t exactly cheap), and contribute to a poor opinion of the company’s wellness center.

So, what should you do? Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast protocol to selecting a trainer who can skillfully work with a wide variety of people, create routines, and who is truly knowledgeable about exercise science.

My first question to a trainer candidate would be: Who are your training influences? This will tell you a lot about the credibility of the trainer. If it’s someone like Jason Ferruggia, Tom Venuto, Craig Ballantyne, Nia Shanks, Erwan Le Corre, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even Annie Thorisdottir (I’m not a huge proponent of CrossFit, but look at her!), your candidate is a good one. End of story. Put that candidate on the short list. Training philosophy often comes from those who have influenced that person. Ideally, they follow the basic points of Jay’s perspective:

  • Short, intense training focused on strength training and lifting heavy things
  • Include bodyweight exercises, as well as daily mobility and flexibility work
  • Focus on basic human movements: sprinting, climbing, jumping, carrying
  • Focus on unprocessed, natural foods, and drink a lot of pure water
  • Get plenty of sleep, relaxation, and keep stress low
  • Have fun and play

You can subsequently ask for specific experiences, example training programs used in the past, why the person decided to become a trainer, how he/she trains men versus women (the answer should be: “almost the same”), how he/she trains your specific age distribution (the elderly require more nuanced training than 20-30 year olds), and whether the trainer suggests any supplements (diet pills would be an automatic dealbreaker).

That should give you a good idea of what to look for. Of course, if I could, I’d just tell you to read about the people I mentioned above. Read their sites and books, then look for someone with similar views.

… wait. I think I just did.

I know this isn’t the most comprehensive post out there, but that’s because there are so many factors to consider when hiring a trainer to work with hundreds of people. Still, having a strong base knowledge, solid references and experience, and top-notch influences will go a long way toward getting the right trainer(s). I’ll see what I can do about finding a better list of “Essential Questions to Ask, and What Answers Are Acceptable”.

Until then, if your company has hired trainers in the past, what have you noticed about what makes a trainer the right trainer?

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