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How to choose a personal trainer or exercise instructor.

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

I have never had somebody ring me up and confidently ask for personal training. There are so many assumptions that you have to already be superfit to get the benefit or to treat yourself to training.

Most of my clients access me through word of mouth, they notice a difference in their friend and talk to them about the experience. I also get clients that contact me without a recommendation. Regardless of how they have heard about my services most people who approach me want to make changes and to have information about how I can help but they are not always sure what to ask.

I also know from personal experience that amount of times I have just shown up at an exercise class and assumed the person had knowledge just on the basis that they had hired out a room and been advertising a class.

So today I thought it would be useful to share what to look for in a personal trainer, exercise class, or coach to make sure that you are making the right decision for you.

Sarah Meharg personal trainer and occupational therapist in Solihull


I am an occupational therapist which is a protected job title. I can legally only call myself that. I have completed a professional degree and maintain my registration with a health care professions council through demonstrating upkeep and development of my skills. The job title personal trainer or coach is not protected, that means anyone can call themselves one although in order to get insurance there will be a minimum standard of qualification required.

Whilst qualifications are not always reflective of a persons knowledge, or how effectively they will work towards your goals; as a minimum you would expect a personal trainer to hold a level 3 qualification. There are a number of different options in the UK as to what this looks like such as a YMCA or Active IQ qualification in personal training. Many trainers will hold additional qualifications such as nutrition. I hold qualifications in diabetes and weight management and GP referral.

Don't be afraid to ask your trainer what qualifications they have and how they apply those qualifications to their practice.

What are they doing at the moment to further their knowledge?


I am not just talking about the number of years they have been working. Is the trainer experienced in helping people with similar needs or goals as you have? If you are a 24 year old guy who is active, flourishing and wants to up his game on the pitch then I would recommend an amazing trainer but I am not the coach for you. If you are someone who experiences barriers to getting active, has had a life changing experience and now wants to make changes or doesn't know where to get started then chances are that I am the trainer for you.

Find out what the trainers own passion for exercise is. I hate long distance running but love interval training and weights. I adapt the style of my program to your goal but there will be times when my passion does shine through. If you already have a passion find a trainer who matches your own. I believe at health at every size and will explore the impact diet culture has in order to work out the best way for you to embrace wellbeing.

If you have a goal in mind ask the trainer if it is realistic and how they will support you in achieving it. That way you will get a sense of the work that needs to be done. Be wary of the trainer that promises fast results; also if the trainer thinks that your goal is unsafe or not realistic the way that they handle it will tell you a lot about their approach.


This one is important and yet it is the one question that I have never been asked. Do not assume the person has insurance. ASK THEM. No one wants an injury to occur but if it unfortunately does happen then by knowing that the trainer has insurance you know it will be resolved easily. The coach is also demonstrating integrity and professionalism through having insurance.

The "Right Fit" for you

Now having a coach is not recruiting a BFF and the person does not have to be someone that you can envisage having in your social life. But you will be spending time with this person and its important to not only to feel comfortable but to find their approach motivating. Find a trainer that wants to know YOU. During the initial conversation does the trainer listen.

If you have a goal in mind will the trainer be the person to help you achieve it. If you don't have a goal will the trainer help formulate with you the best approach for you.

Rather than communicating with the trainer over text or email. Pick up the phone and see if you respond well to their communication style. Will the trainer know the right balance of pressure, support and compassion?

Often we rely on friends for recommendation and this is a great way to find someone. If you approach a trainer and they aren't the right fit, don't be afraid to ask if they can make recommendations. If you are a member of a gym spend time on a exercise bike and just observe the trainers in the gym and see if any of them appeal. If you aren't a member of a gym think about what environment works well for you - at home, outside or in a gym.

If you have other questions about personal training many of them are answered in my FAQ

Sarah is an Occupational Therapist and personal trainer who is passionate about helping people flourish @MoodLifterPT She is always happy to be contacted if you want to find out more.

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