9 Qualities of a Great Trainer

By Douglas Pieterse, Co-Founder & Head Personal Trainer
"It may be simple but not always easy"

How to find the perfect trainer for you ‚Äč

The fitness industry is by no means a receding market and an increasing number of people are showing an interest in improving their health and well-being by taking the correct approach towards nutrition and fitness. Knowing who to trust with your goals can often be tricky but here are a few guidelines that should help you figure out if you are training with the “Judas” or “Jesus” of the fitness industry. 


1. Those that can’t do, coach

The general thought is that the best coaches know what they’re doing because they’ve done it themselves in the past. This can ring true for some but may not always be the case. It makes sense that your trainer should be someone who has an idea about your needs and how to support you best to reach your goal. For example, if I hired a trainer focused on bodybuilding to help me become the best cyclist I can be, there is a better chance I will be bicep curling my bike instead of collecting medals. Make sure the trainer you choose has experience with what you need, even if they haven’t hit the highest level of performance, they will have a better idea on how to get you there. In saying that, there are still amazing trainers out there that study areas of fitness they have no personal experience in and still help you succeed.


2. Gift of communication

A great trainer knows that not all snowflakes are made the same and that teaching one person how to perform a deadlift one way, may not work on another. People are inherently different and learn in unique ways. A trainer should be able to adapt to the client’s needs by using different ways to demonstrate, describe or tactfully cue the exercise to get the best performance. This comes down to communication skills and being conscious that sometimes you may just need to draw a picture on the board to explain. 


3. Too little brawn

Knowing the “why’s” on how certain mechanisms of fitness exercises work is great but reciting data from a controlled trial to your client on the theory of the insulin hypothesis is not typically helpful. This happens when trainers acquire new knowledge and I am guilty on this one. By reciting and repeating what we have learnt we solidify the knowledge but to understand what has been learnt and then simplifying it into what the client needs to know is what we get paid the big bucks for. A great trainer takes the most complex subject and finds a way to teach it to his clients as if they were five. Now I don’t mean by singing little songs but by keeping it simple for example, “when energy out is more than energy in then you will get smaller, now put up your hand if you have a question.”


4. Positively Present 

Motivating your clients can happen in a few ways. One of them is by staying present. Knowing when to push and what personal motivations drive them will make the difference between a good workout and a great one. The trainer should be giving you his full attention. For that one hour you spend with them you are the focus. I like to think of it as if I was training with a family member. If I was on the phone while training my mother I’m pretty sure I would catch a big fat slap. 


5. Follow the leader

A ‘skinny’ baker is not always the best marketing tool to sell a tasty cake, I guess in the same way a ‘fat’ trainer may not always appeal to you as the right person to get you in shape. But this is a tricky subject.  Some of the best coaches in the world do not look physically impressive. Take Coach Greg Glassman for example, who created CrossFit. He may not look like he knows about fitness but in fact has an abundance of knowledge. On the flip side there are some incredibly fit looking trainers out there who have abs, but they don’t know the first thing about training people. So, it’s hard to judge a coach by his blubber, but the way you look is essentially your business card in the fitness industry. 


6. Failing to plan is planning to fail

Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he said words along these lines. Your trainer needs to be organized and have a well thought out vision for your training and fitness goals. Randomized training can be great in the beginning but it’s hard to measure and track your results to really develop and improve your weaknesses. There should be a level of commitment from your trainer to structure a plan that focuses on your fitness goals, and desires tailored to your needs. You can’t be doing the same program as the girl next door if your goals are to look mean and buff. This takes time from the trainer’s side, but it shows a level of professionalism that all trainers should have. 


7. Technique Challenge

Lifting 200KG with bad form doesn’t get quite the same admiration as doing it with impeccable technique. Your trainer should always have your best interests at heart and ensure you are learning the skills required for great form. At the end of the day your trainer should be there to assess and correct your movement when necessary, and help you perfect your form to prevent injury.  


8. Responsible Cheer Leader

There are many success stories, and even more failures. Which side of the story you end up on will depend on you. When you do well and the results you wanted come, your trainer should be there to applaud you (and maybe even post you all over their social media like a proud mother hen). But this is not Hollywood, there is a good chance life will get in the way and lead you down a path filled with hamburgers and wine. Don’t be shocked when your trainer decides to have a serious talk with you about expectations. Setting realistic goals is paramount from a trainer’s side to deliver results – and blaming clients is not helpful. Working together with your trainer, there should be a look at a better strategy that is adaptable to your lifestyle while still getting the best results.


9. Good old fashion passion

One of the main criteria for a great trainer is passion. This is a social job that requires a certain level of experience that can be augmented when a trainer puts in the time to learn and experiment. The best trainers will find this process enjoyable and wake up excited to figure out how they can develop themselves to further improve the lives of those they work with. This cannot happen without passion. 

Make sure you have the best trainer for you and if it doesn’t feel like they’re giving their all it might be time to make a change. Find a trainer that shares your vision of fitness and helps you achieve the results you want.