3 Unexpected Traits of a Great Personal Trainer

When it comes finding support to reach your health and fitness goals, there’s no better approach than hiring a dedicated, one-on-one coach.

And while an accredited certification and understanding of human anatomy and movement patterns are table stakes of a quality professional, a truly great personal trainer has more than just knowledge of fitness. The best ones are skilled at breathing life into the entire journey — while helping you get the results that matter to you.

If it were only about exercise science, we wouldn’t see as many of the top fitness professionals personally hiring trainers for themselves as we do today.

But how can you know if you’re hiring someone who will provide a transformative, energized, and irreplicable experience?

These three traits of a great personal trainer are signs you’re in good hands and on the right path.

1. They Have Their Own Story and Embody Healthy Living

It’s impossible to be a good personal trainer without having a true passion for fitness.

The best ones eat, sleep, and breathe wellness — most of the time. They’re excited to talk about it, are usually willing to share their own health and wellness path with you, and exemplify walking the walk. They work out regularly, prioritize their own nutrition and supplementation plan, and are serious about health-promoting lifestyle habits, such as sleep and stress management.

This isn’t to say they act (or look) perfectly 24/7/365. It’s all about balance, and personal trainers are people, with their own story and ups and downs. But even throughout their personal lulls and valleys, a good trainer exemplifies a growth mindset and works to prioritize their health however they can in the season they are in.

And no matter where they are in their journey, simply chatting with them inspires you to be the healthiest version of yourself as well.

Read more: “5 Things Every Trainer Wishes You Knew About Your Fitness Efforts”

2. They Make Your Goals Their Goals

After more than 15 years in this industry, I’ve observed a clear differentiation between trainers who view their craft as a mission to help others versus those who see it as just a job to go to.

By nature, the role requires trainers to consistently pour into their clients — both with the technical parts of program design and with the emotional aspects needed to drive your success.

From a technical standpoint, a great trainer records and tracks progress toward your goals to ensure you’re on the expected trajectory to see change. And if you’re not, they change the plan.

Progress tracking from amazing trainers happens regularly, using metrics that assess you both inside and out. This might look like tracking fitness metrics and benchmark workouts, along with body composition readings, questionnaires about your symptoms and subjective feelings of wellness, blood and saliva lab data, and even objective changes to how your metabolism burns fat versus carbohydrate. In addition to pivoting your exercise approach as-needed, they are committed to you having a solid nutrition and lifestyle strategy to help you see results, even when it involves recruiting other professionals to join your team.

On the flip side, the soft side of the trainer-client relationship cannot be understated. I’ve often repeated this saying: “90 percent of your success is above the neck.”

There’s a foundational importance in the emotional support and accountability a great trainer provides. At times, you might even feel that they’re more committed to your goals that you are. (Caveat: You’re the one in the driver’s seat, so it’s important that no one is actually working harder at your plan than you are.) While your outlook, perspective, and mindset have a tangible and significant impact on whether or not you’ll see success, your trainer will play a big part of that.

Think of it this way:

When you’re making a health overhaul, it can feel isolating at times without a support structure in place. Whether it’s having a club soda and lime instead of margarita at happy hour or getting to the hotel gym first thing in the morning on vacation instead of sleeping in, a good trainer is there to applaud your healthy choices and reinforce their positive impact.

They make you want to keep going, and they help you see how each of these perceived “sacrifices” in the moment serve you in the areas that truly matter.

At the end of the day, you can feel their investment in your health through a deep, supportive trainer-client relationship. They’re one of the first ones to celebrate your wins — and one of the first ones to get you back on track when you falter.

3. They Get You to Surprise Yourself

Put simply, a good personal trainer ensures that in your time together, you achieve things you never thought you would or could do on your own.

You should feel their attention to detail through constant cueing to tweak your movements so they’re just right. They ensure the proper muscles are burning (sometimes ones you didn’t realize you had) and at the appropriate time.

While effective exercise program design requires repetition and progression of foundational movements to elicit the benefits you’re looking for, there’s also an element of excitement and light-hearted “I wonder what they have in store for me today” as you start each session together. Despite the two concepts often being at odds with each other amongst fitness professionals, a truly great trainer has mastered the art of bringing together efficacy through repetition and variety and fun to ensure you don’t get bored — but still see results.

A good trainer is physically in the session with you — and with your permission, they’re not afraid to be hands-on. You can tell that every minute has a purpose, and your limits are pushed a little further each and every time.

Wrapping Up

I’ve often been confused when I hear misguided assumptions about what personal trainers do.

Referring to them as “rep counters” or “workout buddies” is like saying an ER physician is only useful for checking your pulse and assessing your reflexes. It’s lacks an understanding of and perspective on the massive impact these professionals can have on the trajectory of your life (in very different contexts, of course).

Just like any profession, there are ones who are skilled at their craft and ones who leave much to be desired. If you’re ready to take the first step in transforming your health for the long haul — and ready to find a credentialed personal trainer that brings energy and excitement to the process — you can get connected here if you’re a Life Time member, or learn more here if you’re not currently a Life Time member.