What Makes a Good Trainer?

As the fitness industry continues to grow there is a constantly growing list of options.  From online programs to remote coaches to DVDs to personal trainers to CrossFit coaches, a person has a seemingly limitless amount of ways to get fit.  With all of these different options it can be difficult to determine what program to follow, and, more importantly, whose advice to follow.  Here is a list of qualities that I believe make a good trainer, as well as what we look for in our trainers at Coyote CrossFit.

1. Technical knowledge
This is the most basic of requirements for a trainer.  Do they have the knowledge required to help you reach your goals?  In CrossFit we have a lot of information that a trainer needs to know in order to be effective.  They need to know the nine fundamental movements and the correct way to perform them all.  They need to know all of the other movements performed in CrossFit, as well as the proper techniques that need to be used to perform them safely and efficiently.  They need a good knowledge base of Olympic weightlifting (snatch and clean and jerk) as well as gymnastics.  Smart programming, periodization, diet basics, mobility and flexibility basics, and basic kinesiology are all base levels of knowledge.  Many trainers have a much more advanced understanding of these concepts but these are all bare minimums.  Obviously the more knowledge the better, but asking if your trainer understands what they are actually teaching is the first step in determining a good trainer.

2. Training ability
All of this technical knowledge does not do a trainer an ounce of good if they do not know out to use it to teach others.  A good trainer needs to be able to communicate all of this knowledge in a way that anyone can understand it and implement it.  Many people have a ton of knowledge but will talk over everyones head in order to make themselves sound smart.  If a trainer cannot effectively communicate complicated principals in an easy to understand way then their knowledge is not being used effectively.  A good trainer has the ability to teach any person who walks into their gym everything that they need to know to reach their goals in a way that they can understand.  They need to be able to teach someone who has not been active for 50 years how to move well just as easily as they can teach a former collegiate athlete.  If a trainer struggles to make the complicated easily understood by their clients then they are not being as effective as they could be.

3. Have they been there?
A good trainer needs to have experience in what they are training.  If a client wants to lose weight and a trainer has never implemented a diet to lose weight themselves,  then they will have trouble relating to this persons struggles.  This applies to all aspects of fitness.  If a trainer does not have experience doing whatever it is that a client wants to do, then they will probably not be the best person to help that client achieve their goals.  I see this a lot in the competitive side of CrossFit.  There are a lot of CrossFit coaches now who are coaching athletes who are trying to qualify for Regionals or compete at a high level at local competitions who have never competed themselves.  I am not saying that you need to have competed at the CrossFit Games to be a good coach, but I am saying that a coach needs to have some idea of what it is like to compete on game day if they are going to serve their client the best way if competing is their goal.

4. Do they walk the walk?
A good trainer practices what they preach.  It is going to be hard for a client to listen to a trainer who is helping them lose weight when the trainer themselves is overweight.  This does not mean that every trainer needs to look like they should be on the cover of a fitness magazine, but clients look up to their trainers.  If they see that their trainer is not actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle and consistently working out then it is going to be hard for them to buy into what their trainer is saying.  I see this consistently in my own life.  People are always watching what I get to eat when we go out to a restaurant or party or checking in to see how my workouts are going.  I try to set a positive example with my choices.  This doesn’t mean that I am going to turn down a piece of cake at a party, but I try to lead by example the majority of the time.  If a person sees that a trainer is walking the walk then they will be much more likely to follow suite.

5. Do they have a growth mindset?
Mindset is something that is not discussed a lot, but can keep a person from reaching their goals or keep them stuck on a plateau.  A person with a fixed mindset thinks that their talent or ability level is basically set from birth, and they will not be able to improve upon that level.  A person with a growth mindset, however, thinks that they can put the work in in a certain area and progress farther than they thought they could.  A trainer with a fixed mindset thinks that their way is the only way and that everyone else is wrong.  They do not spend much time studying new methodologies or finding different ways to train their clients.  This person might feel threatened by other up and coming trainers or systems and bad mouth them or refuse to acknowledge their success.  They might be afraid to enter into a competition or discourage their athletes from doing competitions because they are afraid they will lose and think that their placing will be indicative of their abilities as a trainer.  A trainer with a growth mindset, however, believes that they need to constantly improve their craft.  They are always doing research on ways they can improve their training and programming to better serve their clients.  Instead of feeling threatened by other successful trainers, they embrace them and seek them out so that they can learn from them.  A growth mindset trainer is never afraid to compete or have their clients compete because they view competition as something to participate in and learn from.  A win or a loss does not define them, and they try to learn something from each of these experiences.  A trainer with a fixed mindset will have clients with fixed results, and they will never be able to help them reach their full potential.

6.  Do they have goals of their own?
This goes along with the previous two points of mindset and walking the walk.  When is the last time you asked your trainer what their personal goals were?  Some trainers make it pretty obvious to their clients what they are working towards.  For example, I am discussing almost daily with one or two clients what I am doing in my training and what I am working towards.  It holds me accountable to put it out there for them to know, and it keeps them motivated to know that no matter what level you get to you are always working to get better, or at least you should be.  They also enjoy watching the process and seeing my progress as well.  If a trainer is not trying to better themselves in some way through goal setting, whether it is fitness related, business related, or personal, then they probably are not going to be good at holding you accountable to your own goals.

7.  Do they say “I don’t know” sometimes?
One of the most important things that I believe a trainer should be able to say is “I don’t know.”  We all know people who seem to have the answer to everything (or really they just act like they do) and never admit when they are wrong.  This is another symptom of the fixed mindset, and it can be detrimental to a person’s ability to lead.  If a client never hears a trainer admit when they are wrong, then they will start to lose trust in this person.  If a trainer thinks that everything they say is right, which we know is not the case because we are all human and make many mistakes every day, then their clients will struggle to sort through what is true and what is false.  Also, when a trainer admits that they do not know something, it will make what they do know so much more potent because it will show that they have spent the time and effort and have the experience to acquire that knowledge.

8.  Do they have integrity?
Integrity is one of those words that get thrown around a lot, and everyone seems to have a different definition for it.  I don’t want to get in a debate on what integrity means in training, but I will say that when you boil it down, what it really means is that they truly have the clients best interests at heart.  One of the most common examples of this is what a trainer says about their clients when they are not around.  We all make mistakes and can get caught up in gossip, but if a trainer is talking negatively about other people consistently, then the people who are hearing this gossip will start to wonder if the trainer is talking about them when they aren’t there as well.  This can lead to a loss of trust.  Another example that is common in training is trainers who date a lot of their clients.  If a trainer has a history of dating multiple clients, then people will start to wonder if they are there to actually help people or to just take advantage of their position of influence and have some fun.  What this all comes down to is whether the trainer truly has their clients best interests at heart or are training for selfish reasons?

9.  Do you consider them a friend?
Probably the most important aspect of being a trainer is also probably the most overlooked one.  Do you consider your trainer a friend?  If you asked them to get coffee with you would it be natural or would it be weird?  I think that the best way to get long term results from your trainer is to develop a deeper relationship than just trainer/client.  If you develop a friendship with your trainer then you are creating trust and are much more likely to stick with your fitness program long term.  If all you ever talk about is fitness and nothing else, then maybe you are missing out on something.