For this month’s ‘Ask an Expert’ feature, we spoke to Nam Nguyen, Personal Trainer at 28 Days Transformation Challenge, about why, when and how you should seek out a personal trainer and more. We hope that you find the answers useful for your wellness journey! Thanks to everyone who took the time to submit a question for Nam to answer – we know you’ll find his responses beneficial!
What is the first thing someone should do when starting their fitness journey?
The first thing you should do, whether you’re starting out or looking to get more serious about your fitness goals is to seek the advice of a personal trainer. Their advice will likely be invaluable in preventing injuries and accelerating your results.
Why should someone consider hiring a personal trainer?
Anyone looking to start working out, or taking their current activities to the next level should seek out a personal trainer as they have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to their clients. By hiring a personal trainer, you are able to rely on someone to guide you through the necessary steps towards achieving your fitness and wellness goals. Covering the essentials from proper training technique through to meal and diet guidance, a personal trainer can provide you with a detailed plan on what you need to do to achieve your goals.
However, the most important time to seek out a personal trainer is at the start of your fitness journey. If you dive straight into training without the proper coaching and support from a fitness professional, you may end up injuring yourself. As personal trainers are educated in proper lifting techniques and movements, they can tailor an exercise program to suit your fitness levels and goals.
What should a new client expect from their personal trainer?
Clients should expect their trainer to be committed to not only the job at hand, but actually assisting them to achieve their fitness goals with a high degree of professionalism. You should expect your trainer to actually practice what they preach as this will provide a clear vision about their dedication to you as a client.
As a new or prospective client, you should also expect that your trainer provides a thorough assessment procedure, which should cover your exercise and illness history, goals and any concerns you may have. They should also take a posture and mobility assessment, to ensure that any exercises prescribed can be completed safely, without compromising your health – this should be complimented by a specific stretching program to help prevent muscle soreness and injury.
Like any other professional, you should expect them to know what they’re talking about, so don’t be hesitant to do a little research and throw some hard questions at them when you’re considering who to hire.
What should people look for when choosing a personal trainer, and what are some red-flags?
It is very important to choose the right trainer for your goals, as personal trainers often specialise into a particular discipline, such as weight-loss, maternity, weight-gain and even through to elite level training. As such, you should look for someone who specialises in the area your goals are while making sure you have a personal connection with your trainer.
There is a simple process I like to give my potential clients; determine their goals and to make sure the trainer they’re considering is qualified, registered and insured. From there it is a great idea to do a little research into the trainer you’re considering, whether that’s reading reviews from their previous clients or watching them train another client. This gives you the chance to make sure they aren’t prescribing a single program to everybody they train – remember, personal training is not a one-size-fits-all service.
As mentioned, the main red flags are whether a trainer can provide proof of their qualifications (the minimum being a Certificate IV in Fitness), proof of registration (to an industry association – such as the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers) and last, but not least their proof of insurance. Although there are many other red flags to watch for, these are definitely the most important when it comes to choosing a legitimate personal trainer, over some self-proclaimed ‘Instagram fitness trainer’.
Here’s some more information on what to look out for when considering a personal trainer.
What questions should you ask to tell a good from a bad PT?
There are so many questions you could ask to try and determine whether you’re talking to a good or a bad personal trainer, although I will do my best to keep it to 3:
- How long have you been working as a personal trainer? And what sort of injuries and considerations have you had to make with previous clients?
This is a great question to qualify whether they are experienced enough to handle your training requirements. If you happen to have a particular concern, injury or ailment that prevents you from performing certain activities, it is absolutely essential that your trainer knows how to work around this safely.
- Are you registered with an industry association? If so, which one? If not, do you hold a current qualification in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?
Step foot into any gym and you will see personal trainer boards, plastered on the walls. The abundance of trainers makes it increasingly difficult to actually narrow down a suitable trainer for your needs. Now any reputable gym will ensure their trainers meet the minimum requirements to work in the gym.
Ensuring your trainer is registered with an industry association is an added measure that holds them accountable to a greater code of conduct and practice standards, just check and make sure it is a reputable well known organisation such as the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers. Although registration isn’t compulsory, if your trainer isn’t first aid and CPR qualified you’d best turn around and try someone else.
- What sort of clients have you had/do you have, and what sort of results have you helped them achieve? – be sure to ask for contactable references, and ask them about the trainer’s good or bad points and their overall experience.
A great personal trainer will be extremely open about any and all client experiences. Yes, even the bad ones. Alarm bells should ring if you’re asking a trainer for references and reviews of their services and they’re reluctant to provide them, or they all seem ‘too good to be true’. Although there is a seemingly endless list of questions to ask a trainer, the main three factors for a good trainer remain; proof of qualifications, registration and insurance.
What can people expect in terms of nutrition and dietary advice from their personal trainer?
Unfortunately, personal trainers with a certificate IV in fitness do not have the necessary qualifications to prescribe their clients full diet plans or nutritional supplement plans. We can however provide one of two solutions; assess a client’s diet and provide basic recommendations or refer the client on to the appropriate dietary or nutritional specialist. As a fitness professional your personal trainer can ask you to keep a diet diary and assess what you’re consuming. From there we can provide recommendations to increase or decrease a particular food group to adjust the clients’ caloric intake.
However, providing a detailed diet and nutritional program specific to a clients’ training requirements falls outside the scope of a personal trainer. So if you spot a trainer who is trying to sell some bootleg diet plan or diagnosing dietary intolerances to their clients without the necessary qualifications, it’s best to air on the side of caution and avoid that trainer.
What foods should people avoid when starting their wellness journey?
Whether you’re interested in achieving a particular fitness goal, or just want to improve your general health it is best to avoid ultra-processed foods. As our bodies are not evolved to digest the preservatives and chemicals used to manufacture processed foods, consuming high quantities of processed meats and other products can often lead to gastrointestinal discomfort (GID).
In place of processed foods, it is best to seek out natural alternatives such as swapping that chocolate bar in the trolley out for a piece of fruit.
If you’re having trouble with this the next time you go shopping we have a quick tip – avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket. The fresh produce such as, meats, vegetables and fruits tend to be placed on the outer aisles.
What advice can you give to people who don’t have the time or budget to make it to the gym?
I am seeing this more often with clients, as more people seem to be working challenging hours, are either too busy with other commitments or their budget doesn’t allow for a regular gym membership. These barriers make it increasingly difficult for clients to get into a regular exercise routine. However, as long as you are committed to achieving your fitness goals, the exercises are simply a means of getting there. I always recommend people assess their current activity levels throughout the day, and see if there is anything they can change – even walking the last few flights to work on the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Finding alternative ways to keep moving throughout the day and dedicating small chunks of time to a quick office or lunch workout are my usual recommendations to those who are time poor.
Similarly, if you’re on a tight budget there are plenty of body weight exercises you can do at home, in the garage or even at an outdoor gym. That way you are able to enjoy the Australian summer while working on your health.
Should we pay any attention to workouts labelled as “for men” or “for women” – a good workout is a good workout, right?
In general, a good workout is a good workout. When the labelling starts to matter is when you’re talking highly specific training goals, primarily focused on aesthetic goals rather than functionality. Like anything else, social trends are rampant in the gym, and ‘women’ specific workouts are primarily focused on building a bigger bum or endurance based activities. Whereas workouts ‘for men’ are predominantly hypertrophy (muscle building) based, to develop that ‘ideal’ masculine form of the modern day GI-Joe.
There are two primary differences between the typical workouts ‘for men’ and ‘for women’. These are the body parts targeted in the workouts and the training philosophies for each particular workout. As mentioned the women specific workouts are more cardio-based and mainly target the bum and leg muscle groups, while the men specific workouts are hypertrophy-based and mainly target the upper body – in particular the beach muscles (not so much functional muscle groups).
So if you see a workout you really want to try, go for it! It’ll likely have you working muscle groups you’ve neglected or didn’t know you even had. Plus, it’s a great way to try something new and will help keep your workouts interesting.
Can you tell us more about Transformation Challenges?
Absolutely! Most gyms now offer what they call a transformation challenge, which in the most simplistic of terms is a group training program which runs over a certain time frame. These challenges provide gym goers and personal training clients the opportunity to work out in a group environment, pushing themselves as well as others to achieve their goals. These programs also give you an opportunity to change up your regular training regime, diet and also pick the brains of the personal trainers that you might not usually have access to.
These programs are perfect for beginners, as you are given a step by step exercise and dietary program, as well as access to a selection of personal trainers who are available to guide and support your fitness transformation. As the gym environment can often be quite intimidating, these programs provide a great way to familiarise yourself with the equipment, other gym-goers and the personal training staff.
If you could give people one piece of advice, what would it be?
Focus on your end goals and train to prevent, rather than recondition injuries.
Want to learn more?
Looking for a Personal Trainer?
If you’re looking for a personal trainer but don’t know where to start the process, here is a great resource to try. You won’t need to step foot in a gym and you’ll have access to a large selection of registered exercise professionals.
As always, please let me know if there are any particular topics you would love us to look into or you have any queries or concerns.