Alright, you've set a fitness goal. Get stronger. Get leaner. Get faster. Woohoo! So exciting. I'm pumped for you. I'm sending you positive vibes as I type this right now in celebration of your impending journey.
(Positive vibes. Get it? GET IT?)
Hang on there. I know you're eager to get the ball rolling, but instead of diving headfirst into researching all the different trainers out there, I would very strongly recommend that you pause for a minute and think about what your needs are. Figure this out first, and you'll save yourself a good amount of time by narrowing your search.
Should you work with an in-person trainer? An online coach? Or have at it solo? Let's find out.
WORK WITH AN IN-PERSON TRAINER/COACH IF…
If you're new to lifting weights and don't know your way around the weight room, you may find it far less intimidating to be working with a certified professional to help guide you and make you feel more at ease. More importantly, working with someone in-person will greatly reduce your risk of injury by ensuring that you're using the equipment properly and executing proper form. Unfortunately not all personal trainers and coaches out there necessarily know what they're doing (you'd be surprised at how easy it can be to get certified in some organizations), so I would advise you to please exercise caution (terrible pun 100% intended) when selecting your trainer. Ask for a recommendation from someone you trust. The best-case scenario is that your trainer will help you reach your fitness goal - whether it be fat loss, muscle gain, increased endurance, or what have you - and everyone will win. At worst, even if your trainer puts you on a crappy program, at least you'll be feeling more comfortable in the weight room.
In short, beginners to strength training should consider this the best option. If you've never driven a car before, would you watch YouTube videos and hire an "online driving teacher" to show you the ropes? Of course not. Even though squats on a Bosu ball may look, ah, "functional," you'll be eating your words when you wake up in the hospital and you have to explain yourself to your family what happened.
Executing the fundamental movement patterns correctly takes both skill and practice, and it's best to do this under the watchful eye of a trainer. Do not seek out an online coach, in other words.
[Tweet "Those who need more accountability may benefit from working with an in-person trainer or coach. "] Those who fall into this category will only be extrinsically motivated to lift weights. To put it another way, there's a next-to-zero percent chance of your driving yourself to the gym after work (or waking up a few hours earlier in the morning) to throw some weights around on your own. You know that strength training is good for you and you want yourself to want to do it, but at this point in the game, catching a few extra zzz's or plopping down on your couch sound like more appealing options to you. So you have to make an appointment with a trainer that you pay for in order to bring yourself to exercise consistently. Of course, recruiting a training buddy is also another (cheaper) option, and this is an alternative I would recommend if you have a friend who can afford the same training schedule as you. After all, do you really want to be that person who stands up a gym date?
WORK WITH AN ONLINE COACH IF….
You lack intrinsic motivation but you can't afford to shell out hundreds of bucks a week to have a trainer on the floor with you for every rep. You're not a beginner, so you don't need to be walked through everything - so hiring an online coach is the next best thing.
Or perhaps you're an over-analyzer who frequently gets caught in paralysis by analysis. You're curious about the why and how behind everything, which is great, but it also holds you back because you can't make up your mind about what you want to do. You also tend to freak out over the tiniest things.
What you could really benefit from in this situation is a professional, objective eye.
Sometimes, it takes paying someone to tell you what you already know what you should do… to actually do it.
Make sense? That way, you take your personal bias and your emotions out of the equation. It's not necessarily always about knowing what to do; where many of us fail is actually executing the correct behaviors on a consistent basis. It's too easy to bench and bench and bench and neglect your legs because working legs is so hard and you're only interested in your mirror muscles. A coach can keep you accountable.
Again, this option is not for beginners. Filming videos of yourself deadlifting and asking your online coach to pretty please critique your form is not going to suffice. If you're lacking body awareness, no amount of "keep your chest up" or "don't let that back round out"'s will get you to do it just right. Sure, you could resort to external tactile cues, but at the end of the day, nothing will beat having a person physically there with you to tap, poke, and prod your way to kinesthetic awareness success.
Lastly, you may have a specific coach in mind that you want to work with. You've researched all her methods and her approach to training and nutrition and you love the results she's been getting with her clients. You're dying to work with her, and you refuse to settle for anyone else. But maybe you live in California and she lives all the way on the other side of the nation. If physical distance is a problem, then distance coaching may make sense. And once again, the following point cannot be emphasized enough: you are an experienced strength trainer.
YOU'RE PROBABLY FINE ON YOUR OWN IF….
You totally know what you're doing and you've never had a problem with execution. You can research a program and bang it out for four consistent weeks without feeling the urge to modify a thing. You're patient because you understand that in order to see progress, you have to give your training and nutrition program a fighting chance. That means sticking with a plan long enough - no if's, and's, or but's - for the results to materialize.
You're also meticulous about tracking your progress. This means regular weigh-ins and measurements and you also have a training log to record your weights and reps for each and every set in the gym. (This is all assuming, of course, that you're serious about your fitness goal.)
You don't mind investing the time to educate yourself on the best training program for you. You can spend hours reading up on why Bret Contreras loves hip thrusts so much, how Layne Norton's PHAT actually works, what Sohee's thoughts on cardio are, how Dan Trink gets his big guns, and be perfectly happy doing so.
Or perhaps you don't like being told what to do, plain and simple. You like doing things your way and you won't budge for anyone or anything. Obviously, then, it wouldn't make sense to pay someone only to not listen to them.
And lastly, this will be the no-brainer default option if you simply do not have the financial means to afford a trainer, be it in-person or online. If this is the case, then you can either resort to bro-curling in the squat rack day in and day out and see no results, or realize that you'll have to buckle down and put your learning pants on.
WHICHEVER OPTION YOU DECIDE, HOWEVER, REMEMBER…
There's more than one way to skin a cat.
Can you get lean without the help of a coach? Absolutely.
Can you prep for a show without the aid of a trainer? It's possible, yes (Erin Stern is the first IFBB pro who comes to mind, and I know there are at least a handful of others).
Will the journey be more difficult if you are your own trainer? Not necessarily, but perhaps.
BUT THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS…
Working with an in-person trainer is a luxury.
Having an online coach is a luxury.
Do you need a coach to reach your goals? No, technically you don't need one. Just like you don't need those Lululemon yoga pants (as much as I hate to admit this) and you don't need 8 pairs of New Balance Minimus shoes (no matter how cute they all are!).
But will having a coach make your fitness journey a little - a lot - smoother? Probably.
SO WHAT'S THE NEXT STEP?
If you've decided to seek out an in-person trainer, then congratulations and I wish you luck. I sincerely hope you find one who has your best interests in mind and helps you realize your ultimate fitness goal.
If you're going to do it alone, I hope you enjoy the ride. You'll read a lot of conflicting information out there on the Internet; be open-minded but skeptical.
If you want an online coach, then that's great! Glad you've come this far. The next thing for you to do is to find an online coach who's a good fit for you.
And how do you do that? What should you look for? Stay tuned....