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Finding the right personal trainer

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‘Trainers have to be passionate. You want a trainer who’s motivated to help you reach your goals and pushes you to the next level.’

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Eat out, cruise the shops, step into a cab or onto an airplane — the rituals and routines we could depend on. Gone in blur of changing COVID-19 protocols. It’s hard to keep up.

Access to gyms and in-person personal trainers are included on this list. They are on the back burner – at least for the foreseeable future. Many of us have resorted to online platforms, searching for Instagram, YouTube video classes, and specialty apps to get our fitness and exercise fix.

And although the new norm may have disrupted the bricks and mortar gym experience, having that personal trainer and working out in-person remain on our wish list.  That’s why, if you’re thinking of divorcing yourself from your Instagram group, maybe now is a great time to begin your search for a personal trainer who can guide you through an online session and, one day, train with in-person.

So what should you look for? 

“First, ask about their credentials; unfortunately, the fitness industry is largely unregulated,” says certified personal trainer and fascial stretch therapist Bree Munno, who runs Balance with Bree in Toronto. “So, you want to make sure you’re hiring a qualified trainer with the education and the basic certification from an accredited body, who can help you achieve your goals and has the appropriate liability insurance.” 

Canada’s leading personal training certification designation today is CanFitPro, which is affiliated with GoodLife Fitness. Others include American Council of Fitness (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine Council (ACSM), YMCA of Canada, and National Fitness Leadership Alliance (NFLA), which are affiliated with many provincial certification providers. 

Munno points out personal trainers must also maintain those certifications. “So, check to make sure those are up to date and ask the trainer about the courses they’re taking as it will help identify their areas of interest and specialty. I primarily work with women, so most of my courses are surrounding women issues, pre-and-post natal, body transformation coaching, metabolic conditioning, etc.”  

“Continuous learning is one of my core values,” says Marilyn Robinson, NASM certified corrective exercise specialist and personal trainer at Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto. “Don’t be shy in asking about their background. When choosing a personal training certification, I looked to physiotherapists and chiropractors to see which articles they reference for sports medicine updates.”

She also believes personal trainers should also seek mentorship: a network of experienced sports medicine professionals they you can learn from, and grow with, is essential to providing a great experience for their clients. “You may not have all of the answers, but you should be willing to access resources to help them,” she says.

Toronto’s Amando Campbell is a certified personal trainer and owner of Reverence Fitness Studio, a boutique gym focused on functional training. When looking for a trainer, do your research, she says. “After all, your health and wellbeing are one of the biggest investments you’re going to make.”

Campbell agrees with Munno that referrals are a good first step, but due diligence is needed. Look at their social media, google for reviews, check their website for referrals, see how many years they’ve been training, and find out their areas of expertise.

Once you have taken a look at a few, start comparing them, and don’t let the price-point be the defining factor. They might have 10 years of experience, but not a lot of credentials, and they’re charging $120.00 an hour – it may not be worth it.

The next step is to align yourself with a trainer who focuses on realistic goals and measurable results to help you get there. Then there has to be a strong connection between the trainer and the client.

For Toronto’s Nancy M., communication is crucial, and, most importantly, there has to be mutual respect and an understanding of your personal goals. “That’s why I enjoy my sessions with Campbell,” she says. “Trainers have to be passionate, and that passion transcends to the overall experience. You want a trainer who’s motivated to help you reach your goals and pushes you to the next level.”   

Mark N. of Calgary says when he first started looking for a trainer, he didn’t ask enough questions. “I noticed the trainers in my gym were giving similar programs to their clients. It was cookie-cutter. I want to make sure I’m getting a program tailored to my needs and that the trainer lives what he trains. I’m now taking my time, finding the right fit – checking their online profiles and their references before I take it to the next step. Someone said it’s like dating.” 

“As a trainer, my goal is getting my clients to understand that being fit is not the same as being healthy,” says Campbell. “It’s important to live a healthy lifestyle for lifelong wellbeing. A client may work out three days a week for three hours – but they have to remember, the day includes 24 hours. You have to live it 24/7. That’s the goal.”

The personal trainer you vet should take you through a complete assessment that includes medical history, assess your balance, mobility and ability to perform bodyweight exercises with correct form, reminds Campbell. “The outline for assessments and training system is the foundation of all quality personal training,” says Robinson, “and key when it comes to establishing a benchmark to evaluate your progress.”

And what about the online personal training options?

Before COVID, Munno said she never thought about going virtual.

“I didn’t want to lose that one-to-one coaching you get from the in-person experience,” she says. “I’ve been able to fine-tune my verbal instructions, and I’ve found my clients retain the verbal cues more than when I would physically correct them when we were in-person. They store the information in their brain and then recall internalizing the instructions.” 

Campbell believes the new norm will include a hybrid of personal training options, including online and in-person, and most likely smaller boutique environments. “I find clients perform better when they have someone physically there instead of having someone virtually, but each has its pros and cons, and it will depend on the client’s comfort level and mindset.”

If you’re comfortable with the online experience, Robinson has a few suggestions.

Check to see if the trainer has the adequate space to demonstrate the routine and coach you. And equally important, do you have the right environment and space to create that optimal virtual training experience? When form is everything, if they can’t see you or you can’t see them – virtual training may not be ideal.

Hiring a personal trainer is like dating. There are connections to be made – it’s just about finding the right fit for both parties. 

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Author: Marylene Vestergom is a Toronto freelance writer who has reported at four winter Olympic Games for CBC and CTV.  Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and other leading media outlets. Her focus includes health, fitness and lifestyle trends. 


  • Marylene Vestergom is a Toronto freelance writer who has reported at four winter Olympic Games for CBC and CTV. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and other leading media outlets. Her focus includes health, fitness and lifestyle trends.

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