It has been around six years since my fitness journey began and during this time it is fair to say I have had my ups and downs in terms of results and motivation. In this time I have also worked with three PT’s so I feel I can share some insight into using one.
Each PT has been different and some better than others. My favourite PT moment has to be the time one of them told me I had a drink problem (PT’s rarely drink and anyone who does drink more than one pint a week is seen as an alcoholic). Anyway, I thought it would be handy to create a kind of guide to finding the right PT, understanding when using a PT is a good idea and the kinds of goals you should set them.
How to spot when you need a PT
The first time I hired a PT was when I felt I was plateau’ing, weight loss wise. If you have started to try and get fit or lose weight from a starting point of being quite or very overweight then you should (everyone is different) find that in the early stages, just a little bit of gym work or exercise should shift a decent amount of fat. There is a very good saying that I came to learn is very true; in two weeks you will feel it, in 4 weeks you will see it, in 8 weeks you will hear it. In short, don’t rush it, you are making progress.
When I started my journey I was a staggering 116kg (18 stones!) and I am now around 74-78kg.
It was when I reached about 98kg that I found I was plateau’ing. Up until this point I had been doing something really simple in the gym, cardio galore! 15 mins on the bike, 15 mins walking on the treadmill, 15 mins on the cross country ski machine. I finished off with the rowing machine to take it up to an hour and maybe a few go’s on the weight machines but I didn’t really know what I was doing on them.
At this point I was not brave enough to enter the weight area. That was for the “bigger boys”. Anyway, I could not get lower than 98kg so I hired my first PT.
From my wider reading of all the plethora of fitness help and advice articles out there, I also knew that my body was probably getting used to all the cardio and as such, progress was slowing, I needed to shake up my routine but I did not know how and, again, I thought a PT would help with this.
The other reason why I wanted to hire one was because I was unsure how to use a lot of the equipment and free weights properly, and even a one off PT session can help with this.
My first: Tip 1; don’t be intimidated by PTs. I certainly was when I first started out but I got to know them before picking one and they are all (normally) really nice and want to help. It can be a bit daunting when you first speak with one, so make sure you have your goals clear in your mind (the next bit!).
What goals to set them?
The biggest mistake people make when they hire a PT is not giving clear enough goals. For blokes it is often “lose a bit of weight and get bigger arms”. I was certainly guilty of this. I didn’t give my PT clear enough goals. I should have said to concentrate on weight loss and then build muscle and tone after I had hit my goal weight. I should have discussed my goal weight with him, but I just explained what I had been doing and said the usual weight and bigger arms thing.
In my head my goal weight was (at that point) 13st but I was embarrassed about this and thought I would never get to that weight. Tip two: be honest as you can with your PT.
The first thing my PT did was listen to what I had been doing, said he understood my goals and then ploughed on with a routine. Keeping in my that I had lost nearly 20kg at this point and was feeling like Hercules, in just one session, and with just one mini circuit, he showed me how unfit I actually was. Tip Three: get them to give you the programme they think you should do to help you achieve your goals.
I did not write down or really pay attention to my first PT’s sessions. I should have done the PT programme every time I went to the gym (and trained without them) but instead I just carried on doing my own thing rather than copying their session. This meant that the results were slower to come than expected.
Fast forward to today and I am now far more confident and less intimated by PT’s so I know that I am trying to improve my running and as such a cardio focussed PT is what I need.
My tips for possible goals to set your PT:
- Weight loss, be honest, no goal is silly – many people use a PT to help them achieve their goal weight for a life event like a wedding or big birthday party etc
- Overall fitness improvement is a good goal
- Get help with technique and form to take your lifting to a new, higher, weight
- Specific training for an event (mud runner, mountain climb, marathon etc)
How many sessions should I start with?
Most PT’s offer deals when you block book sessions with them. try and haggle, the more you can pay for in advance, the cheaper it should be.
I started with two sessions a week and at one stage (in the last few weeks of training for the three peaks challenge) even had three sessions a week. Looking back, this was too much. With hindsight I think that one session a week is more than enough, especially if they give you a programme (or set of programmes) to do when you train on your own in the gym.
Be honest though, you will never train on your own with the same intensity that you would when you have a PT by your side and this is why training with someone else is a good motivator, to keep pushing you on.
Many modern PT’s take before and after pictures and I really regret not doing this (I was very embarrassed about my body at the start and was not convinced I would ever see a good “after” picture). One of the best things a PT can do is to regularly monitor weight and various key parts of the body (arms, legs, waist etc), along with also tracking strength progression and alike.
Remember to get them to regularly send you a copy of the tracking though. Some PT’s “lose” this data once you tell them you are going to put the sessions on hold!
Do give your PT a good chance though. I would always say a minimum of three months. PT’s are not miracle workers and they do need time to help you get on the way to your goals.
I hope that this helps you on your quest to get fit and also helps you decide if it is the right time to hire a personal trainer.