When you think of a personal trainer what do you think of? A bodybuilder in a tank top counting reps? A drill sergeant yelling at the top of their lungs? Personal training has come a long ways since it first became a popular job in the 1900’s. It used to be that anyone that spent any time in the gym could become a trainer with no education at all. Now there are personal training certifications that require that you have a baseline knowledge of the exercise sciences (anatomy and kinesiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, program design and nutrition). There are four-year degree programs, master’s programs, and PhD programs in the exercise sciences for those that want to take their education to the next level. With knowledge in all of these areas it stands to reason that trainers do more than just count reps.

Personal trainers provide a valuable service to their clients be designing training programs (workout structure, exercise selection and sequence, frequency, intensity, volume, lifting velocity, and rest intervals) based off of established guidelines and recommendations. They motivate clients, provide psychological reinforcement, instruct correct exercise technique, and progress clients to goal attainment. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, it is estimated that 13% of trainees use a personal trainer. With everything a personal trainer does, wisdom suggests that training with a personal trainer is more beneficial than when training without one. One of the tenets of reaching one’s goals is progressive overload.

Progressive overload can be accomplished a number of ways: adding more sets, more weight, more reps, more exercises, less rest between sets are just a small number of ways that one can progressively overload human muscles. To get stronger, you must lift heavier weights. Studies show that without supervision, men and women self-select weight that is too light for them. Dias and colleagues had 21 resistance trained men and women (with at least 12 months of resistance training experience) assigned into either a personal trainer group or without a personal trainer group. The investigators tested the leg press, bench press, leg extension, and the arm curl. They found that the selected loads were 12.1-26.6% higher in the group with a personal trainer compared to the group without a personal trainer. They also found that 1 repetition maximum (how much weight a person can lift one time on their own) and 10 repetition maximum (how much weight a person can lift 10 times on their own) was significantly higher in the personal training group for 3 out of the 4 exercises tested (the bench press was the only exercise that was not statistically different). This shows that those with a personal trainer lift more weight than those that don’t. Although, to be fair, in the above study both groups still lifted lighter than they should have especially on the lower-body exercises.

The harder you work during a workout the increased number of calories you expend during the workout and the increased number of calories you expend after a workout at rest. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or EPOC). EPOC is the body recovering from exercise and this can last from hours to days to recover from with higher intensity exercise leading to longer EPOC. Greer and colleagues tested the EPOC of ten low to moderately active men and found that at 12 hours post exercise, the resting metabolic rate was increased in all three groups with resistance training leading to a greater resting metabolic rate following exercise, followed by intermittent aerobic exercise, and finally steady-state. At 21 hours post exercise, the resting metabolic rate was still significantly higher for the resistance training and intermittent aerobic groups. Steady-state aerobic training did not influence resting metabolic rate at 12 or 21 hours post workout which means that to lose body fat, steady-state aerobic training is not the best option.

What do you think about when lifting weights? Your day? What you’re going to have for dinner? What you’re going to do this weekend? What you focus on when lifting has a dramatic impact on the results of the exercises that you are performing. It’s called focus of attention and there are two types: external focus of attention and internal focus of attention. “Press the floor away from your body as you perform a push-up” is an external focus of attention. You are focusing on something outside of your body. “Squeeze your chest muscles like you are trying to open a peanut shell with them” is an example of an internal focus of attention. This form of focus of attention is popular in bodybuilding circles and is called the “mind-muscle connection.” Mathias and colleagues compared the effects of internal, external, and no focus of attention and compared muscle activation of 13 upper and lower-body muscles during the bench press. They found that there was greater mean activation of six upper-body muscles with external and internal focus of attention compared with no instructed focus of attention and peak muscle activation increased in three upper-body muscles with internal and external focus of attention cues compared to no focus of attention cues.

The above are a few of the reasons why hiring a personal trainer can take your fitness goals to the next level. The next question is what to look for when hiring a trainer. The trainer should be knowledgeable, personable, and have your goals be their number one priority. Another question that comes to mind is what should the trainer look like? A lot of people want a trainer that looks like they work out and some research supports this notion. Boerner and colleagues asked 191 undergraduate volunteers to look at pictures of volunteered labeled as personal trainers, and answer surveys to rate the trainers’ competence, knowledge, and preferred sex of the personal trainer. The trainers’ physique significantly influenced the individual’s perceptions of the trainers’ characteristics. The truth of the matter is that the way a trainer looks tells nothing about a trainers’ knowledge or competence to train an individual.
Hiring a trainer is not cheap but, it is well worth it’s investment if the trainer has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to deliver the best product they can. So, what is the best course of action to take if you want to hire a trainer but cannot afford one? Train with other people! It can be fun to challenge other people who are training with you or complain together. Another benefit of small group training is that is supports basic physiological needs, which is associated with greater autonomous (freedom to choose your own) exercise motivation and life satisfaction. Satisfaction with group training has also been associated with greater exercise self-efficacy and greater self-reported health and energy (Wament and McDonald).


Dias, Marcelo, R.C., Simao, Roberto, F., Saavedra, Francisco, J.F., Ratamess, Nicholas, A., Influence of a Personal Trainer on Self-Selected Loading During Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. July 2017. 31(7) pp.1925-1930

Greer, Beau, K., Sirithienthad, Prawee, Moffatt, Robert, J., Marcello, Richard, T., Panton, Lynn, B. EPOC Comparison Between Isocaloric Bouts of Steady-State Aerobic, Intermittent Aerobic, and Resistance Training. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2015. DOI:10.1080/02701367.2014.999190

Boener, Patrick, R., Polasek, Katherine, M., True, Larissa, Lind, Erik, Hendrick, Joy, L. Is What You See What You Get? Perceptions of Personal Trainers’ Competence, Knowledge, and Preferred Sex of Personal Trainer Relative to Physique. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Post Acceptance: March 18, 2019

Wayment, Heidi, A., McDonald, Racheal, L. Sharing a Personal Trainer: Personal and Social Benefits of Individualized, Small-Group Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. November 2017. 31(11) pp. 3137-3145

Kristiansen, Mathias, Samani, Afshin, Vuillerme, Nicholas, Madeleine, Pascal, Hansen, Ernst Albin. External and Internal Focus of Attention Increases Muscular Activation During Bench Press in Resistance-Trained Participants. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. September 2018. 32(9) pp. 2442-2451