- They need a good education and need to know the body. A degree in exercise science or something related is ideal along with plenty of constant continuing education and personal learning. That being said, there are coaches out there who have other degrees but are still very highly educated with the body and its movement/performance. When it comes down to it, a deep education in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and the science behind strength and conditioning is essential. Programming and coaching training modalities without knowing the science behind it is unacceptable and ineffective. Plain and simple, you can't write a program or prescribe exercises without understanding how they are affecting the body. Thats like putting random liquid into your gas tank or engine without knowing what it is or how its going to effect your car. Bottom line: Make sure whoever you hire knows the body. In this profession, we deal with client's bodies more frequently and more in depth than probably any other health profession out there, yet the requirements that there are to train people are pretty much nonexistent. Its up to you to make sure you hire someone who is educated.
2. They need to practice what they preach. While an academic and scientific education is very important, if you haven't spent years in the trenches learning under a bar, you are still going to suck training people and you probably have no business training people. The best professionals have a good blend of both academic knowledge and in the trenches experience. Bottom line: You gotta have both.
3. They should do a thorough screen and assessment. If you work with someone and they just start giving you random workouts right off the bat without evaluating your specific needs and limitations, then run for the hills. There is no way to know what someone needs to be doing with a program without an assessment. A good assessment is essential when it comes to developing a proper, individualized program to optimize goals being reached and injuries being prevented. The assessment might look at movement dysfunction (or lack thereof), muscle imbalances, appropriate performance tests, bodyfat, blood pressure, heart rate, posture/bodycomp photos and anything else deemed necessary for the client. These things obviously will vary depending on who you are talking about but the bottom line is that they should have some form of assessment to get you started.
4. They should design professional and rationalized programs. If your trainer simply picks random things for you to do each day, run for the hills. A properly designed, planned out program based on specific needs and progressions should always be a part of your training. Random training gets random results. Any good professional should be able to design great programs. If you don't even have one, then you are throwing money away. A good program should include appropriate soft tissue and mobility drills, appropriate strength training, appropriate conditioning/energy systems training and should address fundamental movement patterns (i.e. if you are spending an hour sitting on machines, stop wasting your time; though there are some that have their place for certain goals). If you don't have a good program, move on.
5. They should be engaged during all of your training. They should be analyzing movement, coaching you and teaching you how to move and perform exercises correctly. They should be able to explain the why behind everything that you do. I take pride in the fact that most of my clients could probably walk into any average gym and straight up school most of the trainers there. Every client that walks through our doors gets educated every time they come in. Ask them about why you are doing what you are doing. If they can't tell you or don't tell you to begin with, then get out now. If your trainer just stands there and does nothing but count reps and shout “ALL YOU” then move on.
6. They should be able to progress and regress exercises on the spot. If you are clearly struggling with something beyond the point of a little tweaking with coaching, then they should be able to regress to something more doable on the spot. If something is extremely cakeish then they should be able to progress you appropriately on the spot.
7. They should be professional. In addition to all of these things listed, if your coach shows up with a tank top, shorts and a backwards hat, they probably aren't a true professional. Most of the top notch coaches that I work with dress professionally with a nice looking sports polo, professional athletic pants and a clean cut appearance. Other professions dress as professionals, so should fitness pros. Having an uplifting, professional attitude is also essential. Changing mindsets is half the battle of training. They should have a positive mindset that you want to mirror.
In conclusion, if you are going to invest your time and money into improving your body and life, make sure you are doing it with someone who is truly qualified. You wouldn't take your car to a mechanic who doesn't understand how an engine works. You definitely shouldn't take your body to someone who doesn't know how it works. Hopefully, this can help you make some good decisions with your body and training.