Choosing a personal trainer

In just five weeks, my one-year membership to Retro Fitness will be over.

And with that ends the twice-weekly visits with my trainer.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year. Time has seriously gone fast.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s next for me in terms of fitness, if I should renew my membership to Retro or join a different gym and what I’ve gotten out of my year of training sessions.

I’ve loved having a trainer because working with him has given me confidence in the gym to use different machines or free weights and to know I’m using them correctly.

A year ago, I was one of those people who probably would have said that I wouldn’t like exercising with a trainer, but now I’m definitely going to miss the guided gym sessions.

I think it’s a great experience that everyone should try, and if you’re thinking about signing up for a trainer here are some of the things I’ve learned and tips on how to choose one that will be right for you:

1. Ask about their certifications and background. I feel like I hit the jackpot with my trainer. He is the epitome of someone who talks the talk and walks the walk. The man lives and breathes fitness and nutrition. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical and resistant to trust him when we first met but he changed my mind in the first five minutes by being able to identify weak areas of my body just by watching me do a few exercises.

If I were to look for another trainer, I would ask what kind of people they have experience working with and what certifications they have. For instance, my trainer is certified to work with a whole range of people from the very elderly to pregnant women, and I know he’s one of the few at Retro who can do that. Along with his training certifications, he holds degrees in fitness and in microbiology.

He also speaks three languages, but that’s just an added bonus :).

2. Ask the trainer what they do to stay healthy. My trainer is a bit at the extreme – he won’t drink alcohol or eat sweets or unhealthy food ever and is very into how his body looks and moves – but I like that about him. While I’m more moderate in my approach to healthy living, it’s very motivating to be around someone who never gives into pressure to take a day off from an active healthy lifestyle.

We talk a lot about food and cooking and he yells at me when I tell him I drink alcohol and he thinks peanut butter is the devil – although I’ve been trying to change his mind on the latter.

Personal training is more than just a job for him, it’s his life and passion, and that absolutely has made a difference.

3. Watch how the trainer acts with other clients. I got a great deal money-wise for my sessions ($20 for a half hour), but affording a personal trainer still created a deep crater in my meager budget. In light of that, I wanted to make sure I made the most of every minute of time I was paying for. I see a lot of trainers at the gym texting on their phone while their client is working out or drinking coffee or engaging in a lot of small talk and I wanted to make sure that the trainer I worked with didn’t do any of that.


My trainer is at my side every second of the half hour pushing me or making sure my form is correct.

I let him know from the very beginning that it was a sacrifice for me to pay for the time and that I took my goals very seriously and expected the same of him.

I told him about the progress I had already made and told him this was not just a phase of me, or part of a resolution, but a total life change.

On my end, I made sure to never, ever show up late to an appointment and never skip an appointment – I think after he saw how dedicated I was it made him work harder too.

4. Have reasonable expectations. This tip is less about choosing a trainer and more about IF you should choose a trainer.

Here’s the reality: if you’re not already devoted to working out, signing up for a personal trainer and even joining a gym is is probably not going to change that.


I know too many people who are paying for gym memberships that they never use. I also can’t tell you how many times I would be working out and the other trainers would be standing around waiting for their clients to show up.

When I joined the gym I was already working out 6 days a week. I signed up because winter was approaching and I didn’t want to let the cold weather be an excuse to not work out.

Before I had the trainer I was also doing things like pilates and yoga vidoes on Netflix.

There are a lot of free resources out there, so make sure you’re already committed to being at the gym or dedicating time to exercise before you sign a contract because they’re hard to break and expensive.

Yes, a trainer is helpful in providing things like meal plans and showing you exercise routines, but at the end of the day it’s going to be up to you to follow through on your goals consistently.

5. Know what you’re doing and why. Obviously there has been physical progress from using a trainer, but I think the number one thing I’ve gotten out of my sessions has been knowledge. This is your time with a professional, don’t waste it talking about a stressful day at work or fight with a friend. Use the time to pick their brains about healthy living. You won’t have a personal trainer forever and you want to be able to work out just as effectively without one so it’s good to know why you are doing the exercises and what they will do for your body.

6. Speak up if something hurts but don’t complain if it’s just hard. As good as trainers are at knowing bodies, they aren’t mind readers. Make sure you always say something if a certain move hurts or if you’re already sore from a previous work out. My trainer starts every session with me by asking how I’m feeling, if anything hurts, etc. Talk honestly about how a move makes you feel so your trainer knows if you are doing it right. Mine constantly checks in with me to see where I’m feeling the burn or feeling the stretch to make sure the exercise is doing what it’s supposed to. Alternatively, if you’re doing strength training and the weight is too light – speak up! You get out of training what you put in so definitely become an active participant in your sessions.


Planning for success

I was finishing up stretching at the gym when I received this email from my sister:


Tomorrow, in order to combat the weekend blues I’ve been having, I will get up early and try the new spin class being offered at my gym.

I’ve never taken a spin class before, but there’s a first time for everything, right?

Knowing a plan is in place to keep my motivation high over the weekend just makes me feel so much better.

Off to work!

Happy Friday 🙂


How to start running

Here is something you need to know about me: Up until six months ago, I had never run a mile in my life.

Seriously. I even walked the mile the gym teachers made you do in high school. Every year.

So when I decided that I wanted to run a 5K, no one was more surprised than me.

The bib from my first race on Thanksgiving

This story starts, like all running stories should start, with a good pair of sneakers. Three years ago I was fitted for the first time for a pair of sneakers. The sales people put me on a treadmill, saw how I walked and recommended what shoes I should wear. During the fitting, I talked all about how I wanted to get in shape and run a 5K. The sales guy told me the store was about to start a program for beginning runners and I should sign up.

I did. I went to about four group runs before deciding that I would rather spend my senior year of college drinking than getting up early to run with a group of middle-aged women. Needless to say, I did not run a 5K that year.

But the seed was planted. So when I decided again six months ago that I wanted to run a 5K, the first thing I did was program Couch to 5K into my iPhone using the RunKeeper app.

The basic premise is that you start with a few minutes of running, alternating with walking and slowly increase the time you are running each week.

The first time I ran, I was so miserable that I nearly quit. I could barely last a few minutes, and each step was incredibly painful.

Literally the only thing that got me through the first couple weeks was the voice in my head. I would repeat over and over to myself that running was not easy and it would get better.

All the internal cheering worked and slowly running did get better and did get easier. Three minutes of running turned into five, then ten until I was running for 30-40 minutes at a time.

Feeling good after finishing a three mile training run

I was pretty dilligent about running three times a week, taking plenty or rest and going slow. I often repeated weeks in the training plan if I felt that I needed more time at a certain level.

Having a goal also helped. I knew my family was planning to sign up for a 5K on Thanksgiving, and I really wanted to run it with them.

I also told everyone and shared my successes. It kept me going to hear all the positive feedback.

Checking out the finish line at my 2nd race on Dec. 3.

I truly believe having a good attitude and a goal in mind are the keys to any success. When I felt like I wanted to give up, I would picture people cheering for me at a finish line, or how good I would feel when the run was over.

The other important thing for beginning runners to remember is not to compare yourself to others. Right now, I run a 12-minute mile. I know that it’s not fast, but it’s helping me build endurance. The pace is both comfortable and challenging for me. I’m building a base right now that will hopefully lead to faster times and longer distances.

I also want to stress that running is not for everyone and it’s not the answer to losing weight. Running three miles often made me hungrier than if I had walked three miles. The important thing is to move in a way that is enjoyable for you.

The biggest lesson I have learned from running is that I can set and accomplish goals. Before getting healthy, I was kind of wandering aimlessly through life. I would not have described myself as a driven person who accomplished things, but completing a 5K changed all of that.

The biggest benefit from running has not been physical for me. It has been about believing in myself and learning along the way that If I work hard, I can do things I previously never thought possible. 🙂

Short and sweaty

The title of the post refers both to how I feel right now…and how my workout was. Double win.

I didn’t have a game plan for the gym today. My ankle has been feeling a little…off, so I wanted to get sweaty without any high-impact cardio. Mission accomplished!

I feel like I should say something here about how I have no professional training, and anything you do is at your own risk and should be monitored or something. I’m listing my workout below, but, please, do what’s comfortable and challenging for you at your level.


Warm up: 10 min. on the treadmill at 3 mph

Overhead triceps extension with 8 pound medicine ball while standing on the half stability ball: 25 reps x 3 sets.

Deep squats, with butt touching half stability ball:  25 reps x 3 sets.

Side bends, holding a weighted bar above your head: 30 reps x 2 sets.

I’m not sure what the bar weighed, but it was the lightest of options at the gym. I realize that’s not helpful at all.

Bicep curls with weighted bar: 30 reps x 2 sets.

Walking lunges: 25 reps x 3 sets.

Leg lifts: 15 reps x 3 sets. <–these were tough…I barely finished the last set!

There ya go! I love workouts with little or no equipment, so this was perfect. For total honesty, I learned all of these move from a trainer that I’ve been working out with for about 3 months. He’s extremely creative and consistently finds new ways to tire me out every week. For a gym newbie like me, paying for training was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I highly recommend it!