So you’ve decided to hire a coach. Congratulations! This is a significant step in your fitness journey, and one that you may take several times over as you progress in your goals and in your abilities.
While exciting, this can also be a very confusing time. How do you know who a “good” coach is? What should you look for? How do you know if your coach is the right fit for you? Decisions like these don’t often come with a manual, and it can be difficult to know where to start.
I’ve coached hundreds of clients over the years, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to listen, drop my biases (as much as I can) to be present in the moment, and coach each client as an individual, partnering with them on their fitness journey to help guide them to that to which they aspire. After hours of listening, I’ve learned that when first hiring a coach, many people go with the first trainer they find without giving it too much thought.
Unfortunately, sometimes this experience doesn’t go well, and women are kept out of the gym for extended periods of time for the (understandable) fear of repeating an experience in which they weren’t listened to, heard, or fully supported.
I’m passionate about women feeling at home in their bodies and in their training, so I’ve laid out five important considerations to keep in mind so that you get the most out of your coaching experience and set yourself up for success!
Many gyms and trainers set up an initial consultation session in which they ask you a lot of questions about your goals, your health history, your availability, and things of that nature. It can feel like you’re sitting down with your potential coach for an interview, or some sort of screening process.
And you are! But it may not be the one that feels apparent.
It’s important to recognize your decision-making power here. We’ve all been there: in need of someone’s help, and as a result, we listen to everything they say as though it’s gospel.
Your coach may know more technical things than you do — and is there to help! — but your knowledge and experience of your own body and your preferences are important too.
Look for a coach who is open to your questions, who is willing to be patient with you, who can point you in the direction of further resources, and who is ready to accept that very few paths in fitness (or otherwise) are linear.
Remember that during the initial consultation, the coach is assuring that you’re a good fit for their expertise and ability level as a coach. Make sure to also ask questions to find out if they’re a good fit for you, too.
All coaches have them: What’s the policy on canceling a session? Do they allow for rescheduling? Is there a penalty associated with either? Do they bill monthly, or by the session?
The logistics of coaching are just as important as the content of each session. You don’t need the added stress of trying to reschedule a session because your child is home sick from school, for instance, only to find out your coach has a policy that doesn’t allow for last-minute moves.
You’ll want to work from a firm base of understanding, knowing that their level of flexibility matches up with your lifestyle. If you’re a split-shift nurse, for example, working with a coach whose only availability is Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. is unlikely to be a feasible option for you (if you want to maintain a regular sleep schedule and get to work on time, anyway).
It’s important that you know in advance if you are allowed some flexibility or not (and how much you do have), so you will know what will happen when, you know, life happens.
On that note, I’ve found it’s also helpful to ask smaller logistical questions as well: what sorts of clothing do most people wear in your coach’s gym or studio? This can cause a lot of anxiety for people (not to mention, some gyms are hot!), and I’m more than happy to let a potential client know what most people find comfortable in my space. What equipment is available? Can you use the gym or studio while you’re not training in a session, or is it private access only? Does your provide plans for days you don’t work together? Is there a water fountain?
Small things can make all the difference, and comfort is key!
Your coach is there to help you.
As a coach, it is important to me to do the work to get to know my clients. I want to know about your goals, your nutrition, your sleep habits, your relevant health history, and your current routine, but I also want to know what you need in order for our sessions to be supportive, engaging, productive, and fun.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to spill your life story upon first meeting (unless you want to), and it is certainly not your burden to educate your coach on the context of your entire life. But it is important to relay information that will help your coach better serve you.
Stating your boundaries and preferences allows your trainer to help you in the best way possible.
For example, if you have a history of disordered eating, it would be neither the most productive nor helpful approach to ask you to log everything you’ve eaten for the last week. If you never check your email for anything but work, emailing you reminders of your next appointment is not the most effective communication strategy.
Big or small, your boundaries and preferences matter. Let your coach know how they can best support you.
Going along with the previous point, it’s important to know how your coach will be communicating with you, as well as what you both expect from each other.
Coaching is often a collaborative process, as you work together to find the best path to get to your goals. Some coaches provide plans that spell everything out down to the letter, while others provide guidance with more wiggle room for your preferences. Some coaches have strict boundaries or “office hours” and only accept questions via business phone or email, while others prefer a text message or a phone call.
It’s important to know the ways in which your coach is available to you to ensure that you’re getting what you want out of your coaching relationship. If you know you’re best motivated by strict guidelines and a more firm, no-nonsense approach, a coach who asks a lot of questions and is more flexible in schedule and approach is probably not for you. Conversely, if you know you’re most motivated when your coach asks for your say in the direction of your training, it’s important that you work with someone who is willing to do so.
It’s also helpful to know what your responsibility is throughout sessions. Will you be expected to arrive early to warm up on your own, or will your coach block off time for that? Will you be doing cardio in your sessions, or should you plan for it on your off days? Will you have time for to cool down and stretch in the last 5–10 minutes of your session, or should you allow extra time in your schedule to do that when your session is complete?
Understanding expectations will help you to feel understood and remove a potential barrier to effective coaching.
There are few things more frustrating than expecting to receive help after you’ve put yourself out there and then not getting it due to a misunderstanding. Knowing how to best communicate, what you can expect from each session, and how you can hold up your end of the deal will help you feel more comfortable and more empowered (especially in a vulnerable environment!) as you deepen your relationship with fitness.
There’s no “one right way” to approach fitness or coaching, but there are certainly ways that work better for you. Asking your potential coach about their style and expectations will help you determine if they are a good fit for you at this point in your journey.
Hiring a coach can be the beginning of one of the most fulfilling relationships in your life. Your coach may be there for you through significant life events, from weddings and babies to promotions and losses and everything in between.
It may seem like a big decision, and it can be! But the vast majority of coaches do what we do because we love to see the people with whom we work succeed and feel confident, capable, and empowered, in the gym and otherwise. It’s a gratifying feeling to help someone you trust succeed, and, while your goals are very serious, it can be a lot of fun to get there, and your coach is a person too! Don’t be afraid to laugh, to let your guard down, and to enjoy yourself.
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