How To Know Which Type Of Personal Trainer Is Right For You – An Expert’s Guide

The different types of personal trainers and coaches and how to choose the right one for you, with an overview of their pros and cons.

Written by Hyde Phillips

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Personal trainers come in ALL shapes, sizes, personalities and hair styles, but how do you know which one is right for you?

We all have an idea of the types of personal trainers in our head:

  • Shouty sergeant major type
  • Gentle confidence-builder type
  • Sciencey technical type
  • Been-there, big-change life coach type
  • Holistic mind, body & spirit coach type

These are the technical terms, obviously…

In reality, for most people, having ANY personal trainer is helpful – there are some essential factors that influence and energise great results, and the average personal trainer will tick most of these boxes whether they realise it or not.

Having said that, we’re in the business of helping people get great results that LAST; to be fitter, healthier, looking & feeling great now and for a lifetime.

And to guarantee you’re going to get a good return on your fitness investment, and be inspired by the experience, it’s helpful to understand what the non-negotiables are – and why they’re so important to your success.

Home fitness cardio exercises

You might have these questions at the back of your mind:

  • Will I get on with them?
  • Do they have the skills & experience to help?
  • Will they know when to push me, and when to draw back when I’m really not feeling it?
  • Can their programme and plan work around my hectic lifestyle?
  • Will they understand that I really don’t like press-ups?

When you’re really stressed you might think that you need a high intensity workout to get all your frustrations out. Sometimes it might be that you’d benefit most from an easier, more comfortable workout. It’s knowing when to push and when to draw back.

Hannah Smith, At Home Fitness Guildford

In the end, the strongest force competing for your time will always be doing nothing. It’s important not to overthink it; to adopt an action mindset and START the journey. It’s unlikely that you’ll regret it, and you’ll always get some benefit on the way.

But knowing what you need to achieve great results, what questions to ask and how to find the right type of personal trainer for you will empower you to feel more confident, get more out of the sessions and get better results, now and in the future. 

There’s all this information out there, and yet we’re paralyzed by inaction. Having an expert to help winnow down these choices and focus on moving forward is extremely helpful.

Kevin Millington, At Home Fitness Ealing

That’s why we’re here to help. Like home fitness Marvel heros. Kind of.

So, to make finding the right type of personal trainer easy and straightforward, we got together with a few of the fitness-marvel-heroes from the team.

Meet Hannah Smith, personal trainer in Guildford, Kevin Millington, personal trainer in Ealing and Rob Hunt, personal trainer in Lichfield.

Together, we created this complete guide to help you establish:

  • What you need to know about the different types of personal trainer
  • The non-negotiables and why they’re SO important
  • What sounds good but is most likely distraction
  • How to know which personal trainer to go for
  • Red flags and why you should avoid them

If you’re confident that the trainer can help you get results, it’s WELL worth the investment. Having someone who can help you create a routine that you enjoy and build a foundation to be fitter, healthier, in shape and feeling great can change your life.

We hope you find it useful, and more importantly, that you’ll find a trainer that can help you kickstart a programme that transforms your health & fitness.

Rob shows his client woodchops in this outdoor workout

#1 Goals

Being clear about what you really want to achieve is the first step to understanding the type of personal trainer that’s best for you.

We often assume goal-setting in consultations is about the client sharing what they already know with the trainer. That’s partly true; actually a far more powerful aspect of this is having someone to help you clarify & share your goals out loud.

Most people naturally have a feeling and intuition about what they want. But it’s only when they take time to really think about what that is and why it’s important, that it becomes a clear, real and motivating force for action. The added accountability of sharing that with a professional who is invested in your success is a powerful driver.

You might be a working professional. Or perhaps you’re a parent with kids living at home. Either way, if you’re like our clients, you probably want to get (back) into an fitness routine to get fit, strong, healthy and in shape. Life has happened, habits have slipped – and you want to look and feel like you did 10 years ago. We salute you.

That’s what we specialise in as a team – sustainable health and fitness to look, feel and live better everyday – that you can build into an easy and accessible home routine.

Maybe you’re looking for something more specific, like:

  • Losing weight or toning up for a wedding or holiday
  • Building up strength after an injury
  • Managing a long-term health condition
  • Getting or staying fit during/after pregnancy
  • Group fitness with a social element
Kevin showing his client their great results

These specific goals will steer the type of training you do, and provide extra context for your starting point and goals. 

Whatever your goal, it’s important that your trainer takes time to understand them, along with your background and starting point, in order to help you get from where you are now (A) to where you want to go (B).

No-one sets off on a long journey without first plugging in the sat nav (or checking the map if you’re old school). Likewise, if you check to see if there are any accidents or diversions on route, it helps you understand the best route to avoid being late to arrive.

The same applies with health and fitness goals.

For those that are beginners or those that don’t know where to start, a trainer can teach you the knowledge needed to exercise safely and effectively.

Hannah Smith, At Home Fitness Guildford

Matching the right personal trainer for your goal is important, because you’ll get SO much more benefit from a fitness professional who takes time to understand your world, and whose approach aligns with what you want in the long-term.

#2 Key components of personal training

Once you’re clear on what you want to achieve, you’re in a good place to check that your fitness trainer covers the key components of their service that will help you achieve your goals.

People tend to operate under the assumption that Personal training = workout sessions.

Exercise is obviously a big part. Workout sessions can help improve mental health, ‘burn’ energy/calories, and punctuate your week with spikes of motivation and accountability to make healthier decisions.

Lifestyle coaches can bed down healthy habits, and draw together what appear to be disparate parts of your life into something that will reshape you in a way that’s going to be much more effective and long term than if you just focus on exercise.

Kevin Millington, At Home Fitness Ealing

Hannah Smith and her client training

But only thinking about workouts misses some key pieces of what drives long-term results. If we just think personal training is about workouts, we’ll miss out on a lot of benefits.

If your goal is to have the package deal – to be fit, strong, healthy, looking great and feeling energised  the plan and approach need to be a package deal too.

Simply adding workouts to your existing lifestyle will help, but it’s unlikely to be transformative.

So many programmes miss the holistic nature of health & fitness. When they do, two things invariably happen:

  1. Your results aren’t as good as you hoped, particularly with weight loss
  2. You give up because the benefits aren’t worth the cost

The best results (by several laps around the block) come from a complete plan that includes exercise, nutrition & self care.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good, but I encourage clients to get out of the mindset that their body is something that's broken and needs to be fixed. It’s much more powerful to build habits that inspire being healthy and feeling great - and your body will take care of itself.

Rob Hunt, At Home Fitness Lichfield

Focus on the most important parts of these three, and you will get fitter more quickly, noticeably trim down, feel stronger & more confident, and be MUCH more motivated to keep it all going in the long-term.

The good news is, it’s really not that complicated. 

Remember the analogy of filling the jar with the rocks first, then adding the smaller pebbles, and then pouring in the sand at the end?

(Ok, the first time I heard that analogy was used to illustrate the fact that there’s always room for a pint…but we digress).

This is a great visual for focusing on the key things that make the biggest difference (the big rocks), and then fine-tuning from there (the pebbles & sand).

Shoulder press with resistance bands - personal training in the garden

With that approach to transformative fitness results as your guide, here are the essential aspects of a personal training service that you should be looking for:

1. Personalised workout programme – after assessing your fitness, goals and background, you want your personal trainer to create an effective workout plan. This should start at the right level, hit the areas that are important to you and inspire you to enjoy and want to exercise more.

2. Health & fitness plan – best results come from a plan that focuses on the most important areas (the rocks) of your life that will get great results. Too many changes leads to distraction and overwhelm. So the best way to do this is to create a simple, actionable plan that focuses on the 3-5 most important habits every day. These can be personally tailored to you and get you where you want quickly.

3. Delivering workouts – personal trainers usually take you through the workouts they’ve designed. Some trainers might offer more of a coaching & accountability service, where they create a plan for you to do yourself, and then check-in with you to see how it’s going. We personally love leading workouts with clients, because it helps you build a consistent routine of fitness, helps us evolve your programme, and provides a natural platform for encouragement & support.

4. Tracking progress – every PT service should include relevant progress tracking. This helps you see if it’s working, and gives you information to change or evolve the plan for to guarantee long-term results. The key is to keep it simple and relevant. Noting every single ingredient and how much it weighs ISN’T sustainable. Likewise, most people don’t have the time (or desire) to write down how many reps they did for every exercise. However, taking photos of food, and ticking off when you’ve completed a workout gives you a great top-down view of the key things to help you stay on track.

Many people stagnate when training on their own - a personal trainer is able to re-evaluate your workouts, suggesting ways to change or tweak your workouts to make them more effective, and freshen them up to keep you motivated.

Hannah Smith, At Home Fitness Guildford

Download our eBook and 14-day home fitness series to learn more about how we professionally track progress for our clients.

Barbell squat with Hannah Smith

5. Professional guidance and support – having worked with 1,000s of people around the UK, we’ve learnt that a strong line of support makes a massive difference in helping you kick old bad habits and build new good ones. Results (particularly weight & physique related) are primarily driven by nutrition, sleep and consistently hitting workouts. Having a trainer who understands the key things that move the needle, and who can support you in putting them into practise consistently, is the best way to help you get the results that you want.

6. Accessible service – starting a fitness routine should be as easy as possible. If you create the lowest-resistance path to working out and eating well, you’re much more likely to succeed. Home fitness is the easiest way to get the results you want because it removes loads of the barriers. It takes away the time & hassle of getting to the gym, and means you can focus entirely on you, without distractions or the prying eyes of onlookers. A personal trainer who comes to you can also understand your real context, making it harder to cancel sessions and increasing consistency and results.

Sleep and stress management are vital. If you try to do fitness on its own, i.e. an hour of exercise twice a week, you won’t get close to the same results as if you were to focus on everything else that is happening to the body across the week.

Kevin Millington, At Home Fitness Ealing

Red flags

  • No mention of nutrition, sleep or rest
  • Full, overly prescribed meal plans
  • Too much ‘self talk’ and not enough emphasis on you and your goals

#3 Do they cover the right training methods?

We often get asked, “what’s the best thing to get fit and lose weight – is it cardio, HIIT or weights? Should I lift heavy weights or light weights? Boxing or running?”

Well, the answer is yes…

Rob leading a joint outdoor kettlebell session

Earlier, we talked about how exercise, nutrition and self care are the pillars of every health & fitness goal. This is the holistic (and only truly reliable) approach to fitness.

The same applies to the workouts themselves: as long as you get the fundamental stuff in place (the rocks), a lot of the other stuff is just detail.

Essentially, every programme should incorporate the following aspects

  • Cardio
  • Strength
  • Balance & stability
  • Flexibility & mobility
  • Co-ordination & agility

In terms of weight loss and getting lean, cardio and strength are the key driving forces. There’s a simple formula here: if your heart, lungs and muscles are working hard – like a car accelerating hard on the motorway – your body will use more fuel and respond more quickly in terms of fitness.

Both cardio and strength training have distinct benefits from doing them regularly. (As long as you’re getting the right nutrition, and managing sleep, rest and stress). 

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is highly effective for 2 good reasons:

  1. More challenging workouts burn calories & increase fitness more quickly
  2. It combines strength & cardio training for all-round benefit
Great results from at home personal training

So cardio and strength lead the way in terms of fitness and weight-related results. But balance, flexibility & co-ordination bullet-proof your training by helping you move better, reducing injury and bringing extra layers of fun and variety.

The more benefits you feel in your everyday life the more you’ll be motivated to keep going and make it a long-term habit.

Armed with this holistic approach to fitness, the next big thing to consider is: do you enjoy it? The exercise you enjoy is the exercise you stick to, which will make it much better for your results than any type of exercise you don’t…

In general, variety is the spice of life that leads to all-round benefit, and the more fun it is the better.

Red flags

  • Obsession with the new fitness fad or equipment
  • People who insist that EITHER cardio OR strength is the ‘secret’ to fitness results – both are important for different reasons
  • Suggesting that fitness and workouts will make you lose weight and trim down – according to the Medical Research Council, it’s exceptionally difficult to lose weight through exercise alone.

#4 What do PT qualifications mean (and how to find a quality trainer)?

Every personal trainer should be level 3 qualified. That is really a given, and in reality, very few will promote themselves as PTs without this basic qualification.

However, it’s important to consider the general quality of your personal trainer, and there are a few factors that we’d recommend checking out to avoid getting bitten down the line.

Rob showing his client modified lunges

Here are some good signs to look for that indicate quality (plus some red flags that should set off the alarm bells):

  • Extra qualifications – if you’re looking for something specific, like training during/after pregnancy, injury rehab or working with a condition like high blood pressure or asthma, your trainer will often need specific qualifications that give them a deeper understanding and knowledge relevant to helping you safely and effectively. But extra qualifications also indicate a healthy approach to learning and growth – it means they’ve actively exploring new ideas and are interested in developing their craft and helping people more effectively.
  • Good listeners – sooner or later we all brush up against personal trainers who like to talk more than they like to listen… Watch out for this red flag! Finding a trainer who actively listens to you, where you’re at and what you want is a strong indicator of quality and the extent to which they can really help.
  • Like-mindedness – we are drawn to and naturally connect with people like us, so don’t be afraid to find trainers who talk a bit like you talk, have a similar way of thinking, and who are generally like you but further down the road of health & fitness.
  • Professionalism – personality is key, but having a trainer you can rely on will lead to consistency, confidence and results. A hilariously entertaining trainer will be amusing at the start, but if they don’t respect your time and communicate well, it’ll be short lived. Prompt & clear communication goes a long way, and demonstrates the trainer has thought about how to make your overall experience a positive one from start to finish.
  • Home personal trainers – biased as we are, at home fitness trainers are naturally inclined towards a practical and people-first approach. That’s because, in contrast to the showy gym-trainer who checks themselves out in the mirror between exercises, home trainers are invested in working around your real life context to help you achieve results.

Every trainer has a comfort zone, usually the types of exercise they're interested in, or enjoy doing themselves. But a key differentiator between a 'good' vs 'bad' PT is that a good trainer can comfortably coach outside those boundaries. Their sessions are less about what they are comfortable with, and focus on what their client's need most.

Rob Hunt, At Home Fitness Lichfield

Red flags

  • Personal trainers who talk more than they listen
  • Trainers who look amazing, but are more interested in themselves than they are on you
  • Trainers who come across as blasé or unresponsive.
Client doing a yoga pose in the garden

#5 Will you be motivated by the personal trainer’s personality & style?

So far, we’ve covered your goals, the essential components of a PT service, the types of training that will help you get results and the general quality level of your trainer.

The next question is, what style of personal training style will motivate you?

Finding a personal trainer that’s the right fit for you is a bit like finding a life partner – you need essential common ground and values, but with enough differences to make it interesting (and not drive you insane).

(Just to clarify, fancying your personal trainer is NOT part of the package…)

Personal trainers can be typecast or stereotyped into various categories. Common examples are:

Drill sergeant – boot camp style

Scientist – detail-orientated

Experiential – a few steps ahead of you on the journey

Cheerleader – supporter & champion

Coach – empowering you to experience change

Most of the time, personal trainers have a combination of at least 2 or 3 of these traits.

In our experience and opinion, this is too nuanced and complicated to talk about in theory. The best and easiest way is to get on the phone, or even better, into a one-off session with your trainer and see whether it feels right for you.

If you like them, feel like you connect and trust that they can help you, this is solid ground for a great personal training experience.

Your personal trainer might have had exactly the same goals, but be five years ahead of you - they’ve done that journey, understand the common mistakes and help you get there via the most direct, distraction-free path.

Hannah Smith, At Home Fitness Guildford

Hannah Smith demonstrating a stretch online

Most personal trainers offer a free initial session – this is a great chance to see if it’s the right fit, clarify what your goals are for yourself, and learn a bit more about what you could get.

To come back to the dating metaphor: if you simply browse through profiles without meeting anyone, you won’t get anywhere. (Trust me).

Our advice: take the free session, learn from the experience and be honest if it doesn’t feel right. That’s what it’s for. Remember, the biggest competitor is doing nothing. So be proactive, even if you’re not sure, and you’ll find the right person to help you on your journey.

Our friendly team go out of their way to understand what you want, share more information and help match you with the right trainer for you.

Get in touch for a friendly call, and we’ll be honest about whether we can help and the best option for you. Get started here.


Summary – what type of personal trainer is best for you?

  1. Take time to get clear about exactly what you want and why
  2. Check your trainer covers the key components of a personal training service
  3. Do their training methods provide a variety of disciplines for all-round benefit?
  4. Do they have the quality & qualifications?
  5. Does it feel right when speaking to them on the phone or in a free session?

Remember that the biggest competing force will be doing nothing – so use this moment of inspiration to take action, talk to some personal trainers, book a free session and take the leap.

We promise you won’t regret it.

Want to talk to one of the team about starting with a personal trainer? Get in touch here, and meet your trainer to explore your fitness goals, background and get your custom designed six week plan & programme.

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