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When Do I Just Give In and Hire a Personal Trainer?


Gunnar Peterson has a well-deserved reputation for being Hollywood’s personal trainer. The 30-year veteran of the fitness industry has trained everyone from Sylvester Stallone to Jennifer Lopez to more than one member of the Kardashian clan. Not to mention, Olympic gold medalists and stars of every major U.S. sports league. In fact, he was even the official director of strength and endurance training for the L.A. Lakers.

Which is to say: If you’re wondering whether or not you need a personal trainer, Peterson is the perfect man to ask. While I performed personal training as a part-time job before I moved on to other passions, Peterson has lived, sweated and bled for fitness for several decades. 

I was able to catch up with him recently to pick his brain about why he believes that a personal trainer is akin to a dive instructor and how to select the best one for you — if, of course, that’s something you’re inclined to do.

If someone is on the fence about getting a personal trainer — particularly someone who has never worked out before — how do they know if a trainer is something they really need?

I think everybody needs one if it fits in their lifestyle and it works for them. Take tennis. Let’s say you and I want to take up tennis together, but neither of us knows how to play. If we decide to pick up two tennis rackets and a can of balls, and go out to a public court, that’s probably going to be an awful afternoon. I don’t want to do that. But if you and I hire a pro to teach us for an hour, within 15 minutes we’re going to have the grip down, the footwork down. We will have been told what the stroke should look like, and we will make solid contact with the ball at least a few times. This will give us a feeling of accomplishment, which will make us want to return and have greater buy-in.

It’s the same thing with fitness. If you don’t know what you’re doing in the gym and just start jerking around with the weights and the cardio machines, that’s a bad afternoon — and potentially hazardous. Take it to the next level and think about scuba diving. If you just rented the stuff and jumped into the water, you’re not going to know what you’re doing, you’re not going to have fun and there’s a greater chance that you’re going to get hurt — or worse. 

Fitness works the same way: Hire a pro. 

If you’re serious about it, reach out to a valid governing body — like the National Strength and Conditioning Association — and find a trainer that has that certification near you. That way you’re getting somebody for whom training is more of a career and not just a job. They’re invested in it not just to get a little side money, they’re into assisting you at a different level than someone who spends a lot of time at the gym who decided they should figure out a way to make a couple hundred bucks out of it.

Obviously a lot goes into a client-trainer relationship, and making that dynamic work. From a client’s standpoint, how do they know if they didn’t align themselves with the ideal trainer and should consider getting a different one?

If you’re dreading the interaction and it’s not fun, get out of there. We’ve all spent too much time in bad relationships; let’s not do that again — whether it’s romantic or otherwise. You certainly don’t want to screw around when it comes to your health and wellness. So again, if it’s not fun, get out. I would even recommend that to people when it comes to their GP or their dentist. If you don’t like going and you don’t interact well with them, find one that works for you. That attitude is going to tie into the degree of adherence you have to your training, which will tie directly into the results you get. You’re only shorting yourself if you stay in something that’s not working for you.

At the same time, do your homework. Look up the trainer and see what their background is. In some cases, you can meet someone and quickly decide you don’t want to spend any time with them. Time is the commodity we can’t replace, so I don’t know why you’d waste it. 

What are some things trainers can do to make themselves into someone who clients will enjoy spending time with, aside from simply being knowledgeable about training?

When I work with people and it doesn’t feel right, I don’t want to be a chameleon and fake it. As a trainer, you don’t talk politics; you don’t talk religion. Steer clear of giving advice. Just listen to your clients and let people come to their own conclusions. Be positive all the time. You don’t have to bash them. The world is bashing them. They’re bashing themselves. If the trainer starts taking stuff out on you, get a new one.

Also, if the trainer is always playing the poverty card, get out. You don’t need to be around that. I hear it all the time with trainers. It’s like they’re passively asking for stuff. If you’re a trainer, stop doing that.

What do you say to people who are just starting a training program, but are reluctant to go to a gym because they’re afraid of being judged by the people who are already incredibly fit?

I’ve had friends tell me that they couldn’t train with me at Gold’s Gym Venice because they wouldn’t fit in there, or they think people will look at them. I told them, “Believe me, no one is looking at you. What gets the most wear and tear at Gold’s Venice is the mirrors.” Deservedly so, too. Those men and women are carving legendary, historic physiques. They need to pay attention to what they’re doing and to themselves. They’re not looking at you. So just go have fun.