Ideally, a personal trainer should ask more than 10 questions of a new client - it's important for personal trainers to ascertain a client's abilities to exercise beforehand to avoid injuries or serious medical issues. Don't think of it as embarrassing or intrusive as questions asked by a personal trainer are merely designed to keep you safe and help craft an appropriate exercise program for you and should be answered thoroughly and honestly.
1. Medication and Side Effects
"Are you taking any medications, and if so, what are the side effects associated with them?" Personal trainers will ask this question for more than one reason:
- To find out about medical conditions
- To understand if side effects might inhibit exercise, such as a medication that makes you dizzy upon standing
- To understand if medications are causing weight gain, muscle soreness, or anything else that can make losing weight difficult
Personal trainers aren't medical professionals so it's up to the client to reveal side effects, although most good trainers will research side effects to best understand their client.
2. Cardiac Risk Factors
"Have you ever been told by a physician that you have heart disease, high blood pressure or any metabolic disease?" Personal trainers will follow this question up with additional questions, such as how the medical condition is managed and if you have permission from a doctor to exercise. Trainers may also ask specific questions to assess your risk for heart disease including:
- If close relatives have heart disease
- If you are frequently short of breath
- If you have a sedentary lifestyle
- If you are a smoker
It's important for personal trainers to ensure a new client is not at an increased risk for heart disease, as unchecked heart problems can be aggravated by strenuous exercise.
"What are your goals with personal training?" Trainers should never assume all new clients want the same thing - while some want to lose weight, others want to gain muscle, flexibility, or just feel better. A personalized workout program can't happen if the trainer doesn't understand the goals of the client.
"What does your diet look like, and how many calories do you eat in a typical day?" Personal trainers aren't nutritionists, but they should offer some basic, fundamental dietary guidance. Nutrition is a huge part of "getting into shape," not only with losing weight but also in getting fit. Trainers may ask clients to keep a food diary to review together at future sessions.
"How much time are you willing to dedicate to personal training?" Personal trainers must weigh a client's expectations versus the work they are willing to put in. Huge changes aren't going to happen with one half hour session a week, especially if you're not willing to work out on your own outside of training sessions.
6. Medical Readiness
"Has your doctor given you permission to exercise?" While this may seem like a silly question considering most physicians urge their clients to exercise regularly, this is an important question for personal trainers to ask since it helps take some of the liability off the trainer in the event that injury or an ailment occur as the result of vigorous exercise coupled with an existing medical condition. Answer this honestly; if you haven't seen a physician in years it may be a good time for an exam just to gauge your readiness to work out.
7. Previous Training
"Have you worked out with a trainer before, and if so, what were the results?" This question helps the trainer learn about what you expect from a trainer and what has worked (and hasn't worked) in the past.
"Do you have any existing or previous injuries?" Previous injuries - even if they were years ago - can affect the exercises you can do. Trainers should also consider injuries as signs of muscles that need to be strengthened, such as with lower back injuries, which are quite common and sometimes indicate weak or tight muscles that should be retrained.
9. Movement and Stability Assessment
"Will you please walk toward me/squat/hold a plank for a moment?" So much can be revealed to trainers by how a client walks, squats, or holds steady in a plank. An experienced trainer can tell what muscles are too tight or weak based on a quick assessment and will use this information to create a program to address any deficiencies.
10. Sleep Patterns
"How many hours of sleep do you get every night?" Sleep and recovery are quickly becoming recognized as an important facet of fitness, so it's no surprise a trainer might ask about your sleep patterns. The amount of sleep you typically get in a day can also help estimate your daily calorie burn since sleeping burns far fewer calories than the typical activities of waking hours. It's also likely that increased activity will prompt better sleep at night and trainers may want to monitor this as a measurement of client progress.
Questions Are Vital
Some personal trainers are excited to get started and will jump right into a workout without first asking questions about a client's medical history and other important details. While these trainers' enthusiasm can be infectious, it's a sign that the trainer may be more along the lines of a workout buddy as opposed to a seasoned professional ready to create a personalized program that will truly help the client get fitter and enjoy increased longevity.
Though it may feel annoying to answer a bunch of questions when you're ready to get started with working out, consider it an important first step in partnering with the trainer. A trainer who is not willing to take the time to ask questions in the first meeting may not be the best choice for a personal trainer.