Make the Most of Your Gym's Free Hour of Personal Training

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You can accomplish a lot of things in an hour: catch up on the latest "The Bachelorette" drama, write a snail mail letter to that college friend you lost touch with last year, get an oil change or, feng shui your living room for the fourth time, to name a few. Thanks to many gyms, you can also set the groundwork for accomplishing your healthy living goals in just one hour—with an assist from a free personal trainer, of course.
Upon signing up for a new membership, many gyms offer a complimentary health and fitness consultation, allowing new members to meet with a personal trainer to get a feel for the equipment and services available. While the session is designed as an introduction to the gym, with a little preparation, you can take full advantage of having an expert by your side and get closer to your goal in just a short 60-minute session.
Whether it's the extra cost or intimidation, working with a personal trainer might be quickly dismissed as people make the decision to get healthy and lose weight, which is why every beginner can benefit from this great gym perk. The gym's one-hour session is a great introduction to the gym and to the option of personal training, but more importantly, starting with an expert gives you the opportunity to ask questions about equipment, specific exercises, designing a program and the best way to make progress towards your goals. With a little preparation and some careful thought about your mission, that one hour could prove to be the most helpful hour of your journey.

1. Consider the Finish Line First

If you're hitting a gym for the first time, chances are you've already got a goal in mind, maybe even one that you've been thinking about for months or years. Pete McCall, an ACE-certified personal trainer and spokesperson, says the more defined, the better to ensure that you truly get what you need out of your assessment.
"Rather than ask certain questions, identify specific goals," McCall suggests. "Not just 'lose weight,' but maybe [say you want to] wear a certain size again, lose 10 pounds or complete a certain race. The more specific the goal, the better a trainer can help you."
To narrow down a specific goal, spend a few days examining your day-to-day life. Does looking at your old pre-pregnancy jeans make you feel unhappy? Do you see finish line photos popping up on your social media news feed and feel a twinge of jealousy? Are you having trouble climbing a flight of stairs without getting winded? The more information your trainer has to work with, the more likely you are to get a training plan that you'll be satisfied with in the coming months.

2. Exercise You Can Enjoy

In addition to your end goal, McCall also recommends coming into the session with an idea of the kind of exercise program you’re most interested in trying. Consider your previous exercise experience, along with any prior or current injuries or limitations before you show up to your session. "Are there exercises you enjoy or exercises you want to avoid? Be sure to be honest," he says. "A good trainer will listen and design a workout specific to your needs and wants."
After sharing your specific goal, ask your trainer for three to five exercises that you should start doing to proactively move towards that goal. If your goal is to gain muscle mass or better definition, you're likely going to be steered towards a strength training program. For weight loss, programs that expend energy, such as circuit training, will be recommended. Your trainer should be able to recommend both bodyweight and machine exercises that are relevant to your goal.
Finding exercises that are dynamic, challenging, as well as empowering will make hitting the gym more enticing. After all, enjoying the training routine is key in transforming people from beginners to dedicated exercisers.

3. Go with Experience

Experience gives trainers insight into both the problems and frustrations that can arise during the weight-loss journey, as well as a better idea of what it takes to be successful. This perspective allows them to offer advice for overcoming future plateaus and staying motivated. Make sure that you inquire about their credentials, as well. At the minimum they should have a national certification from an organization like ACE or the American College of Sports Medicine, plus a current copy of their CPR and first-aid certification. In addition to their years in the gym and certifications, ask the front desk to pair you with a trainer who has a good track record with beginners.<pagebreak>

4. Learn the Proper Form

Now that your goals have been established, take the time to walk around the gym with your trainer so they can demonstrate any exercises that have been discussed. Proper form is key in avoiding injury, and this session is the place to learn how exercises feel before performing them on your own. "Exercise machines are good for learning basic movements, but some of the equipment, like a kettlebell or TRX band, should be done with a trainer who can show you the proper way," McCall says.
Start slow with lower-intensity exercises that you want to try, but also be open to challenging yourself with new exercises your trainer thinks will help you achieve your goals.

5. Did We Just Become Best Fitness Friends?

You wouldn't walk in to a hospital and start diagnosing yourself, so why go into a gym without consulting with a pro? When your health is on the line, it's important to surround yourself with inspiration as well as information. Being on a first-name basis with a trainer at your gym opens up the door for both. Use your assessment session to kick start this relationship.
"Focus on establishing a relationship with the trainer—you want someone you can go to for advice about fitness and exercise," McCall explains. Not only will it feel great to hear a "Hey, great work today!" on your way out the door after a particularly sweaty session, but when you can't figure out how to use those battle ropes in the corner, you've got someone you can ask for help.

6. Matchmaker, Matchmaker

A personal trainer can be a great investment in your health, and your first assessment is the perfect way to dip your toes in the water. Should you decide to sign up for weekly sessions with your introductory trainer, be sure to ask about discounts. According to McCall, many gyms offer a discount on sessions bought at the initial meeting. Aside from finding a certified trainer who can help you work towards your goals and perfect your form, it's important to be sure you and the trainer are a good match overall.
"Like any other relationship, it has to feel right," McCall says. "If you're not comfortable with an individual, you won't show up for the sessions. Be honest and find someone that seems like a good fit. I want [clients] to be successful, and sometimes that will come from working with someone else that is a better fit, personality wise."
In addition to checking their certifications, be sure that you have a good rapport with a trainer before making a financial commitment. That includes being able to have a friendly conversation, feeling comfortable being uncomfortable around them as you exercise, being open to their advice and being able to ask questions without hesitation. Weight loss is a process of ups and downs, so having a trainer that understands the greater goal and is supportive is key.
"You have to be comfortable in their level of knowledge and their sincere ability to help you," McCall reiterates. "If [the trainer] spends most of the time talking about their accomplishments or other people they train, your first exercise is to run away and find a trainer who will take the time to ask about you and your specific needs."
If your gym doesn't advertise a complimentary assessment or training session, ask the front desk if they offer any kind of orientation with a trainer. They might be able to set you up with a trainer who is willing to answer your questions. If that doesn't work, inquire about their personal training services and see if they have any kind of first-time client discount. Even if you have to sign up for more than one session, the knowledge gained could be worth every penny. If all else fails, consider checking out a site like Groupon to see if they have any personal training deals available in your area.