How to Shop for a Personal Trainer

If you’re reading this you:

  • Work with a personal trainer
  • Have worked with a personal trainer before
  • Have considered working with a personal trainer
  • Are considering working with a personal trainer

It’s a bit of a wild west when it comes to searching for one.  It can be frustrating, annoying, and a bit discouraging if your best friend or coworker can’t give you a recommendation that fits your life.  

The last 7 days alone I've advised a training prospect, a former coach, and former client all on finding gyms that were not mine.

So I figured the world needed this.

The TL:DR version related to price is at the bottom if you want to scroll straight there "How much are you willing to spend to make being healthy more convenient?"

A trainer needs to:

  • Be qualified and geared toward your goals (lose weight in 30 days vs. powerlifting)
  • Be convenient to get to  

Most of the time, you’re not driving an hour to go train unless it’s really niche and quality.  While GHP has people who drive here from as far north as Pine Richland and south as Peters Township (both an hour drive), the overwhelming majority of our members life within 20 minutes of Point Breeze and many walk or bike

  • Pass the creep test.  Every day.  Especially when kids are involved
  • Have a track record of getting results
  • Be within your life spending plan.  Personal training is a luxury sure, but the importance to you has a price limit

As someone who has been coaching for over 10 years, I’ve been in MANY settings before GHP.

  • Contracted by others to just do 1:1
  • Large chain and private owned sport performance gyms
  • Gyms catered toward high earning older adults
  • Outdoor speed training
  • "Supplement sellers" who host free workouts
  • Gyms with various brands under 1 room
  • Personal training at colleges
  • Outdoor bootcamps
  • Community center based training

I’ve negotiated to teach my own classes at a local hospital for fun while in undergrad for winter break.  I’ve worked in college strength and conditioning for years.  I’ve coached track now for 11 years in club, school, and private settings.  

I’ve short changed myself for $15/hour 1:1 workouts and I’ve had individuals cut me checks for well over $3,000 for training without flinching. I’ve coached in states as close as Texas and in countries as far as Kenya.   

My goofy self sold $15 workouts, after everything I just listed too.  Ugh.

I could go on.  

Point is, I’ve experienced a thing or two.

I’m going to help you figure this out. Remember, this is about finding a personal trainer, not just a gym to go to but at times overlap.  

Figure out your goal

You need first to figure out what you want.  

Are you in your 50’s looking to age gracefully after watching your parents age, not gracefully?  Is your kid a 14 year old sports phenom?  Are you 35 and competing in powerlifting?  Are you aiming to be the "hot mom" when you take the kids to school?  Do you want a place you can train with your wife and son?  Are you 80lbs overweight and facing health risks?  Are you fresh out of college and want to just stay fit because while 25 is young, it doesn’t feel like 17?

Of the gyms & trainers in your area, when you look at their website, social media presence, and read their work, do they work with people that have goals similar to yours?  Some of these goals above overlap, but some don’t.

You need to know what you want to achieve, and you need to know how important it is to you.  If you NEED to lose this 80lbs you’ll invest your time, energy, and money differently than someone who just wants to exercise because they know "that’s  what you’re supposed to do" but isn’t pressed about it.

Some will offer meal plans, others work with dietitians.  Many independent trainers or solo gym owners will offer meal plans.  I’ve found that established gyms will refer to a dietitian they partner with though some gyms that specialize in weight loss may have sets of meal plans.  

Just a word on that. In PA, anyone can be a "nutritionist".  That’s a self ascribed title.  "Dietitians" have graduate degrees.  

Read their reviews.  Tell them why you want to train and how important it is.  Do they have success with people who are similar to you?  If yes, move forward.  If not, that may not be for you.  

Figure out your ideal training environment

This one is multifaceted.  

Training Style

Do you want 1:1 personal training?  Do you want small group personal training?  Do you want a hybrid of the two?  Would you prefer large coached classes?  Maybe it doesn't matter

1) 1:1 Personal Training

1:1 personal training is most familiar.  It costs the most.  Any trainer worth their weight should be charging, in my opinion, at minimum $60/session.  Anything less and just hope they are new - which can be great.  And if you live in a major city, that minimum number is likely about $100/session.  

Say you don’t know a squat from a push up, you ought to start with 1:1 training 2-3x/week.  At least to get started.  And expect to be paying about $500-1000/month.

If you are more familiar with exercising and looking for more specific training, such as improving from a sports injury after physical therapy, you may end up training 1-2x/week because you’re training outside of the gym.  

2) Small Group Personal Training

Small group training is a popular option nowadays.  These are sessions with 4-8 people.  In general, more than 8 is not a small group.  This comes in a spectrum:

  1. Everyone does the same exact workout, with minor modifications
  2. Everyone does very different exercises, just overseen by the trainer

The "same workout" end of the spectrum works when the group is pretty homogenous.  If you are training 3-5x/week, you’re likely doing a general fitness approach and having focused body parts getting trained.  Leg day, back day, chest day, etc.

You also could be at a more sports or "strength training" oriented gym, and that day is squat day, deadlift day, bench day, etc and everyone is doing that.  

On the other hand, if the group is less homogenous, you may have it like a physical therapy clinic where everyone has their own workout.  

Small group training will generally range from $150-$500/month.  Varies based on location, target clientele, group size, coaching quality, frequency, other offerings, and speciality of training.

Another way to think of it, expect to pay $20-50/per person/session.  Beyond $40 is rare, the average is around $20-25 in Pittsburgh.

3) Large Group Training

Large group training is also an option.  This falls out of the realm of having a personal trainer, but these are coached sessions.  These are gyms where 10-20 people will come together and do the same workout.  While it’s less personalized training, the trainers and gyms usually have a very specialized way of training.  You really have to pick the right type of training scheme for your needs.  Is it very beginner friendly or should you probably already have an athletic background to be there?

Cross fit is often in this arena.  Bootcamps.  Group strength training.

If you are looking just to stay fit and have no overly specific goals, these are great options.  And often fun.  Fun challenges are a part of those business models.

This costs the least.  Often from $75-$200/month.  Some trainers, especially hobby trainers, will host outdoor bootcamps in the summertime.  They are often $10-20/session and fun experiences.


Do you want to train with your trainer at a national chain gym or a privately owned local training gym?  Chain gym trainers are often in and out of the door like clockwork.  Local training gyms, like mine, often will provide some stability with a trainer, and many only have the owner and 1-2 coaches.    There are also locally owned gyms that operate with "open gym" and trainers with their own brands.

Do you want an aggressive heavy lifting vibe?  Do you want an athletic looking vibe?  Do you want a place you can come with your kids?  Or should it be a place where everyone is a high level athlete? Should it be the "popping" place for 30 year olds looking to socialize?  

This may or may not matter to you.  If you’re simply aiming to look sexy for the summer you can likely thrive at any of these places.  The 16 year old athlete or 80lb overweight person "may" be looking for very different vibes.  Shy people may want a trainer at a small gym. 

You may want a tough looking gym or a trainer at a boutique establishment.

How much are you willing to spend to make being healthy more convenient? TL:DR version here

Here’s the TL/DR version.  Remember, healthcare is a right, but personal training is a luxury.  Everything you need to do fitness wise for health can be found on the internet and your doctor can tell you.  You probably already know what it takes to get healthy.  Be active walking or exercising 3-5x/week for 30-60 minutes.  

I live in Pittsburgh where the median household income is around $50K.  If you live in a major city like DC, add 2-3x to these prices.

Again, how much are you willing to spend to make being healthy or performing better more convenient?

If you’re looking to spend less than $200/month

  • Large group training, like speed training classes, cross fit, bootcamp etc.  Often can be done 3-5x/week
  • New or hobby personal trainers you can get with 3-5x/week
  • Low frequency with quality trainers 2-4x/month
  • Some smaller group training happens in this range as well

If you have the budget for $200-500/month

  • Small group personal training is common here.  The more personalized & smaller the more costly.  
  • 1:1 training 4-6x/month with quality, busy coaches. Best if you’re already active but need special training
  • Upscale large group training may also cross the $200 mark if they have a lot of add-ons

If you have the budget for $500-$1000/month +

  • 1:1 training 2-4x/week.  The more specialized, established, and popular the trainer - the higher the price
  • Hybrid of small group personal training + 1:1 personal training.  Really upscale market gyms can end up here for groups, though usually they have 1,000 amenities.  Not common.

This is generally per person.  Adding family members is usually close to double as discounts often come with bringing family.

Some nuance notes:

  • The higher the relative cost for the type of trainer, the higher chance of year to year consistency out of the gym and trainer.  Financial security = opportunity security
  • Location can play a role
  • Gyms with full time trainers will almost always cost more, sometimes significantly more, than those only coached by the owner or part timers.  Most personal trainers do it part time
  • New trainers can be fantastic at what they do and cost very little.  The trade off is location availability and overall professionalism
  • Discounts are great for buyers, but most gyms that offer a lot of discounts don’t make any money

An example, GHP

Global Human Performance, my gym, is a personal training studio.  Here’s some information about us, from my view, and as a way to see how you can classify gyms.

Member goals usually are focused on injury mitigation for youth and adult athletes, speed and strength training for athletes, and lifestyle training for health and toning. We call it "Moving past pain and into performance".

We offer 1:1 and small group coaching almost exclusively.  We are focused on having a coaching based environment.  Training is personalized within our small groups.  

Our only group training is "Trackside" a speed training program for short sprinters and endurance runners.  

Most of our members come 2x/week and are active outside of the gym, either from sport activities or doing cardio on their own.  

50% of everyone we see comes to improve from an injury.  We have a log of physical therapists we refer out to when need be.

Nearly 50% of our members are youth athletes between 10-18.  Often we are their first trainer and typically see them until out of college.  Mentorship is important to me.

How important?  The kid in the photo above, I've literally run to her house to show her an easy route close to her home and the gym for her to run on her own.

30-50% of our members run competitively or recreationally, so we cater towards that.

50% of our adults are young professionals, and extremely consistent.

50% of our adults are over 45, often parents of the kids, aging gracefully and actively.

Owner is full time + 1 full time coach + 1-3 part time staff

We are a sporty & family friendly environment.  Most common sports are track/cross country, triathlon, baseball, basketball, & ultimate frisbee.  

All of our staff played college sports, half of them were college track athletes. Almost all have adult sport/recreational activities beyond lifting weights.  

I don’t write meal plans.  We have dietitians we refer to.

Our small group members pay close to $300/person/month.  1:1 ranges from $60-$100+/session.  

We provide a lot of value and work to have members feel that while paying more than other places & trainers, they are getting far more out of it

What we are not:

We don’t specialize in major weight loss.  We aren’t an aggressive powerlifting gym.  We aren’t for people who want to be in the gym 5x/week.  I have no ambitions to be broadly affordable - I can’t pay staff that way.  We don’t do open gym, only appointments.  

Let this help guide you in your search for a personal trainer.  Forward this to someone you know looking for a trainer.

If you have any questions, shoot a message to us.  If GHP sounds like your type of gym, well let's get started!

Global Human Performance
Global Human Performance

Life Changing Fitness

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