The right fit

Finding the perfect personal trainer can be like searching for a soulmate - and breaking up can be tricky, too.

It's a thought no fitness buff ever wants to have: that their personal trainer might just not be into them.

But Orla O'Leary, a Sydney personal trainer, says finding the right trainer is, indeed, like dating, and some pairings work better than others, regardless of the fact you're paying them to be with you.

You might respond to a military-type person; you might respond to a softer style.

Case in point: the time O'Leary, an upbeat 39-year-old who finds it easiest to work with ''relaxed'' clients, trained a bunch of twentysomething male ''corporates'' who ''just didn't really want to talk''.

''I was getting so little feedback from them in the first few sessions that I was like, 'I can get them to run and run and do more stuff; these guys are machines,''' she says. ''Eventually one of them got so pale, he ran behind a tree and vomited. It was a pride thing. But because he was not telling me that he was absolutely wrecked, that's how I learnt that I reached [his] limit.''

Clients speak of colossal mismatches, too. Katie Yates, a 40-year-old mother of two from Northbridge who works out twice a week with two separate trainers, recalls the group session she once had with a vain twentysomething who ''was too busy looking at her image in the reflection in windows as she was [running] past to notice what was going on [with us]. She actually said, 'People find me a bit cold', and we're going, 'Yeah, we noted that.'''

Why is the hunt for a suitable trainer often so fraught, given the relationship would seem to be so straightforward? (You're fit; will you train me?)

O'Leary says many clients suffer from unrealistic expectations, and expect their trainers to fix every part of their lives.

''It's a little bit of therapy for some people,'' she says.

''I've had people in tears because of rows with their partners and situations at work. They kind of come to training thinking that they can disperse all of their problems to the trainer, rather than actually focusing [on a particular goal, such as losing weight or getting fit].''

Complicating the picture further is the fact anyone can set themselves up as a personal trainer, even without any training, says Kylie Fahey, the chief executive of the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers.

So as a first step, prospective clients should make sure their trainer is registered with a peak fitness body (such as Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia) and, at a ''minimum'', have received their certificate 4 in fitness from a reputable school.

This provides a ''base level'' of knowledge about anatomy, physiology, exercise programming, risk assessment and occupational health and safety regulations.

Then they need to figure out which training style suits them.

''You might respond to a more military-type person, 'Drop and give me 10'; you might respond to someone with a bit of a softer encouraging style,'' Fahey says. ''Go and speak to some trainers, talk to them about how they'll get the best out of you, and if a trainer doesn't [meet your expectations], move on.''

But what's the etiquette behind taking that step, moving on?

If your trainer works at your favourite beach or gym, must you avoid it, post break-up, during their training hours? Or do you play ''fitness roulette'', as one of O'Leary's former clients did, and frequent your old patch in the hopes your former coach won't see you, and then avoid eye contact and dart away the second they do?

Fahey advocates for the most ''respectful'' approach. ''Make sure that you're communicating if [your] goals have changed and that trainer is no longer able to support you.''

In other words, ultra-fit people have feelings, too. As O'Leary puts it: ''No one likes being dumped.''

Meet your match

❏ Observe trainers in parks and gyms to discover which approach suits you best.
❏ Be clear about your goals.
❏ Request a review of your training after five sessions.