A personal trainer has the potential to permanently transform your body and life. It also may cost a meaningful portion of your salary. Needless to say, you should give the decision adequate thought.
We have consulted with several experts to provide you the information you need to make a well-informed decision about personal trainers. This guide discusses facility options, trainer evaluation, and other topics to help you make a decision and maximize your experience.
Personal Training Considerations
The decision to hire a personal trainer can be difficult. On the one hand, they are absolutely capable of getting you into peak shape (as long as you show up). On the other hand, they are expensive.
There are generally 3 things to keep in mind when considering a personal trainer.
How Much Does It Cost?
Sessions generally cost $40 to $80 per hour, depending on the trainer and package. This amounts to $4k to $17k per year, making it easily the most expensive option in fitness. The figures below reflect total cost for a 52-week period.
Does it Work?
As long as you are thorough in your evaluation process, your personal trainer WILL deliver results. There have been two studies that have demonstrated the positive impact of a personal training program.
- One study found that a 12-week supervised resistance training program led to 56% more body mass gains compared to an unsupervised program.
- Another study found that weekly training sessions were associated with long-term positive changes in attitude and healthy behavior.
Additionally, a good personal trainer should provide several other benefits shown below.
Is It Really Necessary?
There are several good alternatives to personal training. Most do not provide the same level of adherence support, but offer similar fitness results as long as you consistently show up.
- Group Fitness Classes include bootcamps and other general workouts performed in a relatively private setting. The workouts aren’t customized, but may include a moderate level of individualized attention.
- CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program focused on high intensity functional movements. Although not fully customized, each workout is scalable to your fitness level. Additionally, there is generally a strong level of social support.
- Boxing gyms offer group classes that utilize basic boxing fundamentals to provide a full body workout. The intensity and social dynamic is often as strong as CrossFit. However, workouts are generally more repetitious, as skill development is an important aspect.
The last alternative would be to design and adhere to your own workout program, although this approach has a statistically higher level of failure.
Personal Training Evaluation
Industry standards have lagged far behind the rapid growth in personal trainers. Over 10 certification organizations currently exist, each with different educational requirements and timeframes. Given these inconsistent standards, it is critical for consumers to be thorough in evaluating a trainer.
Below is our recommended evaluation criteria for every step of the process.
We generally recommend that your trainer have CPR/AED certification and a bachelor degree in Exercise Science, Sports Medicine, Kinesiology, Fitness, or related subject. A study conducted by UCLA Exercise Physiology Research Laboratory found that trainers with a bachelor’s degree perform significantly better on fitness knowledge assessments.
It’s also critical for your trainer to have certification from an NCCA-accredited organization. Several organizations provide these – the most recognizable are ACE, ACSM, NASM, and NSCA. The major programs are broken out below.
Once you check the box on the minimum requirements, consider the following questions during your first consultation with a trainer.
- References. Can your trainer provide client references that you can use to verify workout quality, business practices, and overall experience?
- Customization. Can your trainer adapt your workouts to accomodate any injuries or physical limitations you may have?
- Transformation. Does your trainer have the ability to provide a total lifestyle transformation? For example, can he or she provide motivational support, nutrition guidance, and other health knowledge?
- Assessments. Does your trainer plan to track your progress through periodic fitness assessments?
Personal Training Facilities
Personal training is provided in five different settings in Chicago. We’ll discuss a few recommendations for each.
Refers to “Big Box” brands such as Equinox, LA Fitness, and FFC.
Training at these gyms is a popular choice due to convenience for current members. However, we recommend avoiding this category due to the following drawbacks:
- Facility. Commercial gyms are rarely equipped with nutrition counseling and other resources that tend to be available at specialized facilities. They also offer little privacy.
- Payment structure. The payment you make is split between the trainer, the gym, and sometimes the sales person. In other words, only a portion is taken home by the trainer.
- Monthly cost. It’s often the most expensive option, as you’re required to pay membership fees on top of training costs. Specialized facilities typically do not require a membership.
Shared Training Gyms
Refers to private gyms that are rented by independent personal trainers.
Under the shared gym structure, trainers pay a monthly rate to use the facility, but are responsible for their own clients. There are several benefits to this:
- Rates. The trainers pay a monthly fee to the gym rather than a commission per session, which translates into a higher profit margin for them and lower rates for you.
- Privacy. In most cases, these facilities are used exclusively by personal trainers and their clients. This means a more intimate setting and no wait times for machines.
- Flexibility. As your relationship is directly with the trainer, you don’t have to deal with contracts or monthly fees.
One drawback with these facilities is trainer accountability. If you have a bad experience, you have no recourse through the gym, as the trainers operate with complete independence.
- HiFi Fitness Studio | River North | FitGrade A
HiFi is the largest personal training facility in the country at 30,000 sq. ft. In addition to the 20+ trainers that utilize this space, there are several group fitness classes available, including WERQ dance workouts, Sprout pre- and post-natal training, and bootcamp.
- Trainer’s Gym | River North | FitGrade B
Trainer’s is a 10,000 sq. ft. facility used by over 40 personal trainers. It has a full range of equipment, in addition to full service locker rooms with showers and saunas. While primarily a training facility, the gym also offers individual memberships for $49-59 per month.
Specialized Training Gyms
Refers to gyms exclusively focused on private and semi-private training.
Two advantages of this setting are that (i) every trainer is vetted and held accountable and (ii) some facilities have a nutritionist and other professionals on staff, which provide an immersive health experience.
Most facilities in this category do not require a monthly membership. Rather, clients pay for individual training sessions.
- Evolution Personal Training | Lincoln Square | FitGrade A | Inquire for pricing
Evolution is a fairly basic facility, but stands out for its highly supportive atmosphere and excellent trainers. The staff includes a certified sports nutritionist, certified kettlebell instructor, and other health professionals.
- Fit Lincoln Park | Lincoln Park | FitGrade A | $85 per session
Fit Lincoln Park provides personal training, group fitness, nutrition counseling, and body composition assessments in a state-of-the-art two-story facility. They also provide home training and group fitness options.
- GoPerformance | Near West Side | FitGrade A | Inquire for pricing
GoPerformance offers personalized training and semi-private training. The facility utilizes MYZONE technology, which monitors and tracks each user’s cardiovascular performance and progress.
- Hard Pressed | River North | FitGrade A | $65 per session
Hard Pressed is a 3,500 sq. ft. personal training facility that specializes in 30-minute high intensity strength-based workouts. Several of the trainers are former professional or collegiate athletes.
- Hustle Fitness | Lincoln Park | FitGrade A | $52 per session
Hustle Fitness provides a broad menu of individual training methods depending on the client’s goal, including density training, heart rate monitor training, and power training. Sessions range from $38 to $72.
- Phenomenal Fitness | Near South Side | FitGrade A | Inquire for pricing
Phenomenal Fitness has a non-machine movement focus, meaning most workouts utilize battle ropes, kettlebells, suspension training, and other innovative exercises. Workouts aim to develop body composition and structural integrity.
- Transform Personal Training | Lincoln Park | FitGrade A | $45 per session
Transform provides individualized training and nutrition counseling. The program is based on the owner’s own success with weight loss – he lost 140 lbs. over two years using a personal trainer.
- Urban Strength Institute | Lincoln Square | FitGrade A | Inquire for pricing
USI provides a comprehensive approach to fitness that includes customized personal training, body fat assessments, and nutritional guidance. The coach is a former marine, has a jiu-jitsu purple belt, and is Level 2 Poliquin Certified.
Group Training Gyms
Refers to gyms that specialize in group fitness classes.
Although many facilities in this category also offer personal training, they excel at group fitness. These are an inexpensive alternative to personal training and often yield the same results.
- CoreFitness | Near North Side | FitGrade A | Inquire for pricing
CoreFitness provides 60-minute group training sessions that emphasize core stability, functional strength, and postural balance.
- CrossTown Fitness | Near West Side | FitGrade A | $22/class | $150-180/month
CrossTown provides group training sessions that are an equal part cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
- ENRGI Fitness | Near North Side | FitGrade A | $20/class | $99-109/month
ENRGI provides a full selection of classes that include Kettlebell Bootcamp, Abs N’ Butt Blast, and Glow in the Dark TurboKick.
- On Your Mark | Near West Side + Lincoln Park | FitGrade A| $25/class | $220/month
OYM specializes in small group training classes. The facility also offers gait analysis, athletic testing, and nutritional guidance.
- Pure Vibes Fitness | Ukrainian Village | FitGrade A | $20/class| $100-150/month
PVF provides Power Plate® based group classes as well as TRX, kettlebells, and other options. About 10 classes are offered each day.
- RetroActive | Humboldt Park | FitGrade A | $150/month
RetroActive is run by a team of combat athletes that specialize in boxing and muay thai training. Their group class is called “Boot Camp is for Idiots”.
- StudioFit | Lincoln Park | FitGrade A | $13/class | $85-100/month
StudioFit provides barre, cardio kickboxing, yoga, and other group fitness classes in a boutique space.
Refers to independent trainers that come to your home.
Many personal trainers in Chicago offer home training options. Although it doesn’t provide the same equipment, it’s a good option for those with a restricted schedule or who prefer a private setting.
Home training generally requires you to find a trainer on your own, although there are two great resources to do this.