The Chef vs The Cook: 3 Ways to Vet a Prospective Fitness Professional

Have you ever finished a delicious meal at a restaurant and thought to yourself, I’m going to make that at home! You try your best, but it never tastes quite like it did at the restaurant….Nailed it….




Why is that? I like to use the analogy of a chef vs a cook.  You see, the chef at the restaurant is well versed in pairing just the right ingredients to get exactly what they want out of the dish they're creating (tastes, textures, exclusions for allergies, presentation, etc.), yet a cook (you in this case) may know their way around the kitchen, but have nowhere near the same level of expertise as a seasoned chef.  Which is why your attempt falls short….

This is a similar comparison to a true fitness professional vs a part time, side hustle, hobbyist trainer. A fitness professional has an extensive background in biomechanics, physiology, physics, anatomy, coaching, psychology, and business and is able to mesh all of these together just right for your body and your goals.  While the hobbyist likes to workout and decides to start training, not really having much knowledge other than what works for them. And in an age of influencers, media BS, and your friends telling you about their new diet where they lost 20lbs, it can be tough to navigate as the consumer.

Well let’s get started on some ways to find the right professional and make sense of it all….

When it comes to the fitness industry, there is not a lot of regulation on who can or can’t become a fitness professional/personal trainer. In some cases, all it takes is a weekend certification and you’re ready to train clients. (As a joke, and to shed some light on how easy it is to become ‘certified’, Josef Brandenburg certified his pet pug through an online certification company link)

Now for you, the consumer, that can seem very disheartening, especially if you’re putting every trainer on the same pedestal.  Who can you trust? Who do you choose? Who will be the best option to guide you with your health and fitness? Let’s shed some light on what YOU can do to decipher between ‘The Chef’ and ‘The Cook’ or the ‘Fitness Professional’ and the ‘I like to workout, let’s become a personal trainer’

Here are 3 things to look for before, during, and after an initial meeting:

1. Before reaching out or meeting face to face: Do they have a nationally recognized certification and what are they doing to continue their education?

  • Do some research on the trainer (the internet is great for that) prior to meeting.

  • First look for a nationally recognized certification: these include ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACE (American Council on Exercise), NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), and ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association).

  • Now this isn’t the be all, end all when it comes to choosing a fitness professional, but it’s a good starting point.  Most of these certifying bodies have some prerequisites, including a 4 year degree and passing an extensive exam, so if the trainer you’re looking at has one, then you can at least be somewhat confident in their abilities.

  • Taking it a step further, what are they doing on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis to continue to grow and learn?

    • This is the meat and potatoes of what makes up a true fitness professional.  If all they did was take an exam and haven’t touched a book, piece of research, attended any courses, watched any videos, worked with variety of clients, or attended any study sessions, then I would walk the other way. Staying up to date with new research, skills, and techniques in this industry is an important piece to providing the best service and experience possible. (**Might have to ask during your consultation if no information is provided**)

2. During your initial meeting: How do they communicate and what is their approach to training?

  • Extensive education is great and should not be taken lightly, but as the consumer, how are they relaying that information to you?  Is there a bunch of technical jargon that goes over your head and you’re more confused than when you walked in? Or are they able to make it comfortable and easy to understand?  Personally, I’d much prefer the latter and usually do when it comes to other industries or services (finance, mechanic, chef, etc.).

  • This ability to effectively communicate, especially in that initial consultation or meeting, will give you a good idea of what a training session will be like:

    • Do they talk more than listen?

    • Do they explain topics in a way you can comprehend?

    • Do they have your best interests at heart? Is the focus on you?

  • Saying just enough to effectively and efficiently get to the point is an art and should not be overlooked.

  • Also, when it comes to their training plan, they should be able to create a rough outline showing you the best way to reach your goals on day 1. Or at least in the first few weeks. If there is nothing in place after your first few sessions and you’re just ‘winging’ your workouts, be very wary of their ability to get you results.

3. During your training program and sessions: What types of results are they getting with their clients?

  • Whether we like it or not, we live in a results oriented world, especially in the service industries.  This means you want a trainer that can get you what you want. If they are a seasoned professional, they should have a lengthy track record and plenty of client testimonials to show you. If they don’t, then either they don’t care or aren’t good at documenting (both red flags).

    • This will allow you to look for similarities in the client’s they work with, which is a good thing.  If they train primarily 20 something athletes wanting to improve sports performance, but you’re a 40 something professional looking to move and feel better, it might not be the best fit, regardless of points 1 and 2 above.

  • If you’re not seeing progress, what should you do?

    • Ideally, the trainer should have set realistic expectations in the initial meeting or after the first few training sessions and explained all of the variables that may come into play.

      • As a side note, if changing body composition (decreasing body fat or increasing muscle mass) is a goal of yours, it can be tough to predict how the process will go, especially if you have a lot to change. Factors including genetic make up, individual physiology, individual psychology, social psychology, food production, food consumption, and activity environment to name a few. The influence of the 1 to 2 hours/week for training sessions, plus emails/texts outside of the sessions, may have little impact initially.  Stick with it and stay consistent and change should follow.

    • If expectations were set, but you’re still concerned, have a truthful discussion with your trainer about your frustrations. If they’re a great communicator (going back to point 2), they should be able to help guide you and put things into perspective.  Change is hard and it can help knowing you have someone working WITH you, rather than forcing you to do something.

    • If you still feel that things are not trending the right way and there’s no plan in place to change that or they’re not working with you, then it may be time to move on, but that it is solely your decision to make.

So, going back to the the analogy of ‘The Chef vs The Cook’.  Typically, we think of a chef at a critically acclaimed restaurant fusing together individual ingredients to brilliantly make everything work in unison. Compared to a cook who follows a recipe card and that's about the extent of their abilities. Not saying either is good or bad, but when it comes to your body and your health, who would you rather have guiding you? A true fitness professional who understands all the intricacies of the human body (joints, muscles, bodily systems, etc.) and is able to specifically customize your exercise program based on your individual makeup and current abilities.  Or a trainer who follows a few workout cards based off of the latest YouTube video they saw online. The choice is yours!



And as always, if you’re looking for guidance with your health and fitness, whether you’re brand new to exercise or previously had a not so great experience with a trainer, feel free to fill out this form and we can see if we’d be a good fit.