How to Tell if You're Ready for a Personal Trainer or Group Fitness Class

         As trainers, we see people in the gym become discouraged, experience set back, frustration, or even become injured due to this one VERY important concept: The majority of new gym members can’t articulate where they should start when beginning a consistent workout program.

         But hey, that’s OK! That’s why we are here! Our job as personal trainers is to assess and evaluate individuals who come to us. We help PT clients customize a strength program that fits their wants, their needs, their goals and most importantly: their own individual level of movement. So, this begs the question:

How do you know where YOU are at when it comes to your own movement capabilities?

        Well, before we get into different levels of fitness, let’s first talk about the difference between movement/physical activity, exercise and training. They are all three very different stages of progression. -- Now, these concepts are open to interpretation, but I’ve been in the training game for eight years and I have had five years of kinesiology schooling on top of it. I believe I am well equipped to shed some light on this topic. -- Hopefully this will bring awareness to where YOU are at with your fitness, and it will help you articulate what you need from a trainer and/or group fitness instructor.

Movement and/or Physical Activity: The activity of moving your body from one place to another. It’s also defined as the body’s ability to squat, hinge, push, pull and rotate. If you are having trouble doing one of these five functional movements, it decreases your odds of long-term survival and it will increase your chances of adapting to improper functional movement patterns that have the potential to lead to weakness, injury, mental health complications or further reduction/usage of ROM capabilities. Understanding proper movement patterns is STEP ONE in building a legit workout program.

Example of movement: Cleaning out your garage, moderate yard work, cleaning the house, stairs etc…

Exercise: This requires physical effort either to sustain or improve health. (More times than not, sustain) Your heart rate must be elevated, (or in a THR zone) you are breaking a sweat and you are starting to create some purpose behind your movement/workout. This is STEP TWO for understanding and creating a successful workout program.

Example of exercise: Treadmill, Elliptical, Bike or joining a Cardio Fitness Class

Training: The act of teaching/educating a person a specific type of movement in order to achieve individualized goals, results or overall improvement in health. Training - is –intentional. For brand new movers, we start clients with movement functionality, and then transition to THR development and finally we move to strength, weight-loss, BF drop, conditioning etc. This is STEP THREE in building a quality workout program. If you are brand new to movement, you WILL not have success if you or your trainer does not understand the order or importance of adaptation to change in homeostasis from movement to exercise then finally to training.

Examples of training: One-on-One PT, Strength Training, Crossfit, Boxing or a Weight-Training Fitness Class

Now that we have defined three important fitness terms, let’s shed a little insight on what level you are at:


         This means you are doing nothing in the movement and/or exercise category. That’s just fine! We all start somewhere. However, if you have no idea where to start, I would highly recommend you seek out a personal trainer. It is our job to make the program match YOU where you are at with your physical capabilities. (or lack there of) I would NOT recommend taking a fitness class no matter how simple it may be if you cannot do the first five functional movements well, with repetition and without pain.

         In a fitness class, you have to meet the class where the class is at, and the instructor cannot cater to just to you. If you are brand new to exercise and/or a beginner, make sure you speak with the instructor ahead of time if you have comments, questions, concerns, previous injuries etc. Also, make sure the group fitness instructor approaches YOU to inquire about your medical and physical capabilities no matter how big the class is. This shows they are quality, and they want you to have the best experience possible. DO NOT walk into a fitness class if you have no idea what to expect, and you have not been exercising or training regularly. You are setting yourself up for frustration, failure or worse: injury.

Beginner: (LEVEL 2) You are consistently moving and/or exercising at least one-two times a week. You understand some fundamentals of strength training and functional movement. If you can move well without pain, you are ready for a fitness class.

INTERMEDIATE (LEVEL 3) This is where you have graduated from exercise to training. You are doing either exercise/cardio or strength training three-four times a week. You are ready for a strength training and/or weight lifting class.

ADVANCED (LEVEL 4) You are pairing your goal-specific cardio with your goal-specific weight lifting and you are killing your workouts five-six times a week. Tell your PT to bring IT! You may also be ready for a challenge such as a lifestyle goal, a race, a Crossfit class, boxing, HIIT or other various competitions. Setting goal markers are really important for long-term lifestyle success!

 OBSESSED (LEVEL 5) You are doing something intense seven days a week. Take a day off. Please! This is not healthy. Your body needs rest. Rest and recovery are just as important as the workout itself. If you are exercising or training seven days a week, cut-it-out and enjoy a Sabbath day for crying out loud!

        Finally, be VERY careful not to confuse movement with exercise. I have had client’s justify their “homework” by “doing yard work” as opposed to getting on the treadmill for their individualized, goal-specific time frame. For most people, movement isn’t enough if you want to lose weight, drop body fat and/or build lean muscle. If your goal is just to move: WONDERFUL. That’s a fabulous lifestyle goal. BUT if your goal is to shed some pounds, you’re going to have to be disciplined, intentional and work HARD to meet that goal.

         As trainers, we will push you. We will teach you something new, and often; we will do both. However, we do not decide your journey- YOU DO. We are here to give you direction, education, accountability, motivation and most importantly: we fight for your health. We are in your corner. We are your wellness advocates and we stand up for what is right. A quality trainer is not a “yes” man or woman. We will say NO if something is going to interfere with your health. That is our job. Remember, we take clients at ALL levels. Don’t’ be scared of a confident, educated PT. We have your back and we know what we are doing. However, be specific with what you need/want from us. Communication is key!


Thank you for reading and God bless,

Courtney Haseltine

AMF PT & Pilates Certified

BSci Kinesiology Health & Wellness