Just because a trainer is beloved does not mean they are good at what they are being paid to do.
Every gym that is larger than, oh, say 1,000 members has that personal trainer that everyone raves about. The peppy girl whop has every clever floor move in her repertoire. That jacked, aggressive steroidhead who pushes people to remarkable extremes. That lean, geeky guy who has all sorts of physical-therapy-inspired stretches. There's a few stock varieties of "everyone's favorite trainer," but every gym has one or two.
These people (correctly) cornerstone their personal income on their reputation. Gyms are communities, and the best form of "advertising" in any community is word of mouth. The beloved trainer gets a lot more of that passive advertising than, say, the quiet, intelligent guy or the patient new chick. While these latter may be the less promoted, they are sometimes your better pick.
Yet too often people get excited for the trainer whom everyone is gabbing about. It is common human behavior to take interest in whatever the "herd" likes; it is in our very genetics to stick with the tribal logic. And gyms are, if nothing else, very polarizing communities. So of course the "super nice" trainer is the one everyone is eager to get with.
But this brings us to a curious point. If a trainer's popularity may be based more on popularity than on skill, what does this say of the nature of personal training? Is it okay to go with someone who just makes you "feel good," yet may not as effectively change or improve your physical state?
Well, I for one actually say "yes." It is not necessarily a bad thing to be the "favorite guy or gal" in a gym. However, it is a yes with prejudice. After all, there is nothing wrong with spending one's money on a process which brings more positivity and an interest in self-care to one's life. (I wish more people would spend their money this way, as a matter of fact.) So if someone hires a personal trainer and instead gets an affirmation coach, I say there is no harm in such a bait-and-switch. However, choosing that person just because they are beloved that way is a investment mistake.
In my coaching career I often meet (and am flattered to coach) remarkably intelligent and knowledgable personal trainers who are able to enact programming which could transform people's bodies – and lives – in ways unimaginable. And yet these same trainers are often more consumed with their professional expansion rather than their marketing savvy. As a business person I could scold them, yet as a coach I can not fault their interest in becoming "better providers."
However, frustratingly, these sharp tacks often get ignored for the fluffy balls of fun. And while I don't think it is a bad thing to hire someone to improve your positivity, far too often the "best provider" is given the "geek" label and avoided. People looking for help with training, diet and programming run to the cult of personality far more often than they investigate the school of experience.
It's important when coming in contact with the personal trainer whom everyone raves about to increase one's skepticism, not lower it. The halo of warm, fuzzy reviews which encircle these trainers can blur the best perception of their skills and credentials. Very often they have stagnated in their learning and are motoring forward on their popularity rather than their expertise.
I think the investment in a trainer or coach is wise, but must be approached with the same caution as car buying. You don't just grab the hottest whip off the lot, and you mustn't just sign with the most charming trainer in a gym.
Thew best mode of investigation is, indeed, the trainer's clients, but the most informative are those clients who are no longer with that trainer. Think about it: if a client has "moved on" from a trainer it is either for good reasons or for bad. If a personal trainer brought the client to a place so advanced that client was equipped to effectively embark on a process of training work on their own, that is proof that the trainer did a remarkable job. Yet if a client left a personal trainer because, as charming as he or she was, they just weren't getting the results in a logically timely manner, well, that will speak volumes about the trainer's actual skill – volumes which may not be expressed via the current batch of excited trainees under that trainers charge.
Thus, when investigating personal trainers, seek those who eagerly provide references from clients who have moved on. Ask trainers if you can get references from a couple of former clients. Those who have moved on will tell more about the trainer's skill than those currently under the spell of excitement.
Now if a personal trainer is hesitant to offer such references, or stammers because they are rarely asked such a question, this unto itself is a clue about how much this trainer's skills are personality and how much are progressive. And, as I mentioned earlier, the "personality hire" is not a bad thing, as long as you are aware that is what you are getting.
The cutting edge of personal training expertise is found in the words of former clients, not in the reputation from a trainer's current popularity. Just because a trainer is beloved does not mean they are necessarily also "good."