Personal trainers: how to find the right one for you

Personal trainers are not just for the rich and famous. If you’re serious about getting fit, they’re serious about helping you.

When almost anyone can go for a calorie-burning, muscle-toning heart-exercising walk in the fresh air for free, it may seem self-indulgent to pay someone to get you off your backside and tell you to eat vegetables. Not necessarily. Charging about €35 to €75 per session, good personal trainers have third-level credentials in fitness areas such as nutrition, physiology and Pilates. And if it works, it could be a small price to pay to prevent a heart attack, back pain and stress.

Some personal trainers say they can tell from your tone of voice over the phone whether you will stick with it but it’s a certain look of determination they recognise the quickest. Once you’ve hired your trainer (check qualifications and references) you will find they will pitch themselves on a scale between babysitter and drill sergeant, knowing that either extreme is unlikely to be effective.

Your trainer will know that it’s not about putting yourself through hell, living off salad leaves or trying to find time that you simply don’t have. Instead, it’s about developing tailor-made solutions that are realistic and flexible.

A personal trainer should help you focus on incremental lifestyle changes, rather than quick-fixes, encompassing such factors as nutrition and sensible scheduling.


Cathy Soraghan, for example, is also qualified in life-coaching and nutrition. So she’ll provide your meals if you’re too busy to shop and cook – and she’ll help you to make your schedule manageable.

Your trainer will get to know you on your good days and bad days, forging a close rapport, knowing what it takes to spur you on, keeping you from giving up and sending you home with a smile.

What trainers are not interested in, however, is humouring people.

If someone isn’t being entirely honest about their efforts, it can lead to some frank conversations that, as one trainer puts it, typically begin with the words: “Listen, we can’t go on like this.”

Misty Barker

As a teenager, Misty Barker weighed 15 stone, which is about twice what she weighs now. When she overhauled her life through exercise and nutrition, a newfound passion for fitness led Barker into personal training. Since then, her studio in Bray, Co Wicklow, has built up a loyal client base, purely through word of mouth, where the emphasis is on craic and camaraderie. Her clients range in age from 16 to 83, she says, and none of them ever does the same workout twice.

“I know all about my clients and their families, what they love and hate. They also know that if they need to call me late at night when they’re upset or need to ask something, I’m there for them. Some people say, ‘You’re bringing your work home with you’, but I don’t think of it like that. This is my career choice and I love every minute of it.”

Misty Barker’s client: Paul Murphy

“I tried various other programmes and none of them worked. But, with Misty, it’s been transformative: my energy, my self-esteem, everything. I’ve lost five-and-a-half stone so far and barely recognise the person I was before.”

Pat Divilly

Two years ago Pat Divilly was working at a pizzeria in Galway and feeling down on his luck. He'd worked for gyms in Dublin but grew disillusioned with their commercial interests. Then he opened his own studio, Pat Divilly Fitness, wrote the bestselling book 21 Day Jump Start and grew an online community of 800 who share recipe ideas, exercise tips and daily gratitude journals.

“The misconception I capitalised on is that people are intimidated by the gym and see it as a chore. Trainers can only be with clients for a few hours a week, so I’ve tried to create a social community or tribe to provide motivational tools for the other 165 hours. We’ve got a woman who’s lost 10 stone and I’ve found that guidance can mean a lot more to someone in a similar position when it comes from her, because she’s done it.”

Pat Divilly’s client: Tom Palmer

“It’s the complete package of health, happiness and wellbeing. That’s what we all go back for. The guy knows how to motivate you out of your comfort zone and to do things you never thought were possible.”

Noeleen Morris

Tough love is one way to sum up the kind of approach taken by Noeleen Morris, the personal trainer in the gym at the Merrion Hotel whose clients include a mix of bankers, business people and those seeking to build up their strength after illness or accidents. Her one-hour sessions are a relentless mix of cardio and weights, with symathy where it’s needed but no slacking allowed.

Morris transitioned from a background in injury-management to becoming a personal trainer and sports therapist, though several years spent in massage and treatments have also given her valubable insights. She sees her role as a mix of understanding clients’ moods and motivations while at the same time making sure they do a full workout. It’s a small gym iwth some big egos in her charge.

She manages to be discreet as to identities, but still creates a sense of community and competitiveness by letting clients know how other nameless individuals are getting on with their goals. “Everybody can be trained to improve their health and elongate their life. I really believe that and every client I have has experienced it. It doesn’t have to be a huge mountain to climb. You don’t have to come out of it as an athlete. But you will always feel better. Always.”

Noeleen Morris’s client: Iain Finnegan

“It’s not just a job for her. She’s considerate about what she does and because of that, she’ll get the best out of you.”

Cathy Soraghan

For 24 years, Cathy Soraghan has been training movie stars, musicians and everyone in-between to balance their lives. She’s a life coach with a holistic approach to fitness that includes Pilates and power bells as well as programmes designed specifically for business travellers and new mothers. Her studio, Women On the Run, is in Dún Laoghaire.

“People who are highly motivated find it difficult to understand that others can’t motivate themselves. But there are reasons behind why people fail; it’s not that they want to. You have to allow them the opportunity to discover more about themselves and what it is that stops them getting from where they want to go. That’s what I’m there for. It takes a lot of energy to be a personal trainer but having the ability to motivate people is what gets me out of bed in the morning.”

Cathy Soraghan’s client: Grace Covitz

“Losing weight and looking well is brilliant, but there are all these other things you don’t even realise before working out with Cathy. I trained with her for 18 months before I got married and it made such a big impact in my life.”

Dave Peelo

At Metabolic Fitness on Drury Street in Dublin city centre, Dave Peelo uses a number of training methods to boost the metabolism and, if you have no time to make lunch, he’ll pick out appropriate menu choices in your area. The reason most of Peelo’s client are referrals, he explains, is because the benefits of proper training are so dramatic that it pulls in other people.

“When I started 13 years ago, personal training was something reserved for the rich and famous. It’s a lot more mainstream now. But the problem with the fitness and health industries is that there’s still a lot of conflicting information about how people should eat and exercise. A big part of our job is education.

“As soon as people see the initial results, they naturally become motivated to learn more. Then when others around them see there’s a path to looking and feeling good, they want to take it too.”

Dave Peelo’s client: Jennifer Walsh

“I’m healthier, stronger and leaner. I have more energy and am happier with my body than I have ever been.

Emmet Gregan

Last year, Emmet Gregan went from training people outdoors in Dublin to opening his own studio in Gorey, Co Wexford, as the Fitness Tailor. For years, he says, trainers at bigger gyms would hand out generic programmes. But now things are changing. Strength and conditioning is becoming popular while old myths, such as that weights make women bulky, are finally being busted.

“One of the great things about the job is that every client is unique. I could have someone at 6am and you really have to push them hard. Then you have a completely different approach with the next person. I find that fascinating. With one-to-one training, people open up to you a lot. You see what’s going on in their life and what makes them tick, so if they do fall off the wagon, you get a better picture as to why. You wouldn’t get that insight in a fitness class because it’s just not as personalised.”

Emmet Gregan’s client: Martin Conroy

“I have lost over 40 pounds in weight, dropped four inches off my waist and increased my strength and fitness immensely. I don’t think I would have achieved this success without Emmet’s constant help, guidance and encouragement.”