Can finding a Personal Trainer really change your life?

Has working with a PT changed my life?

In March this year, I was heading towards a pretty steep decline in my mental health. When depressed, my weight has always been the first victim of my accusations. It’s always the first thing I blame and abuse when I’m unhappy. Thoughts like ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘People would like me more if I was skinnier’ plague my mind, and every reflection turns into a critical evaluation of my fat rolls and turkey neck.

In mental illness, people often make excuses for themselves – therapy isn’t working, the meds aren’t working, feeling sluggish, today is not the day. I walked into Fitness First in Hornsby to sign up to the gym and muddle around and probably go every now and then, but ultimately waste money on a membership because I’d be too embarrassed to show my ‘rolls’ work out in front of people.

In March, I walked in and saw one of my inspirations, a girl named Dorsa with whom I had gone to university. Her transformation was incredible; within months she went from overweight to a body builder. In my mind, I wanted to do the same.

The day I walked in, Dorsa happened to be there, and it was Dorsa who referred me to her friend, Tom Johnston, a PT at the gym.

At first, I was apprehensive about working with Tom, but he’s a bit different.

Tom’s pride in working with his client’s personal goals placed me at the centre of every session. In identifying my goal, I had one request: I need someone to keep me accountable who would push me every session.

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The thing about personal training is that you seriously have to push yourself, each and every session and as I discovered, it is more mental than it is physical.

For a guy who’s 21 (don’t let his height and muscles fool you!) with the wisdom of a 40 year old, Tom has been part PT and part psychologist. I’ve walked in stressed and upset, and he’s been there to help me push through it, whatever it is. He’s sat on the gym floor with me when I cried on a really bad down day, and talked me through getting back into it again. He knows what terrifies me (cardio) and helps me to build the confidence in pushing through that fear.

Most days of the week, I get a text asking whether I’m heading into the gym that night. Other days, he’s waiting for me to finish a rep before asking how my day is going. Occasionally, I spam tag him in memes on Facebook. He also kicks my ass about my diet (especially my cheese addiction), and helps to provide me with more educated options.

Whilst I usually hate him /during/ session, finding Tom as my PT has changed my life. Exercise is a critical part of maintaining positive mental health as it helps get those endorphins active, giving you a natural high. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I make sure to prioritise going to the gym. At first, it was difficult to appreciate exercise, but when you find out that fitness doesn’t mean having to hit the treadmill every day, life becomes a lot better.

The gym has become my ‘non-negotiable’ for all it does for my mental health. It teaches me how to push through, and helps me to build the resilience I need to survive.

Given, not all PTs are good. Finding one who knows how the body works and understands each and every question you ask about exercise, the body and nutrition, and more importantly, one you can get along with and one with which you can have fun whilst working hard, is critical.

Thanks Tom Johnston Fitness for getting me on track! Not yet a gym junkie, but one day I might be!

Basic PT Checklist


  • Are they in shape? Do they practice what they preach?
  • Are they enthusiastic about talking to you? Are they making a lasting first impression with you? Can you get along with them?
  • Are they asking about what you’d like to achieve, and what your end goal is?
  • Do they ask preliminary questions about your current fitness regime, diet and previous exercise/weight-loss goals?
  • Do they respond to your specific needs and questions?
  • Do they spend a lot of time on their mobile phone during a session?
  • Are they client- or self-focused during session?
  • Do they explain the function of each exercise and what each exercise is aiming to achieve?
  • Are they hands-on with showing / demonstrating good form and injury prevention?
  • Do they talk a lot / are they focused and disciplined during the session?
  • How do they motivate a client – through positivity and encouragement or through negativity?
  • Do they care about you outside of session? Are they concerned about your lifestyle?

Knowledge – Can they explain…

  • … the difference between strength, hypertrophy and endurance training?
  • … when to do cardio?
  • … muscle function and the muscular system?
  • … dynamic and static stretching, and when it is appropriate?
  • … muscle imbalance?
  • … compound and isolation movements?
  • … how to prevent injury / how to have good form?
  • … nutrition? Can they spot good / bad foods? Food appropriate to your diet (i.e. factoring in allergies etc)
  • … myths and facts? Can they explain why tabloid diets don’t work or the difference between diets (i.e. high-fat, 5:2)

Tom Johnston Fitness


Location: Upper North Shore (Hornsby), Sydney, Australia

Contact: Email

Social Media: Instagram, Facebook



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