Are you on the hunt for a good personal trainer to guide you to your health and fitness goals?
Or maybe you’re currently working with a trainer but aren’t quite sure if he or she is up to scratch.
Personal training is a largely unregulated industry. That means that there are quite a few cowboys offering personal trainer services who shouldn’t be anywhere near a paying client.
But unless you know the signs to look out for, you’re likely to end up with a trainer whose makes his own bank account healthier while doing very little to do the same for your body.
It’s easy to be sucked in by a personal trainer with a winning smile and a chiseled chest. But, as you’re about to learn, there’s more to being a good personal trainer than having a beach body.
What are some signs of a bad personal trainer? What are the red flags that signal it’s time to leave your personal trainer?
In general, there are unqualified personal trainers and then there are incompatible personal trainers — which is just as bad! Look out for major red flags, but also keep an eye out for signs that your personal trainer may be great and well-qualified, but may not be the right fit for you. Some signs may be motivational styles or workout philosophies that don’t align.
Let’s take a look at 11 red flags that may indicate it’s time to switch trainers.
1. Lack of Qualifications
Anybody can claim to be a personal trainer.
While there are a lot of people out there who are great personal trainers on the basis of their years of experience, there are many others who are not.
So, the first question you should ask a prospective trainer is what qualifications they have.
(No, a good body is not enough.)
If they cannot physically show you their certificate, you should walk away. You should expect to see at least a Level 2 Gym Instructor or a Level 3 Personal Trainer certificate.
The most reputable fitness accrediting organizations are:
If you are in the UK, look for a personal trainer with a qualification that is accredited by the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport & Physical Activity (CIMSPA).
For more on this, read our guide to the different types of fitness instructors.
2. No Free Consultation
If a trainer doesn’t offer you a free initial consultation to assess your needs and allow you to determine if the two of you will be a good fit, you should be wary.
You should expect the personal trainer to provide you with an initial consultation free of charge.
During this first personal training session, he or she should discuss your goals, motivations, and your fitness background.
The trainer should ask you to complete a medical background questionnaire and then spell out in concrete terms what he can do for you and what it will cost you.
3. Evasive Answers to Your Questions
When you take on a personal trainer, you are effectively employing him to work for you.
So, you should view the initial consultation as a job interview.
After all, you are potentially about to put your most precious possession – your body – in his hands.
Here are 7 questions that you should ask, your prospective trainer, and the sorts of answers you should expect:
- What does your personal workout involve and what is your training schedule?
You should expect a good trainer to express passion when discussing his or her own training program.
- What eating plan do you follow?
A good personal trainer will practice what they have learned about balancing macronutrients and avoiding extremes.
- Do you smoke or vape?
If they answer in the affirmative, make a quick excuse and leave!
- What type of initial fitness assessment do you do?
Good trainers will put you through a biomechanical analysis along with a movement assessment.
- How frequently do you change up a client’s program?
Good personal trainers keep the workout fresh and interesting, changing it every 6 weeks or so.
- How long ago did you attain your most recent fitness qualification?
Good trainers keep up to date with the latest fitness industry innovations with ongoing training.
- What will you do to sustain my motivation?
The trainer should be able to reel off some specific strategies to keep you enthused and help you stay motivated as you progress toward your goals.
If the answers you get to these questions don’t align with the suggestions given, you might want to look elsewhere.
4. Lack of Knowledge
Good personal trainers know their stuff – and they know how to relate in a way that is easily understandable to the layman.
They should have a working understanding of the following topics and how they relate to exercise:
The trainer should be able to make use of this knowledge to explain to you the specific reasons why you are doing an exercise, including how it works the muscle through its full range of movement in the most efficient manner.
A trainer who simply serves up exercises because that’s the way it’s always been done, is a waste of time and money.
You want a trainer who loves exercise enough to keep up with the latest fitness research and innovations.
And even though personal trainers are not meant to provide nutrition advice, he or she should have a good enough working knowledge of the subject of nutrition to answer your questions.
5. Lack of Professionalism
Personal trainers are interacting with clients on a personal level about something that is very personal to those clients – their bodies.
That can make the client vulnerable at an emotional level. Unless the trainer purports himself in a totally professional and respectful manner, things can quickly become uncomfortable – especially when a male trainer is working with a female client.
A professional trainer will be 100% invested in the training session. He won’t be distracted by his phone or his gym buddies.
If you are going to hire a trainer from your gym, take some time to check how they comfort themselves while they are training clients on the gym floor.
Notice what the trainer is doing as the client is exercising. Is he merely a rep counter or is he actively involved, ensuring that the client is using proper form and giving appropriate motivation cues?
Professional trainers will wear a smart uniform that is clean and well-fitting. They will also be well groomed and should look attentive and engaged.
The physical condition of the trainer should also be a factor.
While a Mr. Olympia-level physique isn’t a prerequisite for a personal trainer, the person should look fit and healthy.
His body is, after all, his advertisement that he knows how to keep people in shape. If he can’t do it for himself, you can hardly have confidence that he’ll be able to do it for you.
Bad trainers over-commit themselves. They take on too many clients in the interest of making the most money possible.
As a result, their personal training business becomes like a factory, with members getting cookie-cutter workouts and little in the way of personal attention,
6. Incompatible Motivational Style
Part of the personal trainer’s job is to keep you engaged to stay on track with your fitness goals.
To do that he or she needs to be a good motivator.
A bad trainer will have one motivational style only. In my experience, it’s the sergeant major in your -face style or the laid-back, you got this style.
A good trainer will have a range of motivational hats and will be able to adjust to match the style that they discern the client best responds to.
You deserve to work with a trainer who helps you to feel comfortable and safe. To do that he needs to be able to get onto your wavelength and tap into your motivational well.
7. He’s a Body Shamer
A bad personal trainer will be more focused on the outer appearance than the inner health of their clients.
He won’t be above body shaming his clients in a misguided effort to motivate them.
Rather than obsessing over the client’s deficiencies, a good personal trainer will use positive reinforcement to inspire and build them up.
Body shaming can lead to such negative consequences as eating disorders and depression.
If you see any signs of body shaming on the part of your personal trainer, it’s time to give him the flick.
8. Weight Loss Focused
Society at large is focused on scale weight. This has been going on long before The Biggest Loser became the top-rating reality show on TV.
The problem with the scale is that it doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat. As a result, you could lose a lot of fat and put on a little bit of muscle but lose nothing on the scale.
You’ll look a whole lot better but, according to the scale, nothing has happened.
You should expect a lot more from your personal trainer. A good trainer will talk to you about fat loss rather than weight loss. He or she will educate you about the benefits of adding lean muscle tissue to your body as a means of losing fat by boosting the metabolism and shaping your body.
If your goal is to lose a significant amount of fat and your trainer keeps you in the cardio room most of the time, he’s not doing his job properly.
A well-structured weight training program to add muscle mass should be part of a weight loss program. Good trainers will realize this and build weight training into the plan.
(And a good trainer won’t over-emphasize being thin or fitting a certain standard of beauty, instead focusing on overall health, fitness, and wellness.)
9. Hawks Supplements
Personal trainers can make some decent money on the side by selling pre and post-workout supplements to their clients.
But good trainers also know that supplements are not necessary for the attainment of fitness and body composition goals.
If your trainer tries to convince you that you need a supplement to meet your goals, he’s got an ulterior motive.
That motive is more than likely to make more money and represents a major conflict of interest.
You deserve better than this sort of dishonesty and self-interest.
There is nothing wrong with a personal trainer giving you balanced, impartial advice about supplements. But, they should not pressure you to purchase any supplements.
10. Bad Reviews
It is always a good idea to check online for the reviews of a personal trainer you are thinking about working with. The real experiences of people who have trained for some time with the person will give you insights that you can’t get from an initial interview.
Don’t just base your impression on one or two reviews. If the majority of reviews are positive and there’s an odd one or two that aren’t, it’s probably due to personality differences rather than some inherent fault with the trainer.
If you are looking to hire a trainer who is part of a gym, you might not find individual trainer reviews.
You should, however, read the general reviews as they may include some mention of the personal trainers.
As a side point, here, you should expect the trainer to be able to provide you with testimonials and before and after pictures of previous success stories.
11. Talks Too Much
It is good to have a warm, comfortable relationship with your personal trainer.
But that doesn’t mean that your workouts should become a chat fest.
A bad trainer will allow the talk to go on and on, whereas a good trainer will spend a few minutes engaging at the start of the session and then switch to workout focus.
I’ve seen personal trainers who spend the whole workout engaged in a prolonged conversation on one topic that is totally unrelated to the workout.
The exercises were an interruption to the conversation. When the set was done, they’d be straight back to the conversation another 5 minutes before throwing in another set.
If you have a trainer like that, you need to put an end to the relationship now.
During the workout, everything needs to be optimizing workout efficiency.
That means staying focused on the task at hand, carefully monitoring the rest between sets, and developing the mind-muscle connection.
When you take on a personal trainer, you are handing control of your body – the most important thing you possess – to someone else.
Your body deserves that you be careful about who that person is. Look out for the red flags we’ve identified to make sure that the personal trainer you’re paying is going to help, rather than hinder, your progress toward your health and fitness goals.
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Hope this helps!