It takes a brave person to ask for help and when it comes to fitness, it takes plenty of courage to hire a personal trainer. Once you’ve made the decision to shell out your hard-earned cash to have someone else hold you accountable and push you out of your comfort zone, you’d better be sure you pick the right trainer.
The personal training profession has a surprisingly low barrier for entry. With countless organizations that provide weekend and online certifications, it’s pretty easy to obtain a sheet of paper that says you’re a personal trainer. So as someone in the market to hire a trainer, how do you separate the pros from the phonies?
Here are six red flags to watch out for when hiring a trainer. Buyer beware if your potential coach does any of these things, no matter how great they seem.
1. THEY DON’T DO AN ASSESSMENT
Any trainer who’s worth hiring should provide some sort of an assessment before they design your workout plan. How can personal training be personal if they don’t know anything about you?
Your trainer should have some type of evaluation that includes a discussion about your goals, your previous exercise experience and your injury history. They should ask plenty of questions and listen intently. If they do most of the talking, that’s a bad start.
After that, your trainer should perform some type of movement assessment where they get an idea of the way your body moves. They don’t need to measure every joint and body part from head to toe, but they should at least watch you move around and go through some basic movement patterns to figure out your levels of mobility and strength. This helps them pick the right exercises for you and avoids any movements that might cause pain.
2. THEY SPEAK IN ABSOLUTE
The beauty of fitness is many different methods work if done consistently. If your trainer speaks in absolutes, be careful. Beware of phrases like:
“You should never lift heavy weights if you want to be thin.”
“You have to do cardio every day if you want to lose fat.”
“You should never eat carbs at night.”
“You have to squat and deadlift if you want to get stronger.”
This type of language should sound an alarm in your brain. Dogmatic thinking and closed mindedness doesn’t make a good trainer. An experienced, qualified coach understands there are many ways to get from point A to point B, and they should be willing to take whatever path works best for you.
3. THEY PUSH PRODUCTS ON YOU
Personal training is a sales job at its core. Trainers sell themselves to potential clients on the premise they can help guide them on their fitness journey. However, if your would-be trainer pushes products on you right from the get-go, proceed with caution.
Things like fancy protein drinks, fat burners and vitamins aren’t necessary to reach your fitness goals. While some supplements certainly work, many are a waste of money at best and downright dangerous at worst (remember, the supplement industry isn’t regulated by the FDA, so sometimes dangerous supplements stay on the shelves for months before being banned or recalled). Even the good ones should be secondary to a balanced diet, consistent workout routine and plenty of restful sleep. If your trainer insists you buy tubs of powders and pills, they’re not the right trainer for you.
4. THEY BRAG ABOUT HOW HARD THEIR WORKOUTS ARE
Beware of trainers with a “no pain, no gain” attitude. Many people looking to hire a trainer adopt a mindset of “more is better” and seek out the trainer who promises the toughest, sweatiest, most vomit-inducing workouts. In reality, harder workouts are not always better.
Smart trainers know long-lasting results come from steady progress and shouldn’t brag about beating you into the ground on a regular basis. Workouts should be appropriately challenging, but should leave you excited and ready for more the next session, not dry heaving in a crumpled mess on the ground. This style of training might get quick results, but often leads to injuries and burnout that will have you back at square one sooner rather than later.
5. THEY CAN’T PUT DOWN THEIR PHONE
You’re paying good money for the 30–60 minutes you’re working with a trainer. You should have their undivided attention for the entire session. If they’re nose-deep in their phone for even a few minutes during your workout, they’re not giving you your money’s worth.
Yes, social media is a powerful tool for building a personal training business. Smart trainers know regularly posting helpful content can bring in more clients. Maybe your trainer will even post a picture or video of you doing a cool exercise (with your permission, of course). But if they’re texting or scrolling through Instagram while you’re grinding out a set of pushups, find a new trainer.
6. THEY TALK ABOUT HOW DYSFUNCTIONAL YOUR BODY IS
Beware the “functional fitness” guru trainer who nitpicks every movement you make. They’ll chastise you if you don’t have the flexibility of a gymnast or the strength of an elite powerlifter. Sure, you sought a trainer because you want to improve something, but if your trainer talks about your body like you’re some sort of mangled monster, move along. If they say things like:
“Your core is so weak.”
“You move like crap.”
“You don’t know where your body is in space.”
… Then, proceed with caution. Rather than simply stating how you move like the Tin Man, a good trainer should explain the how and why of quality movement. Extra bonus points if they put a positive spin on it, like:
“We want to improve your core strength so your lower back doesn’t take over when you squat and deadlift.”
“Your hip flexors are a bit tight because you sit all day at work, so we’re going to work on some stretches that should increase your flexibility and reduce your lower back pain.”
If they discover you’re lacking flexibility, mobility or strength in a certain area, ask why it’s important you improve and how it will get you closer to your fitness goals. If they can’t answer that question simply and confidently, then they’re talking out their rear end.
Don’t fret; there are plenty of great personal trainers out there. You owe it to yourself to take your time, do your research and find one who will help you reach your goals safely and efficiently. Remember these six signs of a lousy personal trainer so you can make the right choice.