Personal trainers that suck. (Part 1)

Of my non-trainer specific skills, I can do three things particularly well.  Remain angry, switch between Jekyll and Hyde modes and go on rants.  Consider the “Personal trainers that suck” series an entertaining and informative rant.

In 2006, the National Board of Fitness Examiners (United States) surveyed several thousand personal trainers in an effort to create licensing standards.  Among the more interesting results, nearly 2/3rd of all participants stated they knew, or worked alongside trainers they believed were incompetent.

Nearly 66% of all participants stated they knew, or worked alongside trainers that sucked . That scares the crap out of me. Even worse, its been nine years and that number hasn’t changed.

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but better you hear it from me than find out on your own after it is too late.  If you have hired a personal trainer, there is a chance they might be the type that I think sucks.

Mind you, I consider myself a pretty even-tempered guy…but I’m no Dalai Lama.

I’m not attacking your trainer as a person (they may be perfectly nice and well-meaning) nor am I out to declare myself King of the Streets.  What I am trying to do is provide some of the warning signs of incompetent trainers who are responsible for your safety, well-being and hopefully guiding you towards your fitness goals.

I sat down and thought about the trainers that I’ve had the fortune, and misfortune to work alongside, resumes of those seeking employment and independent trainers I have seen putting clients through workouts.

I have done my level best to identify the traits of trainers that suck (or at least suck in my opinion) to help others considering hiring a personal trainer.

TRUTH TIME:  Have I made some of the mistakes listed in this series? Yes, just like many other trainers have.  Have I learned the error of my ways and evolved from them? Yes, again like many other trainers have.  Fact: Good trainers get better over time .

As for my review of incompetent trainers, if you are still in doubt take a good look at the trainers in your gyms and see how many of the below traits you notice.

Hopefully the clipboard isn’t just for getting girls phone numbers.

The No-note taking/tracking of workouts trainer.  This applies to all personal trainers, even those with only a singular client training the general public.  How does your trainer know where you are improving/stalling week-to-week if there is no record of what you’ve been doing?  Easily spotted: They NEVER write anything down during your session, or even have anything to write with. ..some may not be able to actually use a pencil.   (UPDATED ENTRY:  There are some trainers that work with advanced clients that seldom seem to write things down.  Typically they know the client extremely well and although sessions are pre-planned to some degree, they will work within the “how are you feeling today” parameters.)

The No Personalized approach trainer.  In personal training there is no such thing as “one size fits all approach.”  You are a unique individual with unique strengths and weaknesses, preferences,abilities and needs.  The training system needs to be tailored to you, not you trying to fit into the training system.  Semi-Easy to spot:  Watch your trainer with another client of theirs.  If your workouts are identical your trainer is on auto-pilot.

The Mystery Trainer.  Your trainer has no documented success, testimonials or happy clients.  Granted, this largely depends on how long the trainer has been training people.  Does not apply to trainers that are new and you happen to be one of their first assigned clients.

If the fitness manager/hiring manager did their job properly they would have carefully screened this individual and assessed their skill before hiring them.

 Speaking of which…..

Hey, you’re pretty big, want a job as a trainer?

The I got hired off the floor trainer.  Yes, this actually happens.  Literally, a person that “looks good” is hired off the gym floor to train other people.  No formal education, no credentials, probably not even a CPR qualification, possibly not even a triple digit IQ.    Just because a person looks good is no indicator they can help others get in better shape.  These guys may not suck, but are you willing to take a 50/50 shot on this?

(1)   This person could be blessed with great genetics.                                                                 (2)   This person could have been working out for many years.                                                           (3)   Their physique could be the result of genetics, years of training and steroids.

Side Rant: Managers that hire people off the floor as trainers also pi$$ off the trainers that actually earned degrees / certifications. FACT: High performing trainers want to work around OTHER high performing trainers.

Why hire unqualified trainers in the first place? Easy, they cost than qualified trainers, therefore the companies per session profit margin is greater.  They are also easier to replace since there is always a pool of available candidates.  Note the turn-over rate of trainers in your gym, if it seems high to you there is likely a reason why.

How do some of these gyms get away with this? The bigger chains have “in-house” certifications they sometimes put the recently hired through.  These courses typically can be completed in a matter of days and are MEANT TO BE PASSED QUICKLY AND EASILY.   Personal training certifications are not regulated, therefore anyone could call themselves a “trainer” or “coach” without any formal education in the Exercise, Health or Nutrition sciences.

The Workout of the Day trainer.  Not to be confused with the CrossFit version of the term. This is when a trainer literally makes up a routine…possibly on the spot…and uses it for every client they have for the day.  Most likely does not track workouts or takes notes, certainly does not personalize training sessions.


The Drill Instructor trainer.  I’m not talking about the demanding trainers as there is always a place for them, and frankly some clients need those guys. I’m talking about the trainers that REALLY were in the military, think they still are and somehow think you are as well.   Some of them were previously were in charge of improving fellow Soldiers/Sailors/Marines/Airmen fitness standards and have simply taken their skills into the civilian community.

While I will argue there are benefits to this method of training, there are also warnings attached.  Fact is, the general fitness level among the armed forces will be higher, the clients younger and in overall better health.  You cannot put a 48 year old sedentary adult through the same brutal workout you used on a chubby 22 year old that you outranked.

 A sad example: I ran into a trainer running a military fitness routine/group-exercise program that never served in the military.  As a veteran I find this insulting and as a trainer I find it outright misleading.

The worst example:  Not too many months ago, an unqualified trainer with a military background put a new client through a session so hard (including the withholding of water breaks!) that the client collapsed outside the gym following the workout and had to be carted off in an ambulance.


One thought on “Personal trainers that suck. (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Return of Personal Trainers that Suck (AKA Chris’s 2015 Rampage) | My Trainer Chris

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