Let me start out with this important detail…I was once a bad personal trainer. I wasn’t the worst, but I certainly wasn’t a good personal trainer. When I first became a trainer, it was because a guy came up to me and complemented the results I had achieved in the gym and he asked me if I could help him do the same. The short version of the story is that I started going to the gym at 5’7” and 238lbs, and once I learned how to do it the smart way I lost over 100lbs of body fat and added 20lbs of muscle over the course of 8 months. While I was doing that, this guy was also at the gym, but getting nowhere fast. So I told him I’m not a trainer but he was welcome to work out with me if he wanted. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. We would do exercises that felt great to me but he would get back pain or elbow pain and I’d tell him to just find something different for the same muscle. I am 5’7” he is 6’3” and while I had no clue that would have an effect on certain exercises, I would show him how I did them and he would attempt to do the same. Thankfully he never got seriously hurt, just plenty of tweaks and discomfort that if I had known anything about the human body could have been avoided.
Next thing I knew, there were three guys working out with me, at my uneducated lead because I was simply in the best shape with the best transformation of the four of us (talk about the blind leading the blind). So here I am accidentally operating as a trainer (in their eyes, definitely not in mine at the time) with no clue as to what I’m actually doing. I did fall in love with helping people get fit, and decided to go ahead and get some knowledge so I could address problems people were having, and blah blah blah long story short I became a personal trainer (who now knew something, but barely).
Over the last 10 years I’ve been able to attain a ton of knowledge, and I am truly amazed that I’ve never had a client get hurt based on how bad I feel I was in the beginning of my career. So when I speak to the following information on how to know if a personal trainer is “bad” or dangerous, please know that they might be an amazing person and in regards to the non ethics based indicators, I’m not speaking to the quality of person, but to their ability as a trainer exclusively. So here goes…
- They can’t explain what or why you are doing what you are doing.
Bad trainers are notorious for having that day’s workout that does nothing to factor in you or your abilities. The idea that you should be doing the same thing as Bob when you have different bodies and different goals is asinine. There should be a reason you are doing an exercise, and they should be able to explain it.
- They use terms like “I don’t care, I get results”
If you look at anybody from that hit tv show where people crash diet and lose gigantic amounts of weight, they can tell you how much short term results commonly come with long term problems. We work with individuals every day who thought they were having amazing results but they were in fact hurting themselves. We see people all the time who were once Kings of The Gym and now can barely walk because they were doing things incorrectly. When it comes to exercise, results matter, but never at the cost of long term health.
- They don’t or are incapable of correcting form
Bad trainers usually either don’t care if you are screwing up an exercise, or don’t even know that you are screwing up the exercise. Movements happen because muscles contract. That means that if you use the wrong muscle(s), the movement will be wrong. Most injuries occur because of movement error, so failing to correct form is absolutely inexcusable.
- They have their phone out or are generally inattentive
If you are going to a trainer purely for them to put a routine together and ignore you, then you can ignore this. You are purchasing a service and getting what you pay for. If you are going to a trainer for more than just a routine though, your trainer should be attentive to you. Common polite interaction with others should be expected, but if their eyes aren’t on you, how can they call out cues to correct things or notice if something is going wrong that requires a change in plans.
- They have a bad reputation
This is just an indicator, no guarantee. One person speaking ill of your trainer doesn’t have much weight, but if lots speak poorly of them you probably should catch the hint without having to learn from firsthand experience. High level trainers might have people who dislike them personally, but it shouldn’t be easy to find people with a qualified opinion who disagree with the science or approach they use.
- The trainer is inappropriate
This can occur in many ways. The most common ways include bullying and unwanted sexual attention. A trainer should help build you up. If they are being inappropriate, you should not work with them.
- They use terms like “pain is gain”
I might be over reaching here. Some people simply say things without thinking much about them. What I’m trying to say here is that there is lots of “gym-isms” that are plain stupid and are good indicators that your trainer is missing some very important information. In this case, pain is gain is just plain wrong. Pain doesn’t create gain; pain is an indicator of damage occurring in your body. Make sure your trainer has more valuable input for you than something as simple as this.
- They have no success stories and or nobody is willing to give testimonials for them
Good trainers have good success stories. If they can’t provide any for you, odds are very good that they simply don’t have any. If they don’t have any success stories, the odds are even greater you won’t be one either!
It should be noted that all of these things need to be factored into a big picture of the person. Any number of these warning signs could be enough to say you shouldn’t work with a trainer. If they have many of these issues, well then treat them like the plague and run!
Now that you know who to avoid working with, go and read our post on who to work with so you can get moving quickly in the right direction.