When I first started working with a personal trainer (in college) I had no idea what to expect. I got suckered into a contract through a big box gym – it was a pickle to get out of it, let me tell ya – and had a guy with very little experience training me. He had a high school degree and no fitness-related certifications. I learned a lot about muscle groups and how to strength train in the first couple of weeks, but it went south very quickly. For example, he told me to get a bagel with cream cheese after each training session but also said I should only eat 1000 calories per day. (<— never ever do this)
Now that I’ve been in the fitness industry and have been certified as a personal trainer for 10 years (!), I thought I’d share some red flags I wish I would have known as a personal training CLIENT. We all know that personal trainers should support clients as they work towards their goals in a safe and strategic manner. There are so many incredible trainers out there, but unfortunately, there are some jokers in the mix.
Here are some red flags to look out for when you’re considering working with a personal trainer:
– They don’t do any type of movement assessment before training you. A good trainer should be able to determine your strengths, weaknesses, and body composition, and use this information to develop your training plan. You should also complete a Par-Q (which determines your readiness for exercises), a health history form, and a form that indicates your exercise experience and goals. The first meeting should be very little training; lots of paperwork and movement assessments. You’ll often have to do something like a 3-minute walk or jog, an upper body strength and/or agility test, lower body strength and/or agility, overhead squat assessment, push, and/or pull assessment.
– They don’t help you with proper form. As a gym-goer, it’s surprising for me to see trainers with their clients, and they’re not actively watching them. They should be correcting you along the way to make sure you’re executing the moves safely and with proper form. If they’re daydreaming, or looking at someone else: red flag.
– They tell you what and how much to eat. This is a huge NO. It’s outside the scope of our practice to tell clients what and how much to eat. We cannot give specific eating plans. However, we can share healthy meal ideas! If your trainer writes you a meal plan without any background training (like an RD or reputable nutrition certification), bye Felicia. This also holds true for supplements. The only person who should consult you on the types of supplements to use is a medical professional. This also holds true for medical diagnoses. A good trainer will always refer you to a medical professional if you need specialized care.
– They spend the whole time talking about themselves. Yes, friendly banter is important (and makes the session more fun) but the emphasis should be on YOU: your goals, your family, your jobs. If you want to talk about it! And if you want to be silent while your trainer counts reps and corrects form for you, totally cool.
– They don’t create a plan for you, and seem to “wing it” each time. Many trainers will wing sessions based on a goal they have in their mind. At the same time, they should have a file for you with weight progressions (how much you’re squatting, etc.) so they know how to build up. They should also phase your training (an endurance phase, a max strength phase, and a hypertrophy phase) so you don’t hit a plateau.
So tell me friends: have you worked with a personal trainer? What was your experience like?
Any red flags you’d add to the list?