5 personal trainer red flags

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.

5 personal trainer red flags

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? 



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  1. Liz on May 30, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Question. I worked with a personal trainer a couple years ago who assured me (prior to signing up) that he would create custom workout plans for me, which I could use in the future. Then down the road when I asked him for a copy of my custom workout plan so I could do a workout on my own, he told me they were “proprietary” and I couldn’t have them. It seemed like he baited me into signing up under false pretenses, and didn’t want me using his workouts on my own. Is this a thing? Have you heard of trainers doing this?

    • Fitnessista on May 30, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      I think the goal of trainers would be to get clients to the point where they feel comfortable working out on their own! Then they know you’re available for help and extra workouts/plans later. That seems strange to me

  2. ErikaMC on May 30, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    I once met with a nutritionist for a meal plan. At our first meeting he came in (late) and already had a meal plan all made out without ever even meeting me or asking me any questions – he didn’t know my age, weight, goals, etc. He didn’t go over any information on why or when to eat certain things or what food types do for the body. I left very disappointed and with no help and it wasn’t cheap either.

  3. Angie on May 30, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    I had to have shoulder surgery because of an injury during a personal training session. I tore my labrum due to bad form that was not corrected by the trainer. I’m definitely leery of personal trainers now; she worked at my small, intimate gym and was well-regarded.

  4. Valerie on May 30, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    I am so intimidated by trainers. This is a helpful post!

  5. Fiona @ Get Fit Fiona on May 30, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Yes to all of this! I’m also a personal trainer and unfortunately I’ve seen some bad stuff going down in personal training sessions. It’s so important to find someone qualified, who stays in their scope of practice, and who you have a good rapport with.

  6. Colleen on May 31, 2019 at 9:18 am

    I’ve worked with a nutritionist and health coach, but never a personal trainer. These definitely seem like red flags, yikes! It’s important for people to do their research on the trainer’s background/education too! Good post.

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