It always depresses me when someone has a bad experience with a personal trainer and it intimidates them from branching out and getting help from a better professional. I get it though, not everyone is going to mesh in the trainer-client relationship, and that’s okay! People have different needs when it comes to coaching styles, scheduling and expertise. But, across the board, there are a few behaviors to look out for when assessing whether a trainer is a top-notch professional…or isn’t…
“The Bad” vs. “The Good”
1) Cookie Cutter Programs vs. Quality Programs
If you watch a trainer on the gym floor and he is taking every one of his clients through the same routine, that’s a red flag. Why should any trainer take their 55 year old female client with weak knees and osteoporosis through the same workout as their 30 year old male client who is training for his first triathlon? Okay, that example is a little too obvious. But, you’ll actually see this happen a lot. This demonstrates a lack of in-depth knowledge about the body and how it works or reflects a lack of respect for the individual needs that each client has. Either way, this trainer is not worth your hard earned money!
A trainer who designs quality programs for you is who you want to trust your health with. A quality program will relate to your goals, but probably includes some exercises and progressions you hadn’t thought of. For example, you may be wanting to run a marathon but your trainer knows that without a balance of strength and stretching you will be a risk for injury and thus, makes space for them in your training regimen. A quality program will be fully customized to your specific needs.
2) Working Out w/ You vs. Full Attention on You
Have you ever seen a trainer getting their full workout in alongside their clients during a paid-for session? Don’t look twice – it’s too painful! This is a big “no-no.” The workout experience should be a client’s time, not the trainer’s opportunity to get in a few extra sets of chest. If the trainer is working out too then she isn’t able to pay full attention to her client’s form and may put them at risk for injury.
Of course, there are several scenarios when the trainer has to workout with you – like if they are taking you outside for a buddy run or if they are demonstrating an exercise. This is all okay, but when it starts to feel as though you have a pal performing sit-ups alongside you instead of a trainer coaching you on form and perseverance, you owe it to yourself to speak up or find someone else to work with. A wonderful trainer is watching everything about you – head to toe – during each exercise. I know…kinda creepy to think about, but it’s for your own good!
3) Unreliable vs. Attentive
The easiest tasks a trainer is responsible for include: 1) emailing and communicating with clients promptly and consistently (c’mon who doesn’t have a smartphone glued to them 24/7?) and 2) showing up on time and offering the client their undivided attention. Ironically, some trainers have a hard time meeting these minimum service standards. So, if it takes the trainer a week to get back to you (assuming the email didn’t get spammed) or if they are consistently late to sessions, do yourself a favor and find a polite way to save yourself more stress and hassle. It’s the trainer’s job to manage you not vice versa.
Chances are that it’s already tough to make time for exercise and show up on your own, let alone when you have to sit around for 15 minutes waiting for your trainer! Decidedly not motivating! So, be sure to find someone who has a rock solid reputation. Unsure how to figure that out? No problem. First, ask around. Second, find a way to workout near the trainer desk (the place trainers congregate and meet clients). This is a good way to subtly spy on interactions and behaviors, and learn more. Pssst – if a trainer is on the gym floor talking loudly about something inappropriate from the weekend you’re free to question their professional standards!
4) “Mirror Mirror” vs. Selfless
I definitely remember being overwhelmed by all the gym mirrors when I first started working as a full-time trainer. It felt almost compulsive to check my image but I knew it was important that I resist. Likewise, as a trainer, it’s important not to talk about your own body and image hang-ups with your clients. Anything that is physically self-centered is just simply off the table. How would you feel if you were trying to lose 20 lbs and your slim trainer complained about her supposedly “thick thighs?”
Ultimately, the trainer has to be selfless. She needs to understand that every little glance in the mirror or negative comment may be taken personally by her clients. A great trainer will focus all her energy on YOU and will balance empathy with tough love so that you get to your goals and feel great.
5) “This is what I did…” vs. Objective
Let’s pretend you’re a woman working with a male trainer and he says “I tell all my clients to eat junk food the day before a tough workout – it always helps me rock my deadlifts.” Or, let’s say, you’re with a female trainer and she says “I did this awesome detox diet for 30 days and lost a ton of weight so I get all of my clients to do that now.” In both scenarios, the trainer is giving you an example of what seems to work for them. It’s okay for the trainer to consider that diet and exercise methods they have tried or experienced might work for some of their clients. But, for trainers to take their subjective experiences and project them onto you (and their other clients) as catch-all solutions isn’t cool. It’s short-sighted.
Just because a trainer loves running and lost weight doing it, doesn’t mean she should force this exercise on you, if it isn’t right. Likewise, just because another trainer lifts super heavy 4-5x/week for competitions, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to fall in love with a routine like that too. The point is – and yes, there is a point – you want to work with someone who will stay objective and think outside the box on your behalf.
Never settle. Always demand what you deserve – someone who cares as much about your health and body as you do (if not more)!
Yours in health and wellness,