There are a ton of trainers at every gym. There is also a TON of turnover at every gym. If you are just starting out in your lifting journey you may seek the help of a knowledgeable trainer to teach you good form and get you to your goals. The real hard part is how do you decide which trainer to choose? How can you spot a terrible personal trainer from a good one?
Doesn’t Do an Assessment
When you sign up with a trainer, the VERY first thing they should be doing is an assessment on you. If they take you to the gym floor and just start making you lift weight, that is a red flag. How can you start lifting weights if the trainer knows nothing about your goals, gym experience, or previous injury history? These are all absolutely important questions every trainer should be asking you.
The first session should be spent assessing your posture and form. They may take you through some body weight exercises or mobility drills. That is fine as long as it is to help them assess your range of motion, or see what imbalances you may have. The first session is just as much about them getting to know you as you are getting to know them.
No Focus On Correctional Exercises
Even if your goal is to add mass or lose fat, there should be SOME focus on lagging body parts. Let’s face it. We all have them. We’ve all experienced a low back issue, bad knees, no ankle range of motion, or tight shoulders. You don’t have to stay limited in those areas for the rest of your life!
Too often I’ve seen clients and lifters assume whatever ailments they have they are just stuck with. In a lot of cases, you can actually fix those imbalances! A good trainer should not only understand that, but see where you lack, and have a plan (along with your other goals) as to how to include fixing that along the way. It doesn’t take much, but it does require attention.
Feeling WORSE After the Workout
This one really bugs me. A bad trainer will try and run you into the ground in your workouts. To be fair this issue falls on both the client and the trainer. The client thinks they should feel sore as hell and be dripping with sweat after every workout, and a bad trainer will succumb to that client's wants. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some soreness is okay the couple days after the workout. Ultimately you should feel BETTER leaving your workout than you did coming in. You should feel invigorated and like you pushed yourself. You shouldn’t feel like you are totally gassed.
Trainer Constantly Shows Up Late
You’d be surprised at how often this actually happens. All the time, I used to see trainers showing up late for their clients. This is unacceptable. You are paying for their time, and you deserve that. A bad trainer has no awareness towards their clients. You are their focus, and it is literally their job to be there for you and help you reach your goals. If they aren’t willing to show up for you on time, then how thought out are they when it comes to making your workout plan?
Not Working on Technique
If you hired a trainer, you are presumably new to all of this. Your experience in the gym may be limited. On exercises like squats and deadlifts it requires a lot of technique. A bad trainer just assumes because these are staple exercises, that EVERYONE should be doing it. Not only that, their inexperience leads them to believe if they can just keep adding weight to the bar they are showing how much stronger they are getting you. This is ridiculous. Adding weight to the bar will lead to no gains if your range of motion shortens worse and worse with every 5 pounds added.
Not only that, teaching how to groove proper movement patterns is what builds the most amount of muscle, and puts you at the least risk for injury. A good trainer will make this their priority. They should be walking around you constantly, making micro adjustments, and regressing the exercise if you are unable to do it. Can’t do a squat with a barbell? They should have you doing goblet squats, or some version of a squat that's easier to learn.
Trying to Draw Attention
A lot of bad trainers want all eyes on them. They think if they have their clients doing the craziest workouts with the wildest moves, that other members in the gym will see that and want to sign up with them. Not only is this not true, but it totally disregards their respect for you and your needs. There is no reason a 60 year old client needs to be doing box jumps and heavy bench pressing. I’ve seen trainers push their clients beyond their limits, and when they client can’t keep up, or no longer wants to come in the bad trainer blames the clients lack of motivation instead of their own incompetence.
Pushing Supplements and Nuance
At the end of the day, the key to building a healthy and great physique is being consistent with the obvious things. Making sure you are working out 2-3 times a week. Address any imbalances you have with mobility drills and activation exercises. Eating enough protein and whole foods while avoiding processed ones. What a bad trainer will do, is push all these supplements on you. They’ll tell you that you need to take fat burners, creatine, and BCAA’s, and that if you don’t commit to the list they suggest, you aren’t serious about your gains. Again this is absolutely ridiculous.
You don’t need any supplements to build a great physique. Sure, certain supplements are EXCELLENT at helping fill the gaps once you realize where you need them (like taking a protein powder to help hit your protein requirement). If you get the sense a trainer is either forcing supplements on you, or thinks it is the only way to get where you want to be, then they are a really bad trainer. They also might have a commission on selling a certain amount of supplements so keep that in mind too.
Be sure to check out my other articles on What to Look for When Choosing a Personal Trainer and 5 Characteristics of Successful Personal Trainers.