Hiring a personal trainer comes with a lot of benefits. You get a customized program, individual attention during workouts and — maybe most importantly of all — built-in accountability. But trainers don’t come cheap. Since you’re giving up your blood, sweat, tears and paycheck, you certainly want your trainer to put in their effort, too.
Most trainers will pull their weight, but some do make mistakes that’ll cause good trainers to cringe. Here’s how to spot — and avoid — three of them.
1. THEY MAKE IT ABOUT THEM
“The biggest ‘mistake’ I’ve seen personal trainers make is that some train their clients with their own personal workouts, instead of interviewing the client about their goals, limitations, personal preferences, etc., so they can create an individual plan for the client,” says Jessica Smith, a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and creator of the Walk Strong: Total Transformation 6 Week System.
Dan Plante, director of fitness for Orangetheory Fitness studios, agrees. “They’ll have the client doing something because it looks cool or because it was their workout of the day, but the exercise isn’t appropriate for the individual,” he says.
“You are investing in personal training, so be sure that is what you are getting — a trainer who is creating a personalized and specific plan that is built for you,” Smith says.
The Fix: Just because it’s your trainer’s “leg day” doesn’t mean it should be yours, too. If you’re in pain, not seeing results over time or feel like you’re not being heard, let your trainer know.
2. THEY GIVE YOU A DIET PLAN
You may think you’re killing two birds with one stone to get nutrition advice from your trainer, but that could actually be illegal.
“Trainers cannot provide a strategic, full-on meal plan of what to eat day in and day out,” says Shaun Jenkins, training manager at Tone House in New York City. In fact, in some states, it’s a felony for anyone other than registered dietitians to provide nutrition counseling.
That said, trainers with nutrition certifications can advise you on how many grams of carbs or protein to eat daily based on your goals — and they can give you examples of healthy meals. For example, they can’t tell you to eat a protein bar after exercising, but they can share a list of high-protein post-workout snacks.
The Fix: Before hiring a trainer, ask whether he or she has any nutrition certifications. If you want a specific meal plan, ask for recommendations for a registered dietitian.
3. THEY’RE DISTRACTED
Look around any gym, and you’ll probably see a trainer who seems more concerned about how many likes their morning selfie is getting or what’s on the morning news rather than their client’s workout.
“It’s a pet peeve among all good trainers, those who care about clients,” Jenkins says. “If a trainer is on their phone, they don’t care about your form or if you make progress.”
Not only should you be upset because you are paying them, it also can be dangerous. “It only takes a few seconds to lift improperly, pull your back out or drop a weight on your foot,” says Smith. “And a trainer who is busy on their phone is putting their client at risk for injury.
“Unless they are checking their notes or outline for the session or have a dire emergency, a trainer’s cell phone should never be out during the time their client has booked with them.”
The Fix: Insist that your training session be a phone-free time.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT TRAINER
The biggest mistake clients make is going up to a trainer and saying they’re looking for a trainer. If you do that, the trainer will focus on selling you, Jenkins says.
Instead, observe. “They’ll promise you the world, but if you watch them, they’ll tell you how they actually are as trainers,” Jenkins explains. “So just watch them: How they interact with clients, with clients who are deconditioned, with clients who are elderly… It tells you about their ability to coach anyone.”
You want someone with a variety of clients, not just super-fit bodies. Most likely, those clients started off being fit. But can that coach help you lose weight or meet your specific goal?
Lastly, ask people for recommendations, and don’t shy away from Googling potential trainers. “Preferably they’ll have college degrees in related subjects and multiple, well-known certifications,” Plante says. Check that they have at least five years of experience, Jenkins adds, because there’s a learning curve to training.