10 ways to tell if your personal trainer sucks

10 Ways To Tell If Your Personal Trainer Sucks

Picture this:

You’ve just joined a new gym…

You’re thinking of hiring a new personal trainer…

But how can you tell if they’re any good?

That’s the situation website member Amy found herself in recently, after moving home to a new area.

“Hey Russ,

I’ve just moved across the country because of my job and I see tons of trainers in my new gym. How do I know which one I should be working with?

I get that I need to be able to get along with them, etc. But are there any giveaway signs so I can just avoid the worst ones? Thanks!”

– Amy

We live in a world where you can achieve a personal trainer certificate in less time than it takes to binge watch a season of Daredevil on Netflix, and some gyms have more PT’s circling the floor than customers, so I put together my handy 10 signs to watch out for.

Feel free to share this post with anybody it may help.

If your prospective personal trainer (or your current one) is guilty of a lot of those featured below, you might want to put some different hustle behind your muscle.

how to spot a bad personal trainer

1. No Results

Let’s begin with the obvious one.

If none of the PT’s clients appear to be getting stronger, leaner, faster, or whatever they’re training to achieve, there is clearly something wrong either with the training method or the approach to diet.

Likewise, if the PT themselves isn’t in any kind of shape, I consider this to be a red flag.

I know, I can feel lots of PT’s thinking, “Hey Russ! A trainer doesn’t need to be ripped to know what they’re talking about!” – and that’s correct!

I mean, Usain Bolt’s coach cannot run the 100m sprint faster than Usain Bolt. And The Rock’s strength coach isn’t bigger than The Rock.

But that’s not what I’m saying.

I have met tons of personal trainers who have no interest in fitness (as strange as that sounds).

It’s one of those jobs which attracts people for the wrong reasons (monetary / status), and while I do realize that a busy personal trainer won’t have the time necessary to compete as a pro bodybuilder, I think it’s absurd that a personal trainer won’t take the time to ensure they’re at least in presentable shape!

This is an appearance-based business, and you are your main advertising package.

(That’s why there’s bunches of unqualified PT’s out there coasting by on “having abs” and hoping not to get caught out – I’ll get to them later!)

The deeper issue here is that if a PT has no interest in training, they won’t be constantly growing their knowledge base and helping you to push through your boundaries.

tips for personal trainers
“Yep, ten more. Hi mate!”

2. They’re On Their Phone

I feel a sense of shame at how often I see this one…

When training at a gym out of my local area one time, I remember making eye contact with a woman as she was working through a circuit. She didn’t know I was a PT myself.

I can still remember the disinterested look she had in her eye, as her personal trainer stood next to her scrolling his phone for the entire set.

If you’re a personal trainer who does this, don’t worry you are definitely not the first. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But rest assured your client is fully aware of it. Clients are mostly too polite to complain, even when they’re f**king fuming.

The very brief moment my disappointed sigh met this lady’s stare lasted a lifetime, and I knew we were both thinking the exact same thing – unprofessionalism!

Website member Becky experienced this first-hand at her gym:

“He’d give me my circuit instructions then start texting and not look up until I was finished.

It’s the oddest feeling, I had a trainer but I had no idea if my technique was good and I felt like I couldn’t ask.”

– Becky

When you pay a trainer for an hour of work, you should be the focus of that hour.

bad personal trainers

3. They Train With You

It’s goes like this:

“Hey bro,

I had no time to train yet today, so I’m gonna jump in with you in your session, okay?”

– Johnny Trainer

No it’s f**king not okay!

Imagine buying a cheeseburger only for the cashier to take a bite and say, “Hey bro, I didn’t have time for lunch, ok?”

How much of the session you’ve paid your hard earned money for will be spent with you standing around waiting for your partner to finish his/her set?

Any answer is too much.

This is something which has always ticked me off.

do personal trainers need to be qualified

4. They’re Not Qualified

I told you I’d get to these guys.

Check this out:

A personal trainer should be required to be in shape, but being in shape is not enough to be a personal trainer.

Make sense?

I know, I said a personal trainer should be in shape. But that doesn’t automatically make us experts in training others. A great PT will have both areas nailed down.

Example; I was a great goalkeeper when I was a kid. I had no idea why, or how, or how to teach anyone else, I was just pretty good.

The fitness industry is very poorly governed, and there are stacks of unqualified PT’s out there trying to coast by on simply having good looks, a six pack, or a big bum.

Go take a look at Instagram. I’ll wait.

bad instagram fitness advice

If the knowledge of your PT only goes as far as knowing how to set up your iPhone for the best booty cam angle, I recommend looking elsewhere.

You can avoid this situation by making sure they’re fully qualified. It may seem obvious, but most clients never ask a PT this question (they just presume) and many gyms don’t either.

As such, this leaves the door open for scammers to fake it.

Protect yourself!

Of course, the fault never falls at the feet of the client for not asking the question.

I believe if a man or woman sets up a business in their chosen industry but doesn’t respect their business enough to go get the necessary qualifications to do it legally, they’re not the type of person you should be dealing with.

how to spot a bad personal trainer

5. Every Workout Is The Same

Before you hire a new personal trainer, you have an ideal chance to scope how they work with their current clients.

If every person is doing the exact same thing, you’ll likely get bored very quickly.

After all, the most important factor determining your long-term results is your ability to be consistent.

A good PT will have experience working with a conveyor belt of different individuals.

A sign of an unqualified/unprofessional personal trainer is assuming they can simply put everyone through their workout and get away with it.

how to tell if your personal trainer sucks

6. They Touch You

“Don’t touch the client! Never!”

I still have these words ringing around my ears from Doug Hunter, former British Olympic Judo competitor who put me through my very first fitness qualification back in the days when I had a full head of glorious red hair.

This is the unwritten rule of personal training.

I know any of my clients reading this will be racking their brains now, trying to think how they’ve managed to get through so many grueling sessions without me laying so much as a finger on them, but now you now.

However, this is not always the case…

bad personal trainer
Every gym has one.

At the very first gym I worked, there was a guy teaching a lady how to perform a stiff leg deadlift but she just wasn’t getting the technique correct.

Suddenly, he positioned himself directly behind her and put his hands around her waist (bad enough, but it gets worse!), then proceeded to bend her over with his hand on her lower back and her bum against his trousers.

It’s a moment which I’m sure has etched itself into my memory of all those present in that gym at the time, everybody locking gaze in disbelief reminiscent of the awkward eyes-only stare-down in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

how to be a good personal trainer

Like I said above, too many guys get into this industry for the wrong reasons, and one of those reasons is “to meet chicks”.

There’s nothing worse than a creep taking advantage of their situation to cop a feel.

how to spot a bad personal trainer

7. Money Problems

Here’s one which rarely gets discussed.

I once had a client tell me a story of her previous personal trainer being all “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” before payday, only to lose interest in her after payday.

By losing interest, I mean dramatically reducing interactions and making it difficult to actually book in the sessions she’d paid for.

“The change in attitude was surreal.

He went from texting all the time and talking in the gym about everything we were going to do, to being hard to reach, dropping out of sessions, and having no availability.

I felt ripped off.”


She ended up switching PT when she still had 7 sessions left, because (in her words) “the guy had no interest in doing work he’d already been paid for and spent.”

Another lady mentioned her old trainer suddenly asking for a few months fees up front in one go.

“My old PT actually rang me and asked for £1600 (which was three months of workouts) all in one go. It’s not how we’d ever done business before.

It caught me off guard, and I felt like I had to say yes even though I didn’t want to.”

– Alicia

Again, this gets back to unprofessionalism.

how to be a good personal trainer

8. They’re Your Friend

I don’t mean you can’t be friends with your clients.

They’re probably nice people, and of course it’s allowed. I mean your time in the gym shouldn’t resemble a nice little chit-chat.

I don’t mind having a laugh and joke with a paying customer, but there is a very clear line. They are there to work.

We can be friends after the session.

But for that one hour you should f**king hate me. You should leave the gym thinking I have a genuine vendetta against you.

After all, that’s why you’re paying me, right? So you don’t wuss out of the things you’d skip if you were on your own?

So let’s get to work!

how to tell if your personal trainer is bad

9. You’re Their Therapist

When you become a personal trainer, you also become a part-time therapist.

It’s a running joke in the fitness industry.

Because for most clients, the time they spend in the gym with their PT is literally the only time they can vent to someone who is not connected to their outside life.

So while they’re smashing medicine balls and clanging iron, they might rage about their boss, or complain about how hectic their day is.

bad personal trainer habits

Heck, they might even get a bit emotional about something an a**hole has said to them.

It’s a big part of the job.

But if those roles get reversed, it doesn’t work.

Check out what Stephanie said:

“I’d go to the gym and my PT would list all of his problems; arguments with his girlfriend, no money, no time, bills, etc.

I stopped looking forward to training, and eventually quit.”

– Stephanie

If venting your anger helps you get a better workout, then you vent!

But if your PT does it? Hell no. This stems back to my previous segment about your your trainer becoming your friend.

The boundary of professionalism is lost.

There should always be a line.

personal trainer what not to do

10. They Try To Sell You Drugs

Am I not supposed to say this one?

Are we supposed to pretend this doesn’t happen?


It happens all the time.

The amount of personal trainers pushing steroids and fat burners at their clients to speed up results is off the damn charts!

Check out what Rachel experienced:

“I put off hiring this trainer for such a long time, mulling over before & after photos and watching people train in the gym…

But almost immediately after I took the plunge, she recommended I take fat burners containing ephedrine to see quick results and be featured on her Facebook page.”

– Rachel

Suddenly, the “magic training system” they advertised doesn’t seem so f**king magical.

But it is pretty common behaviour.

Some trainers make a living selling fat burners, steroids, pro hormones, SARMS and other not-so-great (not-so-legal) “supplements” on the side.

The constant badgering to buy often wears people down, similar to that annoying parent in the school yard who’s started selling Juice Plus and begins hassling everyone in close proximity.

The difference being you’re no longer putting over-hyped nonsense in your body, you’re using substances which can lead to crazy health issues if you don’t know how to manage them.

how to spot a bad personal trainer

The goal here is to turn each client into multiple streams of income.

Becoming “a dealer” to a client is any easy way to make money from somebody who just wants fast results and trust you won’t steer them wrong.

As I mentioned above, the worst part is that they don’t educate the client on exactly what they’re putting inside their body, and how to manage it themselves in order to avoid the side effects which come with drug use.

They’ll say ridiculous things like, “No, bro, if anything you need to train even harder when you use steroids – otherwise it’ll all turn to fat!” (not true), then have the audacity to credit your results to their magical training system.

The use of illegal substances is a personal choice, and something which has been under the surface of the fitness industry for many years.

I don’t have a problem if someone wants to use drugs, it’s their choice, although I do insist they tell me first as it means they can be trained differently to a natural athlete.

However, when a PT is prepared to put a “before and after photo” ahead of the welfare of a client, advising them to use anabolic steroids and/or fat burners without properly explaining the damage they can cause, it bugs the life out of me.

tips for personal trainers

So there you have it!

Now, you’ll probably find that the “best” trainers at your gym do most of the good things together – they are professional, they look the part, they’ve got good knowledge, they’re qualified, etc.

And most of the “worst” trainers also rack up the bad points together – they’re often late, they’re cancelling regularly, the workouts are usually the same, they behave inappropriately, etc.

This makes it very easy to sort the good from the bad where you are.

Got any more to add to this list? Let me know about it in the comments below (or on my social media).

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