How many of my golden rules does your personal trainer break?

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

14 min read

Picture the scene…

You’ve just joined a new gym.

You want to hire a personal trainer to work with…

… but how can you tell a good one from a bad one?

That’s the situation Amy found herself in recently, after relocating across the country for a new job. Check out her email below:

“Hey Russ,

I’ve just moved and I’m seeing lots of personal trainers in my new gym. Some days they outnumber the customers, LOL.

How do I know which one I should choose?

Obviously, I know how important it is to get along with them, etc, but are there any giveaway signs I should look for?

I just want to avoid having a bad experience. Thanks! Love your work!”

– Amy, UK


Nowadays it’s possible to achieve a PT qualification in less time than it takes to binge watch a show on Netflix, so in a world where everyone’s a trainer, I’ve put together my handy list of 10 things to watch out for.

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

Feel free to share it with any friends who needs help.

Let’s begin…

how to spot a bad personal trainer

1. No Results

A personal trainer should have the results they preach about.

I know… I know…

I can hear tons of PT’s right now:

“But Russ, surely it’s more important for a personal trainer to be qualified than to look good?”

Yes it is, but only from a business standpoint.

From a marketing standpoint, your clients don’t give a f**k how qualified you are.

It’s an industry where looks are everything.

I’ve never understood why so many trainers let themselves get really out of shape. You are a walking advertisement for your methods, and people will definitely judge your skills based on your appearance.

That’s why there’s thousands of “pop up PT’s” on Instagram trying to coast by on having abs without any real knowledge.

Besides, it shouldn’t be about whether it’s more important to be qualified or to look good. It should be about both!

A great prospective trainer will have the paperwork to show they’ve accrued the knowledge, alongside the type of physique to show their methods work.

And unless they’re trying to be a competitive bodybuilder, they shouldn’t have needed to use drugs to f**king do it.

If none of their clients have ever shown progress either, move on.

how to tell a good personal trainer from a bad one

2. They’re On Their Phone

This one really grinds my gears.

I was recently working out of area and I stopped by a gym to get my cardio in.

While there, I watched someone set a client away on a circuit then scroll their mobile phone the entire time she was working.

F**k this laziness!

Here’s the sad part…

While I was looking on with the sort of face that could boil a cup of coffee, I happened to catch the eyeline of the client and we locked in gaze for a moment.

It was obvious that she was fuming.

But she never said anything.

Get off your f**king phone, motherf**ker.

When you work with a personal trainer for an hour, you should be the primary focus of that time!

It seems this was not a one-off, as website member Rebecca emailed me with a similar story:

“Oh man,

Russ I worked with on old PT of mine who would ring his friends during my workout!

It felt really odd – I had a trainer alongside me, but I had NO IDEA if I was doing anything incorrectly!”

– Rebecca, Australia

3. They Just Try To Destroy You

Have you ever had a friend say they want to tag along with you to the gym?

And we immediately do that thing where we want to absolutely shatter them into pieces, right?

Don’t worry, you ain’t crazy.

We all do it.

But I’ve met many trainers who do it, too. And that’s where things get silly.

They base their “greatness” on whether they can kill someone in a session, rather than how much they’re actually helping that client reach their goals.

A good personal training session should not be about torture.

Because, make no mistake, there is no skill in torturing a client.

I could tell you to do 100 barbell squats right now, and every 5th rep, pause at the bottom for a 5 count.

It will f**k you up.

But it might not help you get any closer to your goal.

See what I mean?

Your program should be properly structured to work on the things you need to work on. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Have you learned important technique points?

If not, get outta there.

Because at some point, it becomes solely about the trainer’s ego, and less about skill.

how to be a good personal trainer
“Trust me, I’m orange.”

4. They’re Not Qualified

Did you know:

If you’re pretty, you don’t need to worry about achieving qualifications. You can be classed as an “expert” in anything, and that’s okay.


Yes, this one’s for the fake trainers who got excited by my first point where I said I don’t place huge value in qualifications.

I know they’re out there.

In my near 20 years in the fitness industry, I could count on one hand the number of clients who have asked me about my qualifications.

Luckily, I’m qualified as a motherf**ker.

But you gotta be careful here.

You wouldn’t go to a dentist who wasn’t qualified.

The fitness industry is so looks orientated that there are thousands of PT’s out there (no typo) who figure they can simply wing it and get by on the fact that they have abs, or a nice bum, etc.

This puts you at risk.

Plus, it means they’re not insured.

And it’s a problem which is only getting worse (looking at you, Instagram), with certain gyms even getting in trouble for hiring unqualified staff.

Never just presume someone is qualified.

Some people are major a**holes. They will fake it.

annoying people at the gym

5. They Train With You

Question for you:

“Hey bro, I’m gonna jump in between your sets so I can get my arm workout in.

That okay with you?”

– Johnny Trainer


Imagine if you walked into McDonald’s and the cashier took a bite of your burger because they hadn’t had time to eat their lunch yet.

Remember, your PT is at work.

And, like you, they gotta use the gym in their own time.

I once watched a female trainer charge a client over £35 for a session where she jumped in and trained herself for half of it. How much of the client’s time was wasted waiting for the trainer to finish her set?

Trick question; any answer is too much!

how to spot a bad personal trainer

6. They Touch You

Settle down with a protein shake, ssstorytime with Russ…

There is a “touchy feely” trainer in every gym.

Back in my first gym, there was a lad who was notorious for it.

One day, while teaching a girl how to perform a stiff leg deadlift, he didn’t feel like she was grasping the concept of the movement.

Then, in the most awkward moment of my life, he positioned himself directly behind the young lady, placing his hand on her lower back, and proceeded to bend her over in front of him.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It’s a few seconds which etched itself into the living memory of all those who happened to be in the gym at that time.

I can still remember everyone looking at each other in disbelief, in a scene reminiscent of the epic staredown from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

The unwritten rule of personal training is “Never touch the client!”

If I listen carefully enough, I can still hear those words ringing in my ears from Doug Hunter, the former Olympian who put me through my first qualification.

And it’s something I’ve always adhered to.

There will be clients of mine, reading this now, racking their brains, just realizing for the first time that they’ve endured hours and hours of training with me without ever having so much as a finger laid upon them!

But it’s true.

And I will never, ever break it.

After all, it just takes one wrong move to make someone feel uncomfortable.

However, it divides opinion among trainers, because some (i.e. bad ones) believe they need to touch a client in order to show them which muscle should be working.

Don’t believe it.

A competent trainer will be able to communicate effectively.

tips for personal trainers to be more successful

7. They Tell You To Take Drugs

do personal trainers sell steroids


Are we supposed to pretend that this one doesn’t happen?

Is it taboo?

Kinda like when Flex magazine tells you about Mr. Olympia’s awesome supplement list but fails to mention the stack of vitamin “S” he’s on?

Well, s**t.

Man, this happens all the time.

But do you know what’s worse than a trainer who tells a client to start taking drugs?

No, this time it’s not a trick question, there realy is something worse.

I’ll tell ya…

A personal trainer who tries to sell a client drugs.

Yes, many PT’s make a secondary income pushing steroids, fat burning pills, pro hormones, SARMs, and other not-so-great (not-so-legal) “supplements” at clients.

Check out this email from Rachael:

“Almost immediately after I began working with my old trainer, she recommended I take “T3 Fat Burners”.

She promised that if I did, I’d see fast results, and have a chance at being featured on her Facebook page.

Suddenly, it all seemed fake.

All the before and after photos I’d looked at, convincing myself that this would be a great person to work with.

Now I’m being told to take drugs.”

– Rachel, Wales

Like I said earlier, I believe a personal trainer has a responsibility to be in good shape in order to set an example to clients.

But, unless they’re planning on becoming a competitive bodybuilder, they should be able to do it without needing to use drugs.

To me, it’s always been a sign that somebody is out of ideas.

There are obvious safety concerns involved when telling someone to use drugs. Rarely are the clients properly informed about what they’re taking.

And the real kick in the teeth comes later…

When that transformation does hit their Facebook page, there’s no mention of the drugs.

In fact, there’s very little mention of you either.

Instead, you’re used a sales pitch to other unsuspecting members of the public, with some caption about how their magical training and nutrition system got results.

best online personal trainer

8. They Change After You’ve Paid

OK, maybe this one shouldn’t be on this list.

Because by the time you’ve paid, you’ve already chosen a trainer.

But it’s still an important one, and it will safeguard you for the future (you will more than likely have more than one personal trainer in your life).

Have you ever had an ex-partner chase you then lose interest when they have you?

Hey, Uncle Russ has.

Or how about when your cable TV company post a blinding deal online, only to suckerpunch you with the smallprint:

* New customers only.

Sadly, some PT’s will do a similar thing.

In fact, when I was researching for this piece of content, this one came up frequently.

Website member Lola explained:

“The change in his attitude was immediate, and quite surreal.

He went from texting me all the time, and being really active on my social media, to suddenly becoming very hard to reach.

He started to cancel sessions at the last minute, and have no immediate availability to re-book.

I felt ripped off.

Eventually I got so frustrated that I switched to a new trainer even though I had 7 workouts left, which I had paid for in full, because it seemed he had no interest in doing work he’d already been paid for, for money he’d already spent.”

– Lola, USA

Holy flaps!

I’d be raging at this.

Another lady, Alicia, mentioned her PT suddenly asking for a few months fees up front, and then going down a similar route.

Check it out:

“She asked me for $2100 in cash. And of course I didn’t have it.

We’d always done things weekly, but this was four months of workouts in one go.

It caught me off guard, and I felt like I had to say YES even though I didn’t want to and I knew I couldn’t afford it.

I’m way too shy, though, so I got myself into real financial trouble to avoid letting her down, we had a rough Christmas because of it, and the worst part is she became a total nightmare regarding booking times.

It felt like once she had all that money, it was a hassle to train me.”

– Alicia, USA

Not on my watch.

Alicia and Lola have both received free memberships to my workout app after hearing of these horror stories.

8. Every Workout Is The Same

I don’t mean your workouts.

Trust me, consistency can be a good thing in the gym.

I mean every workout. For every client.

Take a week to scope out your prospective new trainer before you sign up, and you should be able to tell if they’re putting every single person through the same old “cookie cutter” routine.

It happens.

Sometimes it’s down to laziness. Other times, it’s their own routine (what they do in the gym), and it’s all they know, because they aren’t qualified.

Your program should be 100% tailored around your needs.

Also, you’ll get bored if you do the exact same thing all the time. That’s not consistency.

annoying things personal trainers do

9. Moan, Moan, Moan!

It’s a running joke that a personal trainer is also a part-time therapist.

We really are.

For many clients, the single hour they spend in the gym with their trainer is the only hour they can vent to someone who isn’t connected to their work or home life.

So sometimes, they let loose.

I’ve had people cry… punch medicine balls… polite women say so many “F” words I felt myself turn red…

It’s part of the job.

But if the tables are turned, it’s weird AF.

See Stephanie’s words below:

“The worst experience I had with a PT was one who would list all his problems while I trained;

Arguments with his girlfriend, no money, struggling to get clients, too many bills to pay, etc.

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

– Stephanie, USA

If venting your anger helps you get a better workout, so be it.

But if the roles are reversed, the boundary of professionalism is lost.

There should always be a line.

how to spot a bad personal trainer

Everyone has their own style.

And when someone teaches a style of training you enjoy, and both personalities click, magic can happen in terms of results.

But what we don’t want is a trend follower.

When a PT hasn’t identified their “thing” yet, they can get caught up in whatever the latest fad is.

One month they have everyone doing CrossFit, next month they’re telling people to go vegan (cuz Netflix), then it’s circuit training, etc.

As Bruce Lee once said:

“Fear not the man who has practiced a thousand kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 1000 times.”

is being a personal trainer hard

10 Ways To Tell If Your Personal Trainer Sucks

So there you have it!

No doubt I’ve missed a few, but 10 is a nice number.

Maybe I should’ve pushed it to 11 just so I could give special mention to personal trainers who openly poach other personal trainers’ clients…

Not a fan of those guys.

But I hope you enjoyed the read, and hopefully I made you laugh out loud a little with my crazy stories along the way.

You’ll probably find that the “best” personal trainer at your gym does most of the good things I spoke about (i.e. they’re qualified, professional, look the part, good knowledge, etc).

And most of the “worst” trainers do a lot of the bad things on this list (they’re cancelling sessions, giving cookie cutter training to everyone, touchy feely behaviour, etc).

Got any suggestions for me to add to this list? Leave a comment below and I will check it out.

For more training tips from me, head to the bottom of this article and get on my free e-mail list.

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

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