how to tell if your personal trainer sucks

10 Ways To Tell If Your Personal Trainer Sucks

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 the good ones from the bad ones?

That’s the exact 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 you look for so I can just avoid the worst ones? Thanks!”

– Amy, UK

Nowadays it’s possible to achieve a PT certificate in less time than it takes to binge watch Prison Break on Netflix, so I’ve put together my handy list of 10 things to watch out for in a bad personal trainer.

Feel free to share it with anybody who needs help.

If your prospective 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!

Let’s begin…


how to spot a bad personal trainer

1. No Results

Let’s start with the obvious one.

If none of their current clients appear to be getting stronger, faster, leaner, or whatever they’re training for, clearly there’s something wrong with the training methods or the nutritional approach.

If you’re new to a gym, you might not know how far those clients have come with that trainer, so instead we focus on the trainer themselves. I’ve always considered it to be a red flag if a PT isn’t in presentable shape.

I can hear lots of PT’s saying, “Hey Russ, a trainer doesn’t need to be ripped to know what they are talking about!” – and that is 100% correct, so stop s**ting yourselves.

I mean, Usain Bolt’s coach cannot run the 100m faster than Usain Bolt, and The Rock’s strength coach is not bigger than The Rock.

That would be absurd, and that’s not what I’m saying.

I’ve met tons of personal trainers who have no interest in fitness (strange, but true). It’s one of those jobs which attracts people for the wrong reasons, and while I realize that a busy personal trainer won’t have the time available to look like a pro bodybuilder, it seems silly to hire one that won’t even take the time to ensure they’re in decent shape.

This is an appearance-based business, after all.

That’s why there’s tons of unqualified coaches on Instagram giving awful advice, hoping to coast by on the fact they have a big bum, or visible abs.

(I’ll get to those guys later.)

The bigger issue here is that if a PT has no interest in training, they won’t be living the life they are recommending to others, nor growing their knowledge to help you to push your boundaries.


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2. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Here’s an issue which rarely gets discussed.

A client told me a story about her previous PT being all, “Let’s go!” before payday, only to lose interest after bagging the cash.

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

Check it out:

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

He went from texting me all the time and talking in the gym about all the things we were going to do, to suddenly becoming harder to reach, dropping out of sessions at the last minute, and having no availability to re-book.

I felt really ripped off.”

– Lola, UK.

She got so frustrated she switched PT with seven pre-paid workouts remaining because, in her own words, “The guy had no interest in doing work he’d already been paid for and spent.”

Another lady mentioned her PT suddenly asking for a few months fees up front:

“My old trainer rang me and asked for $1600 cash.

This was three months worth of sessions, and we’d previously only done business weekly. It caught me off guard, and I felt like I had to say YES even though I didn’t want to.”

– Alicia, USA.

Both examples above are clear cases of unprofessionalism.


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

3. They’re Not Qualified

In the first point, I mentioned that I believe a personal trainer has a requirement to be in shape.

But here’s the thing…

Being in shape is not enough to be classed as a good personal trainer.

It’s one of the boxes they must tick, but there’s too many people out there for whom it’s the only box.

Just because somebody has been able to get themselves in shape doesn’t mean they’re able to coach others to do the same thing. I mean, I was a great goalkeeper when I was a kid, I had no idea how or why, and I certainly couldn’t have taught anybody else, but I was just pretty good at it.

You can avoid this situation by making sure your new trainer is fully qualified to do their job.

It might seem obvious, but most clients never ask for proof, they just presume. And many gyms don’t either.

As such, the door is wide open for scammers to fake it.

I’m looking at you, Instagram…

bad fitness advice on Instagram

The fitness industry is very poorly regulated, and there are stacks of unqualified trainers out there trying to coast by on good looks, or a six pack, or a big bum, or even a motivational quote.

(Combining more than one of these is the Insta equivalent of a PhD.)

If the knowledge of a PT goes as far as how to set up a phone for the best booty cam angle, I recommend taking your business elsewhere.

Of course, the fault in this situation never lies at the feet of the client. It is a trainer’s responsibility to be f**king qualified before they call themselves a trainer, and I believe that if a person doesn’t respect their own business enough to get the necessary qualifications they legally require, they’re not the type of person you should waste your time dealing with.


how to spot a bad personal trainer

4. They Touch You

“Don’t touch the client! Never!”

I still have these words ringing in my ears from Doug Hunter, former British Olympic Judo competitor who put me through my 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.

My clients reading this now will be racking their brains, realizing they’ve managed to get through so many grueling workouts without me having ever laid so much as a finger laid upon them… but now you know.

However, this isn’t always the case…

If your PT is “touchy feely”, I’d get outta there faster than a politician can delete their emails.

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While working at my very first gym, there was a guy teaching a lady how to perform a stiff leg deadlift, but she wasn’t understanding the technique.

Suddenly, he positioned himself directly behind her and placed 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 butt against his trousers.

Hello, class action lawsuit.

It’s a moment which became folklore, etching itself into the memory of those present in the gym at the time, as we each locked eyes in disbelief like the staredown in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

Unfortunately, many people get into personal training for the wrong reasons and one such reason is to be a f**king creep.

It’s a rule which divides opinion in the fitness industry, with some trainers insisting they need to touch a client in order to show what muscle should be working, but it’s a rule which is far too easily abused.

I believe a competent PT will be able to communicate more effectively, using better words and demonstrations, rather than simply copping a feel.


annoying people at the gym

5. They Train With You

It goes like this:

“Hey bro,

I had no time to workout today, so we’ll bang arms and I’m gonna jump in with you, okay?”

– Johnny Trainer

No, it’s f**king not OK!

Imagine buying a cheeseburger only for the cashier to take a bite and say, “I haven’t had time for lunch, OK bro?”

You have paid for your session, and how much of that session will be spent with you standing around waiting for your trainer to finish his or her set?

Any answer is too much.

This is something which has always ticked me off, because it’s really unprofessional. And it ties in with the next point…


how to tell a bad personal trainer from a good one

6. They’re Your Pal

Hey, I’m not saying you can’t be friends with your PT.

They’re likely nice people, and you’ll create a strong bond with someone who helps you to transform your physique.

I’m saying that your time in the gym shouldn’t resemble a nice little chit chat.

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

We can be friends after the session, but for that 60 minutes, 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 a good personal trainer from a bad one

7. They’re On Their Phone

I feel a sense of shame at how often this happens…

The last time I worked away, I visited a hotel gym and there was a young lady going through a session with a personal trainer who scrolled his phone during every set.

We made eye contact for one brief moment that felt like a lifetime, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing – unprofessional!

When you hire a PT for an hour of work, you should be the focus of that hour.

Website member Becky wrote in with a similar first-hand experience:

“My old PT would give me a circuit then start texting on his phone, and didn’t look up until I was finished.

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

– Becky, Australia.

8. Every Workout Is The Same

Before you start working with a trainer, you have a great chance to scope out their training methods.

There are many PT’s who put every single client through the exact same cookie cutter routine.

Sometimes it’s laziness.

In many cases, it’s their own routine (i.e. what they do themselves in the gym), because they aren’t qualified (see earlier points) and it’s all they know.

If you are always doing the same thing, you’ll likely get bored very quickly.

The most important factor in achieving great results is consistency, so this could be a biggie.


annoying things personal trainers do

9. You’re Their Therapist

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

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

So they might rage about their job, their d**khead boss, or the stack of ironing they’ve got waiting for them at home.

Heck, they might even get a bit emotional.

But if the tables are turned, it gets weird.

See what Stephanie had to say:

“My old PT 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.


do personal trainers sell steroids

10. They Try To Sell You Drugs

Are we meant to pretend this doesn’t happen?

Unfortunately, it does.

The amount of personal trainers pushing steroids and/or fat burners at their clients is off the charts!

Check out Rachel’s email for this post:

“I put off hiring this PT for such a long time, mulling over all of the before & after photos on Facebook, watching people train in the gym…

Almost immediately after I took the plunge, she recommended I take T3 fat burners (which contained ephedrine) to see fast results and to be featured on her page.”

– Rachel, UK.

Yes indeed, some PT’s make a side income selling fat burners, anabolic steroids, pro hormones, SARMS, and other not-so-great (not-so-legal) “supplements” to clients.

The constant badgering and promise of quick and easy results often wears people down, like that annoying parent in the schoolyard who starts selling Juice Plus and begins hassling anyone who’ll listen.

The difference here is that you’re not just putting bulls**t into your body, you’re using substances that can cause real health issues if you don’t know how to manage them.

In this situation, the trainer’s goal is to turn each client into multiple streams of income.

Becoming a “dealer” to clients is an easy way to take advantage of the trust a client puts in a PT but, as mentioned above, they often don’t educate the client on what they’re doing.

Nine times out of ten, it’s because they know they don’t have the knowledge to get you in shape without using shortcuts, so they’ll try to justify it by saying things like “Bro, if anything, you have to train even harder when you take steroids – otherwise it’ll turn to fat!” (not true)

And then comes the final blow, the confirmation that you were duped all along…

Your transformation appears on their social media page with no mention of the cocktail you’ve been instructed to take, crediting your results to their magical training system that anyone can do!

When a PT puts a before and after photo ahead of your welfare, they’re not worth your time or money.


is being a personal trainer hard

So there you have it!

Now, you’ll probably find that the “best” personal trainer at your gym does most of the good things (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 often late or cancelling workouts, cookie cutter training, touchy feely behaviour, etc).

This makes it easy to sort the good from the bad, no matter where you train.

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

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