Best of the Past: Things Your Personal Trainer Won't Tell You

Is your trainer really telling you everything you need to know?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2008. Part of our “Best of the past” series time to time will include reviewing and updating some of our top old posts for everyone to re-read (or read for the first time in many cases). Enjoy!

Having been a trainer myself for years and years I can tell you that I have met some great smart trainers, and some I’m not even sure how they got certified. Most people seem to trust their trainers 100% when it comes to advice on how to get into shape, yet isn’t the information only as good as the source it comes from?

Some trainers may have a Masters in exercise physiology and others may have no formal background in fitness. While a degree is one thing, the ability to get results is another.

Trainers are also in the business of training, so there is incentive to keeping people around month after month. So here are some things that you may not be getting from your trainer….but I believe you need to know.

  • 85%+ of Your Results Comes from What you Eat – I can’t stress how HUGE this is. Whether weight loss or gaining muscle, diet and what you eat is the biggest part of the equation. I don’t care how advanced and special your workouts are, if your nutrition stinks then you will most likely get little results. This is not discounting the importance of working out either, as that is key too to help stimulate muscle growth and keep your metabolism strong in the process. But a simple workout with enough resistance/volume  3x/wk and dialed in nutrition will give phenomenal results. Too many just workout to use that as an excuse not to do the hard stuff, as in eat right the rest of the time.
  • Your Core is Not the Big Problem – It drives me crazy to see trainers in the gym doing all these balancing exercises on wobble boards, bosu balls and other ridiculous pieces of equipment. While you can use them as some secondary piece of equipment to work on something specific, to make it the focus of the workout is useless. Using resistance with weights/cables/bands or doing full compound bodyweight movements is where 99% of people need to stay and focus with. I’ve trained people safely and effectively from all walks of life and ages this way. It is a shame that many trainers are getting suckered into all this additional nonsense because the equipment industry is promoting it as ongoing education (because they want to sell more silly balance things). If you want a strong core, lift something over your head and hold it up there….but looking around the gym it seems people have too big a core anyways and just need to go focus on mastering full body movements and diet.
  • Abs are Made in the Kitchen – Again another thing that drives me nuts, seeing trainers doing just an “ab” workout for 30min. Really? Unless you are already ripped and want to improve the definition on your abs, you again don’t need this as a focus of your workout. Do some exercises at the end and that will be enough stimulation, but without proper focus on diet/nutrition you will never see those abs in the first place. We all have a six pack, we just have to get rid of the fat covering it up.
  • Don’t Use 90% of the Equipment in the Gym - If a trainer is taking you from machine to machine and spending no time on free weight or compound movements, go find another trainer. The machines are there to entertain the people who don’t know how to exercise without the guidance of a trainer. Machines are a fixed path working on one muscle at a time, not the most ideal way to have a time efficient workout…not too mention how your body does not work in isolation in real life! If you are paying someone to teach you something, it better be with something other than machines IMO.
  • If You are Not Getting Results in 30 Days, Hire Another Trainer – Remember that you are paying for RESULTS. Consider a trainer as part of your company named You Inc. If your employee isn’t doing their job, why do you keep them around? Fire your trainer and go find another one if need be. Heck find a new trainer every month and see what each has to offer. All in all you don’t need a trainer month after month (unless you really need that motivation and have that kind of money to spend freely). You can check back in with them to see what kind of progress you are making and to change things up as needed, but you really don’t need them month after month to just count reps do you? I’ve seen some trainers that make a living on the same long term clients while not getting them any results….those are not the trainers you want to stick with. Also I would say to not sign-up/pay up front (like pay for a year in advance) for any long term contracts, go month to month and base your decision to renew on whether or not you are getting results. I’ve seen too many people lose money when studios/gym shut down or trainers just end up leaving.
  • You Don’t Need a 1-Hour Training Sessions – If your trainer can’t challenge your muscles or push you enough in 30 min, you may just be paying for their company instead of expertise. While there are some types of workouts involving heavier weights and longer rest periods some may opt to do, for the average personal training client this is not the case. You can warm-up on your own, you can do your post workout cardio on the treadmill on your own…don’t be paying someone to just sit there and talk to you.
  • In Many Cases it takes a Spare Weekend and $400+ to Become a “Professional” Trainer - Heck nowadays with the internet it’s probably more like $200 and a day on a computer. Not saying that there are not good trainers who get certified out there, but you should know this fact. Don’t let the certification fool you into thinking they are all experts out there.
  • Big Clubs have Big Turnover and Pay their trainers very little - So while you may go to a big chain health club, you may also be getting a trainer that is happy making $15/hr. Just remember that most all of the top trainers I know of are independent, own their own studios or work out of small gyms paying their own rent…not working in the big brand name gyms. I won’t even go into all the horror stories of people also paying up front for a year, only to have their trainers keep quitting over and over again…and them losing out on money (this goes hand in hand with the recommendation on not paying up front for long term contracts)!
  • Nowadays it seems Trainers are being Educated more on how to Sell you – Like any good business, a gym wants to make money. So they train their salesmen (in the form of trainers) to get you to buy big 6-12mo contracts up front….and then they (the gym) couldn’t care less if you show up for them. Also there are plenty of fitness marketers out there telling trainers how to sell, how to trick you and how to make a ton of money. Now there is nothing wrong with running a business, making money and providing a valuable product. Just don’t get pressured/suckered into anything long term…..as you are paying for results, so make sure your trainer knows what they are doing before you decide on staying with them for any length of time. Any good trainer will probably even tell you that is the best course of action. Don’t fall for some sales line of “well paying for 6 months up front will keep you motivated”….as that is BS….getting results month after month is the best motivation and good trainers know that.

and now (drum roll please) to finish off, I give you the top 10 warning signs on when you need to fire your personal trainer (and find a new one).

  1. Your routines change up so much you never allow for any progression of weight for exercises (or can’t remember what weights you use for any exercises)
  2. Your trainer likes to use alot of “toys” that he/she bought as the latest and greatest piece of equipment….and there is a new toy every month (shows where they are getting their education from….catalogs!)
  3. Your trainer starts you off with any abdominal exercises before using free weights (nothing like weakening your prime spinal stabilizers before going into compound movements, can you say injury?)
  4. You trainer answers their cell phone during your session
  5. Your trainer reads fitness magazines as their education (fitness magazines are marketed for people who don’t know how to get real results, if your trainer is one of them….then run away)
  6. Your trainer does not give you any direction or resources on how you should be eating (where most all the results come from remember?)
  7. Your trainer keeps you on isolation machines (if there is not any focus on compound full body movements, you are not getting the education you need about good exercise)
  8. You spend more time talking to him/her than working out (if you have enough time to talk for minutes in between sets and are not going for a max lift, you aren’t working out hard enough…or just killing time to make him/her justify charging you for an hour)
  9. You can’t get a good workout done in 30min (too much chatting going on? Or is your trainer just killing time with useless stuff to bill your more?)
  10. and lastly….my personal recent favorite sign….your trainer has a bio in the gym saying he has 15 years of “weight training” experience….and he is 25. (seriously true story…..I about fell over when I saw that one personally….wow….or as I said in response “Well I have played with a calculator since I was 5 but you don’t see me saying I’ve been an accountant for 30+ years”)

So to leave on a positive note, just remember this:

  • Find a trainer that will explain what you are doing and why, so some day you can do this on your own
  • Find a trainer that makes your workout realistic for your lifestyle, such as 3x/week for 30-40min…not 5x/wk for 1 hour (which not many will keep up)
  • Get out there and learn about how to eat, as that is where most all your results come from!

photo credit by damonabnormal

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