So you’ve decided you want to hire a trainer, or maybe you already have one. Congratulations you’re ready to make an extremely positive change in your life. Be careful though, unfortunately there are more bad trainers populating today’s fitness facilities than there are good. It’s extremely easy to become a trainer and many people think it’s an easy way to make money. What they don’t seem to realize is that their clients are investing their faith and hard earned money into them. Many of these trainers are leaving clients worse off than when they found them.
If you are looking for a trainer use this post as a guide, if your trainer is ticking most of these boxes, go ahead and hire them. If they are not, look elsewhere. Shop around until you’ve found what feels right. If you currently have a trainer and they are not meeting this criteria, fire them, and find someone who will. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings, this is your money and your body. If you're a trainer and you are reading this, use this as a reality check. Are you giving your clients the best service you possibly can?
I'd also like to say that I am guilty of every single one of these mistakes. I’m not perfect, but being aware of that is what’s gotten me to the point where I feel I can write this post. I’m always looking to improve my service and these are just some of the mistakes that I see time and time again and have been able to rectify in my own practices.
Let’s start where every good trainer should. Assessments. In your initial consult with your trainer, if they do not complete any assessments with you, do not hire them. Simple as that. Every single human being is different. Our bodies, lifestyle, and goals are all completely individual. As such, so are our needs. A good trainer should be completing lifestyle, mobility and movement assessments in order to gauge what level you are starting at. How trainers do that is up to them but when I do it I’m looking for specific things. Let’s delve into that a little bit to give you an insight into what a good assessment looks like.
Firstly I’m going to talk to you and I’m going to listen. The listening is key. If your trainer is just talking your ear off about all kinds of technical information that you don’t care about, they are either insecure or a show off asshole. You should be the one talking, this is about you after all. The goal of the interview is to find out as much about you as I possibly can. What does your typical day look, what are your hobbies, what drives you. All of these things give me a better picture into your life and dramatically effect our plan moving forward.
Next up I’m testing your mobility. If I’ve done my interviewing right I typically know exactly what I’m about to see. Work in an office all day? I’m ready to see poor shoulder and hip mobility. Having said that, time and time again the human body proves me wrong which is what makes these assessments all the more important. Why does mobility even matter? If you have poor mobility you will have a hard time creating the proper movement patterns in order to perform exercises like a Back Squat properly. These issues need to be addressed before we can move forward safely and effectively.
After this I’m looking at your movements. I take a look at your Squat, Deadlift, Chest Press, Overhead press and a Row. These exercises/movement patterns provide a base for all other movements. Now I’m not looking for this to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination. What I’m looking for is to see your ability to process information and translate that into movement. If I tell you to roll your shoulders back and down (setting the scapula), can you do it? This is not a pass or fail situation, what it does is it gives me an insight into what kind of learner you are and how quickly we can move into more advanced programming or if we need to take more time in the foundational phases.
After all this I can compile all the information I have. I know what your lifestyle looks like, your work, activity levels, injuries, mobility issues, diet, sleep, caffeine intake, movements patterns, the list goes on. We are then able to come up with an individual plan specific to your needs. If your trainer doesn’t follow these steps you can expect the same thing all their other clients get; generic programming and limited results.
#2 Over Promising
Now this is rookie mistake number 1 as a trainer. A client comes to you and says they want to lose 20lbs in 2 months. “Yeah of course we can do that!” (cringe) Theres only 2 outcomes here. Outcome #1 the client doesn’t achieve their goals, becomes disenchanted with fitness, drops off the map and never comes back. Outcome #2 the client achieves their goals but was only able to do so by creating unhealthy habits through unsustainable training methods. Fast forward 1 month, the client has rebounded, has a damaged metabolism, drops off the map and never comes back. The goal of every trainer should be to get their client to their goals in a sustainable manner or at the very least explain the two different routes. If I explain to you that 20lbs in 2 months is not sustainable and you’d be far better off learning how to eat properly, train through phases, and build lifelong habits and you still want to do it 2 months, fine. Your funeral. This kind of goal and trainers that encourage it represents everything that is wrong with the fitness industry. We live in a “I want results now” society. Hate to break it to you but that’s not how fitness works. This is a process which takes time. Stop looking for shortcuts. If your trainer attempts to talk you down and explain this process, hire them! They are being realistic with goal setting which is a great sign.
Not all exercises are created equal. This is a fact. Compound barbell movements have been shown to be far superior in terms of building muscle to machines, isolation exercises etc. Every single person should be working towards performing Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead Press and Row with a FULL range of motion. And I mean every one. “But my trainer said I shouldn’t squat because they make my knees hurt”. Fire them. If a movement causes you pain don’t just throw it away, address the route of the issue. This could be for any number of reasons, poor movement patterns, tight muscles, poor mobility, heck it could even be your diet! Throwing away one of the most beneficial exercises out there is a ludicrous idea. If your trainer seems to be avoiding compound lifts and has you using predominantly machines or isolation exercises that tells me a few things. Either they aren’t educated and haven’t pursued continuing education. If this is the case, fire them. A good trainer continuously looks to learn and educate themselves in this ever evolving industry. Perhaps they are scared? Barbell movements certainly are more risky than using machines but they are FAR more effective, if your trainer isn’t confident enough to teach you these movements, time to move on.
Another tell tale sign you should fire your trainer is if they stick to one training tool. I’m looking at you kettlebell obsessed lifters out there. Kettlebells are a tool, barbells are a tool, machines are a tool. Imagine you are a sculptor. In your toolbox you have a variety of different tools. You have hammers (compound movements) these are going to provide the base for your statue, they will allow you to get most of the work done in the shortest amount of time, then you have small tools (isolation exercises) these help you to fine tune your work of art. The point is to only use one tool makes no sense. The benefit you get from deadlifting 60lb kettlebells, simply cannot compete with a barbell deadlift. If for some unknown reason you only want to learn about kettlebells then fill your boots, but if you just want to look good, feel better and make the most out of your time in the gym then this trainer is not for you.
Your programming should have a plan to it. By this I mean you need to be phasing your training. I won’t jump into all the science behind this as that’s a post for another time but all evidence points towards changing your training consistently in order to see continued results.
“So different workouts everyday will get me results, right?”
For a period, yes. But after time your body will actually adapt to this constantly varied stimulus, result: okay at lots of things, excellent at nothing. To really see results training phases should last 3-4 weeks and you should work through, strength, hypertrophy and endurance training. All of these focus on different aspects of muscular development but ultimately work hand in hand. Ask your trainer what their plan is, do they even have one?
#4 Too much too soon
This screams insecure trainer. In fact I saw an example of this in my own gym not long ago. The trainer has their client Back Squatting, 315lbs loaded up on the bar, which is what caught my attention. The clients proceeds to get under the bar and lift it off the rack, immediately the client begins to shake uncontrollably under so much load, the clients shakes for maybe 10 seconds before re-racking the bar. In my head I’m thinking, okay so the trainer misjudged the weight, it happens, she’ll take some weight off and they can try again. NOPE, she simply has him reset and proceed to 1/4 rep the saddest looking squats I’ve ever seen. There is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to start. For the uneducated if you pick a weight up and you are shaking uncontrollably its probably too heavy. Now often new lifters will find they shake a a lot, this is just your CNS trying to adapt and figure out what muscles need to fire. This can happen with as little as a 10lb dumbbell press. This instance is different, the client had a good amount of muscle mass and clearly wasn’t a beginner. So what’s happening here? This is the trainers way of pretending her client is making progress. The reality is this client would benefit far greater by dropping the weight by 100lbs and squatting with a full range of motion. We constantly hear the saying to leave your ego at the gym door, well trainers, this applies to you as well.
#5 Diet Plans
Firstly, the idea of diet plans needs to die. If your trainer simply hands you a generic diet plan, or gives you an arbitrary number of how many calories you should eat. FIRE THEM. Diets are individual , the reason for this is it’s impossible to know what someones baseline metabolic rate is. We all have different genetic make ups,lifestyles, body compositions, sleeping habits etc. All of this effects our metabolism.
A good trainer will ask you to track your eating habits for at least a week maybe two without changing a thing. In this time they will also track your weight. They are doing this to find your baseline. From here they should gradually make small changes to your diet and create sustainable eating habits. Remember the part where I said its a process, this is most of it. A generic meal plan may work for you for a while, but chances are eventually you will plateau, now depending on how extreme the plan was there’s a good to fair chance you’ve slowed down your metabolism, making it very hard to continue to progress. It’s called Personal Training for a reason, it should be personal!!
If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me. Know someone that needs to read this? Make sure you share this with them!