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Top 8 Signs of a Bad Personal Trainer

Whether you are looking for an on-site personal trainer or a trainer you follow in videos online or on FitFlix, you should be a smart, well-informed consumer when looking for a professional who can potentially impact your health.

Having been in the health and fitness industry for decades, we have encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of personal trainers and have found that - as in any industry - not all trainers are the same.

In fact, some are responsible for spreading and sharing information that’s at best misguided or at worst - just plain dangerous.

It's very easy to get a cheap personal training certification and get a job at a gym thanks to online certifications, but it's even easier for anyone with a smartphone or video camera to post videos on YouTube or another social media platform and call themselves an expert without any education on the subject or even the worst certifications. It would be easy to unknowingly trust a trainer who is ineffective at best or dangerous at worst.

To help you navigate through your options, we’ve compiled a list of eight personal trainer red flags to help you stay away from them.

These are by no means the only things that make a bad trainer, but they are, in our opinion, some of the most glaring; hopefully this list will help you find one of the many great trainers out there to support you and help you get healthier and fitter.

Top 8 Signs of a Bad Personal Trainer

1. Body Shaming to Motivate

There are many ways to motivate a client to work out, but the most mentally damaging type of motivation is to shame someone into action. Body shaming specifically promotes all kinds of disordered thinking, guilt, and inadequacy. When a trainer uses this type of motivational tactic, they do not have your best long-term health in mind. If a trainer belittles your physical appearance in order to get you to work out or stick to a certain diet, drop them and find a trainer who motivates you by getting you to think more positively and constructively about yourself, your body, and your physical abilities.

2. Only Promoting One Training Style

There are hundreds of training styles, from Olympic Weightlifting, Plyometrics, Agility, Mass Building, and Toning to Cardiovascular, HIIT, Yoga, Pilates, and Flexibility (just to name a few). All of these styles have pros and cons, but there’s no shortage of trainers who will argue to the death that their preferred training style is better than all the others. It's a narrow-minded and short-sighted trainer who thinks everyone should train the same way or with only one training style. For overall health, you need to train in different ways to challenge the different physical abilities of the human body, for strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, balance, agility, etc etc. Depending on your personal goals, you may want to focus a little more on one training style than another, but never just one. Any trainer that doesn't look at the whole picture is not one you want to train with.

3. Improperly Developed Workouts

This is a little harder to explain, but very important when it comes to evaluating a trainer's effectiveness. Not all programs are created equal and many trainers don't check their programs for balance. It's not about standing on one foot, but rather balancing the body from front to back, left to right, and top to bottom. For example, we were watching a workout video the other day of a well-known and well-funded trainer and watched them do a circle squat where one foot stayed put and the other took a step forward to complete a circle. They did a few sets and the whole time We were waiting for them to change direction and go backwards, but they never did and to make matters worse they didn't even change legs. Another good example would be a workout video of a well-known YouTube trainer who starts his warm-up exercises with deep squats, which is way too rough a range of motion for cold muscles and joints and just provokes an injury or strain, simply because of the poor programming. These may be small things to fault, but using a trainer who doesn't think about balancing the muscles of the body can easily lead to muscle imbalances that can cause chronic problems or increase the likelihood of injury.

4. Promoting weight loss before muscle building

Trainers who focus only on weight loss and not muscle/strength building are doing their clients a great disservice. Those who focus solely on burning calories through cardio, toning (light strength training), or core exercises as their only form of exercise are working with a limit on how much they can burn and usually need to severely restrict caloric intake to see progress. On the other hand if you start with strength training to build a good base of muscle you can increase your resting metabolism as well as max calorie burn for any given exercise therefore burning more calories with the same relative level of effort. Your body’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the rate at which your body burns calories just keeping itself alive, is set not only by your body’s natural functions but also by the amount of muscle tissue you have. So, if you add more muscle tissue you add more calorie burn potential both during exercise and daily life activities.

This increased BMR due to more muscle mass makes it easier to not only drop fat weight but to also keep it off in the long run. The best thing is that it does not take much muscle mass to make a huge difference in the number of calories you need in a day. So, especially for any ladies out there who are worried about getting too bulky or masculine from weight lifting remember that a little goes a long way. If you are trying to lose weight and your trainer only does light weight training, cardio or core exercises it does not necessarily make them a bad trainer, just one that will be less effective for helping you lose fat and keep it off.

5. Focusing on Intensity Over Form

This issue is especially prevalent with the bodybuilder culture as well as some of the boot camp style trainers out there. Many of them will choose to focus on how much you lift or how hard you push yourself over all else. We have nothing against pushing yourself or wanting to lift heavy but what we can not agree with is letting form and proper technique slide just to lift a bit more weight or push for a few more reps or seconds. Proper form is by far the most important aspect to focus on during any type of training. If form is not maintained then the returns from that exercise or movement start to diminish quickly. One thing We see a lot especially with weight lifters/body builders is a limitation of range of motion so they only target the strongest portion of their range rather than moving to a lighter weight and moving through their entire range of motion for maximum muscle development. Not only can this create or intensify weak spots but it can also change posture and joint tracking which can cause long term issues with chronic pain, discomfort, and overall joint stability. If a trainer knows what they are doing they will always know when to lower intensity to favor better function and long term results. So, if you have a trainer that tries to push you past your comfort zone or does not teach proper form look for someone else.

6. Trainers that don’t Educate or Empower Clients

There are some professionals, found in any industry, who feel that you should give just enough information to keep a client coming back so they can fill up their schedules and make more money. We believe that, ethically speaking, this is a huge flaw if you’re actually trying to help someone. With our videos now and back when we were still doing one on one training and group fitness classes, we would aim to teach clients everything they need to know to be a more active participant in their own health and fitness. We want each person to know why they are doing each exercise and why they are doing them in that specific order. It was my goal as a trainer to teach a client to the point that they did not need me anymore, which sounds stupid if you are trying to make money but if you have a trainer that really wants to change people’s lives and help long term then they won’t get caught up in the money. However, if you teach a person well, they will not only be empowered, they will also trust you and know that you have their best interest in mind, which may make them more likely to use your services anyways.

7. Believing In or Promoting Spot Reduction

There are two parts to this, number one is simply a trainer who believes spot reduction is possible and tries to sell you that. Firstly, spot reduction is in fact not possible, and a trainer who tries to tell you otherwise is one you should avoid. The second part of this is a trainer who intentionally or unknowingly spreads any false information (e.g. women shouldn't lift weights, low intensity exercise burns more fat, if you exercise you need more protein supplements, abdominal exercises burn belly fat, or cardio is the best way to lose weight). It boils down to the fact that they are either intentionally lying and saying whatever they need to in order to make a quick buck, or they are not educated enough in their field to be a safe or effective trainer. Either way, if you hear a trainer say something, remember to fact-check, especially if it sounds too good to be true.

8. Promising Quick Results

Many people start out in an exercise routine with the hope that it will be easy to reach their goals as long as they put in the effort for a while. We know it can be discouraging for some to hear that they can't lose 10 pounds in a week without serious health consequences, and that they need to realise that exercise and health are things that need to be a permanent part of their lives. In fact, I've lost a number of potential clients because I've told them that reaching their goals will take longer than they want. A good coach will make the tough decision to address false hopes and help people set new, achievable goals. A bad coach, on the other hand, will keep their mouth shut just to get a paycheck or worse, will raise false hopes just to close the deal. Improving physical skills takes time, weight loss takes time, gaining flexibility or balance takes time and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise will never have your best interests in mind.

We hope our list helps you avoid the bad ones. After all, there's more at stake here than just your waistline. Finding the right, well-trained personal trainer can make the difference between you becoming a happier, stronger, fitter and smarter individual or a person who hates exercise and feels like they will never succeed. There are many good trainers out there, and finding one that works for you can have a huge positive impact on your progress towards your goals and your overall attitude towards health and fitness.

Remember, this is just my opinion and if you think something else should be on this list, please post it in the comment section below because we love to hear it. Also, if you disagree with any of our red flags, let us know which one and why.

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