WebMD BlogsFood and Fitness

5 Signs of a Bad Personal Trainer

woman with trainer
Gina Harney - Blogs
By Gina HarneyCertified personal trainerJune 21, 2019
From the WebMD Archives

When I first started working with a personal trainer, I had no idea what to expect. As a naïve college student, I got suckered into a contract through a big box gym (it was a pickle to get out of, let me tell ya) and got assigned to a trainer with very little experience. They had only a high school degree and no fitness-related certifications. They did teach me about muscle groups and how to strength train in the first couple of weeks, but it went south very quickly from there. For example, they told me to get a bagel with cream cheese after each training session, but also said I should only eat 1000 calories per day (never ever do this). 

Now that I’ve been in the fitness industry and have been certified as a personal trainer for 10 years, I thought I’d share some red flags I wish I would have known as a client. There are so many incredible trainers out there, but unfortunately, there are some jokers in the mix.

Here are some red flags to look out for when you’re working with a personal trainer:

They don’t do any type of movement assessment before training you. A good trainer should determine your strengths, weaknesses, and body composition, and they should use this information to develop your training plan. You should also complete a physical readiness questionnaire (called a Par-Q, which determines your readiness for exercises), a health history form, and a form that indicates your exercise experience and goals. The first meeting should be lots of paperwork and movement assessments – and very little actual training. Movement assessments usually include activities like a 3-minute walk or jog, both an upper and lower body strength and agility test, overhead squat assessment, and a push and pull assessment. 

They don’t help you with proper form. As a gym-goer, it’s surprising for me to see trainers not actively watching their clients during the session. Your trainer should be correcting you along the way to make sure you’re executing the moves safely and with proper form. If they’re daydreaming, or looking at someone else, that’s a red flag. 

They tell you what and how much to eat. This is a huge NO. It’s outside the scope of trainers’ expertise to tell clients what and how much to eat. Sharing healthy meal ideas is fine, but we cannot give specific eating plans. If your trainer writes you a meal plan without any background training (like an RD or reputable nutrition certification), "bye, Felicia." This also holds true for supplements and medical advice. The only person who should consult you on the types of supplements to use or give any kind of diagnostic or treatment advice is a medical professional. A good trainer will always refer you to a medical professional if you need specialized care.

They spend the whole time talking about themselves. Yes, friendly banter is important (and makes sessions more fun), but the focus should be on YOU: your goals, your family, your jobs. But only if you want to talk about it! If you want to be silent while your trainer counts reps and corrects form for you, totally cool. 

They don’t create a plan for you, and seem to “wing it” each time. Your trainer should be tailoring each training session to fit into a larger plan aimed toward your overall goal. They should have a file for you where they're tracking weight progressions (how much you’re squatting, etc.) so they know how to build up. They should also phase your training (an endurance phase, a max strength phase, and a hypertrophy phase) so you don’t hit a plateau. 

If you notice these red flags, it’s probably time for a new trainer. Make sure to look for certifications like NASM, ACE, ACSM, and NCSA.

WebMD Blog
© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Gina Harney

Gina Harney is the blogger behind the healthy lifestyle brand, The Fitnessista, which reaches millions of viewers all over the world. She’s been featured on Greatist, Forbes, Buzzfeed, Shape, Fitness Magazine, and Well + Good. She’s the author of “HIIT It!” and the voice behind the Healthy In Real Life podcast. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

More from the Food and Fitness Blog

  • weight scale illustration

    How to Handle Pandemic Weight Gain

    At the doctor’s office recently, the nurse weighed me and said, “That’s five pounds heavier than last time you were here.” I was taken aback--not by the news, but that she’d actually made the comment ...

  • hot tea

    7 Facts About Tea That May Surprise You

    Judging from our local coffee shop’s drive-thru line, coffee dominates the morning caffeine scramble for a lot of people. But tea actually outshines coffee worldwide ...

View all posts on Food and Fitness

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More