Typically, I work out in my own home gym.
Sometimes, however, I venture out and grab a workout at this really great warehouse-type gym in town.
Either way, I love my gym options.
Yet because of where I train, and when, I sometimes forget what it’s like for exercisers who aren’t, well, me.
Recently, though, I was reminded of just how bad it can be out there. And that reminder came courtesy of a terrible personal trainer.
Trainers: Some good, some bad
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’ve met tons of great trainers over the years. In fact, many of them are actually PN readers and customers.
However, I’ve also met some that aren’t qualified to shovel the sidewalk in front of the gym, let alone charge $50-$100 an hour to “help” people get in shape.
And unfortunately, as in many areas of life, the bad seem to outnumber the good. And it’s the people who need help who ultimately pay the price.
So, in today’s update, I’d like to share with you my top 10 strategies for telling the difference between a great trainer and one that shouldn’t even be washing your gym towels.
Note: the bad nutritionists aren’t safe either. Most of these same differences apply to them too.
10 characteristics of bad trainers and nutritionists
#1: They Don’t Do Any Assessments
The best trainers perform thorough and complete assessments when working with a new client, before doing anything else.
On the training front, that means doing movement screening and even basic performance tests. And on the nutrition front, that means looking at the client’s current intake and assessing a host of lifestyle variables, including: schedule, primary complaints/discomforts, current level of social support, willingness to change, and more.
But is that how most trainers and nutritionists do things? Heck no.
Most trainers perform no assessments whatsoever! And if any are performed at all, they’re usually done in the “free consultation” that comes with your gym membership in order to embarrass a client into purchasing personal training.
That’s a huge mistake. Good assessments are the only way to gain real knowledge of a client and make the critical coaching decisions — without which you have about a snowball’s chance in hell at seeing real results.
If you’re not put through a thorough battery of assessments in your first session, RUN.
#2: They Can’t Demonstrate Previous Successes
Personal training and nutritional consultation isn’t cheap. In fact, meeting with a trainer 4x per week for 6 months can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars.
So, what are you getting for your 5-10 grand? Well, if a trainer or nutritionist can’t demonstrate his or her previous successes, you have no idea. None at all.
The best trainers and nutritionists keep detailed statistics of their clients. They track client adherence. They log how their clients’ bodies are changing and over what time period. They record performance and lifestyle changes. They keep photo albums with before and after photos.
And they can point to compelling testimonials from previous clients about their services. They can probably even introduce you to a few, so you can talk to them directly about the experience.
The worst trainers and nutritionists have nothing. No photos. No testimonials. No data. Nothing.
If your trainer can’t show you compelling evidence that they’ve helped people like you get the results you want, assume that it’s because they’ve never actually done it before.
#3: They Don’t Have Multiple Certifications
Most personal trainers in the world today have nothing more than a high school diploma and a personal training certificate they got at a weekend personal training seminar.
And most nutritionists have little to no training specific to exercise nutrition. (Registered dietitians do need to possess an undergraduate degree. But this degree specializes in clinical nutrition — i.e., what to serve hospital patients — NOT exercise nutrition. Big difference.)
So if you have exercise and performance related goals, are these the types of folks you want to throw your money away on? Not me.
If it were me, I’d look for someone with multiple certifications. Someone who has clearly made it a priority to seek life-long education. Someone who’s gone out and sought a diverse knowledge profile, learning about training methodologies, body composition, nutrition, supplementation, and more.
The best trainers go out and do this. They’re life-long learners. They spend 5-10 hours per week reading top-shelf training and nutrition information from the best in the field.
The worst trainers, they stick with their weekend certification. They waste their time reading muscle magazines, or People magazine. And they end up not even knowing how much they don’t know.
#4: They Aren’t Healthy or Fit
Just like realtors who’ve never owned a home and financial planners who are broke, out-of-shape trainers and nutritionists piss me off.
Now, let me clarify. You don’t have to look like a fitness model to be fit and healthy. So that’s not the standard here.
However, if a trainer doesn’t have more muscle, less fat, and a better health profile than the average person, why would I listen to any advice on building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthier from them?
It’s a no brainer. If a trainer or nutritionist isn’t healthy and fit — and doesn’t practice the behaviors necessary to remain that way — they can’t be my coach.
#5: They Don’t Know The Difference Between an Outcome and a Behavior
“I need to lose 10 lbs,” that’s an outcome goal. “I need to exercise 5 times per week,” that’s a behavior
goal. Trainers and nutritionists who don’t know the difference between the two should be fired immediately.
You see, focusing on outcomes, that’s the job of the trainer/nutritionist. Their program needs to be built in such a way that the outcome is an inevitable consequence.
However, focusing on behaviors, that’s the client’s job. Therefore any trainer worth a damn knows that to achieve success, their clients must be rewarded for successful behaviors, not for specific outcomes.
Followed this week’s habits 90% of the time and didn’t miss any workouts? That’s worthy of a reward — regardless of the outcome — because it’s this pattern of behavior that’ll eventually lead to success.
In addition, the best trainers have ways to monitor behaviors and track client adherence/accountability (such as the PN adherence chart, the software we use in the Lean Eating program, etc).
The worst trainers, on the other hand, they make progress seem like voodoo, separating the outcome (weight loss, etc.) from the behaviors necessary for the accomplishment of that outcome (X exercise sessions per week, eating X servings of vegetables per day, etc.).
Your trainer should give you simple behaviors to practice, track whether you’ve done so, and reward you when you have. That’s their job. So are they doing it? Or are they just asking you to step on the scale? (Or worse yet, neither?)
#6: They Don’t Have A 3-Month Plan From The Start
Before day 1, session 1, after all the assessments are complete, the best trainers and nutritionists will already have, in hand, at least a 3-month plan based on their client’s level, needs and goals.
When I walk around commercial gyms, it seems like a cruel joke (and the joke is on their clients) that most trainers are making up workouts as they go along.
There’s no plan. There’s no “big picture.” They’re making stuff up as they go. What a waste of everyone’s time and the client’s money. I mean, seriously, where else in life do we find noteworthy success coming as a result of no planning, no forethought, and such obvious lack of care?
If your trainer or nutritionist can’t show you their 3-month outline on day 1, session 1, after all the assessments are complete, get away. Fast.
#7: They Don’t Carry A Clipboard or Notebook
Clients want to achieve something measurable. So what happens when your trainer or nutritionist measures nothing at all?
The best trainers and nutritionists measure everything. They monitor and record performance variables like sets, reps, and rest intervals. They monitor nutrition habit and behavior compliance. They monitor workout attendance. They monitor body composition. They take pictures. Need I go on?
The point here is that you miss what you don’t measure and record. Also, without metrics, no one knows if progress is actually being made. So isn’t it time we got rid of all these trainers who don’t measure or record anything in favor of those trainers who do?
#8: They Don’t Know How To Help All Types of Clients
There are basically three types of coaches. First, there are the coaches who are simply terrible, who can’t get great results with any of their clients. Of course, there are plenty of these out there. But if you’ve got your head up, these are easy to spot.
Next, there are the coaches who are great, who can get great results with all of their clients no matter who they are or where they’re coming from. Of course, these are few and far between. And if you find one, you lucked out.
And finally, there are the in-between coaches, those who seem to get great results with some clients but can only help a small percentage of those that actually come to see them.
The goal of every trainer and nutritionist should be to learn the techniques and strategies necessary to help EVERY type of client that comes to see them. That’s the hallmark of the great ones.
#9: They Don’t Integrate Training and Nutrition
In order to change your body, there is something you need to know. And you will likely never learn it at a commercial gym.
Exercise, alone, doesn’t work.
Time and time again, the research has demonstrated that without a dietary intervention, even performing 5-6 hours of well-designed exercise programming each week leads to surprisingly little body composition change.
So you can bet that the best trainers offer an integrated nutrition solutions as part of their programing. They schedule private nutrition sessions. They assess your nutritional intake and compliance regularly. They show you around the grocery store. And more.
The worst trainers? They either leave you to figure it out on your own. Or they offer useless nutritional sound bytes in between workout sets.
#10: They Don’t Care
Let’s be honest here. If your trainer or nutritionist doesn’t do most of the activities I’ve listed above, regardless of whether or not they say they care, they simply don’t.
They don’t care about being good at their job. They don’t care about helping you achieve your goals. They just don’t care.
And that’s the worst part of this all, isn’t it? People are throwing thousands of dollars a month at people who just don’t give a shit. It’s a shame.
But it’s not necessary. Armed with a little knowledge, informed people can choose wisely if a trainer or nutritionist is in their future.
The Precision Nutrition Certification
This article comes down kinda hard on those trainers and nutritionists sleepwalking through their day jobs. And for good reason. If they don’t care, I want them out of my field — immediately.
However, for the trainers and nutritionists who follow Precision Nutrition, the ones who DO care, the ones willing to go above and beyond to be excellent and truly help people, I’m going to do everything in my power to change things.
We’re going to raise the bar in the fitness industry. For good.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
You can help people build sustainable nutrition and lifestyle habits that will significantly improve their physical and mental health—while you make a great living doing what you love. We'll show you how.
If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.