The 7 Deadly Sins of Personal Training

Here’s a list of the worst practices of bad personal trainers, according to T Nation readers.

There are a lot of great personal trainers out there. They’re educated, have years of in-the-trenches experience, and put everything they have into getting their clients the best results possible.

Good personal training can be art form: a blend of exercise expertise, programming knowledge, business sense, and even psychology. (Good trainers are often amateur therapists.) It’s a tough job with long hours.

Sadly, it’s also field that many people jump into willy-nilly. Maybe it’s a summer job or a part-time gig, or maybe they’re just doing it for all the wrong reasons. We asked our Instagram fans about this recently with this post:

About 700 people weighed in. We scoured their responses to come up with a “worst of the worst” list. If you ever want to hire a trainer or become one, here’s what to avoid:

The 7 Deadly Sins

1. Using Cookie Cutter Programs

Spend enough time in the gym and you’re bound to notice a pattern with some trainers: every one of their clients gets the same program. Same warm-ups, same exercises, same sets and reps.

Thirty-year old woman who just had a baby? Seventy-year-old lady just trying to stay healthy? Twenty-year-old guy who wants to look like The Rock? Fat guy wanting to lose weight? Same damn “program.”

Sure, there are commonalties with all good workout plans. But chances are if every client above has upright rows and shrugs in their program – even the elderly lady who probably isn’t focused on having titanic traps – then the trainer is phoning it in. Or worse, he’s just having every client perform his program… because that’s all he really knows.

Of course it could be worse. A few T Nation fans have noticed trainers who ask their clients, “So, what do YOU want to do today?” These trainers have no clipboard, no plan, and no clue.

2. Ignoring Clients

Several T Nation Instagram followers noticed this pattern: talking on the phone or texting, farting around on social media, not watching their clients’ form, making small talk with others in the gym instead of focusing on the client, or just being otherwise disengaged from the session.

Disengagement can take many forms too. How about the trainer who asks his clients about their weekend plans while the clients are in the middle of a set? Or the “filling the hour” trainers who stand beside of their clients as they walk on the treadmill just to eat up time in the session? That’s disengagement too.

A trainer does need to be personable and likeable. It’s part of client retention. But a good one knows when to flip the switch from friend mode to hired-gun mode.

3. Banging Clients

Yeah, don’t sleep with your clients, especially the married ones. Sure, sometimes love blossoms between a trainer and a client, but that’s not what’s happening with these bad trainers.

Most are pretty open about becoming trainers to meet women. They get their clients’ phone numbers, they check in often because they “care” and within four weeks they’re trying to find the best angle for a midnight dick pic.

4. Being Out of Shape

It’s a tricky issue, but T Nation fans pretty much all agreed that trainers should “walk the walk.” Most personal training clients want to lose fat, so shouldn’t their hired expert be, um, not fat?

Of course it’s not necessary for a trainer to look like a top physique competitor, but it’s fair to say they should at least look like they’ve bumped into a dumbbell a few times. And really, it’s about marketing. Personality can get you far in the PT world, but being your own billboard would certainly help.

5. Using Ineffective or Faddish Methods

Trainers are in a tough predicament sometimes. To attract and retain clients, their training has to seem innovative. Not every client is happy being walked from machine to machine for 3 sets of 10. They can do that themselves.

Problem is, the best way for most clients to reach their stated goal is by using the basics… which are often boring. So bad trainers become entertainers – focusing more on making every workout “fun” instead of effective. There’s usually lots of bouncy balls and hopping around involved.

Too much of that stuff leads to poor results, but not enough fun leads to clients getting bored and dropping your services. Good trainers know how to gauge their clients’ personalities and sprinkle a little “fun” into the proven basics.

6. Not Offering Diet Advice… or Offering Diet Advice

T Nation fans were split on this issue. Many couldn’t understand how a personal trainer could get results without offering his clients some sort of nutritional guidance. The workouts alone aren’t going to help clients make dramatic transformations, and working with clients who are getting visible results is part of self-marketing.

But other T Nation readers took the “stay in your lane” approach. Trainers should train, not pretend to be diet experts. But all agreed that if a trainer spends most of his time pushing multi-level marketing supplements, that’s a red flag.

7. Not Educating Themselves or Their Clients

Some trainers basically stop learning as soon as they finish their online certification classes. They aren’t really “into” training science; they just want to count reps and cash checks. Their level of training knowledge peaked when they were 20 years old. But the best trainers are often geeks about this stuff, always learning and improving.

Some T Nation fans criticized trainers who didn’t try to educate their clients. These PTs never provide any “why” to their sessions.

Of course, some clients don’t care. They mainly hired a trainer to keep them accountable – they paid for the appointment. And they also hired a trainer so they wouldn’t have to think about this stuff. It’s like how most people just want their taxes filed accurately, but they don’t care to learn about complex tax code from their H&R Block guy.

Bonus Bad Stuff

  • Don’t be late.
  • Don’t overbook.
  • Don’t cancel without a day’s notice.
  • Don’t smell bad.
  • Don’t eat your lunch during the client’s session.