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5 red flags to watch for in personal trainers

A personal trainer training a client and then smoking five minutes later

Picture this: You're pumped for your first workout with your new personal trainer. You walk into the gym and there they are, towering over you like a fitness god, exuding confidence and experience. Your trainer insists on a particular exercise routine they claimed worked wonders for others and you trust their recommendation, they're the professional, right?

But as you progress throughout the routine, you realise your body isn't responding well, it's like your muscles are refusing to cooperate. You decide to speak up and share your concerns, so you turn to your trainer, but s/he is more interested in their phone than your form. You start to question whether your choice of trainer was the right one.

Time and time again, I've seen some variation of this story play out in gyms while watching personal trainers and their clients. Every time, it breaks my heart to see people who are taking charge of their fitness being misinformed or misled by trainers. But guess what? You don't have to be so deferential!

Regardless of whether you're at the start of your fitness journey or not, it's never too late to ask your trainer important questions. Here are 5 questions you should ask yourself and 5 red flags you should watch for in trainers to ensure you're getting the most out of your personal training experience.

1. Is my trainer client-centred?

Many personal trainers will have expertise in specific areas, such as powerlifting or sprinting, but it does not guarantee that those methods are suitable for you.

A client-centred approach to program design involves asking open-ended questions and reflective listening. If your trainer is talking at you more than s/he's listening to you, that's a red flag. A good trainer will listen, affirm, and understand your goals and design a tailored program accordingly.

Your journey is unique, so actively communicate your goals and expectations to your trainer.

2. Is my trainer providing advice outside their scope of practice?

Certifications are an essential aspect of a trainer's qualification. Different certifications equip trainers with specific knowledge that allows them to guide you within a specific scope of practice. Your trainer must respect his/her limits.

If your trainer is offering additional services, such as meal planning or physiotherapy, but lacks the proper certification, that's a red flag—they could put you at risk. You should be cautious of such offerings.

There's nothing wrong with asking for proof of certification for the services provided by your trainer. If they lack the appropriate certifications, consult those that do have them, such as registered dieticians or qualified physiotherapists.

3. Am I getting value for my money?

Personal training can be a costly investment, and while your trainer should spend time building rapport and a positive relationship, the focus should be on helping you achieve your fitness goals.

If you find yourself spending more time chatting than working out during your sessions, that's a red flag. Perhaps it's time to reassess the training arrangement to ensure that you get more "bang for your buck".

It's awesome to have a great relationship with your trainer, but let's not forget the primary goal—making progress!

4. Do I perceive my trainer as a role model?

We all need some inspiration and motivation, right? Your trainer should be a role model, embodying the healthy lifestyle they encourage you to adopt. No, I'm not saying they have to be perfect, but if your trainer's actions and behaviours contradict your fitness goals, that's a red flag.

During the initial meetings with a trainer, you should feel comfortable inquiring about your trainer's personal practices and lifestyle choices. Finding someone who aligns with your aspirations will keep you motivated and on track.

Healthy lifestyle behaviours: Healthy eating, Physical activity, Weight management, No smoking, Limit alcohol, and Stress management

5. Am I sure my trainer knows what s/he's doing?

In the era of social media and AI, there is a near-limitless supply of workouts and AI-generated exercise programs that you (or your trainer) can access with the click of a button. The challenge is to distinguish which of these workouts is from reputable sources and will help you make progress.

A knowledgeable trainer should go beyond popular trends and possess a solid understanding of exercise science, biomechanics, and physiology. If a trainer appears unsure or relies heavily on online resources during training sessions (god forbid they just copy one from ChatGPT), it indicates a lack of knowledge and expertise—that's a red flag.

You deserve a professional with a strong foundation of knowledge. Don't be afraid to ask your trainer why they're suggesting a particular program for you or how it stems from the initial assessments you did together ... you did do assessments, right?

Remember, this is your journey

With an empowered mindset and active participation in your fitness journey, you'll achieve incredible results! So, go ahead, challenge your trainer and ensure that you're receiving the guidance and support you deserve.

If you'd like to stay updated on my workouts and nutrition, you can follow or contact me on Instagram.


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