Personal Trainers: A PSA


A personal trainer can be a great way to get into fitness, particularly if you are overwhelmed by the gym or have no idea what you are doing. We tend to treat personal trainers in our lives as experts, like a plumber or a mechanic, someone who has specialised knowledge in a certain area that you pay to provide you with a service. Implicit in this relationship is a level of trust. You trust the person to know what they are doing and to guide you appropriately and effectively. However not all personal trainers are created equal.

In New Zealand there is basically zero regulation of the industry, and this is pretty common in other countries too.  So the personal trainers up for grabs at your gym could be anyone from a qualified exercise physiologist (a degree level qualification), to someone who has done a weekend certification course and sat an exam. Many personal trainers often start out as people who like working out a lot and kind of fall into training as a way to make some cash.

A bad personal trainer can be quite damaging, particularly to people who struggle with self esteem issues that are embedded in their bodies.  This is not done out of malice, a trainer may tell you things they genuinely believe or apply to themselves, but this does not mean that it is healthy or right for you. In general I think it is a good idea to have a healthy skepticism and to think critically about whether the advice they give makes sense. It is also important to evaluate how the relationship is making you feel. Do you look forward to your training sessions or are you dreading them? Is your new regime resulting in more energy and feeling good about yourself or the opposite?

I am not at all trying to say that all personal trainers are under qualified or bad at what they do. I’m just trying to say that you need to be able to evaluate the quality of advice someone is giving you if you are going to potentially trust them with influencing your health and wellbeing.

So what are some flags that you should avoid this personal trainer as a regular person who just wants to get more exercise?

  1. They tell you to stop eating an entire food group entirely.
  2. They tell you to cut the amount or quantity of food you eat dramatically.
  3. They don’t listen to your goals and make assumptions about the type of training you want to do or your fitness level.
  4. They do not pay attention to, and correct your form when you perform exercises with them
  5. They recommend increasing your activity level massively from what it was before rather than gradually adding more in.

These are some pretty basic red flags for me which would indicate that the trainer in question has no idea what they are talking about, because these things have been proven to have negative outcomes no matter what your goals  are.  It may also be worth your while investigating what the credentials of your trainer actually are if you want to be vigilant.


Have you ever had any experience with good or bad personal trainers?

2 thoughts on “Personal Trainers: A PSA

  1. Sadly, I’ve mostly had bad experiences with personal trainers. (Though my experiences have been limited to the “one free personal training session” that comes with some gym memberships in the U.S.) I’ve had a few — half a dozen? — of them raise about three and a half of the five red flags on your list.

    They’ve told me both to cut the amount of calories I consume dramatically (sometimes “by half”) and to cut out some kind of food group, though it varies (fat, carbs, sugar, meat, dairy, fruit). Generally, they’ve done so without first inquiring about my current diet and/or any history of disordered eating I might have. And let’s just say that for me, the point is not merely academic.

    Similarly, I’ve had them assume that my primary fitness goals include dropping weight and/or clothing sizes, both of which are pretty well irrelevant to me. And I said “three and a half” because two of them recommended jumping my exercise to 90 minutes a day, 5 times per week — but again, without asking what I was doing already. In reality, it was not an increase — but they definitely approached it without finding that out beforehand.

    • Arrrgh. That is so so irresponsible. I hate that so often personal trainers refuse to listen to what your actual goals are and just assume things, often purely based on the way you look.

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