What NOT to Do as a Personal Trainer


Tuesday night after work I headed to the gym for my free personal training session. It did not go as I had hoped. First, I think the personal trainer I saw (let’s call her Misty) JUST graduated from school. I tried to be opened minded about that. If she’s fresh out of school, that means it’s all fresh in her mind right? She had the energy of a hyper 16 year old girl and was REALLY pushy about me signing up for more sessions. I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t say, “Listen sweetie, this is sort of like an interview–for you. If I like you MAYBE I will sign up for a session but so far I’m not impressed.”

I had a 60 minute session scheduled and she spent 35 minutes of it giving me an anatomy and fitness lesson–it felt like she was reading out of her textbook. The things she was telling me was nothing new either. I know that strength training is an important part of fitness–that’s why I signed up for the session to learn how to do the weights correctly. I basically just needed a refresher course on the weights and maybe some new ab exercises.

She took measurements and measured my body fat percentage. I’m not even going to go there. Let’s just say it was vastly different than last year’s number and I am in BETTER shape than I’ve ever been. I am skeptical of the tool she used and she didn’t seem to know how to use a calculator to figure out my percentage. I know the percentage is off and I’m extremely annoyed with the whole experience. (Which is ironic because of yesterday’s post.)

Moving on. She said this phrase several times: “I’m going to talk AT you a lot but I just want to give you some good information.” This is the part of the story where I kid you not–she said, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.”

Um, what?

She proceeded to tell me that I need to lose 11 pounds in body fat. I should weigh 137.

I bit my tongue yet again. Then she started to tell me how to eat right to lose weight. I could no longer bite my tongue.

“Let me stop you here.” I said. She looked at me with big doe eyes and I continued. “We can skip this section. I lost over 100 pounds all by myself and I know how to lose weight.”

She quickly started stammering that I have a “GREAT body” and I’m in “FABULOUS shape.”

I nodded and said, “To be honest with you, I thought this session would be more about learning how to use the machines to achieve my goals. It’s been about 35 minutes now and I see we are running out of time and we haven’t done anything yet.”

Readers–you may not know me In Real Life but I am not a “Know it All” type. I take suggestions, I love tips and advice. I am open to almost ANYTHING someone has to tell me. I saw a Nutritionist to make sure I WAS doing it right. And guess what? She said my diet is awesome and that I know my stuff. I am not a dietitian or a doctor. But I LEARNED from my own experience of losing weight. There was trial and error but I learned and it WORKED.

I digress.

After that little interchange, she quickly moved onto the part showing me machines.

Five more words for Personal Trainers: DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR CLIENT.

Relationships are crucial. If I don’t like my personal trainer (or physical therapist, or doctor, whatever) it won’t work. I won’t go, I won’t do the session, I won’t get any benefit out of it. If I feel like someone isn’t hearing what I’m saying, that’s the quickest way to turn me off.

I explained my injury to her several times and she still kept calling it Tendinitis in my knee. My doctor diagnosed me with overuse of my IT Band. While all of those things are related, it just annoyed me and told me that she was not listening to me.

She talked a lot about what we “would” be doing together in the future.

A better way to try and win over a client as a personal trainer? Give them a freakin’ workout they’ll remember. When I had my first session with my old personal trainer, Christian, he kicked my butt so good that I could barely move for days. I knew it was working. It felt fantastic. I wanted more. I signed up for 3 more sessions with him immediately and he was my Cross-fit Guru. Misty–Tuesday night’s personal trainer–did not inspire any of that. In fact, I now feel awkward about going to my gym and potentially seeing her and having to have a conversation about why I am not buying sessions. UGH.

One Word for Personal Trainers: ASSUME

In the beginning of our session, she should have asked me what my background was; what my normal routine was, what my fitness level is. She just assumed that I didn’t know how to do anything and that I was starting from scratch. That wasted a lot of time.

If she had asked, I would have told her that I have a very disciplined eating and workout routine. I work out vigorously 5x a week. I would definitely say I am NOT a newbie when it comes to the gym.

She also assumed that I was there to lose weight. Not once did I ever mention that I wanted to lose weight to her. As you read in the above sections where she told me to lose 11 pounds of body fat, I think she just assumed that I wanted to see a personal trainer to lose weight. A valid reason for a lot of people. But I specifically said I was there because of an injury.

Four words for Personal Trainers: TELL CLIENT THEIR GOALS

She told me my goals should be to lose 11 pounds of body fat, work on flexibility, and run a half marathon next summer. All good goals but those weren’t the goals I had for myself.

Three more words for Personal Trainers: DON’T TEACH THEM

My goal for the personal training session was to learn how to use the “Scary Free Weight” section of the gym where the muscle guys hang out. She did not show me anything in that section.

In her defense, she did show me a few new Ab Exercises I could do. And we actually did them together. She told me to use the half ab ball to prop my back up a little then do crunches. These crunches were actually killers. She taught me the correct posture, how far I should rise, where I should stop, how to inhale/exhale, and how I should position my elbows and chin. It was a good lesson and I think the only positive thing I can take away from the session. She had me doing sets of them, and then included oblique turns left and right. My abs were freaking burning! It was great. That is definitely a new exercise I will add to my routine.

She also gave me some other stretches I can do for my IT band. That’s a good thing too.

She told me I should do three leg weight machines to rehab my ITB. The leg press, the hamstring machine and the hip adduction machine.

That specific machine will supposedly strengthen the inside of my thighs. She said not to do the hip machine that works my outer thighs.

I may have left the session feeling annoyed, angry, frustrated with the Universe, and bummed that I wasted an hour of my life…but the ab exercise and ITB stretches are definitely a good thing. It wasn’t a complete waste of time–despite the bad encounter.

The Workout

After the personal training session (snort), I then I had to workout. I’d burned maybe 50 calories during the hour with her and I was hungry, tired, and annoyed. And I still had to work out!

I did my normal upper body weight routine and incorporated a few of the new leg workouts–at a VERY light weight.

I focused the rest of my workout on the abs. I used the half-ab ball and did the crunches and oblique crunches she showed me how to do.

I also did some ab work with the medicine ball. This is one I do frequently.

I’m disappointed with the recent lack luster appointments I’ve had: physical therapy, acupuncture, personal training. It’s been a rough week of disappointments. Sheesh!

Gym Stats:

Time: 2 hours (50 minutes of working out)

Calories Burned: 315

QUESTION: What gym do you go to and why do you like it?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

30 thoughts on “What NOT to Do as a Personal Trainer”

  1. Well I just had to read this, since well, that’s what I’m going to do! I’ve had so many experience like that were people just don’t listen. It was hard enough going to the gym as an obese person without being talked at. I hope that even being fresh out of school (and who knows was cert she had, they have vastly different educations behind them) I will have been people skills. That sounds like some maturity issue too, maybe when she grows up πŸ˜‰

  2. Wow that is crazy that she was so inexperienced! I wonder if you were her first client ever… I totally agree, you can’t BEG someone to come back to you, you have to make them want it. It’s so weird she didn’t ask you any questions about your routine or goals and just made them up for you! What a waste! At least it was free, though…

  3. Ugh, I’m so sorry. That sucks. I don’t know how you prevent that in the future besides tell the trainer coordinator what kind of trainer you are specifically looking for.

    FWIW, I’m on my fourth chiropractor in 4 years, and I count how many hairdressers I’ve tried. These are all very personal choices that can take some time. Hang in!

  4. UGH! Sorry for that terrible experience. I hated my gym and quit going because I didn’t enjoy weight training and I hated all the self-important 16 years olds working there. I’m SO glad you said something to her about your goals and your history. Ridiculous that she didn’t even ask.

    I think you’ve got the right idea doing only light weights – I’ve had better luck building lean muscle in my legs with bodyweight training and floor exercises rather than those weight machines.

  5. I used to go to Gold’s gym, but I recently let my membership expire. I was unimpressed with their personal trainers, and I found out that at least locally they don’t actually require them to have any sort of training. They basically just have to be thin and hot. That infuriated me–someone could get seriously injured through bad guidance.

    The whole “11 lbs of body fat” thing reminds me of a cruise I took when I weighed 145 lbs. I “won” some free meeting with a training “expert” there and he said I needed to lose something like 17 lbs of body fat and that I only could lose it by taking a bath in these magical seaweed bubble bath stuff. Totally bizarre. Your story reminded me of that!

  6. I love my gym! I’ve had some not-so-good experiences, but so far so good at this one. My training is mellow and nice, and asks a lot of questions. HE <- Yes I asked for a him, I think the men are nicer than women when it comes to training. Maybe go back and talk to the manager and explain your situation and ask for a different trainer? P.S. I don't think you need to lose 11lbs! craziness, maybe the 3lbs that you're neurotic about, LOL, πŸ™‚ but 11.. not so much. πŸ™‚

  7. oh my – I can totally relate with this. I have had quite a few ‘lame’ PT sessions over the years – where they assume I know nothing (even after I have told them I have cert III in fitness and am just looking for a killer workout to spice it up!) I had another girl who didnt even ask about my past medical / injury history – which kinda breaks the cardinal rule of personal training!

    1. Haha! Yeah I forgot about that. She also spelled tendinitis wrong. But whatever.

      I’d LOVE to work out with you!! Or go on a bike ride! If you’re ever in Oregon, bring your bike. πŸ™‚

  8. I work out at 24 Hour, and I have tried two different trainers there. I had very similar disappointing results with both trainers. The first one basically told me I needed to lose 17 pounds (I was at the low end for BMI and at this time if I lost 15 pounds I would be underweight). She literally showed me three new exercises. The other one was disappointing because she basically told me to eat 1200 calories. She worked me out much harder, but it was so hard that I felt like I never wanted to go back. There needs to be a middle ground, and they definitely need to do more to impress us in the first session if they want repeat clients!

  9. I guess I’m in the minority. I’ve had two personal trainers and they’ve both been really awesome. They asked me what my goals were and what I was currently doing for workouts. I was also looking for a strength training plan so that was what I got from them. I don’t remember the first one as much since it was years ago, but my current trainer showed me how to do each exercise and then watched me do it to make sure I was doing it correctly. She explained the importance of strength and cross training while running to avoid injuries as well and I found her very helpful. Sorry that you had such a crappy experience.

  10. Wow, what a dolt. I once had a trainer at a gym — my first time ever going to the gym, back when I was heavier — tell me I should be 115 pounds. I am 5’6″ (well, 5’5.5…) and I would look emaciated at that weight. He encouraged me to replace meals with these disgusting shakes. Gross.

    But I’ve had really great trainer experiences, too. At the all-women’s gym I joined in 2007, I had a fresh-out-of-school trainer who was really down-to-earth and realistic about what I needed for my body and super encouraging. I now do group training at my work gym with a guy who is really, really great. He has a master’s degree in health something or other and really knows what he’s talking about. Not all trainers are the same, that is for sure. I am especially wary of trainers who try to sell crap!

  11. Wow…I was thinking of trying a gym and a trainer, but now, I dunno! I think I’ll ask some folks for recommendations when I decide to give it a try:)

  12. I started to type out a reply to this here, but it got really, really long, so its going into my post tonight. The short version is a totally agree with you. The long version… well, it’ll be posted around 9pm my time. πŸ™‚
    Deb recently posted..Monday Day 269

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