Bad Habits of Personal Trainers: When to Fire Your PT

“You’re trying to kill me aren’t you?”

This isn’t a line from the latest thriller. This is a line I heard from a client to her Personal Trainer at a gym I frequent.

And I smiled as soon as I heard it. Why? Because I’ve been told this same thing from my clients. Of course it’s meant in jest. But it makes me smile because the client doesn’t think I’m trying to hurt them. They know I’m giving them a great workout. And they are secretly happy about it.

“So…what do you want to do today?”

This isn’t a line from a parent to their child. This isn’t even a line from a boyfriend to a girlfriend. This is a line from a Personal Trainer to their client.

And my jaw hit the floor as soon as I heard it. Why? Because a client doesn’t dictate a session. That’s like going to the hairdresser as she hands you the scissors, saying “Here ya go, have at it!”

I’m gonna cut to the chase. There are a lot of bad Personal Trainers out there. And this is not to say they are bad people. I’m talking about being bad at their job. (I don’t claim to be perfect. But I cringe to see people out there spending a ton of money on a sub-par service. Think of this as the Consumers Report on Personal Training).

Here are some observations I have seen myself from PT’s as well as feedback from friends who have had some unfortunate experiences. If your PT has any of these habits, it’s time to leave them.

1. They try to sell you a scam/quick fix

This is a big one in the competition world but could also be seen in the non-competitive fitness world. If your coach is constantly telling you about the latest weight loss shake or pills that they are affiliated with, it’s not only unethical in my opinion, it doesn’t take you into consideration. They might just be out to make a quick commission on a sale for some sham of a product they endorse. Or maybe they are part of an MLM scheme. Decline once and they should shut up about it. But if you keep declining and they keep persisting, they don’t care about getting you results, they care about making a quick buck. Tell them to take that shake and shove it.

2. They aren’t certified, they just play one on TV

This is probably number one on my list of pet peeves. I don’t like when someone claims to be something they are not. My fellow PT’s and I have studied, taken the courses, paid for the CEC’s and renewed our certs and pay for even more certifications so we can stay updated on the latest fitness and nutrition research. This isn’t easy! The first question you should ask someone selling training is “Are you certified?”  I don’t understand why people don’t think it’s a big deal to NOT be certified. If your trainer actually claims to be certified, ask them which organization they are certified through. It should be from an accredited organization listed here.  If it sounds like they paid $50 for some random course they took over a weekend, run away.

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3. They have no interest in your personal life but they want you to be interested in theirs

I’m all for chit chatting during a session with a client, as long as they are actually working out WHILE they chat. But if your PT doesn’t care to hear anything about what’s going on in your life and only wants to talk about themselves, that’s a problem. So much of Personal Training is also therapy, I don’t mind admitting. I like playing therapist sometimes. And so much of dieting and fitness is about the mind and mentality of making these changes. Well, when it’s time to workout, you shouldn’t hear your PT talking about anything other than the exercise you’re doing. When they aren’t talking, they should be listening to you and reacting to what you are saying, not the other way around.

4. They say “I don’t know” too many times

One of my pet peeves is getting questions from random people once they find out I’m a PT that are better suited for a physical therapist or doctor. While no one expects us to diagnose you with anything, your PT should have at least some basic knowledge of anatomy and the most common ways to strengthen muscles that have been torn/injured. At the very least, they should refer you to someone who does if they are completely clueless instead of guessing or making something up.

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5. You wanted someone to train you, you got a cheerleader instead

While you are in a consultation with a trainer (and before you hand over your credit card you BETTER have had a consult) you should really make sure you two mesh well together. If you WANT or expect someone to be a drill sergeant or cheerleader or someone to yell “Yeah you can do it! Keep it up!” then you better tell them that’s what you want. I am very upfront with my potential clients by saying outright “I don’t give false praise. And I’m not a yeller. I’m the anti-Jillian Michaels.” I guide, I talk, I motivate. But I never sit there and cheer you through a session. It’s lame, it’s embarrassing to everyone and it just sounds like we’re both trying way too hard. “Go go go Away!!”

6. They lack communication skills

This could be anything from never checking in on days you aren’t training, taking a very long time to ask a question (very common with online coaches), they don’t give good feedback, they cancel on you or seem distracted, etc. I have had clients that like to keep to themselves. They didn’t want nor ask for anyone to check in with them on their off days. That’s fine for those who can survive on their own, but most people I train really appreciate a text or email here and there to see how it’s going. I’ve had bad coaches online who took over a week to answer one simple question. It should never take that long to reply. If you have an online coach, make sure you understand how they plan to communicate with you during your training. They should tell you outright when they expect to hear from you and vice versa. And if your current trainer cancels on you more than once a month, or they just lack general courtesy as far as communication is concerned, send them a text: “We are done.”

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7. Their clients look the same or rebound easily/They have zero success stories

If you haven’t invested in a trainer yet, if possible, ask for the contact information for their current or former clients. This is usually encouraged with online coaching since you can’t physically see them in person. But if you’re considering a trainer at a gym, take a look at how they train their clients. Are they paying attention or are they staring off into space? Are they engaged with their clients or do they look completely bored? Do they have their clients do the same exercises even though they are all different body shapes? Are they on their phones or are they spotting and instructing their clients with great detail? I think it’s easy to spot the red flags in these scenarios. And if their current or former clients have less than stellar reviews, keep PT shopping.

8. They talk the talk but waddle when they walk

Okay so I sorta just made that saying up. But you know what I mean: They don’t appear as if they take their job too seriously. Now, this is a touchy subject since I myself wasn’t exactly the epitome of fitness a couple years ago. Do I think it prevented me from getting clients? No…But I think if your PT is trying to tell you eat a certain way or gives advice on how to achieve a certain look and then turns around and downs a 6 pack of beer on any given Friday, is that really someone you want to look up to? Is this the person who is going to help you turn your life around and lose weight/transform your body? It’s something you should consider if you are looking for them to keep you motivated and inspired.

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9. They do the same workouts with ALL their clients

So let’s say you see a certain trainer always does the same metabolic workouts with their clients. They got all the cool tools like battling ropes and the big tire and the heavy medicine balls. “Hey that looks like fun!”  Of course it does! But you know what’s not fun? Doing the exact same workout every week. What about weight training or bodyweight circuits? Or what about some core exercises or implementing some balance and functional movements? If they are a one-trick pony, that might be a warning that that is all they know. It’s not to say they are dumb. They might just lack experience. But if you see this pattern repeated literally every week, time to find someone who has more than 6 exercises in their rolodex of workouts. (I stole that term from my friend Tess and I bet she doesn’t remember. But that’s the first thing she said to me when I met her my first day on the job as a trainer. Thanks Tess!)

10. They never explain WHY you’re performing an exercise

Some clients don’t really care about the why. Some just want their butt kicked and walk out of the gym sweatier than when they walked in. Fair enough. But most trainers SHOULD explain what the exercise is, what body part it works and why you’re training it. They should also be monitoring your progress to hold you accountable as well as explain the method to their process for training you. For example, when my client was about to run her half marathon, we took the lower body workouts down a notch and went with lighter weights and higher reps as opposed to lifting heavy. For a client who has a bad knee due to previous surgery and a tear, we don’t do exercises that put all the pressure on that injured knee. We do exercises to strengthen the muscles around it without causing more pain. So if you’re getting a bunch of “Here, do this” with zero explanation, ask them to explain why you are paying so much for a mediocre product.


If you have a trainer currently, ask yourself if they have engaged in any of these bad habits. Before firing them, you can have a conversation with them about these issues.

Heck, print this out and hand it to them if you want. Give them my name, I’ll set them straight. 😉 But if they say good riddance to you, I’m happy to take you on as a client.

Just don’t expect me to cheer.

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Michelle can be reached at @FromFitToFigure on Twitter; Michelle Piccolo Personal Trainer on Facebook and FromFitToFigure@gmail.com

One thought on “Bad Habits of Personal Trainers: When to Fire Your PT

  1. Very nice. I agree with all of it except your opening. Although I always have a plan, sometimes for those clients who have been with me 12 or 15 years, among the first things I may ask them when they walk in is, “what’s it gong to be today…?”

    That deep into a business/personal relationship, they get some ownership in who steers the ship. I do though, enforce form, rest, and payload.

    It’s also a great chance to see what they have learned along the way.

    Very good points across the board. I’ll simply add, if they look like the need a trainer, they are not the trainer for you 😉

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