Not All Personal Trainers are Made Equal

by Marianne  - February 22, 2013

Time for a short rant …

This week, I had an eye-opening experience when I realized just how much of a Lottery it can be to search for a “good” Personal Trainer.

One of my online Clients from England had previously been training with a highly Certified Trainer, but was not getting the results she was after.  When I read what she had been doing and his rationale for things, I was puzzled about whether he was taking her for a ride, or just lacked experience.  It was only when I asked for her to send me some video footage of her performing some basic exercises (for me to assess her form), that I quickly realised a huge problem –> she had never been taught to hinge at the hips or squat!    Because, like most people, my client had struggled to master these initially, I can only guess that her trainer skimmed over them because he lacked the knowledge (or maybe the energy) to begin to correct these things –> one of these issues was her tendency to rise up on to her toes during the squat (very common).  Instead of trying to resolve this, he simply had her squat with her heels raised, but never did any sort of ankle or hip mobility work, or core stability corrective work.  Furthermore, he then completely neglected most lower body compound exercises, opting to sell her the idea that she was just insulin resistant and estrogen dominant, hence the higher Body Fat on her hips!!!!!!! WHAT?! But wait, it gets better –> he didn’t have a training solution, but instead tried to put her on a 500 calorie diet and sell her supplements to “fix” her body’s tendency to hold onto body fat! WHAT!!???

This makes me sooo mad!

NOTE: If any Trainer tries to put you on an extreme diet or tries to sell you supplements to do away with the need to train as hard, then run for the hills and get a refund!

Basically, my client decided to fly over to Belfast and spend 4 hours with me going through all the basic movement patterns and exercises.  It was a very rewarding day, because she had clearly been misinformed and, I feel, a little duped into believing the other trainer. Even though she knew things weren’t right, she felt a loyalty to him and his “expertise” and believed his answers.

NOTE: Your Trainer is NOT your friend; you have hired them to do a job and help you achieve your goal. They should remain focused, attentive, and professional all the time and it should matter to them if you are happy or not!

Now, I am not trying to make myself out to be the best trainer here, because I too have made my fair share of mistakes, but I feel it necessary to open up a discussion about how you can really know if your potential Trainer is going to be as good as their Certificates imply.

Personally, I do not believe that being Certified = being Qualified!  Certifications have their place, but I know plenty of Certified PT’s who haven’t even heard of the Hip Hinge 🙁  This gap in knowledge is having an impact on their clients’ progress because I personally do not believe it is enough to say “well, surely all that matters is that they get sedentary people moving”.  This is my response:

*clears throat*

Get people moving better, then get them strong at those movements!

As a Personal Trainer you need to do your homework and have a sound foundation of knowledge about how people SHOULD move.  You need to know how to create a Balanced Workout and Program, tailoring it to their needs and ability, rather than what ever you fancy trying that day.

I admit it is very challenging to weed out those who seem knowledgeable verses those who actually are, but never be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion. If your trainer doesn’t start you out with some sort of assessment of how you move and your baseline ability (getting you to do Body Weight Squats,  Glute Bridges,  Hip Hinge, Push Ups an  Plank etc), then I would seriously question their ability as a Trainer.  At that point, it won’t matter what Certificate they have, they do not understand what is best for you, because they have not even made the effort to really see where YOU are starting from.

It just makes me so mad when people are exploited in this way! 

Remember, it not about your loyalty to your trainer as a person; you need to be committed to your goal and your Trainer needs to be committed (and able) to help you.

Over to you now … Leave a comment below about your experiences in finding a good Trainer and how you have dealt with the not-so-good Trainers.



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  1. hi Marianne,
    thank you for running the website.

    my experience with personal trainer’s was negative not because of their lack of knowledge but lack of their communication. I am not sure it,s possible to be trained online.

  2. This is a very interesting article Marianne. I have some hip mobility issue and am always very conscious of my form when squatting. Do you have an instructional video on your site to show correct hip hinge/squat technique?

      1. The lower I go into a squat the more I have to flex at the hips to stop myself from falling backwards! Consequently my chest moves closer and closer to my thighs. If I perform a squat with my heels lifted my technique is much better so I wonder if I have some ankle mobility issues? Goblet squats are easier as the weight of the KB acts like a counter-balance!

          1. I have a desk job but I don’t wear heels (I’m 6 ft tall already!) and I also practice Pilates so I think my core strength is pretty good.

          2. If you are very tall, and have long legs, then this will make squatting more problematic. Some people are just not built deep squats, so I would recommend trying the box squat, or stick to reverse lunges, bulgarian squats etc 🙂

          3. Thanks Marianne 🙂 And thanks for all the great videos too. I get a lot of inspiration for my workouts from your site.

  3. I like your post Marianne. I have been working as a personal trainer for the last three years. I am certified through NASM and also hold a bachelors in kinesiology. One of the other personal trainers I work with is certified through ACE and I get very uncomfortable when I watch him train people sometimes. he spends a lot of time making up wild exercises that in my professional opinion are very unsafe. I see him using these exercises on older clients that are new to exercise. He calls them “functional exercises” but really they are unsafe concoctions that were made just because he was bored. Just wanted to vent here about how there is a major difference between so-called certified trainers. Nice article and keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Tyler, I appreciate your comment. It’s scary the exercises some folk some up with. What’s wrong with the basics LOL … maybe I’m just boring 😉

  4. hi marianne,struggling with health and si joint issues still 🙁 diagnosed as coeliac it was missed 2 years ago but dont get me started on consultants , a good one is as difficult to weed out as a personal trainer is lol but im getting back into training ie not just “working out “(been doing this now for over a year) i PR on squats and DLIfts last friday so so proud of myself getting the weight back up there and holding my own weight on the scales not lost a kg in 2 months so im must be getting better no vomiting etc yippeeeeee

    anyway i attended my very first kettle bell work shop 4 wks ago and alot of emphasis was placed on hip hinging, glute and hip mobility etc…. i was impressed the coaches im my opinion were smack bang on the mark.

    anyways we get to goblet squats and woman early 30s was having an amount of difficulty getting down, one of the coaches came to her and offered advise to correct and told her she had needed to practise and i cant rem for sure but words may have been along the line of focuses on hip mobility and using her glutes more to strengthen em. now i was squating and being nosey at same but his advise was sound . wat drew my attention was she was like an old woman who let go of her zimmer frame (have i even spelt this right lol)

    anyway she approched me afterwards and started talking and asked me how long i doing Kbells i explained i wanted to learn the basics windmill snatch turkish etc and was attending a class twice week at home but i figured the guy is not kettle bell certified

    ( when i asked about helpin me with racking and snatch he googled swung around the screen on his desk and SHOWS ME U DOING IT jesus marianne i nearly laughed…)

    SHE (the squat or should i say no squat girl) told me SHE IS A PERSONAL TRAINER in the next town, when i quizzed she told me she s v v busy with classes private tuition all female clients and is hoping to add kettle bell to her umbrella.she designes work out programmes for clients and so on i nearly dropped marianne i prayed she didnt see my expression. i said fair play and all the rest of it and went on my merry way…. SHOCKED

    last sunday i met a PT whos name i became aware of quite some time ago, his gymn instructor in my local town. he had al the lingo told me i should try foam rolling (for my hip)he d help me if i called in while his working ,he told me his genes dont allow him to build muslce(his a long streak no shape at all in his arms yes i looked lol ) , well uve met my bro u see how skinny he is he told me and continued to tell me how i couldnt build muscle ….that was it i told him if he stopped running 10 miles a day(which he does) and hit the weights he d have some chance of it … i said no more didnt except his phone no and politely said i was leaving to get something to eat , he asked wat would i get i replied i fancy chinese he lunged into big speach about how i shouldnt be eating that (this is my one worldly treat)to which i pointed to his pint glass and said u prefer to drink whereas i like to eat my calories , his repuff aw when i get up in the morning ill knock out 12 miles lol i left no thank u

    so i in 4 wks ive met 5 trainers and only the 2 kettlebell coaches were sound in my sticking with my home work outs for the moment . a big shout out for all your sound advise wished i didnt live at the opposite side of the country to you.

    1. Hi Bug,

      Thank you for the update. I am glad that you are getting on better. It is very frustrating to have the chronic health issues, but it’s just another challenge, right? 🙂 I am in a challenge with chronic pain too. I hate it, but I am also grateful for all I CAN do … no Zimmers needed yet 😉

      How funny that he showed me!

      If you’re ever up this end of the country, give me a shout!


  5. awesome article! as always=) That trainer makes me so mad. 500 calories a day?! are you freakin’ kidding me. That alone would have made me run for the door. I do agree that certification means not a whole lot. Just means you passed a test but sometimes that common sense just isnt there. Plus not teaching or correcting someone on the basic moves is silly. How can one expect to progress if you cant even do the basics such as a hip hinge? That trainer should be fired! lol!

  6. Hi Marianne, this is a great article, I am glad you posted this since it seems that we are flooded with trainers and new crazy styles of working out. You would go bananas in NYC I see people paying all sorts of cash for trainers who are just awful, awful.
    They, in my opinion are snake oil salespeople, and it makes me sad, because exercise is about health and well being.
    I think Carrie has got a good idea about hosting a camp.

    Cheers and keep the rants coming

  7. Dont take this the wrong way. I love your site and think your awesome. However, your workouts have become very repetitive and short.

  8. I completely agree with you Marianne. I am a personal trainer and I live it and practice what I preach. What I do, I do it with a passion. My body is not genetically perfect, I worked hard to be the way I am at this point. Interesting also is that in the gym I train they offer crossfit. I am not a passionate of crossfit. Why? because most of this level 1 trainers have people in their group that never in their life have done not even a pushup and all of a sudden these people are making 150 pushups. I’ve seeing how they lack in form, sadly! Currently right now I have 2 clients which were crossfitters. Funny thing is that I did the assessment with them specially body weight squats. Why? because I see that is where most of them lack on. I can’t see them doing squats because my mind scream the hell up. When I taught them how to perform a proper squat they were in awe. Following day I got texts from them telling how sore they were only from a body weight squat. Now how we an avoid people getting in hands of these wanna be trainers? Me personally is so difficult because i don’t like to say anything wrong about them, I don’t think is professional. Am I right? or too conservative?

  9. I felt compelled to comment here! I had hired a trainer after I broke my knee. I had never really been “in shape” in my life and after breaking a knee my activity level was severely limited. At 5’2″, I reached an all time high weight of 171 pounds and realized I needed help. Granted, I was still having mobility problems and had a low thyroid level at the time, but after six months and only losing 4 pounds I knew something was wrong. My forms were way off. I never was sore after working out. Even though I was walking a few miles with my dog every day, it just wasn’t enough.

    I found BodyRock in early 2011 and learned how to properly do my exercises. I dropped nearly 40 pounds in 4 months. I don’t think it was that my trainer wasn’t properly trained/qualified, as she was in great shape, but I feel like she was more interested in just making sure I could do the exercises and pretty much just stayed there. We chatted a lot during our sessions and she had SO MANY personal issues/problems she was always talking about. I think maybe she was more interested in chatting than helping my form. To be fair, my knee continually got stronger, but I was pretty limited in what I could do.

    After I dropped her as a trainer, I did go back to her crossfit style bootcamps a few months later and did quite well, but only because I knew proper form. I had no idea how big of a deal proper form was before and now I finally get why people work out in front of mirrors 🙂

  10. Oh my 500 calories a day diet! What a blessing she found you. Thanks for all you do, your emphasis on improving the body’s flexibility and mobility rather than just focussing on body shape alone is excellent. I think it all contributes towards self esteem and helping the person to see themselves in a different way than just conforming to what is seen as ideal in the media. If that makes sense, cant express it very well!

  11. Well said Marianne. I recently had a women visit me from a town a few hours away and she mentioned that she had been training with a trainer for years. After some conversation, we moved to the warm up and I immediately realized that her trainer was not helping her move well. I first had to fix the Bodyweight squat, then the hollow position, then the push up and as she was in the middle of a corrective movement drill, she stopped and said with anger “I’ve been going to trainers for years, why the hell haven’t I learned this before!”
    Unfortunately, this is a common situation that could be fixed with coaches learning how to teach and fix basic human movement. This is why the template I use is based on the basic Bodyweight movements, then on to the basic kettlebell movements and beyond that, we will apply what is appropriate.
    Thanks for the post and keep up the good work.
    Karl from Edmonton,AB

    1. Karl, your format is much like my own. Even when someone comes to me who thinks they are intermediate/advanced, I still assess these basics. Can’t be too careful and movement is the most beautiful gift we have.

      You’re right, that it is an unfortunate common issue.

  12. Just a quick question, how would you go on about finding a good PT for yourself without having to go through a few not so good ones? I’d gladly hire one of the ones whose blogs I read, but it seems all those Tony’s, Neghar’s and Ben’s live across the pond from England. Or maybe I should just do what that online client of yours did and hop on a plane and fly to Belfast.

  13. I was clueless and fat when I started. I had danced a lot in my life so my movement was not bad except for hipflexability. I think my trainer fixed that during our second meeting. I was lucky and I am living prove that I have the right trainer.

  14. An interesting post Marianne. I am not a trainer nor have I experienced this myself. However while resting between sets at the gym I have witnessed trainers with PT clients who are either preforming squats or kettlebell swings with poor form. I am not sure weather it is a lack of confidence on the trainers part to stop the client and work on good form for every single rep or maybe not just using the right cues to make sure the client is using proper form. Surely a trainer has an obligation duty of care to make sure clients are moving correctly to achieve their full potential never mind to prevent injury.

  15. All I have to say is, I am glad I found you and that you are helping me achieve good form, introducing me to what a balanced workout entails, and that you are willing to help me become an informed fit person. I am glad I didn’t try to do it alone, as I was thinking of doing. The amount of material you have amassed on your site is incredible. Your willingness to share, the fact that you do home workouts, your body is amazing and you seem to genuinely care about fitness, and how to approach it was instrumental in helping me reach out to you.
    Prior to contacting you, I interviewed a few trainers and checked out some local boutique training gyms and some regular gyms around town. It was very interesting to experience the trainers, ask questions and interact with the staff.
    Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to empower myself by learning to do home workouts. I like feeling that I am accountable to myself, and I appreciate being able to have you check my form and answer my questions. And boy-o-boy am I glad that I am not recovering from interacting with a subpar trainer.

  16. I love your closing statement. As a trainer myself I agree with you in that I have made my fair share of mistakes and only through constant reading and practicing have I improved in order to provide my clients a better service and help them achieve their goals. It is hard to convince some clients that they gotta get the basics down first before actually picking up a weight specially when they have worked with other trainers or by themselves becuase the process of unlearing is hard.

    1. Franco, you seem very passionate about learning more for the sake of your clients. I think that is a big difference – too many PT are in the job for the wrong reasons. You need to be passionate about helping others and being prepared to keep learning. None of us are perfect trainers, but we can do a lot to prevent us being crappy trainers 🙂

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