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How To Spot A Bad Trainer

This post should have been written a long time ago. After recently talking to a good friend of mine who is highly respected in the industry about a trainer who is TERRIBLE (I won’t say names) I decided I needed to write a guide on how to not get bamboozled by bad trainers.

First of all though, I hate gossip, and I will not be saying who this bad trainer is. I also really police myself to either keep my mouth shut when I see bad trainers, or I just try to point out their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Bashing each other is not a good way to help each other develop, and it only damages the industry as a whole.

I have been immersed in this industry long enough to know what makes a good trainer/ coach vs a bad trainer/ coach. I am not going to sit here and say I am better than others, in fact, I am going to call out my weak points. The main goal with this post is to help individuals make informed decisions when choosing someone to give their money to and trust them with their goals.

So without further ado, I bring to you;

My Standards Of A Good Coach

1.They have experience.

Real experience. I know trainers who flat out lie about their experience to make themselves look better. They embellish, the truth. Like saying they have been in the industry for 25+ years, but that is how long they have been active themselves. They might have only been training clients for 2 years. Do they have client testimonials that go back that far? Certifications or records of any sort?

How to recognize them?

You can recognize these charlatans by asking them for proof of experience. If they can’t produce it, they be lying!

Calling myself out.

I say I have been in the industry for 13 years. This is not a lie, and I am clear in my “About Me” page that I started off as a swim coach and water aerobics instructor. I have only been personal training since 2010.

2.They have the education. Both formal and informal.

I was chatting with “Westside Vs The World” Director Michael Fahey this past weekend. He mentioned (And I am paraphrasing), that practical experience outweighs formal education, even a masters degree or PhD. You get a degree, and you spend 20 hours a week (at most) studying something for 3-5 years…. Well if you are an athlete, you spend sometimes 3-4 hours a day training, and countless hours focusing on your nutrition and mental game. Back that up with years of athletic experience, and you have just as much, if not more, experience in that field as someone with a fancy title.

Some trainers have all practical experience and no formal education. This is a recipe for disaster if they take on clients with any body type or goals other than what they know… which is their own body. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen trainers write clients “custom programs” that are just copies of their own training log. SMH. Which is why I am a big pusher for higher education and expectations from trainers. Even being a certified personal trainer is more like a learners permit. Those barely scratch the surface of what there is to know.

Another scary thing is the trainers who claim they are science based, yet DON’T ACTUALLY READ IT. They think being science based means they take advice from people who read science. Very different indeed. Also be wary of trainers who say things like “Studies say”, “I have never read anything that says x”, or “I saw a study that.” Can they product the research? Did they read the whole thing or just the abstract? Worse yet, are they talking about blog posts or even crap they are regurgitating from instagram as “studies”. Ugh. If anyone knows how to end the human centipede of fitness “science” please let me know.

On the flip side, some trainers can have a high educational degree, but they don’t actually do it themselves. I have seen trainers with degrees who run every single one of their clients through the same routine, and have no experience actually doing these things themselves. They understand things from an academic or textbook standpoint, but they don’t walk the talk. You can’t do this job if all you know if from the textbook. You need to do it too. I like this metaphor, you can write a 200 page paper on an apple, study it and dedicate your life to understanding apples, but if you have never eaten an apple, you really don’t know what you are talking about.

Ultimately, I think the best coaches have a combination of formal and informal education. People like Dr. Mike Israetel, the brains behind some Juggernaut literature and Renaissance Periodization diet. He also trains the himself hard in the gym. To me, he is the ultimate role model of what a good coach should be in the area of formal and informal education.

How to recognize them?

You can recognize the uneducated by doing a simple vocabulary search. Ask them what they know about X and they might make up a fake but convincing answer, or they might not know. Not knowing is ok, but they need to admit it and be advertising themselves according to their level of experience. Maybe ask them to produce the study they are quoting? Don’t just be a blind follower!

You can recognize the ones who have no practical experience because they either don’t train and always have excuses. They have terrible posture, injuries, and their workouts don’t make sense. (They might be way too easy or way to hard) This works fine in special situations, but for the most part is unacceptable.

Calling myself out.

I recently was having a conversation with a fellow powerlifter, Tractor Babtist. I was talking about how much I love coaching powerlifters but I don’t plan on competing anytime soon. He looked me dead in the eye and said “Why do you coach then?”. Ummm, ouch! Touche my friend. It is easy to make excuses, but that only cripples me as a coach. Expect to see me on the platform again soon.

3. They keep learning, with humility.

I CAN’T STAND trainers who are stuck in their ways. Some of the most dangerous trainers are the ones who think they are right. A good amount of trainers out their think they have the answer to everything, and if what they are preaching to the client isn’t working, then they think it’s the clients fault. No! If you have total buy in and are doing everything your coach says, and you still aren’t seeing results, then things need to change. This is why I always say “My coaching philosophy is that I don’t have a coaching philosophy.”- Heidi Campo. Because I know that I am still learning and that the science is always learning new things. You can’t trust a trainer who is trying to sell you on ONE particular method or diet. Trust the trainer who is going to work with you and meet you where you are at.

How to recognize them?

Go to the NSCA website and bring up any of the new lectures, or articles. The NSCA is where all the cutting edge information is. If the trainer has no clue what you are talking about, they need to do a better job of staying on top of things.

Calling myself out.

I actually think I do a good job on continued learning, I am always reading both scientific studies and academic literature. However, my humility can use some work. I don’t like being challenged, it bruises my fragile little ego, but I NEED IT. I need to be challenged in order to grow and be better. So I always ask my clients to challenge me and I ask them to have me explain WHY we are doing something. Because if I can’t explain to them why we are doing it, then we shouldn’t be doing it.

4. Is this a person you can talk to?

I think this is important. Is your coach a distant person who you only hear from weekly during your one check in? Maybe you only hear from your coach when they comment on a thread in a team facebook page? Either way, you should feel like you have a healthy relationship with your coach. You should be able to bring anything up without worrying how they will react. If they have a temper, blame you, deflect the problem, or become overly defensive. Those should all be red flags.

How to recognize them?

This is personal and different for everyone. Like stated above, do you feel like you can talk to your coach about your concerns? A good coach would rather collaborate with you to make something work and design the optimal program for you, rather than have you drop them out of the blue because you didn’t want to bring something to their attention.

Calling myself out.

This is one where other trainers can take a page from my book. Quarterly I send out an anonymous survey with a series of questions and room for client feedback. It has helped me grow immensely and my clients love sometimes being able to tell me something anonymously.

 

The following 5-12 come from a list made by Louie Simmons, the brains behind Westside Barbell.

5. Do they [the coach] look like they lift?

This goes along with my practical experience part. If the trainer doesn’t train themselves for what you are seeking? Why hire them? If you want to be strong, why hire a trainer who is a runner? If you want to be an athlete, why hire a trainer who only specializes in the hypertrophy of a muscle and bodybuilding? A coach should strive to look and perform like they are advertising.

How to recognize them?

Look at them. Watch them move.

Calling myself out.

I have a lot of excuses as to why I am not bigger, stronger, or more flexible. That is ending. I am dialing in my process and transforming myself daily. Because this is a major area I am failing. I often use the excuse of being too focused on my studies, but I can’t let that create an imbalance between my academic knowledge and my practical experience in my body.

6. Do they empower rather than overpower?

This is a HUGE one. In short, if a trainer likes to talk over your head with big physiology words or complex methods, dump them. They are on an ego trip or they don’t really know what they are talking about if they can’t break it down and explain it in common english.

How to recognize them?

They talk over your head. They talk at you instead of to you. They don’t listen to your input, like they keep pushing you even though you said you are feeling that shooting pain in your knee.

Calling myself out.

I do this sometimes when I am with other trainers. However, we should all know general anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics. I hope my clients will stop me if I ever am talking over them! Things like “hypertrophy, GTO, eccentric, etc” can all be jargon if we don’t assess if the person knows what we are saying.

7. Are they still learning + training?

I went over this one earlier, but your coach should be able to prove and show they they are still growing.

8. Do they put the athletes first?

Or do they nickel and dime you for everything? I like the meme that said something along the lines of “When you make it to nationals and realized you unlock a secret level from your coach. Coach: You need to pay extra for that.” Also, pay attention to how they talk about their other clients. I have known trainers to promote a place of positivity, yet they trash talk everyone around them including their own paying clients. Not an environment I want to be around!

How to recognize them?

They don’t listen to you and seem uninterested unless you are giving them money.

Calling myself out.

I am disappointed with myself for losing touch with some former clients over the years when they are done training. To be fair, I don’t have much communication with my friends either, and even my own boyfriend says I can be better at staying in touch with him! lol

9. Are they first and last to leave the gym?

I don’t know if I agree with this one. I do believe in work life balance, but there are trainers out there who would rather vacation 24/7 and I don’t think they set a good example of what they expect from their clients/ athletes.

How to recognize them?

They are not around much and are not putting in the same amount of work they expect from you.

Calling myself out.

I actually am in the gym 6am most days, get my training in midday, and don’t get home till 8 or 9 most nights. So This is one I might not have to call myself out on! Shoot, I need a vacation.

10. Have they made the best better?

This is getting into elite populations which is something I hope to one day work with. I might sound like I am telling everyone that Santa isn’t real here, but ALMOST EVERYONE will see results from ALMOST ANY PROGRAM if they are detained or new. Many trainers love to blast transformations all over social media, but do those transformations stick? Most often, if the average person just starts walking and using portion control, they will lose weight. This doesn’t make the trainer a great trainer because that person paid the trainer to tell them this basic advice. So I think trainers need to be honest with their clients. Don’t try to sell them on some elite secret program that is the secret to fat loss. Just offer good accountability and the client will stick around, therefor be successful with consistency.

How to recognize them?

Well unless you have trained elite pros and brought them up from 5th place to 1st place, you are not this trainer. I put myself in this category. I hope to one day work with high level elite athletes and make them champions.

Calling myself out.

Because I have these goals, that is why I ask my clients to challenge me. I want to get better so I CAN be this trainer. I am pursuing a masters degree in strength and conditioning at a world class university. I work hard in the gym, but I can do better to become this coach. I need my clients to push me, so I can push them. I like it when people expect more from me, it allows me to rise to the occasion.

11. Do they read?

So many trainers have just stopped learning. They get their little certificate and then call themselves an expert. I have beat this dead horse now pretty good, but it is important. My bookshelf is FULL, and I mean full of academic literature regarding strength, conditioning, nutrition, sport psychology, and endurance. I study this stuff like it is my job… Because it is, imagine that.

How to recognize them?

That only fitness info they consumed this year is what they see posted on instagram. They follow all the current fads and trends, plus they couldn’t tell you who any big authors or speakers are in the industry. They are fake, fake, fake! Pick up a book guys. It’s not hard.

Calling myself out.

I do read, but I don’t always digest what I read. I recently read “Westside Barbell Book of Methods” by Louie Simmons, and didn’t understand a lot of it. I am now currently reading “Transfer of Training in Sports” by  Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk and I must be honest that a lot of this textbook (Translated from Russian) makes me feel like a kindergartener in the industry.

12. Do you 100% trust them with your future?

This is important. I think that trust is a big on with clients and trainers. If you don’t believe your coach, why are you paying them money? Do you respect your coach? If not, you need to sit down with them and have a conversation. I betcha they will appreciate it! If not, they will throw a fit like a child, defend themselves, not listen, or at best… just drop you as a client.

How to recognize them?

You have to be honest with yourself on this one. You need to have a relationship with your coach. If you don’t think you do. Drop them… but have a discussion first. Give them a chance to correct their error and prove you wrong.

Calling myself out.

Do my clients trust me? Well I have had some of the same clients for over 5 years now. I have been able to help them with most goals, but their are some things that escape my current knowledge. I always try to refer out when I do. Like sending a client to a RD. when my nutrition advice isn’t helping them, or sending them to a doctor/ chiropractor when they have an injury that won’t go away with RICE.

 

All in all there are a TON of great trainers out there, I would like to think there are more good than bad. I think most “bad trainers” might mean well, but are not aware of the areas that they can improve on. That is why I appreciate it when people call me out on my crap. I have a dream that one day trainers will stop gossiping about each other behind their backs, and will help each other become the best coaches we can be by confronting us face to face. With class, kindness, and a genuine desire to help each other out.

If you are an athlete or an individual looking to hire a trainer. I hope this post has given you some insight as to what are some things you should be looking for in a trainer. Please leave me a comment if you feel like something could be added to the list! I love hearing from y’all!

Have a blessed day!

 

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