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Gym Personal Trainers and Why I Don't Like Them

Many years ago, long before I became a personal trainer myself, I signed up for a gym membership here in Toronto and got a complimentary session with one of the gym's personal trainers. (This happened twice on separate occasions when I signed up for different gym memberships, revealing to me that gym personal trainers have a lot of flaws.)

Former Mayor Rob Ford with Personal Trainer.
Sometimes trainers are hired for their physique, not their skills.
Now I want to point a few things out before I get into this...

Gym Personal Trainers are low paid, often un-certified, and seem to just make it up as they go along. Having spoken to multiple gym personal trainers I have determined a number of things.

They are often paid as little as $17 to $19 per hour (minus taxes/etc), but the gym charges $60 to $120 per hour for their services. This is compared to normal personal trainers which often charge between $30 to $120 per hour - but they make that full amount, minus taxes/etc.

Take into account that personal trainers at the gym are often un-certified and give shoddy advice, and you would probably wonder if you are overpaying for their services.

From my experience with gym personal trainers, they do the following:

#1. They don't really write much down.

A complimentary session is more of a sales pitch and not a very good one. They ask you your weight, your height, calculate your BMI, and they use a machine or some other method to give you an estimate of your Body Fat Percentage (BFP). This process is basically designed for them to waste time as they try to make it look like they know what they are doing. They may also ask if you want to lose weight and if so, how much. Often at this point they will get out a calculator because they lack the mental skills to perform the simple task of subtracting one number from another. Beyond your BMI, BFP and finding out how much weight you want to lose, they don't write anything else down because their primary goal during a complimentary session is to get you to sign up for more sessions.

A real personal trainer should have a notebook, tablet or similar device - and be recording goals, setting a timeline / schedule, taking note of what types of exercise to focus on, etc. Details matter and unless you have an eidetic memory like I do, then you need to write those details down. (Note - I write these things down anyway, more as a matter of record keeping for the client than as personal notes for myself. I like keeping records of everything.)

#2. They barely even mentioned food.

I found this to be bizarre. 90% of weight loss is eating habits, and it is a big factor to weightlifters / bodybuilders as well, because if they are not getting their protein and veggies, then they cannot bulk up as quickly as they could be. People who are not eating properly are really just delaying their goals or preventing their goals from happening at all. (Especially if the gym visitor goes out for a cheeseburger after their workout every time.)

A real personal trainer has to be part coach and part nutritionist. If they are not advising you on food matters, at least offering to give you advice (regardless of whether you accept it), then they are really only doing half of their job.

#3. 20 Minutes on the Treadmill.

Both times that I had complimentary sessions years ago the gym personal trainers stuck me on a treadmill and left me there for 20 minutes while they went to read email, play on their cellphone, and basically do nothing for 20 minutes. The one trainer actually did this THRICE during the same session. 20 minutes on the treadmill followed by 15 minutes on the rowing machine, followed by another 10 minutes on an elliptical. He basically wasted 45 minutes of the 1 hour session goofing off on his cellphone while I did all the work.

A real personal trainer shouldn't be wasting your time watching you do 10, 15 or 20 minutes of the same activity while they do little or no work. If you are paying $60 per hour for example, and you just spent 45 minutes on a treadmill/etc, then you just spent $45 on having the trainer stand there and play on their cellphone. The other 15 minutes of your personal training session better have some pretty valuable advice otherwise you just got ripped off.

#4. Not Correcting Your Technique.

If you watch gym personal trainers you will notice their clients struggling to perform an exercise (a Burpee for example) and the trainer does nothing to help the client correct their technique. Nothing. Zip.

A real personal trainer should be helping you use correct form so you don't hurt yourself / develop a sports injury. Serious sports injuries are even grounds for a lawsuit if it causes permanent damage.

#5. Bosu Balls and other Fads.

I hate Bosu Balls. I just plain refuse to use them. That doesn't mean people cannot use them, but having been on the receiving end I will tell you that some gym personal trainers have a tendency to overuse these devices. The purpose of a Bosu Ball is to build balance muscles, mostly in the legs and core. However they are mostly useless for the vast majority of people's goals of losing weight or gaining muscle. Unless you are dancer, a gymnast or someone wanting to increase your balance, then there is no reason for you to be using a Bosu Ball. In my experience Bosu Balls are the result of a fad that really took off and some gym personal trainers are "one trick wonder gadgeteers" who are obsessed with one gadget and have all of their clients use the same gadget, regardless of what the client's goals are.

A real personal trainer custom tailors their sessions to the client's needs and goals, and uses whatever tools available that suit those goals. They don't force ridiculous gadgets on clients because it is the latest fad.

#6. Exhausted and Demotivated.

Anyone can make you exhausted. Trying playing tag with a five year old and you will get a pretty good cardio. A personal trainer who sticks you on an elliptical for 20 minutes, weights for 20 minutes and a bosu ball for 20 minutes will have tired you out. Will you have learned anything? Nope. Will you be motivated to do that over again next time? Nope. You don't really need a personal trainer to make yourself exhausted and demotivated, you can do that pretty well by yourself.

A real personal trainer gauges your exhaustion levels and schedules breaks into your training session and uses that time to feed you advice about proper form, attaining better results, nutrition, etc. They should also be using their time to say things that are encouraging so you feel like you've accomplished something when you are done and feel motivated to do it again.

Conclusions

Having bore witness to the kind of amateur nonsense that gym personal trainers do, I have to conclude that they are really just there to make money and have very little interest in helping clients achieve their goals. They waste your time and your money and give a bad rep to personal trainers.

Often gym personal trainers are simply people who are in good shape who needed a "job". It isn't a career to them. Just another job that they will quit when they find something better.

Happy Exercising!

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