Not all trainers are created equal. Frankly, some blow. They’re pros at keeping themselves in shape, but they lack the physiological insight necessary to help other people—namely, you—find your best body. As a result, you may find yourself with the same cookie-cutter workout program as someone with a totally different fitness goal.
So as you’re starting a relationship with a new trainer, ask yourself: Does this person have my best interests in mind? If the answer is “no,” move along. You deserve better. Not sure how to tell? Here are the tell-tale signs of bad trainers.
They skip over mobility work
Moves like lat hangs, pigeon pose, and foam rolling are designed to increase your range of motion and improve the health of your ligaments and tendons. Rather than focus on muscle alone (which is what static stretches typically do), these mobility exercises addresses overall performance. “Mobility work is the less sexy, but so necessary, training that your body needs to stay healthy, strong, and injury-free,” says Ippolita di Paola, certified personal trainer at TS Fitness in New York City.
A workout plan with no mobility work factored in is one of the biggest reasons amateur athletes injure themselves, says di Paola. So find a trainer that thinks beyond simply building muscle. If your trainer doesn’t have time for flexibility and range of motion, then it’s time to cut the cord.
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They never ask how you feel
Does your trainer expect you to be in the gym every day, hammering away on the same muscle groups? Then you may need someone who understands recovery. ”As much as we want to go hard, fast, and strong when we’re getting closer to our goals, a good trainer will tell you when to scale it back,” says di Paola. “It’s important that you achieve your major milestones, but it’s just as important to do so without getting injured.”
With a lifting routine, it’s the periods between gym sessions that your body builds muscle. A general rule is that your should let your muscles recover for at least 24 hours before you return to the gym—and workout newbies will likely need more. But more importantly, a good trainer should be able to assess your specific needs. If he or she isn’t asking how you’re feeling, or he’s pushing you to go big more than four times a week, then you should probably start shopping around.
They don’t lead by example
Not every trainer needs to look like Jason Statham, but you do want someone who looks like they’ve mastered the basics of fitness.
“They shouldn’t look like their idea of clean eating is following the five-second rule after dropping a donut,” says Joey Thurman, certified personal trainer and creator of The Lifestyle Renovation program.
To be selective here doesn’t make you judgmental. It’s just good sense. After all, you wouldn’t hire a tailor whose shirts fit like ponchos, right? And you wouldn’t let someone with a mullet cut your hair. Unless, of course, that’s the look you’re going for.
They spend more time worrying about social media than you
If your trainer has a million followers online, look closely at how they earned them, says Thurman. “Is it because they know what they’re doing and have amazing content backed up by research, science, and intellectual thought?” That’s fantastic. But if if they’re simply fitness models who post nonstop, they may not have the chops for actual training.
One way to find out: Look up your trainer’s website (with that many followers, they should definitely have one) and check their credentials. “Fitness influencer” or “fitness expert” is a red flag. Those are meaningless terms. Instead, look for official accreditations, like N.A.S.M., N.F.P.T., F.N.S, N.S.C.A, or C.S.C.S.
They can’t modify on the spot
You know that moment in the middle of a workout when you launch into a new exercise only to discover that your arms or legs feel like jelly? That’s normal. It means either you’ve been working hard, or your body is just demanding a break. “Some days certain exercises and movements will be off due to lack of sleep, tight muscles, hydration issues—you name it,” di Paola says.
But that mid-workout moment is also an important test for your trainer. When you can’t handle an exercise, does he or she give you a substitute on the fly? “Smart programming requires adaptability, not rigidity,” she says. “Whether you’re training one-on-one or in a small group environment, a good trainer can adjust on the spot to address your needs.”
That doesn’t mean your trainer should let you off the hook on the last two reps of an exercise that you’re struggling to finish. But if you’re flailing from the start, and your trainer pushes you through despite improper form, it’s time for you to find one who’s more flexible.
They make unrealistic promises
Change takes time and hard work. And a trainers who promise you the body of your dreams probably have their head in the clouds. “If you want to look like a fashion model in a few weeks and they say you can, it’s probably best not to hire them,” says Thurman. “That’s usually an unattainable result in such a short time span.”
That said, your trainer should be able to set expectations. So look for someone who will give you a realistic timeline with small, attainable goals built in. That way you’ll have milestones to motivate you along the way.