If you’ve spent the better part of the last year slowing your fitness roll, you’re in good company. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of Americans reported taking time off from working out amidst the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by OnePoll for Naked Nutrition.
That said, if you want to get back on your game, working with a personal trainer (whether virtually or in-person) can be a great way to locate your long, lost groove and accomplish your goals.
“A good trainer knows your strengths and weaknesses, and guides you safely through your fitness journey by helping you change mindsets and challenging you,” explains Heather L. Tyler, CPT, trainer with Simply Fit LA.
Finding a trainer seems easy these days, especially with every influencer on social media boasting about their fitness knowledge. However, it’s not as simple as stumbling upon someone with a six-pack. In fact, identifying a credible trainer can even be tricky at the gym.
“Not all gyms require their trainers to maintain their personal training credentials and certifying agencies vary widely in terms of what is required to become a personal trainer and maintain those credentials,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., CPT., owner of eatrightfitness. As a result, there also isn’t one single database or resource where you can confirm a trainer is, in fact, legit.
So, folks, it’s time to put your detective hats on. If you’re in the market for a professional workout buddy, watch out for the following trainer red flags before taking the plunge.
1. They don’t have a certification from a reputable Organization
Just like other health professionals, personal trainers need more than an interest in fitness; they should actually receive a certification from a recognized and respected institution. The most common include:
- The American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
- National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)
- International Sports Science Association (ISSA).
“A reputable trainer should easily tell you their certifying agency and be able to provide a license or certificate number, which you can then use to verify if their certification is current,” says Adams. “Personal trainers are required to have many hours of continuing education credits each year to maintain those certifications.”
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If your personal trainer has only been “certified” by the gym they work out at, buyer beware.
2. They cannot provide current liability insurance
Though this one isn’t sexy, it’s one of the most important trainer red flags there is. All qualified trainers should have a personal liability insurance policy. “Every facility I’ve ever worked in has required one and I’ve been in the business for almost 25 years,” Adams notes. “If your trainer isn’t insured, it’s like getting in a car wreck with an uninsured motorist: You are at a huge risk if you suffer a catastrophic negligent injury and your trainer doesn’t have liability insurance.”
His advice? Always ask for a trainer’s proof of policy.
3. They don’t Customize Your Workout program
To keep clients safe and on-track with their personal goals, it’s crucial that a trainer creates a personalized program for each client, notes personal trainer Tony Ambler-Wright, CPT. “If a personal trainer does not conduct a comprehensive assessment to understand where you stand physically and mentally, it is a red flag, and demonstrates that they’re not putting the ‘personal’ in training at all.”
While your program might be similar in structure to those of other clients your trainer works with, it should be tailored to your abilities and goals.
4. They push you too hard
Having a trainer that pushes you is hugely motivating, but having a trainer who will also stop you from going too hard is just as important, notes Rachel Straub, C.S.C.S, co-author of Weight Training Without Injury. “If a trainer is only focused on getting you in better shape, they may have a tendency to push you too hard, which can lead to injury or burnout.”
5. They’re always trying to sell you products
Suggesting a few tried-and-true products, like a foam roller or a favorite brand of dumbbells, is one thing. But constantly trying to sell you things other than their training services is one of the biggest personal trainer red flags. It can also contribute to a lack of trust and uneasiness in the relationship.
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6. They recommend certain diets
Unless your personal trainer also has nutrition credentials (which many do not), they should not be recommending diet programs, notes Straub. “If you are looking for nutritional support, you are best off hiring a registered dietitian or someone with a degree in nutrition,” she says. (Learn more about The Vitamin Shoppe’s credentialed nutritionists and schedule a free consult here.)
7. They offer a discount if you pay in cash
If your personal trainer is offering to lower their costs if you pay them “under the table” (in cash), find someone else. “This is a huge red flag and usually means they aren’t supposed to be training at that gym in the first place,” says Adams. “This is how a personal trainer gets around paying gym fees to the establishment. It’s unethical and places you in a bad position, as you may be asked to leave the gym.”
8. They make Pie-In-The-Sky promises
Though one of the more common personal trainer red flags out there, this one is still worth taking seriously. As with anything, if the results a trainer promises you seem too good to be true, they probably are. “Improving fitness takes work and effort and that expectation should be established upfront,” says Ambler-Wright.
Basically, any results a trainer talks about should be in-line with the effort and commitment the client is willing to put in. “The trainer and client must work together to determine if that commitment is realistic and can be met,” he explains. “Otherwise, the desired goals or expectations must be tempered to match the client’s current level of commitment.”