4 Problems With Regular Personal Trainers

by Robert Maxwell

These days personal trainers are a dime a dozen. Visit most large commercial gyms and you’ll see them in action, usually wearing overly tight shirts with the word “TRAINER” stamped on the back so you’re left without doubt of who they are. With an estimated 338 000 personal trainers working in the USA as of 2018, you’d think we’d be the fittest continent on Earth, but we’re not. Quite the opposite. Although 55 million Americans will hold gym memberships this year, 80 percent will quit within the first month. Obviously personal trainers aren’t solely to blame for this. Laziness is. But could PT’s be doing a better job? I think so. Here are what I consider the 4 biggest problems with typical in person physical trainers.


They're Too General

PT’s are billed by the gyms that employ them as skillful experts who will guide you towards the body of your dreams. Trouble is, they’re almost always generalists whose primary job is to make you feel you’re accomplishing something useful during the one hour you’re with them, even if you’re not. Most have 3 or 4 letter qualifications pasted after their name, but limited real world credentials in strength and fitness. Book a session with one and you might learn about squats or deadlift, but more likely you’ll spend an hour using machines and treadmills, listening to them call for 10 more reps or 30 more seconds in a remarkably patronizing tone of voice. If you’re a man who wants to get strong and have been in a situation like this, you’ll understand the futility of generalist coaches. When it comes to trusting someone to guide you towards health and vitality, you definitely don’t want a jack of all trades, even if they have a handful of letters after their name. Good coaches specialize. You don’t need a trainer to help you do cardio or lift 15 pound dumbbells. You need a trainer if you want to get strong using loaded barbell movements, which everyone should.


They Don't Walk the Walk

A monogrammed shirt and a pair of yoga pants does not a personal trainer make. I’ve seen chunky young women and lanky, untrained young men walking around commercial fitness centres giving advice they almost certainly don’t take themselves. In this age of political correctness and non-judgmental sentiments, I remain judgmental of phony personal trainers. If you’re paid to instruct someone on how to do pushups and bent-over dumbbell rows for an hour but hardly train yourself between pizza and beer binges, you should be in a different line of work. Real PT’s are not only specialists – they’re passionate about strength and fitness, too. In fact, most good coaches I know got into the trade because of their own love for training, along with a genuine desire to help others improve. 


They're weak

This point goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. In my experience, far too many “qualified” PT’s hardly have any experience with exercises that matter: squats, deadlifts, presses, and other barbell based movements. This leads to weak PT’s who’d rather teach you to balance on an exercise ball than learn the fundamentals of getting strong. Many coaches have some limited knowledge of barbell training, but not enough experience or strength to properly offer instruction. If your max squat is 135, you don’t have any business telling others how to squat or get strong. You’re not strong, and it’s impossible to teach what you don’t know. If I were considering hiring a strength coach, I’d want someone who I could emulate. Make my role model. Others may see it differently, but I can’t respect a trainer who hasn’t achieved something great in the field in which they profess expertise. This is simply logical. No one can lead the way to a destination without first having been there. If my goal is to become stronger than every other regular, untrained man my age, I’d find a trainer who fits this description. 



Ask someone to change the course of a river but only work on building dams a couple hours each week, and they’ll tell you it’s impossible. To accomplish something so monumental requires more time. This is understood when it comes to all types of work except physical coaching. Most PT’s charge by the hour and will spend a few hours per week, tops, with each client. In that time, they claim to be able to help you change the course of your entire life. This simply isn’t realistic. To be truly effective, a trainer has to invest in their clients beyond just an hour or two of training time. They must be devoted to helping them improve every aspect of their lives, as a good friend. This is one reason online personal training has a higher track record of success than the in-person variety. Although coaches and clients connected by the internet rarely see each other face-to-face, the programming and knowledge of web based PTs is available to their clients 24/7.