Is your personal trainer a "lemon" -- or do you work with someone awesome?

Is your personal trainer a "lemon" -- or do you work with someone awesome?

When you're starting to work out, whether it's for the first time in a very long time or after only a bit of a slump, you need help. Most of us do, anyway. Few people can keep up that first motivation, after all. Hiring a trainer can be a great way to help you stick with your commitment, not to mention learn new workouts, train safely, and have someone to talk to when things get really boring and really hard.

The thing is, though, there are plenty of not-so-good trainers out there (just as there are great ones, like the ones I work with). How can you tell the difference before you've sunk a bunch of money and time into one? Here are five warning signs that it could be time to move on to someone else:

1. He tells you that your favorite workout is lame. 

When I got back into exercise after years away from it, swimming was the only thing that I liked to do. I eventually branched out to other things, but swimming has a special place in my heart and whenever I tour a new gym I always ask if there’s a pool. I have had not one but two trainers tell me that swimming is a lame workout; one even said that I won’t lose weight working out (I don’t even remember telling that guy I wanted to lose weight, so, um, thanks for that). Apparently neither of these people has ever seen Michael Phelps.

2. She doesn’t even watch you when you’re working out. 

This is one that truly amazes me and one I have seen innumerable times. You’re paying someone for personal training and half the time they’re cruising the gym or checking their phone. Get rid of anyone who doesn’t pay attention to your form and how you’re doing with each move—whether it’s easy for you or you’re struggling—nearly the whole time you’re working with them.  (This naturally doesn’t apply so much to group training.)

3. He offers up plenty of nutrition advice.

Many personal trainers have dubious credentials in fitness, yet this doesn’t stop them from playing nutritionist as well. If you ask for advice about your diet or your trainer offers it up–it is a crucial part of a successful exercise regimen, after all—also ask how much training he’s had in this area. Certifying organizations for trainers do offer this as part of their certification, but that doesn't equal being a registered dietician (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist. The corollary to this is that your antennae should also perk up if your trainer is pushing products, especially those he sells or gets a kick-back from. The products may be fine, but be sure to do your homework (for example, trainers are fond of telling clients they need ungodly amounts of protein to see results in their strength-training, which is not the case). Just check out what they're telling you by looking at reputable sites like the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

4. She won’t work with you unless you commit long-term. 

I admit this one isn’t as clear-cut. Some trainers are in such demand that they can decline to work with someone for just a handful of sessions. And the vast majority of trainers don’t make a lot of money, so to pay the bills they need to offer “packages” consisting of a specific number of sessions; the more you buy, the less you pay per session, typically, though the upfront cost is of course higher. But particularly if you’re getting back into exercise and you already know the basics and just want a refresher, you should be able to buy just a handful of sessions. If you want though, say, a 3-month plan to guide your workouts after you finish in-person training, you will likely need to pay more for this. You can also let your trainer know that you may be back in the future, and that you’re happy to recommend them to others and praise them on Facebook and Twitter.

5. He doesn’t listen to your goals or what you’re telling him about your body.

For whatever reason, personal trainers tend to skew young and often male. I know there are middle-aged (and older) trainers and plenty of women, but if you look around a gym or check out who’s training people in your local park, more often than not it’ll be a guy in his 20s or 30s. That’s fine, except when they only see through that lens.

As a woman who's hit middle age, my fitness goals (not to mention my body’s ability to reach those goals) are utterly different than they were even 10 years ago. (Let’s just say hormones aren’t my friend these days and I’m beginning to think a semi-flat belly is as likely as my becoming Queen of England.) Most trainers don’t know what to do with that information or how to compensate for or adjust my workouts to these changes so I continue to see the results I want in my training. (I’ve also had this problem with a female trainer, I should add.)

It's also worth mentioning that if a trainer doesn't listen to you when you say you're really sore (not typical muscle soreness, but serious soreness or outright pain), head for the door. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that a "deaf" trainer leads you to get injured.

But, if on the other answer, you wind up finding a personal trainer who's flexible, attentive, skilled, and does research on your goals, age, health issues, to address your questions and concerns, be sure to hold on tight: You’ve got a winner there.

Do you have a trainer you love? Give them a shout-out on our Facebook page! And if you've a horror story to share about poor training, share that too.


Photos: Lemon on black background (K J Garbutt, Flickr); lemons on blue plate (Muffett, Flickr)