How To Spot If Your Personal Trainer Is Bullshitting You

It’s easy to spot a truly hopeless personal trainer – it’s the guy or girl who spends most of your session checking their own abs in the mirror and texting their dog. Harder to spot are the well-meaning but slapdash ones, making the kind of #gymfails that turn them into expensive cheerleaders. Follow this advice from PT Anthony Nyman on what to call yours out on… 

1. You’re Worked To Within 1m Of ‘Barf City’

OK, so you might like to end a PT session feeling you’ve been worked – you want an effect for the investment, right? ‘A classic mistake personal trainers make is taking pride in saying: “I almost made my client sick today,” PT and Multipower ambassador Anthony Nyman told RISING. The problem with ‘being beasted’ like this is that it’s like the crystal meth of working out – it’s intense but you adapt quickly to it, initially, so where do you go from there? ‘The following week you probably won’t feel it as much, so won’t have as good a session, and then you spend the following week just chatting about the breakup of your relationship, or whatever else is happening.’

2. You’re Doing Complicated Shit

When it comes to lifting moves in the gym it’s hard to beat The Big Five (squat, bench press, deadlift, row, pull-up), but many PTs feel the need to mystify things. ‘My training philosophy is based around weights with big, heavy compound moves, if my client’s form is perfect. However you do see trainers with someone trying to balance on a Swiss ball while pressing a kettlebell above their head, just because it’s the ‘funkiest’ exercise in the gym,’ says Nyman.

It may seem like your PT is unlocking some secret method, but unless the move is designed to target a specific weakness, or redress a strength imbalance, then it’s probably bullshit. ‘It boils down to trying to prove themselves and not backing themselves to say: “This is what we’re doing this week, and we’ll probably be doing the same thing every week for the next six weeks.”’ Where the progression comes, says Nyman, is in the details: ‘I would be looking to progress you in one way or another by adding a rep, or bringing the rest periods down, or progressing the weights.’

‘The problem with ‘being beasted’ like this is that it’s like the crystal meth of working out’

3. You Aren’t Working To A Long-term Goal With A 6-8 Week Programme

If you’re working with a trainer and there doesn’t seem to be a plan, then you need to bin them. ‘The point of personal training is first and foremost to find out the client’s goals, work out where they are now, and then put a program together that progresses them session by session to get them there,’ says Nyman. It sounds straightforward but many PTs just give clients a cookie-cutter series of workouts that aren’t tied to a progressive plan. You need something tailored to you.

‘Everyone is different, with different goals and starting points. It’s about consistency, intensity and progression, so I try to focus on picking the right exercise for your goal, being consistent each week, making sure the intensity is there, and then identifying when it's become a little bit too easy.’ It takes 6-8 weeks to fully adapt to a workout plan, so as well as planning that far ahead, your PT also shouldn’t cave into pressure from you and change up before then.

4. They Let Bad Form Slide

There’s a chance that your exercise form sucks – maybe you lack the flexibility to do a proper squat, or you’ve never built the necessary mind-muscle connection to control the bar during a bench press. Your PT should be there to help you with this – thing is it’s time-consuming, boring and sometimes the temptation is to say: “Yeah, fine, that will do.” Don’t stand for this – if you don’t feel like you nailed it, then you probably didn’t, and fudging it now will only lead to frustration and injury later on, says Nyman.

‘For any back exercise, like a bent over row, I teach clients to visualise Donald Duck and to keep your lower back flat with a natural curve – focus on keeping your bum out; keeping your shoulders back and down.’ And, if you really can’t crack it, then insist on going back to the drawing board to do bodyweight versions of the moves, plus stretching routines.

5. Your Trainer Indulges In Pointless Cardio

You’ve seen it – the PT supervising a client on a ‘monster’ cardio workout with a super-light weight and endless reps – limbs flying everywhere; client beaming; PT looking bored. Fun cardio can lift your mood but it’s unlikely to give a good return. ‘You see people swinging equipment above their heads – the client is loving it and thinks their trainer is great but really you would do just as well as to watch TV and run on the spot for half an hour,’ says Nyman.

Bear in mind the basic parameters of exercise: ‘If you want to increase strength or change shape then do weights; if you want to get fitter then do cardio and work at different heart rates; if you want to burn fat, bring the two together and do interval training.’

6. They Let Your Ego Loose With The Weight Plates

One of the most satisfying feelings on the planet is to shift a tonne of weight using your muscles – it’s primeval stuff. As universal as love of The Pump surely is, it also stokes the ego, which can be counter-productive in the weights room. ‘I started training when I was 17 and my mindset was: “I need to lift heavy weights,” but I didn’t have the mind-muscle connections to do it,’ says Nyman.

He recommends you go back to basics: ‘Get in tune with your body – really focus on the muscle you’re trying to work to stretch fully and then contract fully, and making sure you’re not using any momentum, just the muscle.’

‘You would do just as well watching TV and running on the spot for half an hour’

7. It’s Not Them, It’s You

You can have the world’s best personal trainer, but if you’re just not that into the training then chances are that you're wasting your money. ‘A trainer cannot help someone unless they’re 100% going to listen to them, put their trust in them and do it. You can’t think: “I’ve got a trainer so I am going to get results.”’ So, get serious and turn up in the right headspace for success.

WHAT NEXT? Every training plan should start with a specific, measurable, achievable, time-based final goal (hint: ‘getting hench’ isn’t one). Think of what return you want to get from your gym investment, and then ask yourself how you’re going to get there. If you’re beginning to train, then take that thinking to a PT and you’re likely to start out strong – if you’re already on your way, then make sure you’re heading to your desired destination…

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.