Ten Big Lies Personal Trainers Tell Their Clients

Posted on 08 Feb 2018 19:38

Everybody has their own idea about what are the biggest "untruths" that the personal fitness industry tells. Most lists mention spot reduction, a pound of muscle burns 30 calories a day, you can turn fat into muscle, etc. All myths, for sure. And I am sure there are trainers out there who don't mind crossing their fingers behind their backs and lying about those things, if it suits their figures. It may not be very original, but I have another such list in mind. So here are my top 10 picks, which I have expanded from an original five:

1. I've trained thousands of clients.
2. You shouldn't strength train or work out without consulting a personal trainer.
3. I am a nutrition/diet expert.
4. I am a health expert.
5 I am a qualified specialist in ________.
6. The key to losing weight is to exercise more.
7. This is the program I used to get jacked.
8. I can provide advanced training
9. Don't worry, they wouldn't let me do this if I weren't qualified.
10 I'm a life coach and can counsel you.

Some trainers really care about helping their clients achieve the best results. Some only care about making a buck, or a million, judging by the internet crowd. And some want to care but are forced to make personal training about sales rather than results because they work for a commercial gym. Although many trainers would never actually utter the words, they may be pressured or tempted to imply certain things. That free consultation is meant to be a sales pitch not a true consultation. The following 10 things are big big lies, but maybe not for the reasons you think!

I've Trained Thousands of Clients

This is the grandaddy. You see, most personal trainers, working in commercial gyms, do not TRAIN anybody. To train someone means that there is a beginning and an end and a particular goal is reached, or at least is attempted. Supervising someones workouts, counting reps, etc. for a few sessions until the client decides the fees aren't worth it is not "training" someone. It's just being in the same room and taking more than a casual interest in their workout. Training requires a lot of time and effort and a very personalized plan. Trainers may have consulted with thousands of clients and ran a whole lot of clients through a workout. But as far as taking a client through a prolonged training process to a defined goal, well, to have done this thousands of times, your trainer better be Yoda. There just ain't enough hours in the day or days in the year for your twenty something gym trainer to have actually trained thousands of different people. You think I'm just being pedantic? You don't want to be a fool soon parted with his money, you'll get a bit pedantic yourself, once in a while.


This has nothing to do with bashing young trainers. Some of the best strength coaches and trainers out there right now are young, and much younger than me. Fresh ideas and fresh directions are what drives progress, and many young trainers are full of new ideas and approaches. What it really has to do with is honesty about what constitutes experience, and the industry is, as a rule, dishonest about this. If you work at a gym full time, you can get loads of experience before you even reach the age of thirty. But there is experience and there is experience. Working at a gym and supervising workouts is not exactly what I call training, unless it constitutes an ongoing relationship where particular goals are addressed and met.

See, most people just looking to get in shape don't need to be trained. They need a little advise and a bit of motivational support. And this brings us to the next big lie:

You Shouldn't Work Out Without Consulting a Personal Trainer

I'm surprised how many times I hear this one. Folks, a personal trainer is a LUXURY, not a necessity. What did I just say above? Despite that fact that the fitness industry creates demand for its products in a similar as if they are a necessity, training is a specific, highly detailed, and prolonged relationship bent on achieving a particular goal. Most people's goals are not realized as a specific event, such as a competition, for instance, but are an ongoing pursuit, such as weight loss. In fact, most people's reason for exercise seems to be weight loss. And this leads us to the next big lie:

The Key to Losing Weight is to Work Out More

Commercial gyms don't make money from your great diet plan. They make money by selling you a membership and personal training sessions. If they can make you believe that working out more often will result in more weight loss, it is in their interest to do so. Although the personal training is a great way for the gym to make more money, I do not want you to think that gyms actually WANT you to work out more, they only want to plant the belief long enough to sell you a gym membership. If you don't show up very often, even better! Regardless, for the truly overweight, any workout plan is doomed to ultimate failure unless the diet is in check: The true key to weight loss. And this gives us the next big lie:

I Am a Nutrition/Diet Expert

Most probably do not know this but the typical training certification does not allow a personal trainer to give specific nutrition advise unless they have a particular nutrition certification. This should tell you that you do not need to be an expert on fat loss nutrition to be a personal trainer. Many of them are less qualified to help you in that regard than Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, or some other popular fat loss product and among those who are certified in nutrition, very few should claim to be EXPERTS! The best professional to PAY for eating and diet help is a Registered Dietician.

None of this should be taken to mean that there are no non-RD's who are not absolute stars in the diet and nutrition world. I happen to know of a few myself. So, if you are one of those stars, before you get offended, know that I am discussing the qualifications of most personal trainers, not all of them, and you know good and well that the nutrition knowledge of the average personal trainer…SUCKS.

Many times, personal trainers use their bodies to imply that they are an expert in nutrition. They are cut up and obviously not over-weight. So they might like to imply that they can help you achieve the same results through diet. And of course, they use their bodies to sell clients training sessions! A trainers personal appearance is the biggest immediate selling point they have. And commercial gyms have no shortage of huge bodybuilder types selling personal training, a subject in itself.

None of this is to say that it is necessarily illegal to discuss nutrition with clients. It is not illegal for a fitness trainer to talk about with their client what they eat. To keep it simple, it is perfectly legal, for the most part, to talk give clients advice pertaining to what is considered generally sound nutritional habits. Yet, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to step over the line from advice to 'treating' or claiming to treat.
Specific dietary strategies meant to deal with a diagnosed medical condition can only be given by a registered dietician. Let me give you an example of how an personal trainer is, right now, going past the legal boundaries:

Trainer reads a book. Let's say it is on an Alkaline Diet cure. Trainer then prescribes this diet to his client to treat their illness (whatever this may be). This is illegal. The trainer can, however, unfortunately, feel free to recommend said book to his client.

At least 48 states have laws regulating the practice of dietetics. Providing meals plans or giving nutritional counseling may fall under these laws and require a specific licensure.

I Am a Health Expert

Most personal trainers are not even on the same planet as "health expert." I want to be as blunt as possible about this since clever marketing and over-inflated egos have caused many personal trainers to not only imagine themselves to be health experts, but to dispense what amounts to medical advice to their clients, and as is much more common, via internet blog posts, etc. The knowledge of health and health conditions that the average personal trainer possesses is cursory at best, and often woefully inaccurate. The pretense to science in the industry has caused an influx of fitness professionals who lack the background to interpret medical information and research, but who interpret it nonetheless: Wrongly.

Most personal trainers should limit themselves to basic exercise prescription and technique, and with helping their clients achieve fitness goals, which should benefit the health of their clients. Unless they have a particular qualification and the education, expertise, and experience to back it up, a personal trainer has absolutely no business telling a client how to 'treat' his high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. Advice should be kept general and nonspecific to any particular health condition or disease. Of course, since much of this kind of advice takes the form of 'dietary counseling' it overlaps with "I am a nutrition/diet expert," above. Food as Medicine is obviously a part of this growing problem.

See also Are Most Diseases Caused by Eating the Wrong Food?

I Am a Qualified Expert in ___.

Specialist are big in the modern fitness world. All sorts of personal trainers profess to be specialists in certain health conditions or disease states, claiming to be able to accommodate special needs. Diabetes is one such very important condition. Be very careful of anyone saying they are qualified to help you, from an exercise standpoint, with diabetes or any other serious medical condition. The "qualification" the trainer has may not be worth the paper it is printed on, if they have any qualification whatsoever. Real damage could be done and such exercise intervention by unqualified trainers is a very real and present danger.

So, before we move on, lets summarize some of the things that a personal trainer should no do, as related to these last three points:

  • Personal trainers should not diagnose! This is becoming more and more common and it really has gotten out of hand.
  • Personal trainers should not prescribe, whether this be diet, supplements, or specific exercise aimed at a particular health problem.
  • Personal trainers are not physical therapists and they should not do rehabilitation.
  • Personal trainers should not get involved in the medical affairs of their clients and "monitor" this in any way, including interfering with or going over a doctor's advice with a client.

This is the Program I Used to Get Jacked

I mentioned huge bodybuilder types selling personal training services in gyms and, all the time, we see muscular and shredded models demonstrating new fitness devices on television. If you believe that some guy became jacked using a little metal rack doing body weight exercises, then you are being a bit gullible. Extend that same thinking to the guy pressuring you to sign a contract at your gym. Chances are, the "program" he gives you will be quite generic and nowhere near the specialized work he used to develop such a huge muscular body.

The personal training industry does not enjoy much credibility. Sometimes there is good reason for that. There are however many many highly dedicated men and women who are right now striving to change that image. Why, then, did I write another blog post like this one, helping to further cement this less than stellar reputation? Well, for one thing I've always made it clear that I am about the people, not the industry. But that was not my motivation here. It is very simple: If the industry is to improve, the public who pays for it's services needs to learn how to recognize quality! Once the public is able to make educated decisions and demand the best, the industry will have to give it. The fitness industry counts on the ignorance of it's customers. To be honest, I believe that most personal trainers are good people who really want to make a difference in people's lives, but through financial necessity have to tow the line the commercial gym industry makes them. By learning and asking questions, we help them as well! When clients expect more, gyms will have to deliver more to get their money and the personal trainers who work for them will be able to do more of what they got into the business to do: Help people.

One of the biggest and most effective thing you can do to make the commercial gym less an aimless wander through high-tech machines with the confusing "common sense" shouts of a bunch of trainers: Have a clear and defined idea of exactly why you are there and what you want to achieve. The more specific the better. You may think that "I want to be in shape for soft ball" is specific enough. Well it isn't. That could just as well become an excuse for a trainer to have you running back and forth over bosu balls. Specific, in terms of gym workouts, means specific performance related goals. Whether it's lifting a heavy barbell, doing more pullups, or even just getting more than half-way through a punishing circuit routine, the more you set your sights on destinations you can clearly visualize, the faster will come your "light bulb moment," after which you will begin to LIKE what you're doing. And look at it this way, if you don't have clearly defined goals, why pay money? The outdoors, even your backyard, is free.

Maybe the above are not always verbal lies. Maybe they are implications. Maybe the word lie is no better for a blog post title than the word truth, but would you have read this if I had called it "5 Things Personal Trainers Say?"

I Can Provide Advanced Training

I've been waiting to get to this one. First of all, the word advanced, in the fitness world, is usually born of BS. Very few people have any real definition of what it means to be advanced and this changes relative your viewpoint. However, assuming that advanced means that you require very specific training in order to continue progressing, them most gym trainers have little experience with this. Why? Because personal training usually deals with beginners. People who are out of shape, not people who are already in great shape and are looking to achieve the next level of athletic performance. As I pointed out in the number one, above, the average trainer doesn't really "train" anyone for anything, but could be more accurately called a temporary consultant. And this consultation is usually to the unfit, who spend a few weeks to a month with a personal trainer before stopping or realizing they could do it on their own. Many people talk and write about advanced training, but you can be sure that only a few of them actually engage in helping others with advanced training.

Don't Worry, They Wouldn't Let Me Do This if I Weren't Qualified

I love this one and I am continually surprised by how many people try to slide this one past. Personal trainer, as a title, says absolutely nothing of expertise or qualification. There is no "they" watching over the profession to make sure that only the most qualified are called "personal trainers." There are no national standards or minimum requirements required to have this title! Sure there are many organizations that set standards and educational requirements for receiving certifications, and most gym owners require a certification. However, these certifications are not created equally and, although you may have heard differently, finding that your personal trainer has one is no guarantee they are right for you, or even that they know what they are doing. They may only have passed on online exam. Do you remember everything from all the tests you passed in school? No? I thought not. The best way to know if a trainer is right for you is to ask very specific and pointed questions and gauge for yourself by the manner in which they answer.

I'm a Life Coach and Can Counsel You

I would think that anybody with the audacity to refer to themselves as a "life coach" should automatically repel others, but the term is out there and it is being picked up by personal trainers. The problem with this, besides the outrageous ego inherent in it, is that it implies counseling people. Since life coach is a not a recognized profession that has specific standards and education attached to it, what we have is completely unqualified lay-people trying to give personal and even mental health counseling. This should not be done and a personal trainer should never counsel clients. If you are not sure what I mean by using the term counseling, I use it here to mean formal advice given as to the conduct of personal affairs or behaviors for the purpose of achieving therapeutic change in mental health, stress levels, etc.

This page created 08 Feb 2018 19:38
Last updated 24 Mar 2018 05:01

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