Signs Of A Bad Personal Trainer: 25 Traits To Avoid

Not every personal trainer is great, in fact, some of them are outright terrible and if you’re looking to hire one, you are going to want to make sure you hire the best around.

Knowing how to spot a bad personal trainer is one of the best ways you can avoid falling into the trap of paying for one, only to regret it down the line.

Here’s a sneak peek into just a few of the red flags that you should look for when looking to hire a PT:

  • Not paying attention during sessions
  • Using complex jargon
  • Body shaming
  • Using belittlement as encouragement
  • Always trying to sell you something

These are just a few of the most common things you should look out for, there are plenty of others too. A lot of people have unfortunately had bad experiences with personal trainers, so keep reading to find out exactly what you need to avoid if you don’t want to end up wasting your hard-earned cash on poor results and certain disappointment.

Top signs of a bad personal trainer

signs of a bad personal trainer

Not paying attention during sessions

Did your client do five reps or 10? Maybe even 15 or 20? How would you know? You’ve been on your phone the entire time.

Bad trainers might conflate work time with personal time. While they put their clients to work, they take the time to kick back and catch up on the latest news headlines or scroll through social media.

As we’re sure you can imagine, a personal trainer cannot possibly track the progress of their clients when they’re not watching what those clients are doing.

The clients who pay for a PT like this should consider taking their services elsewhere, as they’re certainly not getting their money’s worth!

Using complex jargon

bad personal trainers speak in jargon

Some people have a superiority complex. They want to feel like they’re above their clients in every way, and so they use confusing medical and fitness terms that the average client is not going to understand.

Miscommunications are only a matter of time.

For example, think of how disastrous it’d be if the personal trainer tells the client to do an AMRAP workout at home when the client doesn’t even know what that means. (AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible,” FYI!).

It’s like when two people speak different languages and neither understands the other. You’re not talking to each other; you’re talking at one another. No one wins.

Body shaming

People come in all shapes and sizes and that’s what makes us beautiful. At no point is it ever appropriate to body shame a client. That goes for whether a client is very skinny or overweight.

Poking fun at a person’s body does not motivate them to want to work out more. Instead, it tends to fuel the self-hatred this person might already feel towards themselves.

To deal with the stress or anxiety caused by being mocked, the person might resort to poor health behaviors like binge eating.

Working with a personal trainer should be a safe haven with no judgment.

Using belittlement as encouragement

bad personal trainers use belittlement

Those who have seen The Biggest Loser and other shows like it might assume that the tactics used on those television programs work in everyday life.

Those tactics are relying on belittlement to encourage someone to work out harder.

Belittlement includes body shaming but can occur outside of that realm as well. A professional should never utter a single negative word about their clients, and the section above proves why quite well.

Always trying to sell you something

If a client comes in who’s too skinny, a bad personal trainer will see this person as a sales opportunity rather than a client. They may try to sell the client their buddy’s brand of protein supplements so the client can bulk up.

It’s unprofessional for them to sell clients anything. If a client decides they want to take supplements, they can ask for a recommendation, but they shouldn’t shop through them.

bad personal trainers use cookie cutter workouts

Every workout should be tailored specifically to meet each individual client’s goals. This means taking time to consider every factor in that person’s life, from injuries, lifestyle, and ability level.

Lazy trainers may use “cookie-cutter” workouts (using exactly the same routines for multiple clients), as a way of saving time and making their jobs easier.

You’re paying for an expert to design the perfect workout for you and you alone, so should you notice them using the same exercises in the same order with another client, you should see this as a red flag that you have a lazy trainer on your hands.


I’ve seen a lot of blagging from inexperienced trainers who feel that they are supposed to know the answer to every question they get fired at them.

The professional thing to do if you don’t know the answer to a question is to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you”, it’s as simple as that.

Blagging their way out of directly answering a question (by using confusing language or industry jargon) is a sure sign of a bad personal trainer.

If they can’t answer a question in a simple understanding fashion, or won’t admit that they don’t know the answer to something, you may have a blagger on your hands.

Lack of client testimonials

bad personal trainers lack client testimonials

Not every trainer is going to have a list of hundreds of five-star reviews from delighted clients, but most should have at least a few under their belt.

A client testimonial is kind of the personal trainer’s review system and having a bunch of people that state they got something positive from their training is a good sign a PT knows what they are doing.

It’s important to note that PTs new to the industry may not have testimonials to start with, so this point should be combined with a few others on this list to define if they are any good or not.

Always available

Everyone loves eating at empty restaurants right?

No, of course not, because if there’s no one eating in a place that exclusively sells food, there’s got to be something wrong with the grub right?

If you see the same trainers standing around day after day on their phones looking bored and not training anyone, there could be a good reason why.

It’s normal to have quiet parts in your diary as a PT, but a lack of clients usually means that a trainer just isn’t that good.

Again, it’s important to factor this into others on this list, as a trainer new to the industry or club may still be finding their feet. However, if this is the case, they should be out talking to people and giving consultation sessions at least.

No fitness testing

bad personal trainers do not fitness test

Trainers should care about the results of their clients.

If after weeks of training, you haven’t even heard the suggestion of a testing session to see if you are making progress with your training, you should really ask for it.

If after requesting it, you get a half-hearted weigh-in on a set of scales, you really should look for someone else to help you meet your fitness goals.

Fitness testing should occur once every four to six weeks depending on your goals, and they should be comprehensive, consisting of weighing, measurement taking, before and after photos, bio-electrical impedance testing, you name it, but it should be taking place.

If they are scared of running testing sessions, they just might be nervous that they haven’t helped you make any improvements, which is exactly what you are paying them for.

A lack of qualifications

Every PT in the UK has to be at least level 3 certified by REPs (Register of exercise professionals) as a minimum to be able to offer personal training. In the US, they need to have a high-school diploma or be certified by ACSM, NSCA, or some other governing body.

A lack of certification is a big no-no in the industry, as, without this, they have not been assessed for their ability to deliver results, or more importantly, try to achieve them in a safe and effective manner.

Cheap session prices

Bad personal trainers cheap session prices

“if you can’t be good, be cheap” is a mantra that a lot of inexperienced or poor quality trainers seem to run their businesses by.

In most towns and cities there will be a “going rate” for personal training.

In the City Of London, for example, you’re looking at around £50-60 per hour, any session offered at a large discount should be seen as a red flag of a trainer either desperate to drum up more business by lowering their prices or, they lack confidence in their ability to charge the same as other more experienced PTs.

In either case, you really don’t want to be working with someone that is drastically cheaper than others in the local area, there’s usually a very good reason for it, and it’s not positive.

Frequently late

It’s not difficult to be on time for things, and if a trainer is truly professional, values their business, and respects their clients, they will show up to sessions on time.

A few overrunning sessions are ok, but if you frequently find yourself waiting ten minutes into your agreed session time, it’s time to look for a PT who knows how to organise their sessions properly.

Last-minute cancellations

bad personal trainers cancel sessions last minute

I was mortified anytime I knew I’d have to cancel a session at a moment’s notice. Firstly because I felt terrible for letting my clients down, but also because I knew it made me look bad as a trainer.

It may well happen at some point, canceled trains, broken down cars, or emergencies happen, and a PT will give you a free session to make up for it (if they don’t, you should sack them immediately).

It becomes a problem when it’s happening more than once every few months, and when they really don’t seem that upset that they had to cancel on you. That shows a lack of respect for their customer and is just about as big of a red flag as you can get.

Poorly organised

It really shouldn’t be out of any trainer’s remit to keep track of session times, dates, weights, reps, etc. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times though, PTs scratching their heads trying to remember what weight they used last week for their 3pm clients bench press, it’s embarrassing to see.

If they really value their client’s progress, they will keep methodical records of how their sessions are progressing, it’s the only way to get results, anything less is guesswork, which is a complete waste of time and money.

A training session should be a seamless operation, each exercise should be performed in a specific way, for a specific reason, there should be no reason to see a flustered trainer who realizes they’ve completely forgotten everything they had planned for the session, or worse, one with no plan for a session.

Trains all their clients the same way

bad personal trainers train all their clients the same way

Different from using cookie-cutter workouts previously mentioned, this point refers to trainers that only agree with one style of training for all their clients, no matter what their goals or exercise preferences.

For example, PTs who only trust in the methods of Crossfit, or functional trainers who won’t use old school training techniques even if their clients really want to. A good PT should be able to make changes to their preferred training style if it matches their client’s goals.

You should also feel free to say that you would like to train in a different style if you would prefer, and if they say no to this, they should remember who is paying for their services.

No rapport

You may not think that having engaging and entertaining conversations is an important aspect of training, and whilst you could say it isn’t vital, I would certainly say it’s important.

You’ll probably be seeing a trainer two to three times a week for an hour, imagine spending every rest period you have sitting in silence whilst they stare at their phone or aimlessly around the gym until your next set begins.

Having someone that can make conversation with makes training a lot more fun for people, and they can even begin to look forward to their sessions.

Not everyone is a great conversationalist or extravert, but you should at least be able to make some small talk with a PT, and whilst it isn’t something you should immediately be concerned about, if you’re looking to train for the longer term, it should be something to consider.

Not taking notes during training

bad personal trainers don't take notes

I trained upwards of 25 clients per week, and averaged around 40 to 45 sessions per week, so do you think I could remember what every one of my clients was lifting the previous week, or even a few days ago without taking notes?

Absolutely not, not a chance.

Every time a PT gives a client a weight they can comfortably lift, they are missing out on progression, and this is a cardinal sin of any training program.

A lot of trainers pride themselves on not being concerned with taking notes during their sessions, but I often found these were the same ones that came across as not caring if their clients reach their goals or not. This was certainly never something that sat comfortably with me, and I don’t believe it should be for anyone else either.

Not timing rest periods

Rest periods should always be timed depending on your goals, using the correct rest periods can greatly enhance the efficacy of training sessions.

For example, too long of a rest period between sets in a weight-loss session will lower your heart rate when it should be kept high to achieve maximum calorie burning in the allotted session time.

A sign of a great trainer is one that can talk during a rest period to make the session entertaining but still remain consistent with ensuring the prescribed rest periods are adhered to. It’s not always easy when you get into a deep conversation with someone, but much as it is fun to be sociable, they should know you are there to work.

Pushing you too hard

bad personal trainers push thier clients too hard

It’s bad to have a trainer that lets you get away with easy workouts, but it’s really bad to have one that pushes you to the point of pain or even worse, potential injury, This is not something any personal trainer should make you do.

Gone are the days of PTs being seen as drill sergeants screaming in people’s ears and working them until they throw up. If you feel uncomfortable during any exercise, either if you think the weight is too much or you are likely to injure yourself, they should always take this into consideration.

If instead you see or have hired one that prides themselves on pushing their clients to breaking point each session, you might want to look for one that’s a little more up to date.

Not listening to you

Whilst you’re hiring a trainer for their expertise, you are still the customer, which means your thoughts and feelings matter.

They should be listening to you, and if you feel as if you’re being ignored, you need to speak up and challenge them about it. I’ve seen this happen a few times in my career, and it’s awful to see.

Listening skills should be a key part of any trainer’s repertoire and it’s not just about trying to make clients happy to keep them training for years, it’s about fully understanding their personality, likes, dislikes, what motivates or discourages them in their training.

If they don’t listen to you, you cannot expect to get the best quality training.

Being uncontactable

bad personal trainers are uncontactable

We’ve already spoken in this post about how busy personal trainers are the ones you should really be going for if you’re looking to hire one. However, with being busy, comes being difficult to contact.

During the working day, you should not expect to be able to ring or receive immediate responses from them, as they almost certainly have a day jam-packed with clients.

You should however be able to get in contact with them at some point, either from a returned call or message, and so the issue comes with not being able to get in contact for several days at a time.

If you have questions relating to your training, including confirmation of session dates and times, questions regarding diet, or additional training, you should be able to ask and get a response within the same day.

Mucking around with colleagues

Work shouldn’t be boring, there’s nothing wrong with having fun with your colleagues, but this should happen behind closed doors in the trainer’s communal areas that most gyms provide.

If you see PTs on the gym floor wrestling around and being silly with each other, it could be a sign that they don’t take their profession quite as seriously as they should.

If they don’t value their reputation enough to remain professional in front of a gym full of potential clients, they may not take your sessions seriously either. Of course, this may not be the case for all, but you can only go by your first impressions and instincts.

Frequently asking you to rearrange your sessions

bad personal trainers rearrange sessions

There was one point in my career when I asked every client I trained on Fridays to change their session dates to another point from Monday to Thursday to free up my Fridays.

The point is, I asked them to do this once and once only. After a client’s session is booked, it should be set in stone, unless both parties are fully agreed and happy with a different time or date.

Trainers with poor organizational skills will often find themselves double booked or needing to rearrange session times, so if you’re being asked to move your sessions multiple times in a short period, you might have found yourself a poorly organised PT. It’s also really frustrating, and not something you should put up with.

You’re not learning anything

You aren’t just paying for someone to stand over you and watch you lift weights when you hire a PT, you’re paying for someone to teach you how to train more effectively. With this should come a great deal of learning, not only about lifting techniques but healthy eating tips, the reasons why you are performing certain exercises, and the benefits you get from them.

If you feel like you would still be completely in the dark about how to exercise in the most efficient manner if you were no longer having PT sessions, you clearly aren’t being taught much by them.

Some clients will always want help with motivation and to be pushed in their training, and this is fine, but you should also be able to feel that should a situation occur where you can no longer hire one, you should be fully confident to continue on you own.

How to report a personal trainer

So as you’ve seen, there are plenty of reasons your personal trainer might not be up to scratch. So what do you do if things get serious enough for you to need to tell someone about it?

If you’re being trained in a gym, the process is very simple, you can ask to speak to the personal training manager to air your complaints or, failing that, if they don’t have a PT manager, you can ask to speak to the general manager of the gym itself.

In either situation, if you have sessions left to use, they should be able to transfer them to another trainer, or if you no longer feel comfortable training in the same gym, you should be able to have them moved to another gym of the same brand or be refunded for what’s left.

If your training is private

Things are a little more complicated if you aren’t being trained in a gym, but that’s not to say there is nothing you can do, far from it. The first obvious thing to say if your trainer is making you feel uncomfortable enough to want to stop training with them is to stop all training and demand a refund for the remaining sessions.

If things are more serious than this, you can report them and make a complaint to their accrediting body if you know the name of the company, and in the case of anything more serious than this, you may even need to go down the legal route, but this is usually very rare.


There are more good trainers out there than bad, this is what I am 100% certain of, but it’s always worthwhile looking out for these personal trainer red flags just in case. You don’t want to find out you’ve invested money and time into a bad one, so check through this list first before you go on the hunt.

If you’ve already hired one and see several of the traits on this list present, maybe decide if you’d be better off looking for another one, there’s plenty out there to choose from and you should always be getting a good quality service.

I hope this list has helped you learn the signs of a bad personal trainer, what to look out for and what to avoid.

Have a great day.

If you liked this article, please feel free to share it, or link back to it.

Related articles
How To Improve Your Personal Trainer
How To Find A Good Personal Trainer: 20 Top Tips
What To Expect From A Personal Trainer
10 Things Your Personal Trainer Will Make You Do
10 Fixable Reasons Your Personal Training Isn’t Working

Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

Recent Posts