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Is It Time To Ditch Your Personal Trainer?

These telltale signs mean it's not working out.​

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animation of lady in a push up position and holding her trainer on her back
Carolina Buzio
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When my friend Marnie decided to get in shape, she realized she was too busy and quite possibly too lazy to design a fitness routine for herself. “I’ll do the exercise … I don’t want to do the research, too!” she whined at me over our third glass of high-caloric wine. (We had to drink wine. It was the only thing that went with the cheese board we ordered.) So Marnie shelled out for membership at a fancy health club chain and signed up for a few introductory sessions with a personal trainer. The first session was free. The rest were not so free. One year and thousands of dollars later, Marnie is bored with exercise, has not lost any weight and is about to throw in the towel. I encouraged her to keep up the exercise but dump the trainer. (Full disclosure: There was, again, wine and cheese present during the conversation.)

Don’t be a Marnie! According to Vince Sant, a certified fitness trainer and cofounder of the fitness platform, there are a few telltale signs to look out for. If any of these situations sound like one of your training sessions, it may be time to dump your trainer.

They don’t properly assess you at the first session.
“The best trainers perform thorough and complete assessments when working with a new client,” states Sant. And by complete assessment, he means doing movement screening and basic performance tests while learning about your nutrition and lifestyle. Your trainer should be asking about what you eat, your blood pressure, allergies and injuries.

They tell you to warm up on your own.
“This is absolutely crazy,” says Sant. “People don't generally know how to stretch on their own — that’s part of why you pay a trainer!” A qualified and skilled trainer will know how to customize your warm-up for the workout you’re about to do.

They don’t give you work to do outside of your sessions.
If your trainer charges you by the hour but doesn’t give you anything to do during the hours you’re not training, ask for homework! If they can’t deliver, consider it a red flag. Sant says, “Good personal trainers give you homework with a purpose.”

They look at their phone during your sessions.
If your trainer is texting while training, they aren’t focused on you. “You pay them good money to pay attention to what it is you’re doing. A trainer needs to have his/her eyes on you all the time!” says Sant.

They put you on a cardio machine and stand there.
“Unless you need a bodyguard while you are on a machine you know how to operate, this is a complete waste of time,” says Sant. You’re paying for coaching, not babysitting. “A good trainer will make sure that multiple body parts are being used,” he says.

They believe in no pain, no gain.
Pain is your body’s alarm to alert you that you should stop doing what you’re doing and figure out the problem. “There is a distinct difference between legitimate pain and the soreness you get when you exercise,” says Sant. “If a muscle feels pulled, and you express that to your trainer, he/she should lay off training that muscle group until you are completely healed.”

They try to motivate with body shaming.
A good trainer should never use body shaming as a means to make you work harder. Sant says that a trainer should motivate by focusing on the positive, with statements such as “You’re so much stronger since we first began” or “Your cardio has really improved,” rather than “Give me 30 crunches to burn that flab off your gut!” Exercise should make us feel empowered, not embarrassed.