Rather than provide another list of qualities to look for in a personal trainer, here’s a list of things a trainer should never do during a session.  Almost 20 years ago I was taught that there’s a right way and a wrong way to treat clients and I still abide by these guidelines today. I insist that the trainers who work in my facility do the same.

A personal trainer should never…

  • Ask a client, “Have you ever done this exercise before?”  This question reveals that the trainer is not familiar with a client and/or hasn’t kept proper records tracking their client’s sessions.
  • Ask a client, “How much weight do you use with this exercise?”  As in the above, asking this question also reveals a lack of attention to detail and a lack of professionalism by the trainer.  If your trainer ever asks either or – god forbid – both of these questions it’s time to look for another trainer.  Asking either of these questions is a Cardinal Sin.
  • Leave a client alone during a session and let them continue to exercise.  There are always emergency situations that could result in a trainer being called away during a session, and in these rare instances the client should never be left alone to exercise.  But the reality is that trainers do leave clients alone while they are in the middle of a session and rarely because of an emergency.  This is unacceptable trainer behavior.
  • Not keep a detailed record of every training session.  Keeping an accurate account of all workouts for each client is one of the trainer’s most important responsibilities and avoids them having to ask the two dreaded questions mentioned above.  Furthermore, keeping detailed records allows a trainer to track a client’s progress and can help determine – or rule out – the cause of soreness or other post-workout discomfort.
  • Use mostly equipment during a training session.  Using machines in a session is a sign of laziness on the part of the trainer.  Since training on equipment is inferior to working out with free weights you really aren’t getting what you paid for.  Anybody can move from machine to machine and do three sets of 10 repetitions at each stop.  You don’t need to pay someone to watch you workout.
  • Sit down during a session while the client is working out.  A trainer who sits down while a client exercises is a sign of laziness and disrespect.  It’s one thing to sit down with your client during a rest period while carrying on a conversation, and I sometimes sit or kneel on the floor while coaching or correcting a client during certain lifts like the squat or lunge.  But flat out sitting on a bench or other piece of equipment to rest while a client works is a no-no.
  • Talk to another person – or turn away from a client – while a client is exercising.  The client deserves undivided attention while performing an exercise and needs to be under the watchful eyes of their trainer.  During rest periods, there’s nothing wrong with speaking to another client or trainer, and frankly I’ve had clients who weren’t interested in talking while they rested.  But during exercise, a trainer should always be watching their client.
  • Do the same exact workout with every client.  When you aren’t working with your trainer, watch their sessions with other people.  If they are doing the same exercises in the same order with everyone then you aren’t getting the most out of your sessions and certainly aren’t getting what you paid for.  People, no matter how similar they seem, require different programs.  No two people are alike, and a trainer’s sessions should reflect this reality.
  • Answer their cell phone during a session.  This sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually seen this happen and it’s the ultimate sign of disrespect and unprofessional behavior.  There are rare exceptions to this rule, but not many. Obviously, if your trainer should be paying attention to you and not be talking to other people during your session, they certainly shouldn’t be talking on the cell phones.  This is just a sign of the times.  15 years ago it was the beeper, and now it’s cell phones.  If it’s time for your trainer to answer their cell during your session, it’s time for you to get a new trainer.
  • Eating during the session.  Another sign of disrespect and laziness, there’s no reason for a trainer to eat during a session in front of a client.  I know from the days of having eight people straight through that the schedule is no excuse for this behavior.  The proper way for a trainer to handle this situation is to take 5 minutes before a session starts and explain to their client that they’ve had 4 or 5 straight sessions and that they need to grab an energy bar or a fruit.  Even now, if I’m booked solid and if I need to grab a fruit, I’ll do so when my client needs to get water or is on a 3-minute break.

This list focuses on “big picture” issues with regard to a trainer’s behavior and quite frankly, frequently trainers who act in any or all of these unprofessional manners haven’t received proper training.  In many cases, personal trainers are freelancers who answer only to themselves.  However, whether a trainer works for a facility or is an independent contractor there is no excuse for them to not treat their clients in a professional manner.

If you run across any of these behaviors, perhaps you can suggest to your trainer that he/she not do whatever it is that is violation of my “rules” and see how they react.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.  They may apologize and agree that they shouldn’t have done whatever it was.  But if they get annoyed or blow you off, you may want to consider looking for another trainer.

Remember, you’re the client. You paid to have someone work with you exclusively for a session. Don’t be afraid to make sure your personal trainer gives you what you’re paying for and for what they are obligated to provide.


  1. 10 things a personal trainer should never ask?
    #1- first time working with a client. Is it so irresponsible to ask?
    #5- I agree, not every time. But clients that have never worked out in their life can receive a great session on form, learning techniques to maintain safety during an exercise (ie; knees behind toes, spinal alignment), rep speed, and a fixed range of motion that ensures safety performing exercises easing them into a workout which eventually will lead to free weights and functional exercises.

    • The first time working with a client or the 20th time, it doesn’t matter. I just think it’s bad form, in general, but I can see what you are getting at. If it’s during the first session, it’s not as big of a deal.
      With regards to number 5, working on machines, I disagree. People learn balance and proper technique by performing non-machine exercises. Machines do nothing to develop any worthwhile movement skills as there are always ground-based exercises that can be modified to any level, that are superior.


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