There are plenty of telltale signs that a personal trainer isn’t up to par. If your trainer has you using equipment for a majority of your sessions this is a sign that he doesn’t know what he’s doing (or she doesn’t know what she’s doing).

Personal trainers do all kinds of bad things and you can tell a lot about a trainer by the amount of equipment they use in a session. If your trainer puts you on machines for just about everything, it’s an indication that you should find another trainer.

Regardless of fitness level, the majority of exercise should be done while standing. In the business we call them “ground-based, compound movements” (GBCM), and they are the most efficient and effective exercises that you can do.

Exercise in a machine does nothing to develop balance and stability, two vital skills, because the equipment is doing this work for you. There is no better way to train “the core” (which is much more then than the abdominal and lower back muscles) than to perform GBCMs;

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Standing military (overhead) presses
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Dead lift
  • Explosive lifts

Take an exercise machine and there’s a free-weight/GBCM exercise equivalent that is superior. In effect, balance and stability gets worse from using machines. The older we get, the more our nervous system deteriorates thanks to the inevitable aging process, the more we need to stay away from machines and “get into” GBCMs.

Trainers defend their use of machines along the lines of, “Mrs. Jones’ balance is so bad/back is so weak/range of motion is so diminished that she needs to work in a machine so she can regain some function.” Incorrect!

Machines avoid strengthening the weaknesses by taking them out of the equation. The person with bad balance who uses a hamstring curl machine instead of modified split squats or lunges, uses the leg press instead of body weight squats or military press machine instead of performing the lift standing with dumbbells, is not addressing their needs.

Athletes who use machines can’t improve performance and are training in a manner that impedes progress. Athletes never compete in a seated position (except for rowers!) and work in all planes of movement; machines cannot provide the proper training environment for athletes or weekend warriors.

Your personal trainer doesn’t know what they’re doing if they have you using exercise machines.


  1. I have been an ACE certified personal trainer for 4 years and I have a bachelor’s degree in exercise and health science. I agree that trainers should not be using machines as the primary exercise for a client but I think to say that they should be avoided all together and they serve no purpose is a mis-statement. Machines can be helpful in building strength and to say that a trainer is lazy if machines are incorporated into a workout routine is just wrong.

  2. Abby
    Provide an example of a machine that is better at building strength than a free-weight or body weight exercises or a machine that you use to build strength. For developing, maintaining and improving strength, balance and stability ground-based compound movements are superior to any machine. Thanks for writing.

  3. My Father had gotten me 2 days with a PT. Never really lifted weights before but am completely capable to do basic beginner free weights. I was hoping the PT, who looked like a decent bodybuilder, give me some advice & solid training with free weights but he instead gave me 2 days of machine circuits while counting reps. 100 dollars for reading directions on a bunch of machines and “sometimes” demonstrating how it’s done as if I’m mentally handicapped. Of course the argument is ‘proper form’ on machines is important or you need to work your way up before you hit the free weights.. really is this a good personal trainer or am I just being paranoid about it? Nice article BTW.

  4. I’m a personal trainer and the headache I have is trying to talk my clients into not using the machines. I came in after one of the personal trainers left and realized she had put her clients on machines. That’s what they expected. I had to wean a few off the machines because they refused to budge. I still have one that refuses to do anything not on a machine….Grrr.
    Plus I know other people are watching me when I train. I can only guess they think I am one bad personal trainer when they see me with this particular client. I hate machines myself….but I was told to give them what they want. And unfortunately no amount of me telling her the cons of a machine will make this client move. I try. I have her do bodyweight moves in between machines but she complains about those too…..

    • April
      When you work for someone else you sometimes have to bite the bullet. That being said, I think the fight to keep people off of the machines is one worth pursuing. Ask your client why do they want a trainer if all they want to do is sit in a machine?


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