Updated 14 January 2014

How to spot a bad trainer

A personal trainer who has not been properly trained can do you a lot more harm than good. Here are the things you should look out for.


If you can afford it, having a personal trainer is a great route to take to achieve your fitness goals safely and effectively. However, if your personal trainer isn't up to scratch, not only will they add nothing to your fitness regime, but they can actually cause you to suffer injury.

Always do a little research around your choice, and check their references. The experts always also have some suggestions about how to tell the good from the bad:

When good trainers go bad
According to Robyn Morgan of Flex Ladies Health and Fitness Centre in Cape Town, one of the most common mistakes personal trainers who are not properly trained or are inexperienced make, is to give each of their clients the same workout programme. It's essential, she said, to cusomise programmes according to clients' abilities and goals.

Morgan suggests the best way to find a qualified trainer is to look for someone with a background in physical education or coaching.

"The trainer should look at you as a whole, and not just in terms of centimetres and weight. It's important that you like the trainer and feel comfortable with him or her, as well. I think word of mouth is the best referral."

JC Moolman, medal winning SA athlete and personal trainer at The Zen Studio in Table View agreed with this and said nothing made her cringe more than watching someone at the gym in the hands of a trainer who was clearly not qualified. According to her, what separates the good from the bad is experience and people skills.

"If you're looking for a trainer, watch how they work and how they train their other clients to get an idea of their style and ability", she suggests.

Spotting that bad trainer
So how do you spot these under-trained trainers in a gym environment? According to Morgan, if you already have a trainer and an injury occurs, or if injury is ongoing occurrence with every workout and it is not dealt with but avoided, it could be time to find another trainer.

Should your trainer neglect to make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly, and fail to correct your posture when you're doing exercises – it could be time to move on to a better trainer.

Top of the list for when to lose your trainer? "Any trainer that encourages you to take anabolic steroids is a big no-no," says Morgan.

Moolman's list of mistakes made by bad trainers includes "overbooking themselves, then being tired as a result and not paying proper attention to the client. A good trainer gives a full attention and explains every exercise, where on the body it works, what it does and how the muscles work," she said.

What's the big deal?
Apart from the fact you're shelling out your hard-earned cash on someone who is not earning it, poor training can have some devastating physical repercussions.

"Poor training can result in permanent injury or make an existing orthopaedic condition worse. If your potential and individuality are not accurately analysed, and if you are not taught in a scientific way, you can get hurt," Morgan said.

Moolman said that if you have been working out with a trainer for a while and you're still not seeing any results, if they do not explain how the exercises work and why you're doing them, if they over-train you to the point where you can't walk for days… it could be time to do a little spring-cleaning and rather find yourself a qualified trainer.

Sources: Robyn Morgan, Flex Ladies Health and Fitness Centre;
JC Moolman, personal trainer, award-winning athlete; The Zen Studio,

(Amy Henderson,, updated January 2013)

Read more:
Finding a personal trainer
Sweat, baby, sweat


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