Not all trainers are created equal. Some are incredibly knowledgeable and will transform your body. They’ll create a personalized program fitted to your body, history, and goals that will give you consistent results and handle the inevitable crises of life.
Other trainers, however, will make your head shake. Worse, if you’re their client, they’ll turn your training into a vicious cycle of injuries and lousy results with nothing to show for it except wasted money and time. Don’t let that be you. Below is a list of some of the things that only a bad trainer will say. If they ever utter these phrases, it’s time for a breakup. Your body will thank you.
“No Pain. No Gain”
There’s a huge difference between something being hard and something being painful. If it hurts, stop doing it immediately. But if your trainer tells you to keep pushing through, he or she doesn’t care much for your health or safety. Stop immediately. When it comes to pain or an injury, a good trainer will tell you to rest, ask you what happened, and perform first aid, not ask you to do two more reps.
“You need to take…”
While personal trainers can offer some general dietary advice, it is illegal for them to prescribe supplements and foods to treat ailments. Bad trainers, however, urge their clients to try all sorts of random products—herbs, powders, creams, and even “natural” supplements like clay (yes, clay)—many of which lack any scientific research and could be dangerous. Nutrition advice from a good trainer will go only as far as reminders to eat vegetables, lean meats, fruits, whole grains, and drinking plenty of water.
“It works for me”
Some trainers have a “if it works for me, it’ll work for you” mindset. Yet what might work for one person could be disastrous for another. Everyone is different with different needs and a different training (and injury) history. If box jumps work for the trainer who ran track in college, it could aggravate a knee injury for an older desk-ridden client. Good trainers will always tailor the exercises to you and take themselves out of the equation.
“Squats are bad for your knees”
Only a bad trainer will believe these myths. There are a lot of scientific studies that prove barbell squats improve knee stability and joint health. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers from Loyola Marymount University found that a six-month training program with squats and deadlifts significantly increased bone-mineral density in healthy young men.
If your trainer tells you to stay away from these two essential exercises, they either don’t understand the human body or don’t know how to do the movements correctly. In either case, find another trainer.
“THIS exercise will get rid of belly fat”
Spot reduction is a myth. No exercise can melt fat in a specific area—instead, you need to drop fat from your entire body. Worse, by targeting a muscle in the hopes of reducing its fat, you’ll only make it look bigger because you’re overemphasizing the muscle underneath. If your trainer is selling you on spot reduction, look elsewhere for training advice.
“A Smith machine is safer”
No good trainer will ever recommend that you squat, bench, or deadlift in the Smith machine. It fixes you into a two-dimensional plane with unnatural movement patterns and stabilizes the weight, which prevents you from getting the full benefits of exercise. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that free-weight bench presses activated far more muscles than these exercises on the Smith machine. In another study, researchers from Canada found 43% more muscle activation with the free-weight squat than a Smith-machine squat.
“Heavy weights will make you bulky”
False. In the debate between heavy weight/low reps vs. lower weight/high reps, the latter actually makes you more bulky. Lower weight with high reps creates the “pump” in your muscles while the former increases muscle density.
Being bulky relies more on how much you weigh than how much you lift. For example, if you’re six feet tall and 170 pounds, you will never be bulky no matter how much you squat or deadlift.
“Squat on an unstable surface for more core work”
Some trainers mistakenly believe squats on an unstable surface activate your core more than a normal squat, but a 2013 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found no difference between the two. Worse, standing on a half Bosu ball steals your strength and power. In a 10-week study of female Division-I soccer players at the University of Connecticut, training on unstable surfaces made them weaker than training on the ground. Good trainers, however, know better.
“What did we just do?”
Sure, sometimes things slip our minds and then we immediately remember them again. But if your trainer has amnesia and keeps asking you what you just did, you have a dud—there’s no system or structure to your workouts. That might be fun for a day or two, but if you want real results, you need a program planned well in advance.