An interested thread was posted on Reddit a while back. Where a former personal trainer tells you about what you should beware of when hiring a personal trainer at a commercial gym.
Here’s what he had to say:
I’ve wanted to write something like this for a while, and this is the perfect forum to do so, and with summer coming up personal training sales make a dramatic spike.
In my experience as a personal trainer I just wanna go over a few things that really bothered me with regards to how gym members, and personal training clients in particular, are treated and deceived by major corporate gyms. I’ll list my qualifications in the following paragraph, and then get into my grievances.
I graduated from UCSB in Ca where I studied accounting and sports and exercise science. The following year I got my NASM personal training certification and worked as a personal trainer while I studied for my CPA accounting exams.
For a year and a half I worked at a major national gym, as well as my own training business. As far as I know, most of the large corporate gyms are more or less the same as far as how they treat clients. Obviously, there are some differences and some are worse than others.
I have also taught group classes, coached high school basketball/volleyball, and was briefly the athletic trainer for a professional basketball team in Bangkok. I had a great rapport with all my clients, dealt with them honestly, and after I became aware of unscrupulous activity no longer accepted clients from the sales team.
Since then I will never train for one of these corporate gyms, nor will I allow them to earn any revenue from any of my actions, directly or indirectly.
The Sales Process:
In most situations the sales team and the personal training personnel are two completely different departments in the gym. Sales persons feed the training staff new clients and are paid commission as long as they hit their target quota, if the quota isn’t met they are paid minimum wage. Sales can be quite lucrative, however if the target isn’t hit, they are essentially working 12 hour days 6 days a week for about 8 bucks an hour.
With that being said the Sales team is under ridiculous pressure to sell training sessions, and often time shady practices are undertaken. Additionally, and even more unsettling; they are in no way required to be certified, and are seldom qualified to give any sort of health related advice. Yet, with no clinical information they will tell you, you are in imminent danger of heart disease.
They will be hyper critical of your weight and ask you how much weight you want to lose before you are comfortable with yourself.
They will say just about anything to make you feel like you need training. Most gyms will offer a “free consultation from a personal trainer” in order to rope you into a contract. 9 times out of 10 the person leading this “consultation” was not a personal trainer, nor was the interaction a real consultation.
In general, They would start off with an arbitrary method of body fat measurement: BMI index, tape measure or bioelectrical impedance (the cheap little body fat machine you hold in your hand); all three methods being the least accurate in terms of giving an accurate reading.
Usually the one that gives the most advantageous (whichever makes you fattest) reading is used.
They were instructed by management to tell potential clients they need to reach unhealthy and unrealistic goals; for example, a good target goal for a woman of 27% body fat is 8% (whereby 27% is average and can be healthy, and 8% is anorexic and dangerous). After the consultation they move on to a training session, which at my gym jovially referred to as “hazing”.
This being a horribly unsafe means of pushing a potential client to their limits (again with no reference to their prior medical history) in order to show them that they cannot exercise on their own and they are grossly out of shape. It also was not uncommon for the sales person to flat out lie about the terms and rates of a training contract;
Really, you need to be on your guard because in general, the sales person is under a ton of pressure to sell, and there are institutional problems that encourage unethical behavior.
The minimum qualification for a personal trainer to work at many of these major corporate gyms is a personal training certification. Depending on the gym this can range from a cert. that can be obtained online in under two weeks, to a certification that takes 3-6 months to prepare for. I personally have a NASM certification, and is regarded as one of the best.
However, this is not at all sufficient in terms of assessing one’s knowledge. The major problem with this particular certification is that NASM has a profit motive, meaning they make more money by selling more tests.
There is an economic advantage to having people fail; a lower pass rate implies a more prestigious cert. and obviously people pay to retake the exam.
Personally, found that the exam focused way too much on semantics rather than assessing knowledge of the body and training. Ideally, I’d like to see a governing body without a profit motive certifying personal trainers.
The fact is, training is can be a very dangerous business. If your trainer is unqualified or under qualified, there is way too much potential to make existing health problems worse or develop new ones or create new or exacerbate existing muscle imbalances.
Far too often I saw my colleagues guiding their clients through exercises incorrectly or having them do things that were extremely compromising to the body structurally.
Personal Trainers, are, in general, not qualified to give nutritional or supplement advice. We are not nutritionists and should not be advising (outside of basic nutritional knowledge) unless we have some sort of history in nutrition.
We do not have access to your medical history, and even if we did there’s no guarantee that we’d give you proper advice.
This fact is especially disturbing when giving supplement advice (some trainers at gyms are required to sell supplements and have monthly quotas). This is extremely frightening given many supplements can affect heart functioning and have very little government oversight in terms of safety.
Contractual issues pertaining to my gym:
Far too often, clients are overcharged. My gym only offered 30 minute sessions, and depending on the sale or promotion the price ranged from $20-60/session. Which means clients were paying 40-120 dollars an hour for often times, under qualified training.
I personally charged 30-40 for my private clients, which was an average rate for my area.
From each session the trainer would take $8; and are effectively making 15 dollars an hour taxed. Unfortunately, when many of my colleagues became aware of this discrepancy (at times the gym could net 112 vs. the trainers’ 8 per session) they’d become disgruntled and take it out on their clients either with attitude or providing terrible service.
Canceling memberships or training was always a ridiculous hassle. In order to cancel, clients were required to physically mail notification to the corporate office and the vast majority of the time, the notice would get “lost” ensuring another months of sessions/membership.
If there was no notification, they would continue to charge members’ credit cards, even after the contract period.
And of course, the contract rarely agreed with what the sales person promised.
There were also a number of instances where a few “bad apple” trainers/sales persons would steal, overcharge or participate in some sort of illegal activity against clients/members.
I understand that these are actions taken on the part of individuals, but the gym could have tightened their internal controls or taken other measures to prevent these things from happening.
The problem is, unethical and dishonest behavior is indirectly encouraged from the top down within the corporation and in my experience is far too prevalent in the industry.
Things to do to protect yourself:
- Always ask your trainer/sales person their background. It’s not rude at all. It is your body they are working with and your health at risk, you have every right to know their qualifications.
- Try to pay with cash whenever you can. This prevents them from charging you past the contract period, and from overcharging you. If a gym says you cannot, chances are they are being dishonest and I’d call their bluff.
- If possible ask a trainer if they’ll train you independent of a gym contract, you’ll pay less money and they’ll earn more.
- Always ask for a copy of your contract and read it. Generally there’s a buyer’s remorse period and you can get out with very little penalty. It’s generally company policy to not give you a copy unless you ask, something about it being better for the environment to go paperless.
- If you have questions r/fitness, and even more so r/askscience are great resources, both are smart communities and it’s always a great idea to have people crosschecking each other.
- Don’t take any shit from sales people, if they are willing to bully you chances are they don’t know what they are talking about, the gym is no place for bullying; if anything you should be encouraged.
I’ll be around for a while, and am open and happy to answer any questions or clarify anything
TL;DR 1. Sales people are dishonest and not qualified to tell you what you need 2. Often times trainers are under qualified 3. Suggestions to help you from getting screwed. 4. I’ll be around, questions encouraged