Firing someone, even a fitness coach or personal trainer, is hard to do. You've invested a lot of time and energy into this person. So when you need to part ways, it actually feels like you're breaking up with a really close friend. Nobody wants to be "the bad guy", but if this person is no longer meeting your needs here's how to end things (without feeling like an arse yourself).
The unfortunate and unequivocal fact here is that not all fitness coaches are created equal. In fact, many of them suck. Sure, most genuinely want to see you succeed, but a passion for fitness, a go-get-'em attitude, and a smidge of Pixie dust do jack squat for actualising your fitness goals. Your fitness coach needs to have certain traits to help you succeed, but clearly, not everyone can fill these shoes. That personal trainer friend of yours is no exception.
Signs That You Might Need to Fire Your Trainer
Let's agree that the trainer-client relationship is not always purely business. If it were only that, then it'd be way easier to just shrug your shoulders at the first sign of tension and peace out. If you're on the fence about breaking up with your friend or coach, use these signs to solidify your conviction to fire them.
- Your trainer doesn't care to learn about you. A good trainer-client relationship can be rather personal, because your well-being is...well, personal. If your trainer doesn't know or want to know about your lifestyle, your aspirations, how you think, and what motivates you, then they can't help you build habits and make choices that are conducive to your goals! Your trainer should spend a good amount of time listening to you and asking questions. If they're not, but they seem to have all the answers, there's a problem.
- You don't communicate often, or your trainer never reaches out to you. In many ways, your trainer is also your confidante, your fitness BFF, on this emotional fitness journey. Ideally, you should be very open and honest with each other. They should be clear and communicative of the things they do (such as why he'd rather you continue a program for another two weeks even if you don't think it's working). If a trainer doesn't give you updates or feedback on a regular basis, it's a sign they don't seem to care about you or their profession. Oftentimes, your success is also your trainer's success.
- Your trainer isn't working with your individual needs. Good trainers customise your workout to your preferences, fitness level, life circumstances, goals, and limitations, if any. That means you wouldn't be given a cookie-cutter plan that all of their other clients follow, despite their varying goals. This is a sign your trainer is more interested in merely collecting a check or just quickly moving on to other matters that don't concern you.
- Your trainer is not attentive. Trainers should be aware of your limitations (gym resources, for example) and preferences, tailor programs to your needs, and make adjustments frequently, as needed. If your trainer never looks at your measurements and progress, flakes out when you submit your numbers, neglects ever making adjustments (even if measurements or other feedback from the last couple of weeks are suggesting they should), or prescribes exercises you can't do due to previous injury or a lack of that particular equipment -- even after you said so -- it's time to kick them to the curb.
- Your relationship with your trainer is stressing you out. Realise that prolonging and putting up with the burden of a doomed relationship could paradoxically hurt your fitness goals (and long-term mental health) anyway. They're hidden stressors, which can lead to emotional distress, inadequate sleep, and poor eating habits. Plus, it's as if you're voluntarily entering yourself into a vicious cycle of doing sub-par workouts, getting little to no feedback from your trainer, and potential stress-eating with only lacklustre results to show for your hard-earned money -- no bueno.
- Your trainer doesn't respect you. Unfortunately, there are too many personal trainers who lack professional tact: they cancel sessions at the last minute, casually roll into meetings late, don't answer your calls or emails, or constantly text in the middle of a training session. These are crimes against common courtesy and etiquette between a paid professional and a client.
- You're not getting the results you want. You want results, plain and simple, but this can also be a bit of a grey area. Results don't always indicate a trainer's ineptitude, as other factors can enter the fray, such as your own compliance (or lack thereof) to a recommended training and dietary regimen. But if you're truly doing the work without any noticeable progress (physical, mental, or otherwise), you could try another trainer who might be further specialised to suit your needs (i.e. a strength coach to help you get your squat numbers up).
- It's straining your personal finances. Real talk: personal training is costly, so it's OK to cut it loose when money gets tight.
These are pretty general but telling signs, but in some cases, there can also be valid reasons for why a trainer decides to do what they do. Ultimately, it comes down to communication and how you feel about working with them.
Don't Be a Pushover: State Your Needs
If you actually like your personal trainer but are feeling a little uneasy about certain things, express yourself! Be up-front with what you expect of them and your time with them. It may have been a matter of misunderstanding your needs, because if you don't speak up, your trainer will never know if a workout isn't challenging enough or simply not working out (heh).
Dealing with a trainer who happens to be a friend is a whole other mess of cracked eggshells to tiptoe over. But friend or not, it's best to view your trainer as a professional who is working for you to help you further your goals. As a paying client, there's no reason to cut "your friend" some slack by letting their unprofessionalism and low-yielding results slide. You have every right to call it quits and tell them that he's just not up to snuff.
On the other hand, a personal trainer friend who offers their services at a discount or even free of charge can really muddy the situation. Maybe they feel that the "free period" has gone on long enough and wants to start charging you but is expressing this desire by distancing themselves. Aim to approach this as a conversation, rather than a confrontation.
Remember, though, to treat them as a professional: be respectful and kind, yet frank and unwavering about why you're firing them.
Be Honest and Give Them Some Tough Love
When asked about how they'd want a client to fire them, the personal trainers I talked to wanted honesty.
Hunter Cook, a personal trainer out of southern California, says that they hate when people try to make excuses about funds when the real issue may be something else entirely. "I just want people to tell me, 'We're not a good fit.' or 'This isn't for me.'" Bryan Krahn, long-time personal trainer and online coach, said something similar:
I pride myself on being totally honest and professional with my clients. I would want them to be honest and professional with me in return. There's never any hard feelings -- I just want to see my clients do well!
Sometimes, though, it's a matter of the relationship with your trainer having run its course -- perhaps your goals have changed and you want to move on. If that's case, be honest! If you're not happy with the way your trainer never shows up on time, say so. If budget is an issue, say so but make sure that is actually your reason. If the person really sucks, say so but offer some constructive criticism.
Most fitness certifications are easy for anyone to get if he or she has a bit of time and money. It's no coincidence, then, that gyms teem with seemingly qualified individuals who can actually be really, really bad at personal training...and not know it. Trying to avoid hurting their feelings may actually keep them from bettering their craft.
Don't Let Them Lure You Back With Empty Promises
Personal training is a tough business to be in, so when trainers are on the verge of losing a client, many of them might try to lure you back with discounts and other snazzy bonuses. Stand firm and ignore the allure of those shiny objects. The real matter here is that you still want results for your time and energy, and a trainer who will devote their energy and attention toward that end.
Giving your trainer another chance depends on their response, as well. "Let's take the time to re-evaluate your plan and goals, and go from there." is a much better indicator of things to come than "I can change!" is.
Ask the Gym's Manager to Do It For You
If you're really, really uncomfortable with confronting your personal trainer (because he's a beefy tyke who can snap a barbell in half or something), you can also ask the gym manager to fire them for you. This is not really a cop-out per se, as many commercial gyms require you to go through a roundabout process for signing up for personal training anyway.
However, while this route is easier for you, this could end up hurting the personal trainer as a professional since they would not have the constructive feedback to do things better or differently for future clients.
Deal With the Fallout
Now that you've "broken up" with your personal trainer, you might:
- Deal with awkwardness at the gym: Look, we're all adults here (hopefully). If you were straight, communicative, pleasant, and firm, your trainer might have been taken aback at first, but things ultimately will smooth over and you can still exchange pleasantries at the gym. "There shouldn't be any awkwardness if the client was honest," says Hunter.
- Strike out on your own: If the main reason you wanted to leave your personal trainer was that you've "outgrown" them or shifted goals, that's cool, too! Remember everything that you learned and do the workout program on your own, if you want. Personal training should generally be used as an accessory to your fitness journey, not a crutch.
- Find another personal trainer: If you're keen on finding another one from the same gym, take some time to observe how other trainers work with their current clients. Don't be shy about approaching them for fear of your ex-trainer getting angry. The key to finding a trainer that jives with you is to "shop around". It's a harsh reality for trainers, but retaining and losing clients come with the territory.
Throughout all of this, realise that it's not 100% the trainer's fault for whatever you're unhappy with. It's a tough pill to swallow, but your trainer can't make you do the work, force you to eat well, or spoon-feed you healthier habits you know are better for you.
Despite these things, you've still every right to stand up for yourself and make the decision to fire your trainer. This is your health, your time, your energy, and your money that are all at stake here, so it's not a bad thing to be selfish and vocal about your needs.