It helps to be a good client who knows how things work so you can get the most out of your personal training sessions and workout classes. Plus, it’s always nice to be nice and make things easier for your instructors. We asked several fitness professionals what they wish their clients knew going in and this is what they said.
Personal trainers aren’t going to make you exercise
Several fitness pros expressed that it’s not their job to make you exercise. They’re supposed to guide you through workouts that are right for you, teach you how to do exercise safely and properly, and develop a meal plan that will help you reach your fitness goals. One fitness pro, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that a lot of people go to the gym, but most of those gymgoers don’t know what they’re doing:
The Dunning-Kruger Effect seems particularly strong in the gym, probably because of all the ego involved. So many people don’t know what they’re doing, and they have no idea this is the case. Others know enough to see decent progress, but they could be doing better. A personal trainer can at least jump start a beginner’s knowledge and give them resources to move forward. Gym-goers waste a lot of time with bad advice and poor sources, or trying to reinvent the wheel.
It’s all about imbuing you with the knowledge you can use to better yourself when they’re not around. The hard work has to be done by you, not your instructor, says Anthony T, a fitness trainer from Oakland, CA:
You don’t pay a trainer to have fun. If anyone knows your journey isn’t easy it’s your trainer, and they didn’t become one overnight. So leave the excuses in your bed. Positive and inspirational energy is the key.
Another anonymous instructor agreed, saying:
Don’t blame your lack of success on me. You meet with me once a week for 1 hour a week. There are 168 hours in a week. That means that if you really want to make progress you have to do things correctly 167 other hours of the week. Don’t come kill it in the gym with me then go home and eat a whole pizza and drink a bottle of wine and complain that I am not a good trainer.
Nobody is going to make you exercise, not even your trainer, so don’t expect them to have some magic ability to get you motivated.
You should do research and shop around for a good fit
When you’re looking for a trainer, don’t just sign up with the first person to give you a free session. Michael Borders, a personal trainer at Equinox in New York, NY, says you should find someone who can help you achieve your specific goal:
I believe we all could use a different perspective on our fitness goals and be held accountable to someone else — not just our own opinion of what we can and cannot, should and should not be doing in the gym. YouTube is full of BAD info. Shop around, but find a trainer who is passionate about getting you to your goal, whatever it may be.
A few trainers also mentioned that a trainer who looks amazing isn’t always the best option. You’re probably better off with someone who is knowledgeable and has gone through the same struggles as you.
Don’t be late to your appointments or classes
This should be obvious, but many trainers expressed late clients as their biggest pet peeve. Here’s what one anonymous trainer had to say:
For the love of everything, show up on time to your appointment. Good trainers have a plan, and showing up 15 minutes late can throw a wrench into that. Or, at least let us know you’re going to be late. Nothing like a client showing up late and then expecting an hour session crammed into 45 minutes. There is a method to the madness and it doesn’t work like that.
Perry echoes those sentiments:
Really, I know shit happens, but try not to be late, especially for formats that require setup. For example, if you’ve never taken a Spinning class and you are about to walk in 5-10 minutes late, just skip, make plans for next time, and try to get there early — properly setting up your bike is a process that takes a few minutes and will prevent you from injuring your joints with a bad setup.
Anthony T notes that being late is really only hurting you:
When you are late, unprepared, or reschedule often. You’re wasting your own time, money and progress. At the end of the day this whole process is a test of your mental way more than A test of your body. We want to repeat the things to you that will manifest successful thinking.
Budget plenty of travel time, leave early, and be ready to roll come training time.
Manage your expectations going in
It’s great that you want to make a change for the better and be healthier, but it’s a process — and not an easy one. Anthony Ross, an Army Master Fitness trainer, explains:
People need to come prepared when they want to work out. I don’t mean that they should have a towel, a trendy water bottle, and some yoga pants. I mean that you have to train your heart and your mind to UNDERSTAND that working out is going to suck for a little while if you haven’t done it in a long time, or if you have never done it. People tell me it’s hard, they are telling me like this is news. No shit! Of course it’s hard, I have to do this every single day, I know it’s hard.
Not only is it difficult, but personal trainer Andrew Biernat from Canandaigua, NY, says it will take longer to reach your goals than you think:
I wish people knew that the work they put in will fall far short of their expected results. I’d estimate that it takes five to ten times more work to get a result than people think. A person will make a change in their lifestyle and expect that to show up on the scale within a week. When it doesn’t they start to lose hope in the whole process. People can be very fragile when it comes to discomfort, especially when it comes to food and exercise.
Biernat recommends you lower your expectations going in and learn to enjoy the process and the challenge. If you make yourself hate your new workout regimen and diet, you won’t do it. Rances Perez, of VIDAproject, agrees:
In my opinion, the biggest thing that a person can understand before beginning is that training is a process with a learning curve. Many people start with very grandiose expectations of themselves and when the difficulty sets in — whether it’s the actual exercising, the obstacles of life, or both — they end up feeling horrible and defeated. The key is taking everything one step at a time and not trying to make drastic changes all at once.
Stay positive, but keep your goals realistic. Don’t walk up to your trainer on day one and tell them you want washboard abs. You’ll only be disappointed.
It might look like an easy job, but it’s not
From the outside, being a fitness trainer or class instructor looks like a pretty simple gig, right? Not so much. It’s a job, just like any other, and it takes a lot of work to do it right. At the very least, Anthony Ross asks you do your trainer the kindness of listening to what they say and following their instructions:
Listen to your trainer, they may not always look like some dude from Baywatch, but they are a trainer for a reason.
They know things that you don’t, so let them do their thing. Also, be aware that personal training is more than just showing up and watching you exercise. Andrew Biernat explains that they’re watching you for a reason:
As a trainer, I need to know the body very well and be ready to correct something at a moment’s notice based on the way it looks, almost like a spider-sense. And that’s the easy part compared to the psychological deep dive of motivating and encouraging people to do hard work consistently.
Also, they’re working for you when you’re not even there, says Scott Drapeau of Irons Sight Barbell Club in Lacey, WA:
I’d like them all to know how much effort is put in behind the scenes. For every hour I spend training, I spend at least 3 more preparing notes, scheduling workouts, and making sure what you’re doing is safe and effective for your goals.
So don’t ignore that effort your trainer is putting in, says Anthony T.:
Yes, it can take hours to plan a perfect routine and meal plan, so don’t waste our efforts behind the scenes on distractions. Trust the process you’ll be happy you did.
Lastly, Allison Perry says if you enjoyed a class or session, let your trainer or instructor know. Being a fitness professional is often a thankless job because people assume it’s easy to do.
Be honest with your trainers and instructors
You might be embarrassed by your physical ability, diet, or lifestyle choices, but lying to your instructors about that stuff won’t help you get healthier, says Anthony T:
We can’t train liars, and of course we can tell. If you have been sticking to your nutrition plan and fitness routine there’s no reason other than extreme stress for not achieving the steps to your goals each week. It’s my job to be critical and change your perception of your life when it comes to your health. Trainers don’t wake up to be mean to you. We’re actually Nice people who aren’t afraid to speak truthfully about your progress. We wake up to inspire you and locate that part of you that turns off excuses and starts finding solutions.
If you’re new to all of this, don’t be afraid to say so, even in a class environment. Perry recommends you have a chat with your instructor before class so they know you’re new and might need some help. Ross agrees:
If you don’t know how to do an exercise, or what an exercise is doing for you: ASK!!!
It’s also important to be upfront with trainers about what you’re comfortable with. If you prefer to have them not manually adjust you while you exercise, let them know. And don’t hesitate to give your trainer a call, says Anthony T.:
You can call your trainer anytime to vent, ask for health and fitness advice, or get motivation when you feel like it’s getting crazy. I’m even willing to think of a meal alternative to order if you got weak and pulled into a drive-thru.
When in doubt, be honest and talk to them.
Try your best to keep hygienic
Trainers know that you’ll be sweating and getting gross, but you should still make an effort to be clean and well, not stinky. One anonymous trainer simply said:
WASH YOUR GYM CLOTHES!!!
Please do. For all of us.
This story has been updated since its original publication.