I worked as a personal trainer for a number of years and for many large gym chains. I had gotten into the industry to help people who had no clue where to start with their health and fitness, and I was excited to be a part of someone's journey to a better quality of life.
However, I found that the real world of personal training is far different from the idyllic picture I had in mind. Below are the hard-hitting truths that the fitness industry tries to keep hush-hush. My hope is that if you are looking to hire a trainer (which I would still recommend and endorse), you can be better informed as to finding the right person to work with.
1. It doesn't take much to get certified.
Most trainers have a basic certification that often covers just the bare bones of training clients. All it takes to become a trainer is $400-$700 and passing a test, which takes about 3-6 months of studying a textbook. Don't assume the person you are working with is an expert--they are trying their best, no doubt. If you really want someone who knows their stuff, look for a trainer with multiple certifications. I would recommend someone with the NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) basic certification, as well as the CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist) and PES (Peformancen Enhancement Specialist). A trainer with more experience and certifications is going to cost a higher hourly rate, but that trainer will be more effective and efficient with your time.
2. . Trainers are working under constant pressure to make their sales goals.
This is the reality that I was completely unaware of when I first started out as a trainer. Of course gyms want to make money and, yes, being a trainer requires presenting your skills and asking for the sale. But, when your sales goal doubles every month and every staff meeting is about your "closing rate", it starts to feel a little jaded. Fitness managers, or the trainers' immediate boss, make a percentage of whatever the trainers sell, so they are motivated to micromanage their employees to make sure they make the sale. Trainers make commissions off of the sale of their training sessions and supplements. They can push supplements or products on you that you don't need, just so they can make their sales goal for the month and not be in jeopardy of being fired. I was taught tips and tricks on how to manipulate people's emotions so they would buy training--even if they really couldn't afford it. As you can see, often it is not the client's best interest that is the top priority.
3. Gyms often value sales skills above actual training skills.
I have seen gyms that hired trainers who weren't even certified yet, in the name of making more sales. If you are personable, fit-looking, and have a basic knowledge of exercise, they want you. As a trainer, you are first and foremost, in their eyes, a salesman. The other side of this coin is that if a trainer is good at convincing their client to stick around and buy more sessions, the more likely it is that client will have results, despite wanting to throw in the towel. A trainer's perseverance is key in helping a client stick with a program they've committed to.
4. There is a high turnover rate for trainers.
If you seem to see different trainers at your gym every week, that is a red flag. It means they are just trying to get bodies on the floor to make sales, instead of investing in their employees success over the long term. Also, don't be surprised if your trainer suddenly quits and goes to a different gym...If he or she didn't make a sales goal, got tired of sales goals or the pushy/greedy management, or finds that another area of town is perhaps more lucrative, they can leave with barely any notice and you will be put with another trainer who you may or may not want to work with.
5. Bad trainers make up the workout on the fly.
If your trainer isn't keeping records of your workout or progress, then he or she is not truly invested in your success--they are just trying to make it through the day. You should hire someone who will approach your sessions with scientific precision and complete focus.
Of course, not every gym or trainer will suffer from the situations I have described. My hope is that you don't experience any of these situations--as a client or a trainer. However, always approach hiring a trainer with a little bit of research and saavy under your belt. You will make a better decision and a better shot at meeting your health and fitness goals.