Ever met a personal trainer who is more focused on you working towards their goals than yours? Here’s how to spot the red flags and learn to say no.
When Georgina* signed up to the gym and was offered a consultation with a personal trainer, she accepted. She told the trainer she wanted to build muscle and have some accountability in her workouts. She was offered a programme in which she had to weigh herself daily and track all of her food. “I kept telling her that it wouldn’t work for me, that I didn’t see it as necessary. She kept insisting it was her ‘process’ that she used with clients,” said Georgia. “So I told her that I didn’t think she’d be the right PT for me and walked away.”
Not every woman’s experience with trainers is the same as Georgina’s; many coaches on the gym floor genuinely want to listen and advise you. But many people who are faced with pushy PTs – those who are more interested in their agenda than your goals – don’t have the knowledge or confidence to say ‘no thank you’.
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For me, the fear of saying ‘no’ to a PT ended with me standing on scales, despite telling the person weighing me that I actually wasn’t interested in my BMI. Yet his talk about the importance of tracking data somehow overrode my brain and there I was, finding out how lean I was. For Priya*, things went so far with her PT that it lead to serious health problems: “A young, inexperienced male PT told me to cut all my carbs and eat 900 calories a day. When I told him my period had stopped, he didn’t seem bothered. I then learned that carbs impact the female hormone cycle and that was when I had to walk away,” she says.
Why do we find it hard to say no to PTs?
The trainer-client relationship is a complex one. While you, the paying client, may expect to have the upper hand, we tend to feel vulnerable around people who have more authority and knowledge – the trainers.
“You have the right as the client to say you don’t agree, or that you want to see the research,” says Dottie Fildes, a coach at SweatIt, Barrecore and SWTC. That’s because no one knows your body like you do, and while most trainers probably have your best intentions at heart, Fildes does point out that “it’s easy to get complacent and walk people through the motions”.
The red flags
Personal trainer Andy Vincent recently did a post on Instagram highlighting some things that should be red flags for everyone when it comes to choosing a PT. They include: “Words based around body transformation – quick body transformations are always based on ultra-restrictive lifestyles.
“Any coach saying they have “developed a system” – when I hear the word “system”, I think – “you make everyone do the same program” with zero focus on individual specificity. There can be no one system because no two people are the same,” he adds.
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Another important flag for him is a coach having a “social media based solely on transformation images – not to say you shouldn’t show off how amazing your clients perform; however, I do believe that it’s a more powerful image to show how strong your clients get, not how lean they become.”
But working out your individual boundaries are also important. Excepted, it’s hard in a relationship where you are ultimately meant to feel uncomfortable. After all, it is the job of a PT to push you out of your comfort zone.
Is it unreasonable of them to take you into the weights room if you don’t really don’t like it? How about if you don’t want to talk about weight loss, but the trainer keeps mentioning how good cardio is for losing fat?
“I think it comes down to whether a PT is understanding your insecurities and finding a solution to them,” says Fildes. “There’s a way to work with where you are while still helping you meet your goals. In this situation, I’d suggest that we build confidence with the weighted moves in a quieter space so that we can eventually build up to being in the weight section.”
When (and how) to say ‘no’
If you’re being approached on the floor, make sure that you have a consultation before parting with any money, just to make sure that this person is right for you. “They should be asking what your goals are, what your obstacles are, or what your previous history has been. A large part of the conversation has to be about you,” says Fildes.
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If you’re worried that the person you’re currently working with isn’t listening to you or doesn’t care about your progress, she has one crucial tip: “Ask questions,” she says. “If they want you to do something, ask why. If they have a legitimate reason that is in line with your goal, they’ll be able to tell you. If they say it’s to do with XYZ that you don’t want, or because it’s the latest trend rather than research based, you have an opening to say that that’s not aligned with what you’re paying them for. Another tell-tale sign is if they immediately change their mind on what they were asking you to do – they probably don’t have your best intentions at heart if they can’t admit the reason they were telling you to do something.”
Ultimately, a PT may be someone you hire, but it’s one of the most intimate relationships you can have. Building trust is important, and while it’s easy to be swayed by their advice or strategy, it’s your body. “Remember it’s called personal training,” says Fildes. “That element has to be respected, and their training has to be tailored to you as an individual.”
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