What Not to Do as a Personal Trainer

So, you’ve gained your Level 4 qualification and now you’re wondering what to do, as well as what not to do, as a personal trainer.

This article will cover a range of red flags you should be avoiding, highlighting the difference between a good personal trainer and a bad one.

But first, if you want to become the best personal trainer, acquiring as much knowledge as possible is crucial, and OriGym’s Level 5 Courses are the perfect way to do this!

With courses in Lower Back Pain Management and Obesity & Weight Management, you can help clients in all areas of their fitness journeys.

What Not To Do As A Personal Trainer: 17 Things To Avoid

what not to do as a personal trainer

There are plenty of indicators that a personal trainer is incompetent, or that they don’t know what they should and shouldn’t be doing.

If you’re looking to find success in the fitness industry, here’s our best advice on things a PT should avoid doing!

#1 – Training Every Client The Same Way

bad personal trainer

The difference between good personal trainers and bad ones are those who understand that every client is different! If you’re wondering what not to do as a personal trainer, you should avoid training everyone in the same way.

Promoting only one type of training (like resistance training for instance) is not the way you should be running sessions.

Every person who comes to your sessions will have a different goal in mind so you should be tailoring these to the individual.

Some things you should ask every client during their first session are:

  • What are your goals?
  • What do you hope to achieve?
  • What is your fitness history?
  • Are there any areas of fitness that you’re particularly passionate about?
  • What’s your availability for sessions?

what not to do as a pt

While many people have similar goals when it comes to fitness, everyone reacts differently to training. All sessions should be different and look different for each individual.

You should aim to be an open-minded personal trainer who is willing to try different methods to help clients reach their goals in a way that is comfortable and most-suited to them.

If you just give every client the same old program, it shows a lack of care, especially if they’re investing significant time and money in you.

These plans should progress as clients reach their goals and they will notice if this hasn’t been personalised to their needs.

This does show an element of carelessness if you appear not to invest time into clients who are coming to you for help.

#3 – Lose Focus

what not to do as a personal trainer

If a client is paying money for a session, they expect to be the main focus of your attention. It’s the least you can do for them for the amount of time they’ve paid for.

Sometimes emergencies can happen during sessions where you may have to answer a phone call or even leave to deal with a situation.

You’ll find most clients will understand and are usually sympathetic in these events.

However, if you’re calling people, texting, or scrolling through social media, you’re going to see your client numbers drop.

what not to do as a pt

This is one of the clear signs of a bad personal trainer because it’s just plain ignorant, and it’s obviously something a good personal trainer shouldn’t do.

It shows a lack of care, both for your clients and profession. Being absentminded as a personal trainer can even be dangerous for clients, especially if they’re beginners.

Your attention should be on them if they’re using a particular machine or lifting weights to ensure they don’t injure themselves or use the wrong technique.

#4 – Violate Mental & Physical Boundaries

bad personal trainer

In any career or work environment, it’s important to know when not to overstep the mark. Although working as a personal trainer isn’t a typical 9 to 5 environment, this doesn’t mean boundaries don’t exist.

If anything, you should be more cautious of keeping the relationship between you and your clients respectful.

Although you should already be aware that this is something you shouldn’t do as a personal trainer, before any session, you need to be aware of what mental and physical behaviour is appropriate.

Examples of violating mental and physical boundaries may include:

  • Inappropriate physical contact
  • Insults
  • Flirting
  • Shouting

While everyone reacts differently to certain behaviours, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be treating people differently.

Of course, building a rapport with clients and making them feel comfortable is important as this can help you stand out as a personal trainer. However, you also need to be self aware and able to see the line that shouldn’t be crossed.

difference between good personal trainer and bad

The difference between a good personal trainer and a bad one is their maturity and intelligence , along with their ability to know exactly when they are crossing these boundaries.

There should be no blurred lines when it comes to a client’s body and mind. They shouldn’t be leaving sessions feeling physically or mentally violated, or accept certain behaviour as ‘part of the session’.

If you aren’t aware enough to know what behaviour is appropriate or you can’t keep your hands to yourself, you’re in the wrong line of work.

#5 – Turn Up Late For Sessions

difference between good personal trainer and bad

Think of it this way – would you be happy if clients were leaving you waiting at the beginning of every session? Probably not!

Punctuality is crucial for any personal trainer. If people are paying for classes, it’s your job to turn up on time and be there when they arrive.

If you’re holding sessions during weekday evenings or on weekends, it’s likely clients will have other things to do afterwards.

Most won’t want their hour-long sessions to be an hour and a half because they’ve spent time waiting for you to get there.

bad personal trainer

Sometimes, emergencies do happen, and there may be occasions where you are late for your next client. However, sessions should always be made a priority, and you should try your hardest to turn up for them.

If an emergency happens on a day you’re supposed to be seeing multiple clients, ensure you let them know as soon as you can.

As you’ll likely already know from when a client does it to you, there’s nothing worse than a last minute cancellation!

#6 – Appear Unhygienic

difference between good personal trainer and bad

Similar to what we’ll go on to discuss below, presenting yourself in the best possible way is crucial for success as a personal trainer.

Your appearance is a reflection on the service you provide and if you look professional, clients will likely believe you’re worth the money.

The last thing you should be doing is turning up to sessions looking dishevelled or like you’ve just woken up, especially if it’s your first session of the day. Even in fitness gear, you should be dressed professionally.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune buying designer clothes to look the part but you should at least wear things clients can take you seriously in.

Turning up to sessions in unwashed clothing or dirty running shoes means clients are more likely to make a negative judgement about you before the session even starts.

difference between good personal trainers and bad

If you’re self-employed, you need to dress appropriately and take care of your appearance as you are representing your business as a whole.

If you’re working for a gym or fitness centre, a lack of personal hygiene may even result in disciplinary action against you.

#7 – Not Letting Clients Get To Know You Before A Session

what not to do as a personal trainer

One thing you should do before having clients commit to you is allow them to pay for a ‘one-off’ session to see if they want to continue training with you as their personal trainer.

While many PT’s offer these classes for free, this doesn’t mean you have to. This is certainly true for those who have a smaller client base as opposed to larger personal training companies who can afford to offer ‘one-off’ classes for nothing.

Allowing clients to ‘test’ a session out before committing to a longer package may make people more inclined to try your service.

An example of companies offering free trial sessions is by Fitnessology who also allow clients to claim a free consultation:

what not to do as a personal trainer

Whether offering trials for free or for payment, this is a good idea if you’re wondering about strategies on how to get personal training clients.

Another thing is to ensure the persona or attitude you use during these taster sessions are similar or the same as the one you use during every class. If you lack enthusiasm or appear considerably different, clients are likely to feel betrayed or lied too.

People often worry about committing to something when they aren’t sure how effective it is and this is understandable. However, if you don’t want to offer trial sessions, why not give clients alternative ways to get to know you as a PT?

Aside from striking up a conversation, you could provide potential clients with a contact number or your social media that they can call or message you on for more information. This allows them to get a feel for your personality and decide whether they want to train with you in the future.

#8 – Don’t Practice What You Preach

difference between good personal trainer and bad

This tip isn’t one that should be misunderstood. We’re not saying every personal trainer has to be a Greek god but a certain level of fitness is expected.

If people are paying money for your service, they expect their personal trainer to at least look as though they know what they’re talking about.

Although everyone’s body is different, clients are likely to find you ‘untrustworthy’ if you don’t have some level of fitness.

It’s a red flag for clients if their trainer doesn’t engage in regular exercise, doesn’t understand the benefits of healthy eating, or just doesn’t look after their body in general.

As it’s your job, you should be dedicating most of your time to health and fitness. To put it bluntly, if you don’t enjoy being active, the likelihood is you’re in the wrong career.

It will be a lot harder for clients to take you or what you say seriously if you don’t appear to have the drive to be healthy yourself.

– – – –

Interested in what else you should and shouldn’t be doing as a personal trainer? These articles will help you with this:

#9 – Lack Of Training Structure

bad personal trainer

One of the first things you should do with a new client is set SMART fitness goals so they are aware of exactly what direction their training is heading in. As your client changes, their training should too!

This also works in terms of a client falling behind in their goals as well. Training should be structured so you can pull a client aside and adapt their sessions to better suit their needs or understand why something isn’t working for them.

bad personal trainer

Starting sessions by ‘winging it’, or having clients do whatever you decide at the beginning of a session, is not the way to treat people who are investing their time and money in you to provide them with results.

You need to treat people with respect and give them the necessary programmes required for them to reach these goals in a realistic time.

What not to do as a personal trainer is have clients constantly returning, seeing no results, while still taking money from them.

This is wrong as they may as well train without your help. Each client should feel they have your utmost attention so the least you can do is create structured training to help them find success.

#10 – Push Clients Beyond Their Limits

bad personal trainer

While it’s the job of a personal trainer to get to know how a client works and responds to training, they know their own body better than you do!

Challenging clients is great and should be expected. However, you shouldn’t be forcing them to continue when they’re at breaking point.

This isn’t just bad for them psychologically – it also puts them at a greater risk of injury, meaning they may take longer to recover.

Your goal as a personal trainer should not be to see how far you can push clients. This is more likely to lead to a negative experience for clients, not a positive one.

If clients injure themselves during training as a result of your negligence or because you wouldn’t let them rest, you may be liable if they choose to pursue a case against you.

This is why it’s important to get to know clients and their preferred styles of training. You need to understand when individuals can afford to be challenged a bit more and when it’s time to call it quits after a tough session.


#11 – Poor Record Keeping

difference between good personal trainers and bad

What not to do as a personal trainer is be so poorly organised you have no idea what day you’re seeing particular clients on.

If you keep double-booking client sessions, missing classes, or turning up for a session only to realise it’s a different person ready to train with you – this is going to look unprofessional.

The difference between good personal trainers and bad ones are those who keep records, both physically and digitally, of client sessions and progress.

It isn’t just important to do this to keep a schedule of sessions but also to keep track of client progress. You should be adapting your training to suit clients as they progress towards their goals.

what not to do as a personal trainer

This might mean they take longer to reach them or are moving quickly through your original plan and it needs to be adapted depending on how far clients are with it.

A subpar personal trainer is one who doesn’t keep a record of each client’s individual progress. You shouldn’t give everyone the same plan to follow as everybody is different so it’s crucial you know how to plan a personal training session.

Not everyone will respond to the same kind of training, meaning they won’t progress at the same pace.

#12 – Oversell Supplements

bad personal trainer

Contrary to popular belief, there are no laws against personal trainers suggesting or even selling supplements to clients.

However, the difference between good personal trainers and bad ones is that they know pre-workout supplements aren’t necessary for fitness gains.

While there aren’t laws against it, similar to if a nutritionist chooses to give medical advice, you will be liable if something bad happens to a client after they’ve taken a supplement you suggested.

What not to do as a personal trainer is go beyond the limits of your professional qualifications. This means you shouldn’t be giving ‘prescriptions’ or supplements to people to help with any medical conditions they may have.

what not to do as a personal trainer

This can be risky as someone may have an adverse effect which can be made worse by a pre-existing medical condition.

Another sign of a poor quality personal trainer is someone who only appears to be concerned with how much money they can get out of you.

Clients may have also researched supplements themselves and could know they aren’t necessary for maintaining weight loss.

Most of the reported benefits from these supplements are only mentioned by the people selling them and aren’t actually backed up by science.

The difference between good personal trainers and bad ones are those who actually take the time to create detailed plans tailored to an individual and their goals.

If your solution for helping clients is to just give them supplements, they’re going to start looking elsewhere.

#13 – Promise Quick Results

what not to do as a personal trainer

It’s normal for clients to expect results quicker than you’re able to give them. However, this is why you should never keep promising they will reach these goals in a shorter time than you know is possible.

You need to encourage clients to set attainable goals, even if this is something they don’t want to hear.

What not to do as a personal trainer is let your clients believe they will achieve certain goals just to get a paycheck or even to keep the client coming back.

Weight loss and fitness are lifestyle changes people need to realise don’t just happen overnight – they need to be done in a safe and lasting way that takes time.

Good personal trainers will make sure that their clients are well aware of this prior to starting any weight loss program.

It’s better they hear the truth instead of being misled and ultimately frustrated with your service when they aren’t quickly seeing the results they were promised.

The bottom line is that improving your fitness ability or losing weight takes time and personal trainers who mislead clients don’t have the best intentions for their clients.

#14 – Body Shame to Motivate

bad personal trainer

While some clients need much more than just fitness motivation tips and gentle words of encouragement, something a personal trainer should never do is shame them into losing weight!

You should never affect someone’s mental health long term, just to get the short term results you want them to see.

Weight is a sensitive subject for many and if someone is attempting to get more fit and healthy, it’s clearly something they realise needs changing.

Instead of belittling people, you should be applauding them for wanting to make these changes.

Poking fun at people’s weight as a personal trainer, no matter how lighthearted you may think it is, can be detrimental to someone’s psychological wellbeing and may have lasting effects.

bad personal trainers

Similar to the point we made earlier, you shouldn’t be overstepping any boundaries. You don’t know how sensitive people are when it comes to body image so it’s best to keep it professional.

Something that seems funny to you may be serious to them, or it could be something they’re sensitive about or embarrassed by.

As a good personal trainer, you will motivate clients with positive reinforcement and make them feel better about themselves, not worse.

People can often be disheartened when they’re trying to reach their body goals but feel like they’re not getting anywhere.

The last thing they want is for you to make them feel any worse about themselves, especially as you’re in a position of trust.

Gyms can often be intimidating places for those who aren’t familiar with training in them. Ensure you’re a personal trainer who puts clients at ease and makes them feel comfortable by inspiring them.

#15 – Believe in ‘No Pain, No Gain’

what not to do as a personal trainer

It’s likely you’ve heard this proverb before. Used as a motto since the 1980s, it promises greater rewards for the price of hard work or even pain.

Now, everybody wants to be challenged during a PT session. At the end of the day, your clients don’t want to pay for sessions only to be made to do some light exercise without breaking a sweat.

However, the difference between good personal trainers and bad ones are those who understand the limitations of a client’s body.

One thing you shouldn’t do as a personal trainer is ignore when someone is genuinely in pain or cannot go any further.

difference between good personal trainers and bad

Although some people do need a nudge to keep on track and push themselves further, you also need to recognise when something isn’t quite right.

Now, adopting a ‘tougher’ approach isn’t necessarily a sign of a personal trainer nobody wants to work with. However, you also shouldn’t be acting like a drill sergeant who constantly pushes clients past their limits.

This approach can also be intimidating to beginners who aren’t used to workouts with personal trainers. You could potentially lose clients who may feel uncomfortable or even threatened by your methods.

There are many skills required to become a personal trainer but this isn’t one of them. Once again, speaking to clients in an intimidating way can have negative effects on their mental health, making them less likely to return.

#16 – Focus Only On Cardio During Sessions

what not to do as a pt

As a personal trainer, one thing you should avoid at all costs is placing clients on a treadmill for 20 minutes, and only ever instructing them to do cardio.

We aren’t saying someone isn’t a good personal trainer just because they make their clients do some cardio. However, this shouldn’t be the focus of your sessions!

While there are benefits of running on a treadmill if someone is paying you to be their personal trainer then you should be doing exercises they actually need you for.

Clients can use treadmills in their own time. Telling them to use a treadmill for 20 minutes during an hour session is a large chunk of time, and while cardio exercises are great forms of exercise, most people don’t require a personal trainer to help them with this.

bad pt

Personal trainers should be educating clients by teaching them a variety of new and interesting exercises they wouldn’t be able to complete just from watching other people.

Essentially, as a PT, you should be giving clients an education by teaching them workout techniques they can complete with and without machines.

Your personal training sessions shouldn’t solely consist of putting clients on gym machines and expecting them to do the work for you.


#17 – Lack Nutrition Knowledge

bad personal trainer

When it comes to weight loss and building muscle, nutrition and exercise should go hand in hand. As one shouldn’t be considered more important than the other, personal trainers should be equipped with plenty of knowledge in both of these areas.

What not to do as a personal trainer is only focus on training as hard as possible without understanding how crucial a good diet is to an individual’s fitness journey.

As the body needs to be fuelled during intense training sessions, neglecting the importance of nutrition can:

  • Cause fatigue
  • Lower energy levels
  • Reduce muscle mass
  • Lower bone density

To learn more about the importance of nutrition and the body, personal trainers can complete a Level 5 Advanced Nutrition Course.

These courses provide personal trainers with the essential knowledge required to help clients reach specific fitness goals by creating specialised nutrition plans.

difference between good personal trainers and bad

Although personal trainers can encourage and advise clients to change their dietary habits, they shouldn’t create personalised meal plans.

Only dietitians who have completed an approved four-year degree can legally provide people with nutrition advice to help with medical conditions and ailments.

While a personal trainer may have good intentions by giving someone nutritional advice to help with suspected medical conditions, this can actually result in legal problems if it harms a client.

This could mean they aren’t covered by insurance during legal disputes as they have acted outside their professional boundaries and overstepped their limits.

#18 – Refuse to Take Accountability

what not to do as a pt

During a personal training session, accidents can happen. It’s something even the best personal trainer can’t always avoid.

However, the difference between good personal trainers and bad ones are those who aim to prevent injuries as much as possible.

While most accidents are just that, sometimes you may find you are to blame for certain things going wrong. Hopefully this won’t be often but if it is, the main thing to do is take accountability for it.

The last thing you should be doing is placing the blame on an innocent client who was only following your instructions.

bad personal trainer

Accountability extends to client results too. As much as your client is responsible for their own progress outside of your sessions, one thing you should never do as a personal trainer is refuse to take accountability.

While there’s only so much you can do as a PT, if a client is doing everything you say yet still isn’t seeing results, it’s time to look at where you may be going wrong.

Instead of blaming them for not following instructions, you should reflect on the exercise plans you’ve provided and the guidance you’re offering outside of sessions. If it’s not working, try something new and work closely with your client to see what other options are available.

difference between good personal trainer and bad

Similarly, if your equipment is faulty or unstable, it’s your responsibility to replace or fix it. Before each session, check over your equipment and the general area you’ll be training clients in.

If you have your own personal trainer business, make sure your other employees are doing this too, as it is still a reflection on you.

Ensuring your clients are safe during classes is one of the key differences between a good personal trainer and a bad one.

Before You Go!

Now you know what not to do as a personal trainer, it’s time to become the best one you can be!

To really be the best, why not expand your knowledge by completing a specialist Level 5 personal training course.

From Sports Nutrition to Obesity & Weight Management, our courses provide hugely valuable insights into how best to provide for your clients.

If you’re interested in taking a look at the range of courses we have to offer, enquire below or download our comprehensive prospectus here.

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About the Author: James Brady

James Brady OriGym Author
James graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. His desire to find a place where he could combine his passion for writing and love of fitness is what brought him to OriGym. He believes his passion for daily exercise, especially running, is imperative in keeping him motivated and productive. As a result, he has a particular interest in the psychology of health and fitness and the relationship between physical and mental health. Outside of work, James enjoys reading, swimming, playing tennis, rowing, writing short stories, and watching classic movies.

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