Personal Trainer: Worth the Cost?

A personal  trainer training the woman who hired her.

A total beginner can gain more than enough knowledge after a week of research.

I want to talk about one of the biggest cons in the fitness industry. There are a lot of different ones, but this one is right up there. What is it?  The average, run of the mill personal trainer at your typical gym.

There are Good Personal Trainers

There are plenty of good personal trainers out there who are fit and who know what they’re talking about. The good ones provide great service to their clients. I am not talking about every personal trainer. But I feel comfortable saying that there are far more personal trainers that will be a waste of time and a waste of money for the average beginner trying to get into shape.

These trainers may have good intentions, but most typical personal trainers are not very knowledgeable about training and nutrition; they end up setting their clients down the wrong path while they charge upwards of $50 or more per hour, a price tag that adds up.

It is Too Easy to Become a Personal Trainer

A Macbook keyboard lit by neon lights.

The average beginner doesn’t realize that getting a personal training license doesn’t require much effort. The process should be a lot more difficult than it is. The terms certified personal trainer might sound fancy. You may think that this gym rep has a uniform and a name tag, and they look professional. But all they did to get there was memorize some basic information over a few weekend courses.

Personal Trainers Often Provide Outdated and Incorrect Information

And I lot of what they learned is outdated information. Anyone out there can become a certified trainer regardless of their actual knowledge or their level of experience. A total beginner could spend few days or a week conducting your own research on Google and YouTube and learn everything that the average personal trainer knows.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in a ton of different gyms throughout my life. In each one, I see the same basic patterns: trainers giving bad advice who do not live what they preach. I find it frustrating because they are preying on fitness beginners who are serious enough to hire a trainer to help them get into shape, but the clients don’t realize that the actual guidance they receive ranges from bad to terrible.

All too often, I see a trainer counting reps while their clients do squats or dead lifts using terrible form. I’ve watched a woman 150 pounds overweight being guided through an arm isolation workout. I have overheard outdated nutrition advice from trainers telling their clients to avoid carbs or advising that the client should eat six clean meals every two to three hours. I have watched skinny guys who want to gain muscle move through light circuit training style workouts. I am pretty sure I have seen everything imaginable.

My criticisms might sound a bit harsh, but I think you should really consider what I am saying. Those who have decent fitness knowledge and experience know this is the truth. I notice that a high percentage of the clients coming back to the gym week after week after week never seem to change even though they are working hard at the gym.

They Often Do Not Live What They Preach

Unhealthy, fried fast food and a coke.

That is probably why a large percentage of trainers aren’t in great shape. If you look around at the average gym it is rare to see a personal trainer who is in impressive shape.

Maybe being shredded does not indicate knowledge, but I think if you accept payments to teach people how to build muscle and lose fat, you should lead by example.

If you are a trainer who is not in great shape, you should at least be able to show considerable progress from where you started. You do not even need to look shredded, but you shouldn’t be overweight or out of shape. Unfortunately, many trainers are.

If you are a beginner and you are looking to hire a trainer, do some research first to make sure you’re working with someone who knows what they’re doing-someone worth your money.

Be Wary of Promises

If they promise you over the top results, stay clear. Most beginners will not gain any more than half a pound of muscle per week in their first year of training. And that is the best-case scenario.

You will not lose more than two pounds of fat per week, if cutting is your goal, over any span of time unless you are extremely over-weight.

Most people should shoot for 1 to 2 pounds per week. Ask the trainer you are planning to hire what sort of results you can expect to achieve. If their estimates fall far outside of the ranges I provided, either the trainer does not know what they’re talking about or they are over promising to get your business.

Ask About Their Workout Plan

You should also ask what type of workout plan they will put you on. If it is not

  • A basic routine that centers on heavy compound exercises,

  • high intensity,

  • focused on progressive overload,

  • hits each muscle at least twice per week,

you are wasting your time.  Note: if you’re a beginner, and I assume you are if you’re looking for a trainer, you will want to target each muscle at least twice a week.

If their training guidelines fall far outside of that recommendation, you will not end up with an optimal plan. If they put you on some crazy workout schedule that uses things like super-sets and drop-sets, a ton of isolation exercises or some weight training cardio-hybrid, you will waste your time and money.

They should not over-emphasize cardio either. Weight training should form the basis of your workout routine. You can throw in a moderate amount of extra cardio. Do not do cardio for the four or five days per week that a lot of trainers recommend.

Ask About Their Diet Plan

Nuts, cranberries, and raisins in wooden bowls are a healthy component of any diet.

On the nutrition end, if they advise you to

  • eat clean seven days a week,

  • never eat cheat foods,

  • never drink alcohol,

  • eat every two to three hours,

  • follow some restricted eating plan like low carb, or paleo, or gluten-free etc.,

the trainer does not know their stuff!

They should explain the basics of calorie and macro nutrient intake and prescribe a plan targeted to your goals. They should understand the concept of flexible dieting. You should be on a well-balanced plan where you eat nutrient dense whole foods a good percentage at a time. It is not the end of the world to incorporate some of your favorite foods in moderation.

Ask About Their Supplementation Philosophy

Do not forget to ask what supplements the recommend. They should be a supplement minimalist, especially if you a beginner. If they give you some complicated supplement regiment, they are setting you down the wrong path. You will waste money on supplements above and beyond what you already spend for the training services. Here is what you need:

  • A basic whey protein powder

  • Creatine

  • Fish oil

  • Multivitamin

  • Maybe pre-workout

Anything on top of that is not necessary.

If they mention supplements like fat burners, glutamine, BCAAs, testosterone boosters they are giving you bad advice. If the supplements are sold through the gym, that is a massive red flag.

As I said before, I know that there are a lot of great personal trainers. There are experts who know more than I do and who are in better shape than I am. If you are providing legit training services, I give you all the credit. I did not intend this article for you.

If you are an expert, you agree with what I said, anyway.


To those looking to hire a personal trainer: The average run of the mill personal trainer is over charging you for a far less than ideal program. Worst case scenario, it is a counter-productive program.

If you are a beginner who wants to work out with a trainer, do not assume that all you need is a certified personal trainer. You should do extensive research before you work with someone. If you are going to put in the time and the effort, you want to make sure your results are in good hands.