Do I Need a Personal Trainer?

No… You… DON’T. There, I just saved you a ton of time and Google searches. I am utterly convinced of this fact. I can’t get over the money that people spend month-in and month-out on gym memberships, never mind personal trainers. What qualifications do I have to make this personalized assessment about an individual I’ve never met you might ask? Well to be honest, I don’t have any degrees or certifications (but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night – badum bum tish). I am not in fantastic Bowflex-commercial shape or anything. So what do I know right? What I do have is a lifetime spent in multiple athletic environments, a large pool of friends in the fields of nutrition, kinesiology, and physical education (sports people tend to cluster in these areas), and a burning desire not to pay for something you can easily find elsewhere for free.

So You Wanna Be a Fighter?

I used to be a boxing coach (as a side gig my last year of university). After four years of amateur boxing I wasn’t anything special, but I could lead classes for beginning and intermediate boxers pretty competently. I also did some personal coaching on the side, which is basically personal training with a unique twist. I can tell you that 99.9% of what any trainer says to you is available on the internet and most of it is probably common sense. Does any of the following information sound familiar?

• Eat small meals with protein and carbs, instead eat more meals per day
• Weight train between 2-4 times per week
• Do cardio 2-3 times a week
• Drink plenty of water
• Stop smoking – cut down on alcohol
• Reduce your fat intake
• Don't binge on sweets and cookies
• Keep a fitness journal
• Take a multivitamin
• Eat fruits and vegetables

So now that you know that, realistically all you need a personal trainer for is to yell, “PUSH IT,” right? I’ll save you the trouble, download the song by Salt-N-Peppa (or just go to anywhere roller skating still exists and steal it) and watch Rocky every time you need a little motivation.

Why Pay For a Free Lunch?

Obviously I’m being a little facetious, but the principle remains the same. I can’t figure out why in this day and age of the internet and 1001 fitness magazines, people feel the need to pay ridiculous rates to have someone tell them to do a few more sit-ups a certain way. If you truly feel as if you are a neophyte when it comes to physical education of any kind I recommend doing a little reading, seeing if you have a friend that could share some tips with you (which you could then verify online), or as a last case scenario, hire a personal trainer for like 3 sessions. After 3 sessions the personal trainer should have taught you the proper form for all the weights and machines and mapped out a decent little routine for you. If they refuse, just find one that will.

Just Pick One and Stay the Course

do i need a personal trainerThere are 4 billion exercise plans online all claiming to be the best one ever. I’ve trained with college football, basketball, and volleyball players. I have boxed extensively with two Canadian champions, and several other Canadian team members. I have grappled and sparred with professional MMA fighters. My friend/roommate is a certified dietician and has a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition. I know a little bit about working out, and what it truly boils down is simply getting your heart rate up 4-6 times a week doing a mixture of cardiovascular and strength building exercises. I am fairly certain the best and most efficient way to tone up and generally get into good shape is to do circuit-style workouts that combine both strength building and cardio workouts. Think of P-90X, Crossfit or some variant of those type of programs. Within those general guidelines, a personal trainer is just going to fill in details you would get online anyway. Work different muscle groups, get your heart rate up 4-6 days a week, and follow the basic nutritional advice most of us have been told a million times but choose to ignore (including myself) and you’ll be just fine.

Just Because They Are Good Looking, Doesn't Mean They Know Everything

It’s not that I think personal trainers are bad people, it’s just that I don’t think their knowledge is worth paying crazy amounts of money for, and it definitely doesn’t have to be delivered in a person-to-person matter. That is done solely to maximize profits. A second thing that people should watch out for is the classic upsell that many gyms demand their personal trainers try to pursue. In fact many gyms and companies offer large incentive-based commissions for trainers that get people to buy overpriced supplements, sign up for specialized courses, and other high-profit products. Personal trainers and gyms have a unique business structure where their clientele are often signing up for the dream of appearing a certain way, but are rarely willing to put in the work to do it. This has a weird overall effect on how things are priced and what has become “the norm” within the industry.

The certification process for calling yourself a “personal trainer” is almost not even worth discussing. Let’s just say it doesn’t phase out too many applicants. This means that there is a huge range of personal training knowledge on the market. I know for a fact that there are many personal trainers out there who have almost no idea what they’re doing, and get their information from the back of a supplement jar that they don’t need to be taking. Even if a personal trainer knows their stuff, if you need them just to get yourself motivated what does this say about you? Learn to fish for yourself instead of asking someone else to do it for you repeatedly. Your overall character, as well as your bank account will thank you for it.

Personally. I think the only real reason to go to any gym at all is to meet good-looking people of the opposite gender. Fifty dollars a month might be a reasonable cover charge to do this. Other than that, I honestly find most gyms to be a waste of time, and breeding grounds for infections and sickness. I absolutely hate waiting for machines or in line, and most male locker rooms leave much to be desired. Educate yourself, spend a little money to buy some essentials (as I outlined in this article), and then just truly focus on sticking to a plan (almost any basic plan will do).

48 Comments

  1. Financial Uproar on July 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    This might be your funniest piece yet TM. Well done.

    Like saving money, getting in shape is really easy to do. You just make smart choices and repeat them over and over. Since we’re lazy (with both finances and fitness) we want to take the shortcut to get there.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some diet pills to take.



  2. Teacher Man on July 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    Caffeine pills and diet pop is this new diet I’m considering marketing… I think there is probably a niche for it… I wish I was fully kidding about the second statement.



  3. Kathleen @ Frugal Portland on July 30, 2012 at 12:03 am

    See, though, the internet won’t force you to “finish the set” — some girls need a big beefcake to push them.



  4. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter on July 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Great post and you definitely have some points. Personal trainers do have a place when you are injured and need certain moves to strengthen and rebuild. They also play a role in teaching your proper form and spotting until you get the move down pat. I have seen a lot people really hurt themselves by not working out right.



  5. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I would argue that many personal trainers don’t truly know how to rehab most injuries Miss T. I would ask for their qualifications in that regard. Unless they have a degree in kineseology I wouldn’t trust anything. Go to an athletic therapist and get a real plan as well as demonstrations from them. There is also numerous sources on the internet that have live demonstrations from undeniably qualified people. Like I said, as a last resort, you should be able to learn proper form and how to use most gym equipment (most machines actually hurt your workout anyway, but that is another story altogether) in a few sessions with a trainer as opposed to locking yourself in to any long-term contract. As a side note, I’ve seen many trainers who are rehabbing injuries themselves, likely caused by not balancing their workouts amongst other things.



  6. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Haha, well I guess you gotta do what you gotta do to get through right? From a guy’s perspective, I’m fairly certain most girls in a gym could get plenty of help for free simply by asking really nicely!



  7. Pamela @ FabulousSavings.ca on July 30, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Good points, but I tend to be one of those ppl who need the extra discipline, at least in the beginning. But you’re right, once you know how to do the exercises properly, you shouldn’t need to spend a fortune on a personal trainer. I also think some people who have trainers think it’s a prestigious thing, like they’re more committed to getting in shape – which isn’t always the case.



  8. Steve @ Grocery Alerts on July 30, 2012 at 11:54 am

    My wife is my personal trainer – she teaches fitness classes and is really good at giving instructions. It is frustrating going to the gym for me because I love to play sports instead and find weightlifting boring (I see how important it is).



  9. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Hey Steve, sorry I didn’t mean to insult anyone specifically, I just believe that the vast majority of what a personal trainer provides is motivation and in my opinion that could be had for free. You can always mix a quick weightlifting session in with your sports to make it more palatable right?



  10. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    There is definitely a commitment and prestige factor. It is much like the people that decide they are going to be runners and then spend 800 dollars on running stuff and special equipment before running more than a few miles. The best runners in the world run barefoot for most of their life (check out the book Born to Run), and the best ways to workout are really pretty instinctual when you think about it.



  11. MTB on July 30, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    I was a personal trainer briefly and I agree with a LOT of the things you mention, especially how all of the information is available on the internet and almost anyone can become a trainer. But if you have tried many different things and are not seeing results then maybe it is worth it to look into a personal trainer. It’s so easy to give up on your own and when you’re paying for something and its part of your schedule, most likely you will stick to it. Something that is more wallet friendly is group training sessions. That way you can do training in a more social setting.

    Although I work part-time as a fitness instructor and my job is to push people and motivate people, I find it hard to motivate myself. I have no desire to work out at home. My home is where I eat, sleep, and veg when I get home work or the gym. It’s so easy to slack off when no one’s watching you or screaming at you to do 10 more push ups on your toes. That’s why group exercise classes are packed. The idea of running on a treadmill bores me to death. When people are motivated they push themselves harder and keep coming back for me.

    Great article, btw. 🙂



  12. MTB on July 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    With my last post, I meant keep coming back for more. But maybe they do keep coming back to my classes, for me to push them. 🙂



  13. Budget & the Beach on July 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I do think there is a time and a place for personal trainers. I think they can motivate you and hold you accountable, because for some people that is really hard. But for the budget conscious, then yes you really don’t need one. But if you have the money and are into that sort of thing, I say why not!



  14. Poor Student on July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    This is sobering for me, studying kinesiology with the intent to personal train part time maybe and someday I would love to own my own gym. Nevertheless I knew all this stuff and agree for the most part. I lost a lot of weight and got in shape all on my own. I read everything I could find about fitness and most of all was extremely dedicated.

    But personal trainers are good for among other things, elite to close-to-elite athletes. Every professional sports team employs a strength and conditioning coach, and a lot of the top athletes hire a high end trainer during the off-season. What these trainers do may not be secrets or anything, but there is a market for it, and a good trainer could be what pushes a good amateur to the top or a top amateur to the pros.



  15. Poor Student on July 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I loved Born To Run. I was devastated about what happened to Manuelo.

    And don’t consider me amongst those that spend a lot of money to feel like they are committed, I just spent $95 on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. I did this mostly because of what I read in Born To Run. That book really opens your eyes.



  16. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Nice glad to hear that you agree with me and didn’t take any personal offence! Paying money does seem to have an almost irrational way of getting people to commit to something, but I just can’t wrap my head around it. At least group workouts won’t cost you nearly as much per person. This is how I used to run the boxing set-up. When your just learning basics and trying to get a workout in, you don’t need one-on-one instruction. Maybe my background in a lot of different athletic environments is was gives me a bit of a motivational edge?



  17. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Almost any other time I would agree with the idea of “If you have money and it’s your thing, then go for it” since I’m not a frugal-at-all-costs type, but I just can’t justify the personal trainer when there is so much great info on the net these days. I guess if it makes people accountable, but why not just find a workout partner if you want to make yourself accountable to someone?



  18. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Hey Poor Student, I hope I didn’t crush your dreams ;). The good news for you is that in the consumer society we live in people believe they have to purchase to the solution to the problem that they are overweight. We (I include myself in this to some extent) are overweight at rates that are consistently setting new highs, so I’m sure there will be a demand for your services. What would you say your estimate would be in terms of research time for someone to know 90% of what they need to workout efficiently on their own? 10 hours if that? Just comparing programs like Crossfit and P90X would answer a lot of questions for me. There is no doubt that elite-level athletes do get a benefit out of the hundredths of a second that trainers can shave off, but we both know this is not the core constituency for most gyms. I definitely agree that those are the positions to aim for in your position though.



  19. Teacher Man on July 30, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I just finished and I’m slowly but surely putting it into an action plan. Did you try going totally barefoot before the Vibrams? I’ve been reading some really cool stuff on forums about this. Interesting split in the medical community on the whole BF thing eh?



  20. Jordann @ My Alternate Life on July 31, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Another great way to get the extra motivation is to join a workout group, there are loads of free run groups, cross fit groups and urban adrenaline groups going on in various cities, just google em. I personally am way more likely to not take walk breaks on my runs and finish my last set when I’m with a group, but I would never spend the money on a gym – let alone a personal trainer.



  21. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter on July 31, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Those are the kinds of trainers I was referring to- those trained in kineseology and athletic therapy. I wouldn’t pay to go and see anyone unless they had those qualifications. You are right though, there are lots of frauds out there and there are plenty of resources online. I just know that a couple sessions to learn what not to do etc, can be really helpful.



  22. Teacher Man on July 31, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I agree Jordann, I would recommend this form of “accountability” if you need the motivation, and in a lot of groups these are all people that have spend time on the athletic scene and probably a solid number who have been personal trainers in some capacity before. You get to learn from them all (in my experience the vast majority of people aren’t protective of what they have picked up over the years).



  23. SavingMentor on July 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Did you notice that you’re the guy who owns multiple blogs and writes for a bunch more and also is thinking of pursuing a master’s degree all while working a full time job. Do you understand now why maybe you aren’t the person who needs extra motivation to stick to a plan and gets things done? Not everyone has your level of commitment! That should wrap your head around it 🙂



  24. Teacher Man on July 31, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Haha I’ll take that as a compliment I guess… I also like to lay around and watch Mad Men and The Wire way too much, so we’re all human?



  25. SheThinkImCheap on July 31, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I took a bit of a different route. Since I wanted to build up my knowledge on training and health I went and took a personal training class and studied the material. This helped me get familiarized with the basics. While I never bothered to get certified (since my career is IT), the material I learned certainly helps for when I train family and friends.



  26. Teacher Man on July 31, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Interesting route. How long was the class, and how much information did you feel was new. Also, if you don’t mind sharing how much it cost that would be cool (especially to compare to the hourly rates personal trainers charge).



  27. Anon on August 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    If you are looking for significant information for studying materials I recommend going the route of purchasing an ACSM or NASM book. These materials provide a large amount of information that dictate what it is your most qualified trainers have a niche in.

    I can almost guarantee you that the majority of the internet information does not qualify as quality guidelines for any training regimine. Due to the nature of how the human body works its almost guaranteed that the information you may be using may actually promote injury as opposed to helping you.



  28. Teacher Man on August 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Interesting resources Anon. I completely disagree about “the majority” of internet information comment. Maybe if you are looking to create an elite athlete you could argue the point, but for basic physical fitness it is more or less common sense.



  29. Anon on August 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Unfortunately it’s not the elite athletes that the majority of trainers work with. Ideally those who are primarily sedentary are at risk for most injuries. Typically prone to lumbar injuries due to anterior pelvic rotation from extended periods of sitting and increased tightness from shortened hip flexor. Basic knee problems from tight iliotibial bands that force lateral rotation of the knees which leads to many anterior cruciate ligament tears. These injuries although seemingly apparent in most athletes are actually more dominant in the average obese American. Many of which have no clue about these ailments that even you may be living with. Without this proper knowledge, access of internet utilities to fuel your exercise can be detrimental as even utilizing a simple leg extension machine can be causal of injury due to lack of information provided by the pictures illustrated on them.



  30. Teacher Man on August 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Is there any irony to the fact that you just provided a very interesting piece of information over the internet which you just tried to discredit as a source? I have read a few articles about what you’re referring to and while it makes sense, I would argue the VAST majority of personal trainers out there would never be able to diagnose a person’s ACL damage, nor would they know any more about that sort of thing than the average person.



  31. Anon on August 19, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Internet games are not something I am interested in playing here. You are very welcome to your ill-informed opinion and although many trainers do not have the skills necessary to provide a client with that information there are many who do. Deeming an entire profession useless based on the carelessness of others is saddening. Perhaps the use if the internet and money grabbing magazines could deem the majority of professions useless. Besides, according to you, providing blog spots for any backyard professional must be the wave of the future.

    Speaking of backyard professionals, I had a friend have an entire workout routine and nutrition fact submitted and published on a, so called, reputable men’s fitness magazine. Needless to say his submission was useless at best. Magazines and internet sources are as useful as Wikipedia. The sources I referred you to are in fact trainer programs and certifications designed by M.D. and Dpt’s. THESE are reputable sources of information.



  32. Teacher Man on August 19, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Fair enough Anon. I do honestly believe that the internet is completely levelling the field in terms of access to information and the revered “prestige” that was previously enjoyed by professionals only. While the sources you referred to are pretty reputable, to claim that everything else is useless just isn’t cool either. Finally, please don’t try and claim there is some well of knowledge that is perfect and only trainers have access to, that is ridiculous. Take the issues surrounding barefoot running for example. I have read numerous Ph. D’s with dozens of peer-reviewed articles published on both sides of the debate, and they are both just as adamant only they are right. The basic facts of staying in shape are relatively easy for 99% of people to execute.



  33. Anon on August 19, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Arguments supporting two sides go as far back as the vegan/carnivore debate. The cause is two different lifestyles working for two different people. Do I think everyone needs a trainer? Absolutely not, people are very capable of reading and applying relevant information on their own. Those books I referred to are easily purchaseable through amazon.com or Barnes and nobles so it’s much cheaper to learn the information on your own. But facts are facts, we are the fattest country in the world and obesity is killing more people than ever before. Despite the access to SOME of the reputable information available, people steer free from actually researching for it properly. Bad information is as easily arguable as a bad trainer. Without proper references and support all you end up doing is wasting time and money. Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, if it really were that easy for everyone then we should all have six packs.



  34. Teacher Man on August 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I’m fairly certain that the quality of information is a relatively small concern and you are vastly overrating the energy needed to get at it. The lack of 6 packs is due to a lack of motivation that is linked to a variety of biological and environmental reasons.



  35. Ryan @ Planwise on October 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    This is pretty much how I have always felt about a gym. I just do my cardio by playing soccer, roller hockey or running.

    I find it really hard to make myself pay for a gym membership especially because im not a weight lifter.

    As you said getting 3 sessions of information would be beneficial that would probably be it. I just need more self motivation to push myself harder!



  36. Teacher Man on October 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Seems pretty common sense right Ryan?



  37. Ryan @ Planwise on October 9, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    pretty much. Some people just have more money to spend or they feel like they don’t have the motivation to do it themselves. If they can afford the gym comfortably and it’s helping I guess keep it up.



  38. Mikey on November 17, 2012 at 2:56 am

    I have to disagree about getting your own home gym equipment and skipping a gym membership. Unless you are an incredibly motivated/focused individual (such as yourself apparently) it is very difficult to work out regularly in the home environment – to many distractions, food, and comfy vertical surfaces. Everybody remembers that pile of unused workout equipment rusting in their dad/grandparents garage. Consider a gym membership as an investment in your own well being (and a health care cost saver down the road).



  39. Teacher Man on November 17, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Invest in a P90X or crossfit DVD instead.



  40. anon on November 17, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    You do realize p90x is the same as hiring a trainer. Just saying.



  41. Teacher Man on November 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Except it costs you once instead of day after day… which is sort of the whole point.



  42. alex on January 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    P90X is about the price of 1 session for a good trainer & you get 3 months of quality training, even more because you can have variations of the program.

    I was a trainer and can say that if one knows proper forms etc. There’s really no need for a trainer.



  43. Kyle on January 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Exactly! Thank you Alex.



  44. Mtl on December 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    At the gym where I work at, we only hire kinesiologists or athletic therapists. I think as a client it is also your duty to make sure whoever you hire as a ”personal trainer” has the proper qualifications.

    That being said a trainer isn’t simply there to motivate or give you advice readily available on the Internet. If it was that simple, everyone would be in ”shape”. The problem is there are so many myths being transmitted on the Internet that it is hard as a beginner to debunk the truth. Considering how ALL diets and training regimens that are posted on the internet actually DO work, our job as kinesiologists/nutritionists is to show their long term effect as well. Most of time, anything too extreme will only work on the short term, if we don’t even consider the health hazards.

    Seeing a qualified trainer allows for a client to reach their goal in a realistic time frame while making sure the exercises are adapted to their fitness level.



  45. Kyle on December 24, 2014 at 9:28 am

    So why do I need one for more than one or two sessions? Once they show me how to do it and create the plan what else am I paying for besides motivation after that? Also, you severely confuse “simple” with “easy” running a marathon is a simple concept – you simply start running and 42km later you’re done – but it’s not easy! Much like personal finance actually! Spending less than you earn is simple – but not easy judging from our national averages.



  46. Jay on June 27, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Back eons ago when I first joined a gym out of university, we exercised as a group. We as a collective bought the books and magazines, trading ideas and workouts. You kept your eyes open and asked other guys about their exercises adopting what interested you, keeping what worked. If you go to a gym with trainers watch them. Ask them a couple of questions. If they refuse to respond then they aren’t worth knowing in the first place. I agree that training is overpriced in big box gyms with ridiculous contracts. Approach the trainer to work outside the gym or as a buddy coach. Most work on the side. Also, there is no need to do an intensive bootcamp multiple times per week if the other days are taken up with fitness activities. Space it out and save your money.



  47. Chris on July 20, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    It’s irresponsible crap like this that keeps people taking up nonsensical media-driven “exercise” routines because authors like this say you don’t need an expert to teach and lead the way. Let’s be realistic. Who doesn’t need to see a doctor at some point, or a dentist, or an optometrist? We go to them because they have insight, experience, training, and the know-how to get you on the right path and provide positive, lasting results. A good trainer is no different. Most people have no idea how to even do a push-up never mind a squat or bench press or throw a punch. It’s doubtful this author even knows where his true breaking point is (absolutely important to growth). Without proper direction, one can unwittingly spend tens of thousands of dollars on gimmicks, pills, diets, and fads that will do NOTHING for them other than establish a yo-yo diet, a massive waistline, injuries galore, and a mentality that they are “broken” because nothing works for them. There are some people where physical fitness comes naturally. But many people today are so far past having done anything leading to good physical fitness that bro-science (asking non-educated friends and acquaintances/youtubers for advice), reading (reading what? this crappy article?) and guessing is nothing short of dangerous. Personal Trainers, good ones, are worth every single penny. They will lead you to good health and will teach you how to maintain it long after they are gone.



  48. Kyle on July 21, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Sorry, you’re just way off base here Chris. Let’s take a guess: you’re a personal trainer or have paid a lot for one and are now looking to justify value? I’m sure you’ll admit it if this is the case. The fact that you equate a trainer with a dentist or doctor is a pretty good indicator of your level of general knowledge. I’m not sure about the author of this article (haven’t asked him), but I know that I personally agree with the gist of it, and I’ve been in the boxing ring with several Canadian Champions and World Championship participants. I also red shirted a year on a CIS basketball team, and played provincial football. I’ve been exposed to professionals from a wide variety of athletic backgrounds. Use your critical thinking ability and read stuff written by the best trainers with real academic credentials – not just a dumb magazine article. It’s much better than some bozo who took a weekend course to give themselves a title at your local strip mall gym. Compare notes by several authors and see what common consistencies that you find. The average person doesn’t want to be an elite athlete, the simply want the benefits of an increased heart rate and building some lean muscle mass.



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