Choosing a personal trainer can be a complex process for consumers. The decision of which personal trainer they should choose shouldn't be taken lightly because it can affect their fitness journey and it is often an investment. As a personal trainer, you want to appeal to a wide range of clients and operate efficiently while carrying yourself with utmost professionalism. A red flag can be a deal breaker for consumers when looking for a personal trainer. Don't be the personal trainer with red flags! Stay away from these red flags in your personal training business.

  1. Lack of Certification: A big red flag for personal trainers is not having a certification. To be more specific, not having a reputable certification. This is an obvious point but can't be overlooked. Not all certifying bodies are the same. As a personal trainer, your certification status matters. First, you want to be certified by a reputable certifying body. This should be where extensive education or knowledge is necessary to sit for the exam. You also want to ensure that your certification is always current. Many certifications require you to stay certified and complete continuing education. As you get more into personal training and find a niche you fit into, you can also get specialty certifications. A client may base their decision on your certifications and specialties in the areas that they are looking for extra help. You can go into different personal training areas, such as youth fitness, senior fitness, strength, and conditioning. You can also get certifications that complement what you do as a personal trainer, such as corrective exercise training and nutrition coaching. Being able to show a client what you can offer by having multiple certifications can make their decision much more straightforward and make you more appealing.

  2. Not Getting Personal: A personal trainer that doesn't get personal is a red flag. Get to know your clients. Understand their life situation. Get to their deep-down goals. What they say they want may be different from what they want. Build rapport with your clients. Help motivate them so they can feel a sense of belonging. Get personal not only on a relational level but also in their training. Working with goals will help to meet the specificity training principle (Powers et al., 2020). You need to train the client the way they want to change. Personalize their program to meet their goal. If they want to run a marathon but the most you do is have them sprint, they will not get through that marathon. Also, incorporate things your clients like to do to help them meet their goals. Offer them an personalized experience help them see that you value their business and have their best interest in mind.

  3. No Assessments: It may be tempting to start training your client immediately (clients can be persistent), but assessments are paramount to your client's safety and success. Not running assessments before starting (even if you know everything about the person) is a personal training red flag. The assessments will help you personalize your programming. They also help you to build rapport and determine the client's goals and limitations. Before you can even begin training clients, you must do some leg work to ensure the client can begin an exercise program. Their health history should be reviewed, their physical readiness tested, and medical clearance obtained. Contraindications must be identified for the client's safety (Gibson et al., 2019). Other essential forms in this process, such as the liability waiver, protect the personal trainer. Data collection such as weight, body composition, and body fat analysis will help build a client's profile. Assessments should be continued through the training program to help monitor for progress or setbacks. 

  4. One Size Fits All Plan: Spend any time on social media or the internet, and you will see the same online exercise plan advertised to work for every person. This is a red flag. The same plan for every client doesn't work. This is because of the training principle of specificity and the principle of individual differences (Ehrman, 2017). The principle of specificity should not be ignored because one's training must be specific to one's goals. The training must be customized to their current fitness level (hello assessments) and geared toward them. Not everyone has the same goal, nor do they have the same performance level, so one plan for all clients doesn't work. The principle of individual differences also highlights the importance that there is no one-size-fits-all way to train everyone because everyone is unique. Each person will experience your training programs differently, and personalization is the way to ensure the plan is effective.  

  5. Plan That Never Changes: This red flag can affect the client's satisfaction and results. Not only can the same plan for months and months on end be boring, but it can also be ineffective. There should be variation in each plan. Progression is needed to help prevent overtraining and ensure goals are being met (Powers et al., 2019). The variability will help prevent injuries, plateaus, and mundanity. Progression should be set to one's goal and geared towards the assessment results. The principle of progressive overload comes into play here. If the client wants to progress, the body must adapt to different loads and stimuli. The program must change training volume, frequency, load, and exercises. Keeping the plan the same, not making adjustments where needed, and not offering variation is a disservice to your clients.

  6. Doesn't Work Within their Scope of Practice: Trainers can expect to be asked to do something beyond their scope of practice by well meaning clients. Clients may not completely understand the scope of practice, so they may ask for something out of their scope of practice. A red flag would be working in a capacity you are not qualified to. If a personal trainer oversteps the constraints of their certification, they can get themselves into trouble and risk harming their client. To prevent this red flag, personal trainers should offer clear communication about what services they provide and stay up to date with the scope of practices for their different certifications.

  7. Not Flexible: Personal training clients may have very different schedules they want to accommodate. They may not be the typical nine-to-five employees, so being flexible for many hours of the day can be important in a personal trainer. Some clients, such as senior clients, may have a lot of extra time in the middle of the day, while people who work long hours may need later session options. Although one of the perks of being a personal trainer is setting your own hours, you should be mindful of what hours you may need to accommodate your clients. Be willing to do those early or late-night sessions; don't box yourself into the 9 to 5 schedule. If you are only available in the middle of the day during daytime hours, find a clientele that would appreciate that. If you know a client typically loves to do their sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, keep some hours open for them to choose from in the coming weeks. A huge red flag would be a personal trainer who can never accommodate their clients' schedules. This is almost a no-brainer, but if you don't have time available for clients or are difficult to schedule, they will move on to the next trainer.

  8. Poor Communication: Communication is critical to a client's and a trainer's success. A personal trainer that doesn't communicate is a red flag. There is a lot of communication involved in personal training. Checking in on the clients, building rapport, feedback, cues, helping them to feel belonging, etc. Trainers should practice the OARS practice of using open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening, and summarizing (ISSA, 2021). Have conversations when appropriate. While clients are there for instruction and help, the connection with you keep them coming.

  9. No Liability Insurance: This one is more of a behind-the-scenes red flag. An apparent liability is not protecting yourself with liability insurance as a personal trainer. Clients likely won't ask for your proof of insurance, but it may increase their trust in you and your professionalism if you show them you carry it. Along with a liability waiver, liability insurance is a necessity. Liability insurance is an added cost but can save you from a significant expense.

Whether you are training your first client or your 100th, ensure you don't have any red flags. To offer your clients the best experience and support their fitness journey, ensure you operate with unparalleled professionalism. Keep your certification updated and work towards professional development while keeping your clients safe with proper assessments and programming. Offer flexibility and communication to help your client meet their fitness goals in an enjoyable manner. 



Ehrman, J. K. (2017). Advanced Exercise Physiology. Human Kinetics Publishers.

ISSA (2021). Foundations and Applications for a Certified Personal Trainer (10th ed.). Lionel University Content. 

Gibson, A. L., Wagner, D. R., & Heyward, V. H. (2019). Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription (8th ed.). Human Kinetics Publishers.

Powers, S., Howley, E., & Quindry, J. (2020). Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance (11th ed.). McGraw-Hill Higher Education (US).