What Should a Personal Trainer Look Like?

There’s a huge stigma associated with personal training. We all know this.

Most of the people who enter a gym are expecting to see bikini bodies and huge, jacked, swolled, roided out meatheads for trainers.

The problem with this mentality and you’re not the only one who has it, is that 99% of personal trainers look nothing like that.

So today, we’re going to talk about what a trainer should look like.
First, I talked to several current personal trainers and clients over the last couple of days and asked for some opinions on the subject.

Here are some of the answers I received:

Large Majority: They should look like they know what they’re doing. They should represent what the industry expects them to look like. You know, like, lean and fit.

Smaller Majority: It depends. What kind of trainer are they? Some trainers should be in wicked shape, but mostly if that’s what they’re selling.

In my opinion. Both have a point. If a trainer is selling a bodybuilding program, has no medical conditions preventing them from looking like a bodybuilder, they ought to be. In my personal opinion, trainers should try to be in relatively good physical condition, mostly because being “leaner” is better for your health than carrying around a ton of body fat.

On the other hand, not every trainer is selling those services.

There are:

  • General Health & Wellness Trainers
  • General Strength Trainers
  • Bodybuilding Trainers
  • Powerlifting Trainers
  • Strongman Competition Trainers
  • Post-rehabilitation Trainers
  • Movement Quality Trainers
  • Pre and Post-Natal Trainers
  • Trainers who specialize in certain medical conditions
  • Trainers who specialize in pain management

Just to name a few.

Should all of these trainers look like the bodybuilder trainer? Maybe, if that’s what they wanted to look like. But, it’s highly unlikely all of those people give more than a passing thought to looking shredded.

Looks Don’t Determine Skill Level

Just because someone is “shredded” does not mean they know how to get someone else shredded. They found out what works for them and stuck to it, but it might not work for everyone else. In reality, however, they might have no idea how to get the same results for someone who is not as motivated, disciplined, nor athletic as they are.

Likewise, just because someone doesn’t care to be “shredded” does not mean they don’t know how to get someone there.

Bodybuilders and Trainers are Not the Same

People often seem to confuse bodybuilders with trainers. Some bodybuilders are also trainers, but the majority of them are not – they actually have/had trainers to get them there.

As I mentioned, some trainers aren’t in “awesome shape”, I don’t mean they’re fat and lazy. Just that they don’t care very much about having a 6 pack. Take some really high-level trainers and throw them in a room with some fitness models. They will know all the mechanisms and formula to get those people into the shape they want, but may not want the same thing for themselves.

They are still great trainers. You’d be completely ass backwards to think they didn’t do a good job just because they don’t look a certain way.

Trainers Know Being Super Lean is a Huge Pain in the Ass and Generally Not That Good For You

Staying lean year-round is a shit ton of work. I’m in no way saying it’s not worth it if it’s what you want. But your life basically revolves around you and your abs. Which means the majority of your time is spent thinking about your meals, your training, and you.

Again, no problem if that’s what you want your life to be about.

Most trainers have a life outside the gym. They have friends, family, activities that they care about more than just being shredded all the time. It’s really not as important or as easy as some people make it out to be.

They have other priorities. They also realize that being %4 body fat year-round may not be beneficial for their health, especially for women. Being super-lean year-round affects your hormonal system. I’m no expert in this subject but have seen and heard of some pretty serious changes in the bodies of those who do this. Iit can also drastically affect your mood and ability to focus on your work/tasks on a daily basis.

Some of the best coaches in the world look nothing like these guys. Some of the best do, but a lot don’t.

fitness model collage.png

(Apparently, there is a need to make an edit here. After some social media interactions, I feel it is necessary to point out that I am not attacking the people in the these photos in the slightest. It takes a lot of hard work and self-discipline to do what they do. I am simply indicating that some trainers who do not do a good job for their clients are in great shape, but don’t know much about actual training. Some of the people in these photos are actual trainers and maybe great ones at that. So don’t take things too out of context when you’re reading it. The overall message is a positive one.)

Unfortunately, some of the worst coaches in the world do. People who will tell you to take diuretics when you’re already dehydrated because they have no idea what the risks are and don’t care too much about you. Just that they look good when you win, no matter the risks. People who will tell you you can only eat food X, Y, and Z because every other food is toxic and will give you autism.

A lot of the people you see on Instagram and in magazines are not actual coaches, they are fitness models and bodybuilders who hired coaches to get them to look that way. Just because someone looks good, doesn’t mean they know how to get you there.

Now I’ll show you some of the most knowledgeable and trustworthy fitness coaches in the world and you tell me if you think they’re under-qualified to help you get bigger, stronger, leaner, faster, and overall better.

trainer collage

Trainers very often don’t look like what you see in magazines, and nor should they. They know how to have a healthy balance between life and exercise.

They know better than most what it’s like to take “fitness” to some unhealthy extremes. Which is why you’ll find trainers still enjoying a slice of pizza or delicious cheesecake once in a while. They know that being shredded is not all it’s cut out to be.

So don’t get too disappointed next time the trainer you hire off Instagram sucks. Just kidding, I have an Instagram account too. But it’s not filled with selfies and half-naked butt photos. Or is it…? ;)

What a Trainer Should BE

A trainer should be many things. One of them is the representation of what they are trying to sell other people.

If a trainer is selling a movement-based program telling the world they have the most developed knowledge of movement and can’t do a simple hip hinge (barring a medical condition that prevents them from doing so), probably don’t hire that person.

A trainer should be:

  • Healthy
  • Caring
  • Professional
  • Hygienic
  • Punctual
  • Respectful
  • Knowledgeable
  • Handsome (jokes ;P)
  • Constantly Improving
  • Able to help you
  • Practising what they preach

Closing Thoughts

A personal trainer should look like someone who is able to help you. But what does that look like?

Realistically, the clients show you what kind of trainer you’re looking at. If all the clients are getting the results they’re looking for, you’ve probably found a good one. If the trainer looks fantastic, but the clients don’t get much of what they’re looking for, move on and find another one. It’s best just to ask around and see what the other members think of them first.

Side Note: Some results aren’t visible. (Prolapse correction, pain reduction, improved proprioception, movement dysfunction, etc.)
If you walk into a gym expecting a 24/7 gun show, you’ll be sadly disappointed.

Walk into a gym and watch trainers train. Ask around. Those who are helping their clients use the proper form and are careful about how to safely and effectively take them to their goals without killing them are the ones you should look for.

Trainers who admit mistakes, continue to learn, know what’s best for the client, and know-how to connect to their client’s unique goals and lifestyles are the ones you want to put your money on.

Author: James Harris

a Canfit Pro certified trainer, who also studies kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley.