Why Personal Training Does NOT Work

... at least not for weight-loss

By Mark Hamblin

I’m writing this post in mid-January, right about when most people are giving up on their New Year Resolutions.  Are you one of them?

Sure, you wanted to make some positive changes.  You signed up for the gym.  You decided to “eat clean.”  You even hired a Personal Trainer and bought a 20-pack of sessions with them so they could “keep you accountable”.  Jeesh.  What a waste.

First, let me get a couple things out of the way:

  • I DO believe that exercise is an important part of weight-loss and general health.
  • I don’t think your average Personal Trainer is a bad person.
  • Most Trainers great intentions, are very knowledgeable, and hold meaningful certifications.
  • I’ve worked with multiple Personal Trainers myself in the past (Hi G and DJ, hope you guys are great.)
  • I’m actually considering getting certified as a Personal Trainer myself, just to increase my knowledge.

So what’s my problem?

Well, it’s mainly the business model of Personal Training that I have a problem with.  It’s just not set up to achieve success.  And it often focuses on the wrong things.

Here’s why:

1) Most trainers only focus on EXERCISE and not EATING:

People often think that “going to the gym” is the key to losing weight.  Exercise will solve all, right?  You can “burn off” that pint of ice cream you ate last night.


In my humble opinion (and in the opinion of many Personal Trainers themselves) the key to losing weight is what you put IN your body in the first place.  Personally, I’ve gone multiple weeks without any focused exercise, and I still lost weight as long as I followed my ketogenic eating plan.  Exercise is a great boost and catalyst for even faster weight loss, but its not the silver bullet we all expect it to be.

If I had to put a split between the importance of exercise vs. eating for weight-loss, I’d say it’s about 30% exercise and 70% eating.  When you work with a trainer (most trainers, but there are exceptions) they really only focus on that 30% part of the plan, not the much bigger 70%.  Sure, they might try to give you some quick and simple eating plan that their gym publishes, but its certainly not customized for you, and usually it isn’t targeted specifically for weight loss.

If you’re already in shape and you need help with your bench press form, then sure, go work with a trainer.  But if weight-loss is your main goal, don’t think your trainer is going to have all the answers.

2) There is no incentive for success — they just want to make you happy.

I used to work out here at 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco.  You know, one of the “big box” gyms.  And they were ALWAYS running deals on personal training sessions, especially if you bought in bulk.  I bought some of those “bulk packages” — in fact, I think I may still have some left…

The trainers only get paid when they book more sessions.  Not when you reach a certain goal.  More sessions!!!

I’ve heard trainers tell people “you’re making great progress” or “look how far you’ve come.”  But with what?  You’re now using 20’s instead of 15’s for your bicep curls?  Sure, that’s great, but is that what you signed up for in the first place?  Is your belly gone?  Likely not.  Trainers (and their gym management overlords) will often tell you great stories about your progress to keep you happy and coming back… but you must remember your OWN goals… are you making progress towards them?

3) It’s just not efficient.

So think about what happens during a personal training session for a minute.  What happens most of the time?  Right… your trainer just sits there and watches you do the same exercise that you’ve probably done many times before, especially if you’ve been working with them for a while.

Is that a good use of their time?  No.  It’s boring as hell.  It’s likely not what they had in mind when they went into the field in the first place.

One of the main reasons I was working with trainers in the past was as motivation to get my ass to the gym.  If I was paying someone, and if I had a set appointment, my chances of showing up were higher.  It was true.  But then I realized… how much am I paying, just to get some motivation to go to the gym?

If paying for motivation is all you’re looking for (which is totally fine by me, by the way), there are better options.  Sign up for group fitness classes.  Go to a Cross-Fit gym.  Go to a place like Orange Theory Fitness.  These group settings provide almost the same amount of guidance and help from trained professionals as a one-on-one Personal Trainer, but at a much lower cost on a monthly basis.  And they often give you even MORE motivation than a one-on-one setting because of the social connections you’ll have with your classmates.

4) It’s just too damn expensive for most people.

One-on-one training is not cheap.  Depending on the city and the gym, prices can range from $50 to $150 per session, or more.  Women’s Health has a good article on it.

Let’s just say $80 per session and do some quick math.  Assume you’re meeting 2x per week like I was before.  That’s $640 per month, just for the trainer!  Then when you add in the monthly cost of the gym membership itself, you can easily be in the $700-$800 per month range!

We tell ourselves that it’s money well spent — our health is #1.  Which it is.  But if you’re breaking the bank to do it, it’s probably also unsustainable, and you’ll end up quitting.

Just like I said before… sign up for a gym, sign up for some group exercise classes, or sign up for something like Orange Theory Fitness.  I am a strong believer in the group exercise concept, and its WAY softer on your wallet.

5) Trainers become a crutch, and you end up not working out on your own.

When you’re paying someone to get your butt to the gym, it’s easy to not go on your own.  That was certainly the case for me.

I would wake up on a day when I wasn’t supposed to meet my trainer, struggle with the idea of going to the gym, then hit my snooze button and tell myself “well, I’m meeting my trainer tomorrow, so I’ll just go then.”

My trainer had become my crutch.  My enabler.  I had external motivation without any internal motivation.  That doesn’t work.

6) Most trainers can’t honestly relate to their clients — they’ve been “fit” their whole lives.

This is one of my biggest gripes about the fitness industry as a whole.

With some exceptions (myself included), most people in the industry have been “in shape” their ENTIRE lives.  Sure, maybe they were 10-20 pounds overweight at one point.  But could any of them relate to my problem of not being able to fit into an airplane seat?  Or being addicted to food?  Not at all.

For these “always in shape” people, “fitness” is about lifting more weight.  Or being more “toned.”  Or finishing first in a “Tough Mudder” race in first place.  Or figuring out what fancy new supplement to take.

They simply cannot relate to the common overweight person who has 200, 100, or even 50 pounds to lose.  The advice they provide is a complete mis-match for the advice that is needed.  Chances of success are low.

So what DOES work?

That’s a great question, and I’ll save it for the next post…  Stay tuned.


Mark Hamblin

Mark is a Keto Diet blogger, author, and coach, helping people all over the world reach their individual weight-loss goals. He has been following the Ketogenic Diet himself since 2013, achieving a staggering transformation from a very unhealthy 405 pounds to 195 pounds today. As a day-job, he works as an executive in the global electronics industry. He splits his time between San Francisco, Copenhagen, and China.
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