Who wants to hire an out-of-shape trainer?

I’m not a personal trainer yet. But when I decided to become a trainer and nutrition coach, I understood that it was a major commitment. Not just because of the training up front and the ongoing education and all the other changes it would in my life.

But because it means my own fitness and conditioning will always have to be a top priority.

It’s not like I was planning to just let myself go eventually. But as far as I’m concerned, this profession requires a certain amount of walking the walk.

Would you hire this guy as your trainer?

I’d love hear your thoughts, so as you read this, think about the question – does a trainer’s appearance influence your opinion of them? Would it influence your decision to hire somebody to train you? Keep reading, but then leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

Here’s where the question comes from: I was part of a online conversation recently about whether it’s okay for trainers to be out of shape, whether the appearance of fitness was a qualification for the job. Some people got bent out of shape at the implication that trainers should all look like Barbies or body builders or that they should be held to a higher standard than the general public.

First things first – trainers SHOULD be held to a higher fitness standard than the general public. The general public knows very little about fitness, lifting technique, exercise programming, nutrition, etc. etc. That’s why they pay trainers. So if Average Joe can’t safely assume his trainer has knowledge that he himself doesn’t personally have, why would he hire said trainer?

Let’s say it’s a given: trainers have this knowledge. What does it say about them, then, if they don’t apply their knowledge to their own lives and bodies?

Would you go to a mechanic who’s car was never running? A chiropractor with horrible posture? A mentally unstable psychologist?

It’s not like I’d only go to a trainer who looked like he just stepped off the cover of Men’s Health magazine. But if all other things were equal, I’d most definitely chose a lean, athletic, in-shape guy over a chubby, sweaty dude breathing hard walking up a flight of steps. Even if all things WEREN’T equal and the chubby guy’s credentials were a little better or he’d be training longer, I still might be more inclined to go with the fit guy. Because part of a trainer’s job is to motivate his clients. And a guy who doesn’t look like he’s ever done the exercises he’s telling me to do isn’t going to be as motivating as a guy who clearly has put in the time and effort himself.

I’d never say that somebody carrying a few extra pounds shouldn’t be training, or that there’s a certain weight or line that should be drawn to determine who’s fit enough or not fit enough for the job. And of course, somebody may have injuries and limitations that keep them from living the fitness lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean they can’t teach it.  I’d even guess that a more “real” looking trainer might be easier to relate to and less intimidating for lots of gym-goers. So let’s say we all agree that there’s room for all types of bodies and all levels of fitness.

I still think it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that a personal trainer’s appearance sends a message to prospective clients and frankly, other trainers as well, about their professional abilities and commitment.

A trainer has a unique opportunity to model the behaviors they expect from their clients, as well as what the results of their hard work could look like. A trainer who is fit, strong, and lean is a walking, talking, testimonial for their personal training skills.

What do you think?


14 thoughts on “Who wants to hire an out-of-shape trainer?

  1. I would have trouble taking advice from a trainer if they did not seem a lot more fit than I am. They don’t need to look like a bodybuilder or a model (that would be intimidating. But they need to be super fit!

  2. Hi Jay,
    As a trainer I appreciate the post.
    My 2 cents is that a trainer should be able to coach the desired performance from the client. An 80 year old boxing coach would not be expected to out-box his 22 year old athlete, but should be able to bring the best out of his client.
    Likewise, a trainer should be able to help his/her client achieve their goals. I agree the trainer should be in the ‘direction’ of looking ‘fit’, but then we get into what ‘fit’ looks like. A fit cyclist and a fit power lifter do not look the same!

  3. I get the sense that this article was written by someone with a 20’s/30’s something… elite athlete prespective…which is fine if that is who you are going to work with. However, I see a crisis today in the so called “personal training profession” where to many “trainers” look the part… however have very little or no education, no credentials (other than a subscription to “Muscle & Fitness”), no understanding on how to work appropiately with special populations (older population, chronic orthopediac problems, specifc health issues, non-athletic people, etc…) and very little empathy or understanding for those who struggle to improve their physical condition. I firmly beleive that those in the “helping” professions should ideally practice what they preach…but when someone hires a personal trainer they should be more concerned with the following…

    1. That the personal trainer (PT) will do harm…in what they have them do in a session
    2.. That the PT has some sort of training and/or credential that shows they have a
    minimum level of education and understanding of what they are doing…such as how to
    work with the special needs of a prospective client (chronic conditions, orthopeadic
    medications,physical limitations, etc…)
    3. That the PT actually cares about the needs of the client…not just punishing them
    with a “killer routine” that they are usually not fit or healthy enough to do….especally in
    the beginning.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an “extremely fit looking” trainer at my local gym working with a 40’s or 50’s something man or women…literally beating them up and putting them at risk for certain injury with… high intensity and ballistic type exercises. In many cases the client reluctantly went along because the trainer LOOKED the part of an expert!

    In my opinion this article is way off base and somewhat silly…because the MOST important thing is that the PT actually knows what they are doing…and hopefully will not hurt their client! I see way too many trainer get business strictly because of their perceived fitness level and looks…rather than because they actually know what they are doing! I have spoken to too many clients who learned the hard way due injuries or unfortunately just gave up because felt discouraged by the type of rountine the PT had them do.

    This is a shame because EVERYONE can learn to exercise and increase their fitness & health level with the right approach!

    • Sorry, David, but you’re actually way off base. I’m not only in my 40s, but I personally struggled with my weight for most of my life.

      When I tell people that I used to be obese and struggled to climb a flight of stairs, it opens up a dialogue about how I got where I am today. It shows that I have a much deeper understanding for what many people are going through than you seem to believe a person with my (fit) appearance might have.

      I believe this is a great motivating tool. I’m nothing special, I didn’t do something magical – anybody can make fitness happen and I am living proof.

      Finally, I do agree with you that whoever you’re training and whatever their needs, the program should be about the client’s goals. I don’t believe this post suggesting anything to the contrary.

  4. I don’t now about holding trainers to a higher standard. If an out of shape trainer wants to offer services and the public is willing to accept it… go for it.

    But, to a certain degree a trainer’s body is their resume. If they want to market themselves as a trainer, it makes good business sense to get into shape.

    While trainers are allowed to offer their services even if they are in dreadful shape, we don’t have to pay for it. If a trainer wants to do well in the business, it’s a good idea for them to get into shape.

    Is it required? No, I don’t think so…


    I can think of situations were a trainer may be able to offer a lot of great advice, but they can’t follow it.

    If you were in an auto accident and couldn’t walk anymore, I would expect you to lose some fitness level. IF you are sixty and out of shape, well, I expect you to look a little weather worn at that age.. but neither of those situations suggests your advice is any less useful.

    Many boxers for example who can’t compete anymore still hang around the industry to offer training. If they are out of shape does that mean they have forgotten how to box?

    No, they are just more interested in getting others in shape than themselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  5. Agree with what David said above. Some of the “experts” flog everyone to for a strenous workout irrespective of their age.

    • This is true, but has nothing to do with the physical condition of the trainer and everything to do with their skills. I’m sure we’re not saying fit trainers are unprofessional…

  6. I have paid for a personal trainer over the past 6 years for various reasons. I have had ones whose fitness is their passion, former athletes, fat-to-fit ones, and a former powerlifter lifter. All of them except two, had beautiful fit bodies that many people would admire. The best of these trainers in the bunch were the ones who were formally educated beyond certification, could teach, listened to me, and showed up on time.
    Looks are superficial when it comes to personal training, however, it’s our human flaw that when we see a beautiful or attractive person we associate positive character traits and behavior. The person may have those positive traits and good behavior we initially assume in the first 14 secs of meeting them, but their looks are not the point of validity.

    • Couldn’t agree more Gia, thanks for your insight.

      I’m thinking I need to revisit this concept, because my intent with the post was not to imply that a “fit” appearance made one a better trainer, but rather it made one more likely to get hired. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job getting that across!

      Thanks again.

      • You definitely did mention that in your post, but If that was your point… I can attest to that! I have hired the “hot” looking trainers over and over again. I even go to gym classes where the teacher has a nice body. A guy trainer with washboard abs worked out my quads so much in our first 30 min session, that I had DOMS for 3 days. When I saw him the next day, he just said it was because I did not stretch enough. I didn’t know that doing squats, lunges, and reclined leg press in our 30 min session would lead to that. He moved on to another gym very quickly after that incident. Even after that experience, the good looking trainers still catch my attention. Your good looks are an excellent selling point for you. Keep on writing.

      • And if your trainer looks good is a heck of a lot more motivating than looking at someone overweight or undernourished

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