You will encounter all types of people throughout your career. Some of those people will serve as examples of what you would like to achieve. Others, sadly, will only serve as examples of what to avoid.

In my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with individuals who fall in the “mentor” category. Likewise, I have encountered my fair share of individuals who are more demented than mentor-material. Truly.

The following “personas” are based on my experience. From one professional to another, it’s best to avoid these landmines.

In other words, watch the craziness from a distance, but learn from what you observe.

Avoid being this kind of trainer


The Extremist

Getting and staying fit requires a balance of sound and practical training and nutritional intake. It, however, should not include highly restrictive behaviors and round-the-clock exercise. This personal trainer favors extreme diet restrictions and crazy levels of training, which are highly inappropriate for the mainstream individual simply looking to lose a few pounds and enhance his or her quality of life.

Trainers in this category will say things like “Carbs are evil. Don’t eat any after 2 p.m.” or “If you want to lose that weight, you’re gonna have to start lifting 7 days a week.” Um. No. Just no. That’s not the way it works. If anything, this type of trainer will demotivate a client and/or end up injuring them.

The Lesson: Work on balancing your guidance and tailoring it to the individual needs of each client.

The Frenzied


Being organized isn’t just a good idea; it’s a mark of professionalism. The frenzied trainer will be the one whose hair is always on fire and constantly searching for something – their folders, their pens, their minds…don’t be that person. It’s normal to experience some level of chaos during a busy day, but it is not okay to meet your clients in a state of complete turmoil and hysteria.

The Lesson: Get your game together and be ready to roll when your clients arrive.

The Insecure

This type of trainer will always be comparing him or herself to others and taking cheap shots at colleagues and other individuals. This is likely due to a need that has been largely unfulfilled for the majority of this person’s lifetime. This is sad. Don’t feed the insecurity and don’t apologize for someone else’s insecurities. You do not own them.

The Lesson: Just be you and do your thing and do it well.

The Competitor

I had a colleague once that would challenge the men in the studio to random “whose is bigger than whose” type of events during the day when she had downtime. Instead of using downtime to get some activity herself or organize for the next round of sessions, she would be in the middle of pull-up contests with others – even clients that weren’t hers.

This is not even close to professional. It’s grandstanding and annoying to patrons and other professionals who do not wish to come to work only to find that they’ve taken a trip back to junior high.

The Lesson: While friendly competition can be healthy, the heart of it should be about helping each other grow, not who has the bigger quads.

The Dictator


We’ve all seen this type of person. This is the type of personal trainer and/or supervisor that will both whisper fear in your ear and shout it in your face. This is a person that will send the message that “it’s MY ship” and you are to mind your P’s and Q’s. BUT, this type of individual will also ask to meet with you and pretend to care about your input in order to find a bright and shiny new ways to micromanage others.

The Lesson: Respect is earned; not demanded.

The Questionably Competent

It’s ok to make mistakes and not know the answers to everything. We are all confronted with situations or problems we can’t quite navigate. That’s expected. However, the questionably competent will attempt to tackle a problem or provide a response that is no better than a guess – and not even an educated one at that.

The Lesson: If you encounter this, do your own research and find the answer or work with someone you respect and trust – because they’ve earned it – not because they seemingly “always know what to do”. Remember, incompetence dressed up as strategy is still incompetence.

The Out of Scope-er

This is probably the scariest of all trainer types. As we all know, certified personal trainers have a licensed scope of practice that is eloquently and clearly outlined in a certifying agency’s code of ethics and best practices documents.

If you encounter someone who is practicing outside of their scope (such as treating injuries, writing meal plans, or working with a high-risk client without proper screening), you have a duty to report it. The client’s health and safety are at risk.

The Lesson: Know your scope and be able to communicate that “X” is outside your scope, but you’d be happy to refer your clients to so-and-so.

Personal trainer types, good and not-so-good, are as varied as the client personalities you will encounter. Take careful notes and learn to differentiate what behaviors or practices you can adopt from a mentor and what actions you should avoid taking in order to remain the consummate professional.

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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at