Personal Trainers are Useless

Read time: 90 seconds

Although I’m a technical writer, I also earn a decent living as a part-time personal trainer. It’s what I enjoy doing because it gets me away from the desk and moving around.

I have a list of loyal clients, many of whom have been with me for a decade or so. I’m grateful, but what I find interesting is this:

I tell all of my clients that I cannot help them. Yet year after year they continue to pay me nearly $100 per session.

It is no hiding that most potential clients come to me with one goal in mind: lose fat and get lean.

Well, it took me several years to realize that there was no exercise I can prescribe within my scope of practice as a personal trainer that could help them achieve their goal. In short, I cannot help them lose weight. And I make that clear.

What I tell them, though, is that exercise (particularly resistance training) may improve their health: it can increase insulin sensitivity, regulate their glucose, and improve their mood. It builds muscle and may give their bodies some shape. Exercise may also help them prevent weight or fat gain.

But, exercise will not help them lose weight.

Only eating better and eating less can help them lose weight. Plenty of evidence suggests this.

They understand. And amazingly, this up-front disclaimer and honesty has made my personal training service more valuable to them.

First, it addresses the ambiguity and misinformation so prevalent in the fitness industry: selling people the false hope that exercise causes weight loss, which encourages them to rely on exercise and half-ass their diet.

Second, telling them the facts will effectively remove the exercise-weight-loss BS so that they can finally accept that they are indeed accountable for their eating behavior.

Otherwise, you’ve seen it: clients paying their personal trainers to baby-sit them with hours of cardio, or to beat them to pulps using strength-and-conditioning methods meant for elite athletes, yet they look the same month after month, year after year.

I believe that personal trainers must first devalue themselves as weight-loss experts, in order to increase their value as health and fitness professionals.

This entry was posted in Dietary Habit, Exercise and Physical Activities, weight Loss and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Personal Trainers are Useless

  1. Mark says:

    I was thinking of stepping in the IF realm again but I wanted to get your opinion on something. During your fast (mine would be from about 10pm to 1pm the next day) do you not eat any calories or would having some heavy cream in coffee be ok as it doesn’t raise insulin levels? Overall since breakfast will be eliminated, I think over the course of the week I will end up with less calories, which is the goal I think. I am going to give IF a shot but as opposed to previous times, I am only going to workout three times a week following Martin “Minimalist” workout from This should keep me from overworking myself and allow me to focus on my studies instead of being run-down. I will focus on eating Paleo only with some dairy thrown in but I will stay away from milk. I will eat more on workout days and most days sweet potatoes will be my main carb source (I’m not a big veggie guy outside of salads and I usually don’t eat that much fruit). I feel best when I have over 100g of carbs a day so I’m not going to go for ketogenic levels that some recommend. Also, I’m not going to stress about getting 1g/lb/bodyweight for protein. I will eat meat and probably some whey protein on workout days. Do you think I’m on target with this approach? Thanks for your help. I feel like the typical gym guy, pretty strong but never been lean. Usually I chalk it up to lack of time to do cardio or more workouts but maybe with IF I can cut the calories this way and not have to do any cardio or workout more than three times a week, that would be great! I love to workout but working full-time during the day and training clients at night, doesn’t leave me with much time or energy. Thanks again!

  2. Johnny says:

    Mark, this sounds like a good approach.

    I’ll summarize mine to give you something to compare to. It has worked for me and this morning I noticed that I’m leaner than ever. If I took a water pill, I’d be silly shredded (I’m not trying to boast, but just expressing my pleasant surprise at my body’s response to such an easy lifestyle).


    Like your plan, I don’t eat for about 16 hours — typically from midnight to 4 pm the next afternoon. It just works best for my busy lifestyle.

    I use a little *heavy whipping cream* in my coffee, and I may sometimes have up to 3 cups throughout the day. That means up to 2 tablespoons of cream. It hasn’t impeded my result, although some IFers may not approve of ANY calorie.

    I workout about twice a week, a resistance training program dominating. Sometimes I add a few quick sprints for a 3rd day. I walk around a lot, but that’s part of my day. I no longer go for long walks (for at least 2 to 3 months now) because of the weather and time constraint.

    I eat mostly a paleo-style diet, but I also enjoy other stuff. I’ve done paleo for over 3 years now, so the positive changes I’ve seen in my body fat level has most likely been from the IF.

    I feel absolutely fantastic. I will have updated pictures and blog post soon.


    • Mark says:

      Hi Johnny,
      Thanks for the reply. Your results and feedback give me motivation that I can do it and see the same results that you have over the past couple of years.

      I like how you note that you have been eating Paleo for over three years now but that the changes in body fat levels have most likely been due to IF. I think that is an important distinction. After reading some of your prior posts, I also think I’m going to skip out on the extra protein powders, I probably don’t need them.

      I will keep you updated on my progress and hopefully through my success, I will be able to get through to my clients. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog, it makes a difference.

      • Mark says:

        Oh yeah, just thought to ask. If your wife would be willing to offer her perspective on how IF and Paleo has changed her life, I think that would be well received by many. I know that my wife would probably like to read it. Just an idea.

      • Johnny says:

        I’ll definitely ask my wife to guest post. Good idea and thank you.


    • Kevin says:

      Yeah, I gotta thank Johnny for all the advice and the blog too. Love how simple you keep everything!

      I over stressed myself about 2 years ago after getting obsessive over workouts and food. I was doing the typical 6 meals a day, carrying a cooler around with me, not eating with others because “it’s not time yet” … kinda guy and got to the point where I started to hate exercising 6 days a week too. Everything became a “job”. blah

      Even after losing 100+ lbs after a little over a year’s time… it all became something I hated. I slowly started to get away from it all … and now I’m restarting because I got myself in a pretty bad spot again.

      But this time, it’s imperative that I keep it fun and super simple so it’s just how I “live” and not a “program I follow” if you know what I mean.

      So yeah, that’s why I always appreciate read this blog lately. Motivation and simplicity.

      • Johnny says:

        Thanks for the kind words. Comments like yours are always inspiring.

        Keep doing what you do… Live, have fun, keep it simple.


  3. Christian says:


    Do you perform IFs everyday? at least 16hrs? how much do you typically eat when you break your fasts?

    • Johnny says:


      On most days I have an eating window of about 8 hours — going unfed for about 16 hours. I’ve gone for different feeding/non-feeding schedules in the past, and I experienced success in all of them.

      It just so happens the 16-hour non-feed schedule works really well with my lifestyle. It’s liberating and I can concentrate on daily stuff much better than being disrupted with thoughts about breakfast, lunch, snacks, etc., and I have much more time because I don’t have to prepare and eat those meals.

      During this free time, I can call loved ones on the phone to catch up, meet a friend at the coffee shop, go for a walk with a colleague (who also fasts), read mindless magazines or catch up on the stock market.

      Often on Sundays, though, I’ll have breakfast with my wife — because, remember, it’s all about making your life easier and to not obsess with diet… which includes enjoying meals with people you care about. So most Sundays I enjoy a robust breakfast with my wife.

      After a short fast, I re-feed as I would normally eat… sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. In my 8-hour feeding window, I usually eat 2 to 3 meals, eating each until I sense that the hunger in my stomach is gone.

      Post-fast “gorging” is more of a myth, an excuse for those who tend to gorge anyway, in any diet; post-fast gorging is unsupported by research. I’m careful not to use IF as an excuse for gorging, which seems to be a behavior independent of meal frequency.


  4. Christian Chun says:

    Thanks for your reply… I think I’ll try stretching out my window out to around 5-8hrs as well… I’ve been experimenting with different IFs as well (alternate days, 24-36 hours and trying to figure out what’ll be best… I was wondering if this is something that can be done everyday or whether alternating would be best…hearing your results seems like it doesn’t have any negative effects when you IF everyday. I was concerned because I would perform 24 hour fasts consecutively and was only consuming 500-1500 on most days…and felt like I was actually resetting my metabolism to just slow down or just dropping my leptin levels further, where I could just function fine without losing bf at around 1500 instead of my normal 2200-2700 which I typically ate prior to IFing…

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Christian,

      For some reason I tend to focus on the feed rather than the fast. Maybe it works better in my head. I look at it as “intermittent feeding.”

      I typically start feeding around 4PM. I’ll eat until around 11PM or midnight. But, in thinking back, I have been feeding more often starting around 5PM these days. I’ll feed up until around 11PM or midnight. (So, in the end I might be fasting for 17 or 18 hours, not 16.)

      There are two good reasons for this:

      First, I think dinner is an important time in my day, where I get to sit down with my wife, or with friends and family, and enjoy a meal and our time together.

      Second, I personally don’t like going to bed on an empty stomach, so feeding right up to bed works well for me.

      There’s evidence that feeding closer to bed time may enhance sleep quality. On the other hand, NO evidence exists to support the common belief that eating late at night makes you gain fat (unless of course you’re overeating).

      So, I feed starting at 5PM until bed time. I have no idea how many calories I total, but I suspect it’s a deficit on the average. Also, the fat-burning enzymes the body produces when going for longer periods between feeding may also contribute to my lower body fat.

      Overall, with the science of IF, feeding’s effect on sleep quality, social factors, daily commitments, evolutionary theory of ancestral feed patterns… this feed schedule just makes sense to me.


  5. Christian Chun says:

    Thanks for the insights! Totally agree. On another note, how did you get started with physical training? Did you have to obtain any certifications, or did you just go to a gym to and apply for a job? Any tips on how to get started doing it part time without any experience? I been pondering whether I could get into the field part time and build up a client stream while keeping my corporate day job that pays the bills and do something else that I actually enjoy doing while helping others… any advice would be helpful.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Christian,

      My university degree was in Sports Medicine and Athletic Training. It got me in the personal training industry years ago, but it is in the real world and with real passion that I learned the most.

      The formal degree only helped developed my intellectual capacity to analyze information, and to organize perspectives on things.

      In my experience with hiring and working with professional fitness trainers, I can tell you that experience and passion for facts will always outweigh any formal education.

      This is my best insight to you.

  6. Christian says:

    Thanks for your insights! Much appreciated.

  7. discoveredvitality says:

    Great article. The real benefit of a trainer, at least it was for me in the early years, was to pay somebody. If I was eating badly or not exercising I figured I was wasting money. While trainers may not contribute a ton to weight loss per se, they can set an example of good eating habits, exercise, and can teach form to new weight lifters (invaluable).

  8. Koshi says:

    Brilliantly put. Clients rely all too much on trainers to beat them up, but then months later wonder why they have lost no weight. Not seeing that the 23 hours a day that they are not with their trainer must be in line as well; sleep, nutrition, stress, and the whole works, not just the hour of exercise (oh and the extra half hour of cardio after).
    I’m changing my disclaimers starting now.

  9. Rahsaan says:

    Johnny, I love your blog. It’s awesome. I practice intermittent feeding myself and have had great results, mentally and physically versus the way I felt with grazing.

    Christian, I recognize your torso from Mark’s Daily Apple. You can totally keep your corporate job while moonlighting as a certified personal trainer. I do it. My day job’s in publishing. I train clients evenings and weekends.

  10. Lee says:

    I agree about Personal Trainers. I see women in my gym month after month and year after year without any changes except becoming less fit! I think overeating after training is the norm because people think: I’ve exercised, now I can eat what I want. Anyway, I wish I had all my money back from training because it all comes down to eating less. Thanks.

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  13. TH says:

    I must be in the wrong business or I must have wrong type of students. I am a golf instructor. As soon as I tell my students that if they want to hit further and more consistently, they have to not only improve their technique which I can help, but also need to improve their physical strength and endurance by working out and getting their cardio fit, 95% never called me again. Its sad for me to find out that most of my students are not prepared to work hard and are just searching for a “magic” move or quick fix. Pity.

  14. Calvin Kan says:

    I am a personal trainer myself and I cannot agree with u more. People go to the gym and lift heavy weight in hope of getting jacked without proper diet.

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