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6 Ways To Screen A Coach/PT In 2023

For the last few years I’ve been telling people the classic trend of newbies crawling out the woodwork, and infesting gyms in January is a slowly dying theme. Although this year it seems the theme definitely isn’t completely dead, as when I’ve been forced to suffer commercial gyms, I’ve seen a huge influx of these ‘first quarter only’ exercisers.

It’s like you can almost tell just by looking at them that they won’t still be here come mid March. Maybe it’s a sick sense? It must be with my time spent in gyms and commercial gyms.

What seems to come with this is an all-or-nothing mindset.

“I’m going to train 5 days per week. This program I’m following is supposed to be Ronnie Coleman’s EXACT workout he did when he was in his prime!”

“The transformation will be EPIC. The gains will be huge and more importantly, the girls will be wet for me, no doubt!”

Said Norman. Sadly what Norman doesn’t know is the program he’s using is nothing like what Ronnie Coleman did in his heyday. It’s actually just something knocked up by a fitness magazine editor that doesn’t actually program for a living – and believes/wants you to believe steroids aren’t like sweets in professional bodybuilding.

Norman doesn’t realise either, that when it comes to successful habit implementation, scaling up in manageable steps is the winning formula. Not going from a standstill to 150mph and hoping to sustain it.

Anyhow, we’ll lay off Norman now and focus on another character that comes to the fore at this time of year, and is more prevalent than ever before…

The Startup Pt/Coach Trying To Exploit Newbies

These are the ones who’ve trained themselves for a while (gym enthusiasts/wannabees), who post pics on Instagram but never any actual content that helps you, the consumer/potential client. They just talk about what they did and how well they think they’re doing.

Basically glorified ‘like-fishing’ disguised as ‘wanting to help people/you’. But because of clever camera angles, fancy infographics and a few shoutouts from friends, to the untrained and naïve eye, they look like the right choice.

Never mind the fact they don’t even coach year round, they just dip in and out trying to capitalise the increase in market demand for that small time window. And most aren’t dipping in and out, they’re just starting. They’re trying to make a quick and easy buck!

They open their YouTube or Instagram feed and see marketer after marketer teasing them with how easy it is to have a 6 figure fitness business, and they want a slice of the cake.

I mean, how hard can it be?!

  • Throw together a program.
  • Promise outlandish results.
  • Charge a fair premium for it and don’t question its effectiveness.


This post is here for you; it’s to educate you on how to pre-select better and not waste your hard earnt money on someone lacking the very expertise needed for the role they’re trying to fill.

Consider this a checklist, if you will. One to whittle out competent from incompetent and one to stop people making a lazy quick buck, ripping off other concepts without actually providing tailored programs, despite promising them.

Question 1: Have they or any verified client of theirs achieved anything close to what you’re looking for?

This should be coach selection 101, question 1, always. But it’s crazy how often this goes unconsidered. The girl with the flat butt promising glute gains. The slender guy selling mass secrets. The flabby fat loss expert. The stiff mobility coach…

And obviously it needs to be said, some of the best coaches aren’t the best athletes or performers. Just like the best athletes or performers aren’t the best coaches. Sure, the coach doesn’t need to be top 1% in their field to be credible, but they do need previous experience even if their current level isn’t as high.

They at least need to have been around where you want to go, and even helped others do similar things.

For example, I have done 10 strict ring muscle ups many times. I’ve also done a 30kg ring muscle up for a single but more importantly, I’ve coached multiple guys to their first strict reps in very short time frames. Many of which I’ve documented in detail.

This demonstrates that I not only do but teach in ample amounts.

You can apply this to other areas as well. Want a sexier butt to turn your guy on (or all the guys)? Find the girl who had average lower body genetics and now looks smoking. The one who trained and experimented for 5 years and has since helped loads of others improve the hand they were dealt.

Want to get better at, or into CrossFit? Find the girl/guy who has done a few competitions and placed decent, as well as sustaining consistent CrossFit training for a few years. They’ve maybe ran a few classes and/or worked one on one with a few others, and helped them with learning a new move.

Hunt for some evidence. I’m not saying find wonder coach of the year for 10 years running, just someone who has done it and can do it in some capacity.

Bonus question: Ask them what’s the biggest thing they’ve learnt in their time in whatever realm their niche is in?

I’ll answer mine: that too much of any move (no matter how iconic) isn’t ideal and intelligent variety is the key to longevity. (This is in application to calisthenics & bodyweight training.)

They should have a reasonable answer, too.

Question 2: Is the program they give you or the workouts you do in any way balanced?

I wrote about this as far back as 2014/15 and I almost can’t believe I’m still mentioning it now. The simple notion of delivering a structurally balanced program to the general trainee. This is so basic it should be mandatory before anyone’s allowed to charge a dime for a program or session etc.

But it’s crazy how often I see these ‘workouts of the week’ aimed at general Joe or normal Nancy, that will have a 3:1 push to pull ratio or a 4:1 blend of anterior core work versus posterior core work.


Because it’s cool. Because most people won’t even notice. And because they don’t know better.

Of course, structurally balanced programs aren’t the be all and end all. In fact as you get more specific, most of your programming will be imbalanced but that’s because you’re addressing a client’s weakness(es).

Although when you’re trying to appeal to non-specific goals, you definitely need to start from a structurally balanced standpoint. If nothing else, just to avoid injuries and postural distortions.

A simple practical test here is counting up the number of times you see a pushing movement compared to a pulling one, in the program list.

Here’s a genuine real world example I found…

Barbell Strict Press supersetted with Barbell Push Press for 3 total sets. Then later you’re to do 3 sets of 10 x cable chest flyes supersetted with 3 sets of 10 ring rows.

A 4:1 ratio of push to pull.

And we could get into why you would superset the strict press with the push press, as that would only limit the loads used in both movements. If you were to program X amount of reps in the strict press and then switch to push press for Y amount of reps, as a set extension technique/plateau buster, then I could understand it.

But they’ve just thrown it together because it sounds cool and makes them appear smarter with their supersets.

Send them a DM asking why there’s so much pushing versus pulling or whatever distortion you find. You don’t have to be so smart ass about it. A simple ‘hey, looks a great session, just wondered why there’s not more pulling in it?’

Their response should speak volumes.

Question 3: Can they explain WHY you’re doing an exercise? And with that, why all the reps are 3 sets of 10?

Piggybacking off the last question, we see a similar theme: all reps being one set/rep scheme. Although this may look neat and standardized to the untrained eye, in reality it’s lazy and a huge sign of slapping together anything that will stick.

By keeping all sets and reps the same, they’re not accounting for the differences in muscle fiber types within different movement patterns. Furthermore, they’re not accounting for wildly varying differences in movement complexity, either.

Another real world example…

(As part of a circuit)

  • Hip Thrusts 4 x 10
  • Pull Ups 4 x 10
  • Bent Over Rows 4 x 10
  • Seated Shoulder Press 4 x 10
  • Front Raise 4 x 10

How many people do you know that can do 4 sets of 10 pull ups? Let alone after doing bent over rows in the same circuit?

Yet this is supposed to be ‘for anyone to try’.

Assisted pull ups, maybe, but even then 10 reps for 4 sets is a strong demand. It’s throwing shit at a wall and hoping it sticks. In my opinion, pull up training/programming is highly individual; it greatly depends on the level of who you’re aiming the program at.

And as we’ve just established: you should be aiming the program at some form of demographic.

Question 4: Do they actually want you to progress? (mobile phone use in sessions, yawning, complaining, robotic etc)

Sure, there’s going to be very few, if any, people you meet who will be as stoked for your progress as you yourself. But good coaches will love seeing you progress. They will want to see it as much as you, if not more, especially if you’re not the most self-motivated type.

It will show in their demeanour. They will be upbeat, engaged, focused and exude confidence in you just from their energy alone. They won’t be on their phone during your sets and rest periods. They won’t be checking out the girl across from you’s booty. And you won’t catch them clock watching every 5 minutes.

Sadly enough, this stuff is all too common in commercial gyms. Sometimes the client (you) don’t notice as you don’t have any good frames of reference, but trust me, many others DO notice. They watch just like I do and feel saddened you’re spending hard earnt & precious money for a service so lacklustre, they’re not even trying to look interested!

The tone of voice doesn’t change; it’s monotone regardless. The body language is tired and disinterested because well, they are tired and disinterested.

You might say it’s just a one off and I should give them some slack…I disagree.

We’ve all been there. I sure have. Where you’re tired and not totally up for it but your pride in your work comes first, or at least it damn well should do. You stifle your yawns and you act interested and you make yourself interested. It’s that simple.

And as the client you should settle for no less. You’re paying for a premium service, which is what you should receive.

Look for these bare MINIMUMS:

  • Enthusiasm (tone of voice changes, open and energetic body language)
  • NO mobile phone use (excluding a quick check of the program if that’s how your PT/coach does it)
  • You DON’T feel in the way or something they see to just tick off the list (aka – a cog in a system)
  • They’re there when you need them – whether this is jumping in to spot a tough rep, whether it’s to push you right when you need it, or whether it’s instilling confidence in you from the get-go, you feel as if they’re a secret weapon in your back pocket. (I know you get the metaphor).

Question 5: Are they tracking what you do/did in any capacity?

‘What gets measured gets managed’ is an age old pearl of wisdom and it’s true; if you don’t know what you’ve done, how can you know how to do it better?

While it’s cool to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along, trying random crap off Instagram or TikTok, you don’t get better that way. You can’t look back over a year and marvel at the leaps you’ve made. It will feel like a good year because you’ve constantly doused your brain with dopamine. Although by this point you’re probably desensitized to dopamine anyway!

It’s the diligent mundane stuff that’s tracked and carefully increased that makes mere man a monster, and normal girls goddesses. You can either track it yourself but if you’re working with a coach/PT, they should certainly be doing it as well.

You should not only have targets for when you’re with them but also targets for when you’re not with them. These needn’t be huge, just small specific things relevant to you.

There should be an aim/aim(s) for the session – and every session.

Not making it up on the spot or them asking you what you did last time. They should know and have it recorded. This isn’t me saying you should always set personal bests/records on everything, all the time. Rather that you should always know what you did & what you’re striving for going forward.

So yet another metric for you: what’s your coach/PT’s tracking methodology/system? Doesn’t have to be perfect but it does need to exist.

Question 6: Are they paying any attention to how you move/your flexibility/structural balance?

This one flies in the face of the smash it up and train till you puke/die culture – along with echoing sentiments from earlier; your routine needs to be balanced, safe and ultimately making you move better as well as look better.

When you’re new to it all and don’t like the way you look, it’s easy not to give a flying f*ck about how you move (flexibility, weaknesses, imbalances, nuances etc). I was the same. I just wanted to get lean as hell. I wanted to grate cheese with my stomach. I couldn’t touch my toes and I couldn’t care less. I could do less inverted rows than I could do pull ups (I challenge you to find someone else like that), but I was blissfully ignorant.

But it didn’t matter. I didn’t know better and had no clue at the never ending journey about to unravel in front of me. I was about to learn all this stuff the hard way – and boy did I!

When you work with me though, you learn from my errors as I make sure you iron out all the creases you have, while still making you look better with your clothes off. And your coach/PT should do the same too.

They shouldn’t be lining you up to make your local physio rich when you inevitably come knocking, complaining of clicky shoulders, aching hips, sore knees and dysfunctional ankles.

If they keep smashing you up, making you sweat, jump and do too much of A without enough of B, that’s what will happen. See, one of the best kept secrets of the industry is: you can get great conditioning effects without wrecking the body, if you know what you’re doing. Whether that’s with clever exercise selection or using other moves to offset the hardcore stuff, the outcome is the same; you end up moving better, feeling better and looking better.

Notice the order there?

Basically, there should be time spent on multiple subsections of what we call ‘fitness’. Flexibility, conditioning, balance, coordination, speed/power, maximal strength, muscular size (hypertrophy), endurance etc.

Of course, not everyone wants all of these but to only hone in one thing and one thing only, is foolish and asking for problems. Trust me on this. Time will prove me right.

It can be tricky to notice to the novice/untrained eye but ask yourself if what you’re doing in your sessions has multiple elements, as opposed to just as much circuit training as possible?

  • Do you spend a little bit of time on mobility – and specific mobility at that?
  • Is there some strength/speed work or anything coordinative?
  • Or is it just a load of kettlebell swings, mountain climbers, squat jumps and whatever else you’re PT/coach likes at the moment?

This is your blueprint to never be scammed in the fitness industry again. You deserve more. I hope this checklist helps you select with ease and confidence.

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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