6 Signs That You Have a Bad Fitness Coach

Lately it seems as if everyone and their grandma is offering some sort of fitness coaching, even if they have no business doing so. Chances are if you have an account on any social media platform and follow fitness pages, posts about "Macro Plans" and "Meal Plans" pollute your screen on a daily basis. With so many coaches out there, it's hard to discern between who is competent and who is incompetent if you don't know what to look for. Within this post are some things to look out for in a bad coach, but first I want to share a couple messages that were recently sent to me regarding some peoples experiences with bad coaches. Keep in mind, there are certainly more than 6 commonalities between bad fitness coaches, these are just some major ones that stick out to me.

Messages Sent to Me:

Okay, I know you’ve heard this story far too many times but here it goes. My “trainer” prepped me for a recent show, it was the most traumatizing experience of my life. Toward the last couple months, I was told to eat 4 oz. of tilapia for 3 meals, and nothing but asparagus for the other 3 meals, and if I felt “up” to it, I was encouraged to eat NOTHING AT ALL some days. Also, I was encouraged to use disgustingly high doses of Clen, t3, anavar, winstrol, even Dbol....as a bikini competitor. I felt terrible, looked terrible, even my complexion was dulling. Now here we are a few weeks post show, I feel like a whale. The night of the show I literally ate a jar of peanut butter, and two packs of Oreos. My relationship with food has been ruined. I’ve felt so off mentally, physically and emotionally ever since this happened. Sorry for the long rant! I KNOW you can help me though, I’ve heard incredible things about you!
— Anonymous
... 4 days ago I competed in my first figure competition and have never been more embarrassed in my life, I was the girl that looked completely out of place compared to all of the other competitors in her class and competitors in general for that matter. I’m reaching out to you because I never want to feel that way again and the prep that I went through to get to that stage was awful and has taken a huge psychological toll on me. I absolutely loved the feeling of being on stage and competing but I know that there has to be a better way to journey to the stage as opposed to 2 straight weeks before the competition of living off of 4 oz. of chicken and 8 asparagus spears 5 meals a day with no salt at all, limiting water and doing 1.5 hours of cardio per day in addition to lifting; and from what I’ve seen you believe that there is a better way than this too.

After the show, my team and I journeyed to iHop where I saw the most disgusting consumption of food ever. Not only did everybody else eat to the point they were sick, I did too. That night when I went to bed I swore I would never feel that way again and for our morning breakfast the next day I would just have oatmeal. Low and behold, I ended up with a breakfast sampler platter along with everyone else. After eating Oreos for the majority of the day home because we were “allowed” to have some more cheat food, that night it dawned on me that I don’t want to be apart of something like that any longer and realized just how bad this prep had been for me mentally as well as physically.

This whole prep I’ve struggled with doing everything correctly and following my plan to a T, and at least once a week or every other week would have a “binge” eating meltdown and get FroYo or end up at the store buying something I would never have eaten in a million years before I started on prep. I was missing things like fruit so bad that instead of going and buying some blueberries or a banana (no fruit in prep because too many carbs and sugars) I would completely surpass those and go straight to things that were totally “off limits”...
— Anonymous

1.) They Prescribe Non-Personalized Protocols:

Perhaps the most common issue with many fitness coaches. Aside from slight arbitrary differences, protocols across their client base appear to be exactly the same. Why is this? It’s simple, they lack the knowledge necessary to recognize and account for individual differences, and lack the patience to find out what will work best for the individual, so they prescribe the typical "Meal 1: X Oz Chicken and 1 cup of rice, etc.".

2.) They Prescribe an Overly Rigid Diet.

I’m aware that some people enjoy eating the same 5 foods. However, there’s a big difference between wanting to eat the same 5 things day after day and being told that the only way you’re going to make progress is if you eat the same 5 things day after day. Aside from this being extremely impractical to maintain for a significant period of time; the methodology is outright flawed. It is because of this methodology that so many people binge eat post show and put all of their fat back on in a matter of weeks; they have no idea what to eat after the obligation of stepping on stage has passed, and their coach has no idea how to transition them from competition prep to every day life, so they fall off the map.

3.) They Pressure You to Take Drugs.

To preface this; it is obvious that people use drugs in competitive sports. Whether or not you agree with this or support it is something you need to decide on your own terms, I'm not here to persuade anyone either way. The point is, many of these coaches are prescribing harmful drugs ( Clen, T3, Winstrol, etc.), to people who have no business taking them; such as bikini competitors. If you cannot get a female ready to step on stage for a bikini show without the use of drugs; you have no business being a coach. All it takes is a wrong dose to have long term negative health implications. Chances are a coach like this wouldn't tell you about the dangers of taking such drugs, either.

4.) They Expect You to Believe Them Just Because.

“ Why should I do this?”, “ Because I said so”. Perhaps the biggest sign that someone is full of shit. If your coach cannot explain to you why you’re doing what they’re having you do, you need to seriously reconsider working with them. If the only justification for their methodology is authority; run fast and run far. Your coach should be able to explain the reasoning behind why they are implementing something. Keep in mind, there's nothing wrong with saying " I don't know.", but that is a far cry from a coach posturing themselves as someone who knows what they're talking about, yet failing to provide any legitimate reason as to why they're having someone implement a certain technique.

5.) They Use Ridiculous Tactics.

Some of the previous points tie into this. These tactics can be things like cutting water/sodium, starvation diets, limiting certain foods for no good reason, incorporating "cheat meals/cheat days”, ridiculous amounts of cardio for no good reason, peak week techniques like smothering yourself in Preperation H, or eating more fish to “thin your skin"; the list goes on. A good rule of thumb here is if they sound like they’re full of shit; they’re probably full of shit.

6.) They Get Mad at You When You Don’t Progress.

Ironic isn’t it? That some of these coaches get mad at their clients for following what they told them to do and not getting results. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about the clients who don’t follow their protocols to begin with regardless of the coach; I’m talking about the people who diligently follow the plan they're given, no matter how ridiculous, yet are ridiculed for having not progressing as planned. These clients are often ‘punished’ with either a more restricted diet and/or more cardio, which makes this even more ludicrous.

The bottom line is, there are way too many people like this out there offering coaching services. Perhaps the saddest part is that people are actually listening to them. It’s very easy to be a charlatan, it’s very easy to copy one of your clients diets and give it to the next, it’s very easy to not stay in touch with your clients, it’s very easy to tell someone to listen to you because you “ said so”, it’s very easy to turn to drugs when you’re not competent enough to get someone in contest shape otherwise. All of these things are very easy to do; which is why there are so many bad coaches out there. If you're looking for a coach, I implore you to do your research. You’re not hiring someone to cut your grass here; you’re putting your physical and psychological health in someones hands; act like it. And don’t be afraid to speak up, the more people talking about these issues; the faster they’re going to get resolved. To end this on a positive note, I would like to quote Eric Helms in his recent interview with us when asked what he feels makes a competent fitness coach.

I believe that a certain requisite understanding of basic exercise science, nutrition, and behavior change are prerequisites for a competent fitness coach. A certification or a degree shows the formal pursuit of one or more of those fields, and indicates the likelihood of a certain level of competence, but it doesn’t guarantee it. Certainly you can find not only incompetent, but downright harmful trainers out there with a lot of letters after their name. Likewise, some of the best coaches I’m aware of don’t have much in the way of alphabet soup after their names.But much more important than the understanding of science that a degree or a certification often implies, is the actual skills of coaching. Coaching means something, and it doesn’t mean the manipulation of macronutrients and acute training variables. I believe someone who truly wishes to coach athletes needs to understand that the title is one that should be earned and taken to heart. A coach is the person who provides the unbiased, yet compassionate truth to an athlete. A coach is the one in your corner who believes in you even when you may not believe in yourself. A coach is a confidant, a mentor, a teacher, a role model and a leader. These roles have a great deal of responsibility and a skill set that goes beyond understanding energy balance and progressive overload.The science is just the methods a coach uses. True coaching is rare, and 10x more valuable to an athlete than numbers. For that reason, the qualities I think are the most important if I was to order them 1-5 would be:

1. Passion and caring about the athlete
2. Communication skills
3. Emotional intelligence
4. Experience
5. Sound knowledge of evidence based practice....notice this is important, but last.
— Eric Helms



Thumbnail photo credit: Jimmy Murtaugh, Alpha Design Photography.

Athlete Pictured: Thomas Ho