Fitness Tips

7 Red Flags To Look Out For in a Fitness Instructor

Photo: Getty Images/Morsa Images

You’ve heard of relationship red flags you shouldn’t ignore, red flags that signal it’s time for a new job, and even red flag signs your moisturizer isn’t working. Well, fitness instructor red flags are also important to keep in mind. In addition to having all the proper credentials to lead a workout, an instructor should genuinely care about every participant and create a safe, supportive, and motivating environment where everyone has a good time and gets a good sweat. 

Whether you’re attending one of their IRL classes or training with them virtually, here are seven fitness instructor red flags certified trainer Vanessa Liu, CPT, recommends looking out for in an instructor or coach.  

Fitness instructor red flags you don’t want to ignore

1. They don't explain why an exercise is beneficial

A good fitness instructor knows their stuff regarding what exercises target what muscles and what benefits they provide. A great fitness instructor tells you all about it during the class, making it all feel more purposeful rather than feeling like you’re just going through the motions. 

“Look for an instructor who can explain what muscles an exercise is working and how it's relevant to you,” Liu says. “For example: ‘We're doing this deadlift to work on your hamstrings and glutes, so you'll be stronger when you pick up heavy boxes.’ That way, while you're doing the deadlift exercise, you can focus on your glutes and hamstrings, and imagine yourself getting stronger.’” 

2. They don’t interact with people before or after class

You want a fitness instructor that cares about you. One thing that Liu says is a fitness instructor red flag is if they don’t take the time or make the effort to engage with people outside of class. Here’s why this is important: If you’re new to the class, Liu says it’s easy to feel lost or intimidated, but it’s an instructor’s job to help set you up for a good class. Also, Liu notes it’s a good idea to talk to the instructor before class if you have any injuries to see if there are any exercises you should avoid. 

A good instructor, Liu adds, should make themselves available to go over any questions or concerns, give you a quick overview of the class, or just to say hi. They’ll also be eager to learn your name and get your feedback on what exercises you most enjoyed.

3. They never leave the front of the class

Engaging with people during class is also very important. So if an instructor usually stays in the front of the room and doesn’t walk around and interact, that can be a red flag. By focusing solely on teaching and not interacting, Liu says the instructor isn’t reading the room and seeing if the energy and intensity needs to be picked up or dialed down. They’re also likely not paying attention to people’s form and helping them fix it or giving positive reinforcement (great squat!) or encouragement (keep going, you got this!), which makes all the difference. Plus, Liu says that when the instructor is fully engaged with participants, it helps keep everyone excited and motivated. 

4. They single out people for bad form

An instructor must correct bad form; however, it’s not cool if they embarrass someone in front of the entire class. “If it was someone's first time, singling them out makes them feel awkward or shamed, and they'll likely never come back to that class,” Liu says. Instead, she says an instructor can come up to the person individually, turn off their mic, and discreetly adjust their form. Or, they can address the class as a whole with reminders like: “Everyone, remember to keep your spine neutral.” Again, it comes back to working with an instructor that cares about you and makes you feel safe. 

5. They don’t provide modifications during a class

Another fitness instructor red flag: not giving advice on how to modify exercises to make sure people are being challenged properly. “In classes, people are usually at varying fitness levels,” Liu says. “If instructors don't provide modifications, people may get injured or might not get a challenging-enough workout. Look for instructors who prioritize safety and give you options to regress an exercise to make it easier or progress an exercise to make it harder.” For example, the trainer may say, “if this exercise is too difficult for you, try this instead,” or “if this is too easy, try this instead.” 

6. They push you to the max during every exercise

Ideally, a good fitness instructor will push you during a workout, but there is such a thing as too much pushing. "If you have a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality, and keep going harder at every single exercise, you reach a point where all you're doing is risking injury and making yourself suffer for no reason,” Liu says. “Lots of sweating and soreness are poor indicators of an effective workout.”

Instead, Liu recommends looking for a fitness instructor who prioritizes getting an effective workout. This means they encourage you to challenge yourself during a workout, but they prioritize correct form, provide modification when needed, and encourage you to listen to your body above all else. 

7. They don’t give you rest periods

In that same vein, an instructor who incorporates rest periods during a workout is vital. “Your body needs to recover and take breaks between sets to make sure you don't overly fatigue your muscles, which can lead to poor form and injury,” Liu says. A fitness instructor green flag can look like giving you a heads up on when rest periods are coming, so you know what to expect. For instance, Liu notes an instructor may say, "one more set, then we rest" or "we'll do three rounds, then take a water break." 

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