4 Questions to Ask Before You Take Fitness or Diet Advice

“There’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line. 
The less I seek my source for some definitive 
The closer I am to fine.” ~Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

Since basically anyone can dispense advice on their blog, social media, publications, or TV, everyone’s a fitness and nutrition “expert.” Admittedly, I don’t see a lot of the really poor sources because I’m very particular about where I get my information. But I know it’s out there; every so often I’ll come across something that makes me “smack my head,” so to speak.

Who should you rely on for advice about your fitness goals? Well, that depends on how badly you want to succeed. You could easily be pointed in a crooked line by a well-meaning person who simply doesn’t know enough – but thinks they do. And although I appreciate the support of the online fitness community just as much as the next person, it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong advice. Some of the high-rep “challenges” I see make me wonder if these people are qualified at all to be directing the masses.

So when listening to someone tell you what to do with your health and body – be it a potential personal trainer, a celebrity, or someone on the Internet – ask yourself these questions first:

1. How much education do they have, and are they on top of current research?

After 15 years of lifting weights and educating myself in the process, I started this blog to share my passion and to help others get results too. But at some point I realized that not only did I want to train and write about fitness and nutrition full time, but I needed to expand my knowledge. That’s when I became certified as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

But that’s not where my education ended; there are boundless methodologies, concepts, philosophies, and programs when it comes to exercise science and nutrition. So I continue to educate myself by networking with more experienced experts, reading voraciously, and attending workshops and conferences. And of course I’ve trained clients one-on-one and will be doing so virtually right here as well.

Does all this make me an expert? In some areas, yes. I know a lot about reaching certain fitness and weight loss goals and making good nutrition choices. I can help you gain muscle, lose fat, get stronger, get ripped, learn how to eat healthy, fix muscle imbalances, or rebound from an injury. And I can teach you to own your power in the weight room, including what exactly that can mean for your self- confidence and life. But I’m not an expert at winning marathons or figure competitions, or powerlifting or Cross-fit. I wasn’t athletic as a youngster and am not particularly comfortable coaching those with sports-specific goals.

2. How experienced are they with training other people?

Trustworthy sources of information (like myself) take on clients who are a good fit with their expertise while constantly broadening their areas of knowledge. They don’t just hand out advice without knowing quite a bit about you. You are 100 percent different from the next person – one size does not fit all.

I frequently see guys in the gym helping their girlfriends learn to lift. Too often he’s teaching her the things he’s been doing for years – hardly appropriate for a beginning lifter. I saw one guy start his girlfriend out with a 35-pound barbell for bicep curls when he should’ve been teaching her proper form with a couple of eight-pound dumbbells. I cringe thinking about the potential for injury there.

In my opinion, education and experience are equally important. “Education” can mean a certificate or degree, but it doesn’t have much heft without experience.

So back to the question, “Who should you rely on for advice?” Is it a certified personal trainer or someone with good results from weight lifting?

It could be either. There are people I trust in the field who do not have a formal fitness education/certification and there are people I don’t trust who do. There are people getting great results in the gym who do not know enough to be helping you. And there are those who know just enough to help you with the basics, but mostly they just know what works for them.

3. Are they just trying to sell you something? Like shakes or videos or programs?

Look, everyone is entitled to make a living. Businesses sell products or services or they wouldn’t be businesses. But before you take advice from someone, be sure you know if they’re selling something. They may start out asking you what your workout is like and then say that they’ve had great results with P90X. And guess what? They just happen to be selling it too. What’s your credit card number?

I wouldn’t call these people good sources of advice. Just sayin.

4. Do they look fit and healthy?

A hot body or collection of awards doesn’t mean someone is qualified to give you advice. But hello? If someone can’t/won’t get results in their own health and body, how can they help you? ‘Nuff said.

Obviously, when selecting a trainer, you should also look for someone you gel with – someone who fits your personality and temperament. You should feel cared about and validated and listened to. You deserve all of this, and if you want to get to your goals, it’s your responsibility to get help from the right people.

Virtual Training

Online personal training is becoming more and more popular. It’s a less expensive alternative if you have the motivation to work out on your own. It can also work for people who:

  • Travel or work from home
  • Live in remote location
  • Feel uncomfortable with one-on-one personal training

16 thoughts on “4 Questions to Ask Before You Take Fitness or Diet Advice

  1. Suzanne, such good advice here! I’m always leery of people who claim to be experts but clearly aren’t taking their own advice. The same is true of anyone trying to sell you a pre-packaged solution or product. Since you clearly exceed these four criteria, you are one of my best sources for smart insight!


  2. Fabulous post! People need to hear these strategies because there’s such a high noise-to-signal ratio in our niche!

    I like the fact that you mention the continuing education that great trainers (like you) immerse themselves in. There’s always more to learn.


  3. GREAT advice!!!!

    For me, I take running advice from my friend Leslie. She’s run more marathons than anyone I know and I trust her advice. For cycling, I take my boyfriend’s advice because he’s been an avid cyclist for years. I tend to trust people more who “practice what they preach” and actually live the lifestyle.


    • So glad that strategy works for you Lisa. You obviously can’t pay someone for every bit of advice you need and people love hearing from those who have been successful at something. Btw, you offer valuable support, motivation, and tips for many people!


  4. Future ACE certified trainer over here! Yes, it’s at that point now. I’ve already got my study materials and will be certified in 2013. I get a lot of questions from my readers, so it’s time I stepped up to get certified. Workout DVDs are great (yet I hate P90X – too much room for injury), but continuing to develop my own workouts and roll them out on the blog is what I absolutely love doing.

    I’ve seen unfit trainers try to get on a soapbox and preach fitness to people. I ain’t tryin’ to hear that mess.


    • Hurray for that Josie! Happy for you and proud of you. You have so much to offer about your journey to being a badass. I give you a lot of credit for pursuing a cert and ACE is a great one.


  5. Great advice! Education and experience are both important. I see some of the trainers in my local areas who are very educated but lack the ability to work with people and their needs. It’s important to interview personal trainers like you would a personal assistant. Can you work together? Do they understand your needs? Can they be honest with you?


  6. Excellent points as usual Suzanne!

    #4 was HUGE for me. My first trainer was a great guy, is a fitness model now (huge freaking arms), but he often seemed more interested in the female members than REALLY challenging me. It was a tough breakup, but one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as it relates to my fitness. 🙂

    Do you recommend the National Academy of Sports Medicine? I’ve talked about getting certified for several years now, and since the weather here is already getting crazy cold pretty soon I’ll have plenty of time to study during hibernation. 🙂

    People who are ALL about the sale annoy me just about as much as people who want to evangelize everyone into a Beachbody coaches. I swear it’s like a cult or something.

    Take care!



    • I do recommend NASM! I’m always happy with their customer service, first and foremost. They’re extremely helpful and friendly. Second, their materials are very good. Third, they’re well-respected and accepted at any workplace. I’m working on my fitness nutrition specialist now. Wishing you good luck with it! Do let me know if you need anything! (And agreed about – ahem – certain pushy sellers.)


  7. I have nothing to argue with here!!!!! 🙂 I got to say that thing with the boyfriends & their girlfriends/wife or whatever – boy have I seen that! I used to read a blog & the lady now has a FB page. I stopped reading her blog cause she was writing about what her boyfriend said to do & not always good for all. He was doing great for him but….. she just did a contest & I was not super impressed with how she looked for it but basically I just stopped commenting on her stuff a long time ago. She has some great things to say but the boyfriend does not know all…. I see A LOT of this! 🙂


    • Yikes. I’m afraid I’d have to quit following someone like that too. It’s a bit maddening when you see people offering up advice and setting an example that others should NOT follow. I like the camaraderie of some of these things but some are very one-size-fits-all and not necessarily safe for all.


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