If your trainer says you’re cheating, they might be cheating you

Fitness Friday:  If your trainer says you’re cheating, they might be cheating you.


Yes, I said it.


Why? Because what does “cheating” mean?  Often, as trainers and physical therapists, when we say cheating, we meant that someone is trying to do the movement or posture differently than we had in mind.  Clients do this for a number of reasons:

  • the trainer did not explain the exercise well enough
  • the client isn’t ready for that exercise
    • and the client is modifying the exercise according to their ability, for efficiency, or from habit
    • the trainer should adjust the exercise – changing the activity, breaking it down into parts, holding it for less time, etc – perhaps the “cheat” is actually an intermediate step needed to get them strong enough for the expected version
  • the trainer gave the client a junk piece of exercise that isn’t functional, won’t improve training or sport, and is maladaptive
    • this is also commonly seen in gyms; trainers are trying to be cute or fancy or fun or ___________, trying to impress or fry their clients – the client gets fried, is too fatigued to do the exercise that isn’t worth doing in the first place
  • ______________________ I am sure there are other considerations, and it could be an all of the above


I recently heard of a trainer telling a group of people that they (the trainer) had to adjust the end of the workout burner from a 2 min held squat to a 2 min held plank, claiming it was too easy to cheat in a 2 min held squat.  (A plank is easy to “cheat” in too.)


Well, yeah.  It is easy to “cheat” in any 2 min held exercise, squat or even the plank, because the clients might not be ready or have unique muscular skeletal or neuromuscular needs that require them to modify (and that modification is NOT cheating; assuming it is is ableist).  Further, a held 2 min stationary squat isn’t  functional  and doesn’t make sense for most of us (many of the general, able-bodied public cannot efficiently recruit or utilize their core including the gluteus maximus – maximi – for short periods of time, like a 30 sec hold – starting at and expecting 2 min is bananas); the clients might even injure themselves trying to appease a narrow-minded trainer.  Here the trainer cheated their clients, blaming the clients on the inability to preform an exercise most people can’t.  That doesn’t make the clients the cheaters.


When you hire or work with a personal trainer or fitness specialist, please ask about their qualifications.  What do they know about muscle function, joint health, various ability levels and body types?  Can they collaborate effectively with your unique needs and goals or do they formulate and dictate those with little consultation with you? Do they know how to give specific, functional exercises or do they tend to use single axis machines (a general no-no unless you are in rehab).  Watch them work with other clients, or better yet, interview their clients to see what that trainer is like.


Sometimes even the “qualified” ones make errors in judgement, we are all human and learn as we go and grow.  But, as a client, you can save yourself time, money, and frustration by starting with CHEK practitioners (a quality personal trainer; I am one), athletic trainers, or physical therapists (I am one as well) (more here: https://ignitewell-being.com/why-you-should-work-out-with-a-physical-therapist/ and https://ignitewell-being.com/skilled-exercise-is-medicine/ ).


Thanks for reading.  Good luck finding trainers that can work with you, in a bi-directional relationship, rather than expecting you to contort to their “cheating” expectations.



The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT500; sex-positive, trauma-informed sexuality counselor and educator (she/her/they); copyright protected, please cite accordingly.  The graphic is mine.


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