How to identify a bad bodybuilding coach
This past week I had a yet another bikini client handed off to me in bad shape. When I say bad shape I don’t mean physique wise, I mean the level of coaching she had been subjected to and the potential harm it could have caused long-term. It seems like every other week I have someone reach out who is fed up with their existing coach because the red flag finally goes off in their head that maybe this isn’t the way things have to be. This particular girl I knew from my previous gym and when she told me about her upcoming competition and coach for said competition, I warned her that the “coach” she was picking up was not much of a coach at all. He was just another guy trying to make money off the bodybuilding industry rollercoaster. The worst part is, I don’t think he’s even trying to game the system, I think he just legitimately has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, but thinks he does and people continue to work with him at their expense. It’s regrettable that these “coaches” exist and even more unfortunate that their numbers are increasing. It’s just the world we live in.
I think most agree that bodybuilding is growing in popularity in the United States. There are more bodybuilding organizations than I can even name with thousands of competitors prepping or competing in a show each weekend. However, with the increase of people interested in the sport comes the influx of people trying to take advantage of it. If you’ve been in this industry long enough you’ve probably seen it before. The insanely low-calorie meal plans print outs, the excessive amount of cardio, the long distance “once a month” Instagram coaches, the get ripped in 15 minutes advertisements. With a ton of erroneous and contradictory information out there, it’s easy to get tangled up with a less than satisfactory coach. Where do you even start? Well, have no fear. I’m here to help.
I reached out to Reddit this past week to get feedback on what people thought makes a bad bodybuilding coach. I got a great response and thus I’m writing this article to curate the best of feedback and combine them with my own bad coach red flags. I’m hoping to arm as many athletes I can with mental or physical triggers. Understand that any one of these red flags doesn’t guarantee that a coach is bad. They are merely red flags that can trigger your “bad coaching investigation”. Consider them mental reminders to explore your options and dig deeper. Look at the coach from more perspectives than just in-the-mirror-results whether for you or for themselves. Also, it’s important to separate truly bad coaching with a personal preference for coaching. You might like a coach that tells you what to do and gives you a very structured routine. Others may like more flexibility. Does this make the former or the latter a bad coach? Probably neither.
Anyways. Enough chatter. Here we go. A list of ways a “coach” may be a bad coach. I’m also going to touch on coaching mismatches and how to conduct a coaching investigation. Read on.
(Important to separate personal trainers from coaches. If you don’t know the difference this article is likely not for you.)
The coaches only results are themselves or the 1 show coach.
This one is a no-brainer, but it has to be mentioned because of the growth of social media fitness celebrities. You’re cruising through your feed and you see a guy or girl who is insanely ripped. Taking sick selfies and/or lifting crazy amounts of weight (majority just take selfies). You’re obsessed with them and then when you go to their profile you realize OH SHIT! THEY’RE A COACH! MAYBE I CAN TAKE SWEET SELFIES LIKE THEM SOMEDAY! They offer an email address for coaching inquiries. As some redditor eloquently stated that email is usually something like: email@example.com.
As I’m sure you heard in Kindergarten, everybody is different. Just because someone has results for themselves doesn’t mean they will apply to you. Nor does that make them a good coach. Do you know whether the way they dieted was actually healthy or optimal? Consider it a red flag if your coach’s only claim to fame are some reverse camera mirror pictures.
1.5. Coaches with only 1 show under their belt.
Look! I’m a coach now!
I’m adding this as 1.5 because they go hand in hand. It’s as if the first thing people do when they get off stage is put a “coaching inquiries” link in their profile. These people likely had a coach themselves. Just because they’ve competed once before does not automatically make them a good coach. At most it might make them a good support or confidence builder. Befriend them, ask their advice, but think twice before hiring them.
Coaches with TOO many athletes (poor communication)
This one is hard to pinpoint from the outside looking in, but you can usually see the red flag as soon as you sign up. Is the coach not responding quickly to your inquiries? Do they seem distant and very hard to reach? If you’re a person who needs a lot of communication this can be detrimental to your confidence prepping for a competition. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding, having a responsive coach generally a positive trait when you’re paying a lot of money each month for them.
If the coaches only fast email response times are when the message is concerning payment, this should be your cue. It’s likely that they have too many clients or just don’t have time to be a good coach and help you achieve your goals.
Coaches with your ideal physique.
Why do so many people idolize Arnold, but no one has the same physique? He’s posted all his routines in the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, yet there isn’t a single person out there aside from maybe Calum who has something similar to him. This is because everyone’s body responds individually to exercise and nutrition. In addition, genetically we are all vastly different. If the coach has your ideal physique, there is about a 99% chance you will never have the same physique. Can you attain the same level of conditioning? Probable. Same level of muscularity? Perhaps. Same proportions? Now you’re stretching.
Don’t pick a coach strictly because they have the physique you want. Pick them because they have the educational chops and experience that you want from a coach. This isn’t so much of a red flag for a bad coach, but more for a coaching expectations mismatch.
Coaches with Experience or Education only.
We’ve all seen coaches who preach a diet because it worked for them. We’ve also heard of those that just came out of college who think they now know everything about dieting for a bodybuilding competition because their Nutrition 301 course told them about macros. This is a red flag because most good coaches usually meet a middle ground. They either have so much personal and coaching experience that they now have a practical education (street smarts) or they have combined their educational background with some experience by competing or being coached. A red flag because extremes often lead to a poor coaching experience.
Routine or Diet BEFORE learning about the athlete.
If you make your first payment to a coach and the first thing they do is send you a meal plan and routine, then you’re gonna have a bad time mmmkay. This is a massive red flag that tells you the coach has no idea how to personalize a routine or diet. A good coach will usually collect data on their athlete before they give a meal plan or set macros. They will learn about the athletes preferences and feel out what works best before jumping headstrong into a diet or a workout.
Oh, you have a debilitating back problem, but the coach sends you a workout plan containing 5 deadlift/back days a week? You have allergies to avocados, but the coach includes a scoop of these “healthy fats” at every meal. I’m going to talk about how to counter this below, but for now know that this is not how a good coach works.
Think about it from a diet standpoint. For the sake of the argument let’s say you’re eating 5000 calories a day. The coach sends you a meal plan for your competition that immediately drops you to 3000 calories. There is literally NO point to this from a dieting standpoint and it’s going to cause you more problems down the road when your metabolism and energy levels bottom out much sooner in the prep than they would have if the coach listened when you said you ate 5000 a day.
If you receive something like this….run for the hills:
Coaches promising specific results
Those experienced in this industry knows that it takes a lot of hard work to be successful. No one who preps only 4 weeks wins a show (assuming they aren’t already lean). Let’s go through some of the things that should trigger you here because I think it’s important. If the coach says any of the things, sound the alarms:
- Guaranteeing for you to win the show.
- Abs in 30 days!
- 10lbs of muscle growth in 2 weeks!
- We can get you lean in under 8 weeks (assuming average/above average body fat).
- Get ripped or as big as me!
- Body Transformations!
- Lean Gaining muscle!
- Put on tons of muscle while losing weight!
- Basically anything with an exclamation point at the end.This is more an example of someone willing to send you a routine or diet which isn’t exactly a coaching offer, but I still think these pictures are hilarious. Love how he used the same text in every single one. Not even the text is personalized.
Setting too high of expectations like this is what bad coaches do. A good coach will set your expectations correctly and keep you focused on what’s attainable. Good coaches will often undersell their abilities. Humbleness is a virtue and hard to find in bodybuilding. Seek it.
Being deplorable in the gym
A ton of great coaches function as online only these days. It’s incredible what the internet has enabled us to do, but some coaches and athletes still prefer the good ole’ fashion in-person format. I mean, who DOESN’T like a guy sweating over you screaming about “ONE MORE REP!”. For those of you who do, having an attentive coach is a part of the monthly payment. If your coach is paying more attention to his/her phone than you in the gym, this is a red flag. Also in this list includes: talking more than working, being in far worse shape than the athlete (unless they have injuries or you’re just that much of a beast that no one can keep up), performing with bad exercise form, and/or generally lazy. These should be your wake up call to evaluating them as a coach and if they are right for you.
The coaches athletes no longer compete or work with them.
This is one I’ve used in my past when looking to pick up a coach for a show. If their athletes have stopped competing entirely or have dropped them as a coach, this should make you a little hesitant. I’m saying if the majority of their clients have experienced this, not 1 or 2.
The reason this is a red flag is because a lot of competitors stop competing because they didn’t enjoy the experience. Imagine the coach starves you for a competition. It’s a mentally and physically brutal experience that the athlete would rather not repeat. The coach likely has them thinking “This is what I have to go through every single time?”. I’d quit too if I wasn’t able to eat ice cream every once in a while…..
Warning. Small semi off subject tangent, but it relates: One of the biggest fads right now is metabolic damage. Whether or not there is scientific evidence behind it is yet to be determined, but as a competitor and someone who speaks to quite a few athletes in the industry, I’ve at least observed the effects. It’s even more evident in bad coaches where they severely dropped their calories of their competitors for so long that they have trouble getting that lean ever again. Scenario: They drop calories to sub 1000 for a bikini girl and hurt her metabolism. After a year she wants to diet again and now the coach has to take them to sub 800 to get the same leanness. Eventually, the diet becomes unbearable for the competitor and they stop competing entirely. See how I made it relate? This is one reason why I think a lot of these competitors who work with bad coaches don’t compete again.
Let’s touch on competitors who no longer compete with them. If all their athletes have moved on to another coach, it leads me to ask the question why? I implore you to do the same.
A list of other funny feedback I received.
- If the coach says “Muscle Confusion” for any reason.
- Anything that says Beach Body on it.
- They tell you to hop on 1500mg’s of celltech in the first email.
- If they call themselves a professional toner.
Ways to investigate:
Now that I’ve armed you with some bad coaching red flags, let’s teach you a way to investigate. You exclaim “But Zach! I’ve already signed a 16 year deal!”. Well, if that’s the case you’re screwed, but assuming you can get out of paying them let’s show you how to research regardless of if you’re looking for a coach or questioning your current one.
The strategy: checking with their past or current athletes. If they give you what you assume is a generic meal plan, how about reaching out to another athlete and comparing it? Are they identical? Well, you just saved yourself and hopefully someone else a lot of time, money, and progress. Testimonials and reviews of the coach are key for validating any of these red flags above.
The strategy: run a webs search for their meal plan or routine or their filenames. See if they downloaded it from somewhere else.
Listen. I’m not asking you to violate the coaches privacy to figure this stuff out. Don’t launch a federal investigation. These two strategies are only if you aren’t quite sure if the red flags are true red flags.
Anyways, I’m done writing for now. Please please please leave comments with more tips. Let’s help out as many people as we can!