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The Difference Between a Bad Trainer and a Good Trainer

While there are many differences between bad trainers and good trainers, one of the biggest differences is the form that you’ll see poor trainers allowing their clients use in comparison to the form that good trainers insist upon with their clients. The problem is that bad trainers just don’t know what good form is supposed to look like and they’ve never been trained to look at movement with a critical eye. On a side note, they also don’t know what to do in order to fix poor movement but that is the essence of being a great trainer.

Three Types of Trainers When it Comes to Form

There seem to be three types of trainers in my opinion:

1. Wannabe Strength-Coach Physical Therapist types who are way too scared to ever load anyone up and are way too critical of form and therefore stink as personal trainers or strength coaches because they never get anyone strong or looking their best.

2. Ignorant Meathead types who just keep loading up the exercises with no concern for how the form looks and are therefore horrendous trainers and coaches because they end up injuring everyone they train.

3. Great coaches who know the balance, which is actually 90% in the direction of the Physical Therapist types. You’ll see what I mean by this throughout this blog.

I’ve now posted five different videos of Karli (my client) training her lower body. I think it will be worthwhile for my readers to roll through these videos and see what I see. On a side note it’s hard filming these videos because normally I’d coach more throughout the sets but I can’t see much as I’m looking at the camera and not her form. So Karli is getting robbed a bit due to my desire to film these videos, which I do because it serves the greater-good. More women need to be training this way, and the more videos I film the better butts we can create. Karli doesn’t mind as she’s just happy that she feels her glutes working like crazy during our workouts and her butt and legs have improved since I’ve been training her. I’m always contorting my body in the power rack to get these cool angles of Karli lifting – it’s pretty funny.

Here’s a picture of Karli prancing around Chi-Town in a bikini for Halloween; she went as a shark attack. Somebody is proud of their legs!

Five Karli Workouts

Moving on, here are the videos, followed by my observations.


1. Very happy with Karli’s workout this day.
2. High Box squats – to be nitpicky she plopped down a little too hard on the box and her knees caved in (valgus collapse) slightly, but still very good form.
3. Sumo deads – to be nitpicky her head/neck wasn’t in neutral, she didn’t use compensatory acceleration and drive the hips through, and she didn’t stand tall enough, but still it was great form
4. Hip thrusts – perfect!


1. Not too impressed with myself as a trainer on this day. Didn’t cue enough, went a little too heavy, allowed a little too many energy leaks.
2. Zercher squats – a little too much trunk leaning and valgus collapse toward the end of the set.
3. Chain deficit deadlifts – pretty good; didn’t quite look as natural and fluid as I’d like
4. Full range Bulgarians – awesome!
5. Band 45 degree hypers – perfect!
6. Single leg Skorcher hip thrusts – to be nitpicky I allowed cervical flexion, and on a few reps she didn’t come up to full extension.
7. Cable horizontal chops – very good but could look a little more fluid, and the vectors on the right and left sides weren’t symmetrical.


1. I wasn’t too thrilled with myself on this day either. Allowed a little bit too sloppy of form.
2. Front squats – on max attempt form broke down a little too much for my comfort even thought it was a max, some spinal flexion and valgus collapse going on. With 95 lb set a “valgus twitch” was present on each rep at mid-range, and there was too much foot pronation. I know that Karli can do better, but I didn’t cue enough. Turns out she barely ate that day in efforts to lose weight for Halloween, which she didn’t tell me about until the next day. Welcome to the realities of being a trainer!
3. Sumo deads – Immaculate!
4. Hip thrusts – Great.
5. 45 degree hypers – Perfect! I actually prefer the kyphosis you see in the video – it leads to higher glute activation. This is hard to figure out but if you keep an arch throughout the spinal column you end up using tons of erector spinae, whereas if you allow the kyphosis you get much less erector contribution and more glute and hamtring contribution.


1. Great workout! Form was amazing.
2. Low box squats – Great! Very impressive.
3. Sumo deads – Awesome.
4. Hip thrusts – Perfect.
5. Reverse hypers – Flawless!


1. Very happy with this workout.
2. Front squats – awesome! Much better than last time. Some slight valgus but nothing too be concerned about.
3. Dumbbell full squat – there’s only one word to describe it – Beautiful!
4. Deadlift – decent; some cervical extension and some lumbar flexion during the second set. Nothing to be too concerned with.
5. Single leg hip thrust – great! Some cervical flexion but I don’t worry about this too much.


I hope this blogpost has taught many of you a thing or two about exercise form. A good trainer or coach knows how to get people strong while adhering to good form. They look at the various joint kinematics and see what’s going on at the foot, ankle, knees, hips, pelvis, lumbar spine, thoracic spine, cervical spine, scapulae, and shoulders. They look at rhythm, acceleration, and tempo. They know if something looks right or doesn’t. Being a good trainer is about a lot of things – being a motivator, a nutritionist, a role-model, an expert, etc.

But most important – being a good trainer is about delivering results! Getting people stronger, fitter, healthier, sexier, leaner, shaplier, more confident, pain-free, less prone to injury, and more “dialed in” with their health.


  • Daniel Clough says:

    The pure fact that you are so consciously aware of this stuff and are so critical of yourself puts you 100 miles ahead of 99.9% of trainers.

    All of the trainers in my gym just go through the motions it seems.

    I saw one of them coaching a guy to do DB military press whilst standing on a medicine ball the other day…

  • joe says:


    Great stuff as usual. The more I read your blog, the more I feel that you need to write a book.

    You have a good mix of research, what to do and what not to do and how to do them, programming and more. Would definitely make a good informative read.

    • Thanks Joe! While I was working out today I created an entire outline of a book in between my sets. But it will probably just sit there as I’m so busy with everything else right now. I would love to write another book though. One of these days I’ll buckle down and get it done. Thanks again.

      • kdavis27 says:

        I have a really amazing process that can help you write a book in a very short period of time without doing a ton of work.

        That’s one of the great things about being a ghostwriter. What I lack in fame and fortune, I make up for in the ability to pick up ideas from those who are famous with fortune. 🙂

        I will discuss this with you next week if you are interested.

  • Bianca says:

    Hi Bret,

    thanks for this excellent post.
    Since discovering your blog, I have been “forcing” my fitness instructor to make me do glute bridges and hip thrusts for my glutes (before telling him about your blog, he just told me: “These exercises are not useful for the glutes. Do lunges, squats and deadlifts instead”. So I had to tell him about your blog, about the fact that you have actually measured the activation of the glutes while executing different workouts and he finally ended up “allowing” me to do glute bridges and hip thrusts as well).

    I would be most grateful to you if you could provide me with some sorts of equivalents of these great workouts that Karli is doing in these videos for people who – like myself – don’t work out with barbells but use kettlebells instead (I train at home).

    Thanks very much for everything.


    • OPTI says:


      I hate to tell you, but if you have to educate your instructor-that’s probably not a good sign :(. With regards to KB training, you can load your hip thrusts with KB’s via a rope or yoga strap. Just tie one on each side, and lay it across your hips. And of course, swings will rock your glutes to no end!


      Nice job, as always, my friend. Karli is way hot-makes me proud to be a female in this industry :).


    • Bianca,

      Thanks! Hopefully you had him watch my hip thrust instructional video on Youtube.

      To be honest I just don’t understand why all trainers by now aren’t prescribing hip thrusts. They just don’t understand the biomechanics of the glutes and the mechanisms of hypertrophy. If they did, they’d be hip thrusting away!

      You can do most of the movements patterns with KB’s.

      See my new Youtube video of dumbbell full squats. You can do those with KB’s. Here’s a list of good exercises with KB’s. I’m sure Neghar could list a bunch more:

      get ups
      goblet squats
      full squats in between benches
      sumo deadlifts (but the weight would probably be too light – you’d need a heavy one)
      power clean
      power snatch
      walking lunges
      farmer’s walks
      waiter’s carries
      suitcase carries

      Combine that with bodyweight exercises if you’ve purchased a TRX and iron gym:

      push ups
      inverted rows
      single leg glute bridges

      It’s obvious you can still get a great workout!


      • Bianca says:

        Bret, thanks so so so much. The video with the kettlebells’ version of the elevated glute bridge that you have uploaded here is going to be so helpful. You are doing an excellent job for the whole fitness-loving community.


  • Damon says:

    You have really given a lot of great advice when it comes to training. Your guest blog on Tony G’s website was awesome! Living in South Florida, I feel we have the worst trainers on the planet (no joke). These people are more concerned with a paycheck then their clients results.
    I actually gave my thought on the subject in my blog:

    Check it out….

    • Damon, Great rant!

      Funny story – that pic is of JP, the guy who started JPFitness Forum. I spoke at their seminar in KC last year. Lou Schuler had that pic in his presentation and everyone starting laughing at JP. He was very embarrassed and said, “What’s funny is that back in the 90’s, that’s where it was at! I thought I was the shit! Little did I know I’d be the laughing-stock of the fitness industry a decade later.”


      • Damon says:

        Thought I’d make your “good reads for the week” with my rant on the personal training industry 😉
        Oh well, got a lot of reading to catch up on. It’s great that I can go to your site and you already narrow down some articles and blogs that are worth reading. Keep it up!

  • Great post as always. The old school light weight and tons of meticulous reps is a battle I face constantly. Many of my Physical Therapy colleagues make comments that I am going to hurt my patients by loading them up and actually getting them stronger. Really appreciate guys such as yourself conducting solid research and putting out evidence to disprove myths and dispel the fear of getting strong (and better).

    • Well there’s a fine line, and a great coach knows that line very well. My clients never get injured, and their backs always feel way better than before they trained with me. I have a lot of PT friends and if any doubt me I tell them that maybe they should study my methods considering my success rate is much higher than most PT’s. Of course we have different roles and I love/respect/admire the great PT’s out there, but we need to know our differences and the contrast in populations with which we work.

  • Bret,

    This has to be one of your best posts. Your commentary after every video was extremely helpful and informative. Awesome stuff. I’m going to make this required viewing for my female clients.


  • Karla says:

    makes me wanna move to Arizona… Isn’t that were your gym is now? 🙂

  • Jeff says:

    Karli is hot. I want to be that shark.

  • allie says:

    no doubt about it- you are an amazing trainer.
    for the 45 degree hypers, you reference the kyphosis being a good thing. is that the fact that she did not go all the way “straight” at the top?
    and about the valgus twitch in the 2nd one, i don’t see that at all. why is valgus whatever a problem- a sign of knee injury?
    you’re amazing. she’s amazing. great work!

    • Allie – it’s something you just have to tinker around with when you do the 45 degree hyper…when you really activate your glutes and have your glutes do most of the work (and hammies of course…and hamstring part of the adductor magnus) in erecting the torso, it just happens. I’ve seen some people do this exercise well while keeping the t-spine (and entire spine) in neutral but many round a bit in the upper back when focusing on glute activation. I’m okay with it because we do a lot of deadlifting and rowing to keep the upper back strong and prevent any negative posturing from occuring.

      Some valgus is acceptable in certain people depending on their anatomy, but only “slight” valgus. I should mention that women have larger Q-angles so their knees often appear collapsed a bit anyway. I like to see no valgus collapse in terms of “knees buckling inward” during the squat as it can lead to patellafemoral pain among other knee ailments.

      Thanks Allie!

      • Derrick Blanton says:

        Hey Bret, I have seen a few different vids of Chinese Oly weightlifters, and a lot of them seem to purposely incorporate a slight valgus twitch to power through a sticking point.

        Not a buckle, but more of a extra adductor as hip extensor drive. One of the two lifters in the vid you posted does it. At that high level, it must be at least tacitly accepted, if not outright coached, which sounds crazy.

        I know that my right knee used to cave, but never my left. My right VMO was overdeveloped. Conversely, my left glute was more dominant than my right glute. So the knee with the dominant VMO caved, (almost like trying to find the angle to use it). The hip with the dominant glute did not cave.

        This sort of echoes your stronger glutes, no more Valgus experiment with Karli. I’m beginning to think it’s the glute max, not glute medius that will control the valgus, as the body doesn’t need to use the quad, adductor as much.

        Just a theory..

  • Andy says:

    Excellent points, Bret.

    Today I had the tremendous pleasure of quitting my job as a Trainer at a commercial gym in Santa Cruz (hint: the second half of the name rhymes with “sh!tness”). Absolutely amazing how bad it is there. The fitness manager, who is in charge of all the trainers, actually told my client (60 year old retired nurse with one knee surgery) that leg extensions are good for her! I cannot work for such an incompetent fool. She bases much of her knowledge on 15 year old kinesology text (when she got her degree); the rest she just perfected the art of being a client’s best (fake) friend for 50 minutes several times a week.

    A great trainer teaches the client things that will not only get quantifiable results (body comp, etc.) but will also impart knowledge that keeps the client safe. As I tell my clients: “There are things I’ll teach that you’ll thank me for in twenty or thirty years.”

    Now that I’m working as an independent contractor teaching clients the correct lifts and form, I cannot find my career more fulfilling.

    56×11 on T-Nation forums

    • Kim says:

      Good for you Andy!! We need more people like you and Bret in this world!

    • Good for you Andy! I’m glad you now find your career more fulfilling and hope that you continue to acquire new clients. If you can one day save up and open up your own studio….now that something magical. When I owned my studio Lifts I felt so good inside. We were turning out amazing physiques like an assembly line! Best of luck to you.

  • Matias says:

    Hi Bret. Great job training Karli.

    Ever since I’ve started doing glute bridges, my left hip flexor gets sore during my soccer games. It’s always been shorter and/or tighter than my right hip flexor and I am working on correcting a dominant external rotation on my left side. I always focus on that during my training and focus and activating my left glute more pre-workouts.

    What can I do? This never used to happen.

    • Matias,

      Stop doing glute bridges for now and figure out what’s causing the pain. If I were your trainer I’d FMS you and do some table assessments. If you are lacking in hip extension and hip internal rotation then of course issues will arise. You need to shore up mobility deficits with corrective exercise, but there are mobility problems, stability problems, and motor patterning problems, all of which could be causing the problem. If you create a good, sound corrective protocal you should be able to fix the problem within the next month or two. Target the weak link and when it’s fixed, focus on the next weak link, etc. When your body is working properly then you can revisit glute bridges. Good luck!


      • Matias says:

        Around here you’re known as Bret the Beast, and by around here I mean by my computer desk with my buddies and girlfriends. I’m from MA and we’re riding with you on that whole ‘squat’ debate.

        The truth is the truth no matter who says it.

  • Gwen says:

    Amazing as usual.
    When I do stuff like this at my globogym I get strange looks….like a girl can’t lift “real” weights or something?!?!?!

    • I didn’t know what globogym meant so I had to look it up. Of course you get strange looks! If anyone says anything just tell them, “I look at you and your results and I try to do the exact opposite of what you’re doing.” 🙂

  • Gwen says:

    A typical big-box fitness franchise, where people more often than not don’t get in shape worth a damn.

    Yes, hence the strange looks. I guess b/c I’m not doing bicep curls while sitting on a machine watching CNN I’m doing something wrong….

    Can’t wait to start something with you.

  • Jeff says:

    Brett, do you have Karli or any other clients doing any direct calf work? Why or why not? Really enjoyed your vids along with the analysis. Thanks, Jeff

  • kdavis27 says:

    Okay, so I did the 100 reverse hypers at the gym yesterday. And, yes, I did activate my glutes/hams correctly. My hat goes off to Karli. Holy cow!

  • Josh Davies says:

    Great post Bret.

    I’ve sent the videos of Karli lifting to several of my female clients…needless to say you guys have raised the bar!!


  • Michael says:

    Dear Bret,
    I have been following your philosophy for some time now and this morning I feel compelled to talk about a subject that I’m not sure where to classify. And this is it: Why are guys so phobic about glutes?! I mean, web sites show women with gorgeous glutes all the time whereas the only images we show of men with developed glutes are bodybuilding champs. This is my opinion, but bodybuilders look distorted and I can’t appreciate them because I know they’re fake! Anyway, why am I the ONLY person in my huge gym that really focuses on glutes really hard? I think that men, especially weightlifting men, are so fearful that they’ll be labeled gay they would rather have a less than optimum physique. I’m sorry, but there is nothing as disappointing physiquewise, as a guy with a built upperbody, maybe even nice legs, with a flat or underdeveloped butt. That is a red flag that the person is some nobody that lifted weights and took protein to get the attention of some equally fake, compensating chick! I know that’s harsh and that genetics influence how our glutes develop, but any of us who have been in the trade a while can tell. Bret, I’m sure you would agree that great glutes on both women and men convey true athleticism and power even if the rest of the body is less than contest ready.

    I am a heterosexual man that is going to come out and say I look at mens physiques, including their butt. Nothing sexual, just real appreciation of the entire human body. And most of the readers on this site probably do too, so stop being scared and phony and acting like you don’t notice the largest and strongest muscle in the body! Now I have to go do some hip thrusts and hill sprints!

    • Michael,

      I wrote extensively about this in my glute eBook…I came up with 12 reasons why real “glute training” isn’t really existing. So you’re preaching to the choir!


  • James B says:

    Hi Bret,

    Don’t know if you’ve seen the latest entry on ergo log about a glute training study; would be very interested to hear your thoughts on it!

    Keep up the great work on your blog


    • James – I remember when this study came out….maybe it was a year ago…..anyway I read the study and if memory serves me correctly it was conducted by Physical Therapist types who were looking at relatively simple exercises for the glutes. The stuff they looked at is sissy crap compared to what I have my clients do! Anyway what you need to know is that they didn’t include a single “anteroposterior” exercise in their list. Had they done that, that exercise would have come out on top. -Bret

  • I noticed in the 3rd video Karli had a strong tendency to supinate her feet in the hip thrust, around 2:14. In the next video it looked like she might, but it didn’t quite happen. Any significance to this?

    Then in the last video she doraflexes the foot each rep. ?

    Love the dumbbell full squat. I’ve forgotten about using benches like that.

    BTW, what was the 4th video music? Sounded like great workout sound.

  • I’m an idiot- make that “dorsiflexes”

    I tried the dumbbell full squat. It’s great for full ROM with more leg emphasis without as much torso engagement as other squats, which makes spinal alignment easier. The only problem was that with the heaviest dumbbell at the gym with 4 dimes on top it was too light for me.

    • DJ Khaled – “All I Do is Win”

      Yeah I’ve noticed little nuances with clients from time to time as far as clients’ form and sometimes it might be due to fatigue since I throw a lot of exercises their way. And sometimes it’s just due to the fact that I’m not paying close enough attention…if I cue they correct it. Since she can do it correctly it’s not mobility or stability, but motor control.

      The DB Full Squat is for beginner males and women – I’d need at least a 185 lb dumbbell to get a great training effect in the rep range I desire, and those are hard to find!

  • Victoria says:

    Thank you so much for these videos Bret! I am currently doing the beginners workout in your book Strong Curves. On week three now, and I am noticing a lot of form errors I have been making by watching this. I really appreciate you putting stuff like this out there.

  • James says:

    Why is total perfection expected for every single rep on every set? Has your form NEVER slacked toward the end of a set when the weights are getting heavy? If a person can go through a work set and not have ANY form breakdown how are they supposed to get stronger? To execute perfect form in every repetition would mean they are using weights they are capable of handing therefore how is an adaptation supposed to be prompted?

    • Bret says:

      James – I’m not THAT critical or OCD about form. I don’t expect every rep to be perfect, but it’s imperative that coaches and trainers have high expectations. Look at Olympic lifters – their form is spot on during training year round.

  • Tatianna says:

    I love your articles on glute training, I’ve learned quite a few things from you my self.

  • Joey Taraborelli, CSSC says:

    Bret, great job as usual and I’d have to agree with Daniel(first comment I believe) in the fact that you and other great trainers can actually see when you need to coach more or less makes you miles ahead of most. I keep trying to learn from you, thanks!

  • Tim says:

    Bret- what do you think about loaded exercises where the shoulders go below the hips. For example, in Karli’s second workout, the “chain deficit deadlifts” where she goes slightly below parallel.

    A quick background- I had a mentor that harped to not allow the torso go past parallel because of the potential to overstress the posterior longitudinal ligament in the spinal column in this position. Have you in your vast examination of biomechanics, anatomy, etc. ever heard of this idea? Do you have a point where you coach clients not to go past even with proper spinal alignment? I haven’t heard other coaches ever mention this before, but I thought it is worth consideration and it has influenced my perception of technique, despite not seeing any ‘hard evidence’ in support of it before. I might go back to a manual that mentor gave me and see if a reference was provided in it.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Tim – I believe that ligament length in the spine is dependent on spinal posture, not hip position. If someone has flexible hamstrings and keeps the spine in relatively neutral position during a deeper ROM deadlift, then all is fine. If someone does not, however, then they risk damage to not only the ligaments but also the discs. Seems like you got guru’d! 😉

  • Guillermo Muñoz says:

    Nice read Bret. It’s good to see how keen you are when coaching movements. Makes me do my job better. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Karen says:

    This was AwEsOmE! It helps me out greatly to watch your videos – same reason I subscribed to Get Glutes!

    I’m in the same boat as Gwen at my gym.:-) But I just find a corner & get ’em done.

    Great post! Thank you, thank you!


  • Clement says:

    Hi Bret, great video here. I’m trying to be a great trainer, myself, and am trying to fix my client’s shoulder internal rotation problems. I know what you mean as I normally like to push my clients HARD, but in this client’s case, he can’t even perform overhead dumbbell presses or dumbbell rows without tucking his wrist. I’m hammering him with blackbirds, rear delt rows, a ton of horizontal rowing, scapular wall slides and face pulls and I hope I’ll see results in a good few weeks.

    Anyway, did you programme sumos for Karli as a progression towards conventional deads or for other reasons?

  • Mathy says:

    Awesome stuff..

  • Greg says:

    Very good stuff as usual, Bret! One question about squatting. When i do my normal squat, i can go about 90 degrees, but when i put a slim 5lb weight my squat can reach a little deeper. Is this due to lack of dorsiflexion in my ankles?

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