The “Red Flags” to look out for with predatory commercial gyms

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As a new personal trainer entering the fitness industry, the decision of where to work is crucial. While commercial gyms may seem like an attractive option with their shiny equipment and large member base, there are several red flags you should be aware of before committing. Understanding these can help you find an environment that provides a safe start and supports your professional growth and the success of your clients.

Overemphasis on Aesthetics

One of the first red flags in commercial gyms is the overemphasis on aesthetics. Elliott Villiers, on the Focused Fitprenuer Podcast, draws an analogy from nature: “Within the jungle or the rainforest, the flowers, the fruit, the animals, and the insects with the brightest colours are always the most dangerous. These are the ones that can kill you if you get too close to them.” This metaphor illustrates how the most visually appealing elements can sometimes mask underlying dangers.

Commercial gyms often invest heavily in the appearance of their facilities to attract members and trainers. Brightly coloured equipment, modern design, and high-end amenities are designed to lure people in. However, as Villiers cautions, “It might be covering or alluding to the fact there are other things that are below the surface that you aren’t able to see.” As a trainer, it’s essential to look beyond the flashy exterior and assess whether the gym’s atmosphere, culture and management truly support quality training and professional development for its Personal Trainers.

Hostile Environments

Another significant red flag is the presence of a hostile environment. This can manifest in various forms, from competitive and aggressive trainers to unfriendly staff and unwelcoming members. Villiers describes this phenomenon as “cannibalism inside the industry,” where “trainers begin eating each other… When the environment breeds hostility, trainers start eating each other as opposed to being allowed to thrive.” A hostile atmosphere can be detrimental to your growth and your clients’ progress, particularly if you’re just starting out and need support and encouragement.

Poor Community and Atmosphere

Villiers emphasises the importance of a supportive community over flashy equipment. He notes, “What I have learned over my time going between indie gyms and big commercial gyms – is that no matter how attractive the environment and equipment is, nothing compares to a warm, inclusive, professional community and atmosphere when starting or growing a professional fitness career.” A gym that fosters a positive and inclusive community can significantly enhance your experience as a trainer, providing motivation, support, and a sense of belonging. A strong community can also help you build a loyal client base, which is crucial for your success.

Distraction and Discomfort

Modern commercial gyms often incorporate elements that can be distracting or uncomfortable for trainers and clients alike. Loud intrusive music, members using tripods and filming themselves, or groups that create an intimidating atmosphere can all detract from a productive workout environment. Villiers recounts his experience: “If the environment has got hectic hip hop music, with all kinds of language coming through and they turn it up at peak hour or it’s lit like a nightclub or members are in there with tripods and phones out and get angry if you accidentally walk between them, its not exactly an ideal or inspiring working environment for me or my clients…

Easy Pathways but Lack of Due Diligence

Commercial gyms often have arrangements with educational institutes, creating an easy pathway for its members to become new trainers joining as Personal Trainers without thoroughly vetting the environment. Villiers warns, “The education provider may rent out a space out the back of the gym and offer full time part time fitness courses. It is a very easy pathway to go from member to PT… without actually doing your due diligence and investigating what your options are outside of that gym.” This shortcut can result in a lack of experienced and well-trained staff, ultimately affecting the quality of guidance and support you receive as a new trainer.

The Importance of Due Diligence

Villiers advises prospective trainers to conduct thorough due diligence, focusing on more than just the initial appeal of the gym. He stresses the need to observe the gym’s community and support system, saying, “In your due diligence, observe more than just how the room makes you feel. You need to become the client that has rolled the dice on being healthy… Is that environment conducive or able to facilitate their change and keep them in a positive frame of mind?


Choosing the right gym to start your career as a personal trainer involves looking beyond the surface. A gym’s aesthetics, while appealing, can sometimes mask underlying issues such as a hostile environment or lack of quality training. Prioritising a supportive community and ensuring the gym aligns with your professional goals is crucial. As Elliott Villiers aptly puts it, assessing and reviewing everything with a critical eye is essential for anyone striving to be the best version of themselves. By being mindful of these red flags, you can find a gym that truly supports your growth and success as a personal trainer.


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