16 Secrets of Personal Trainers

iStock.com/franckreporter
iStock.com/franckreporter

At the beginning of each year, people flock to gyms to finally tackle their New Year's resolutions to get in shape, be healthier, and/or achieve the six-pack abs of their dreams. For some, that means hiring the services of a personal trainer who can give them the one-on-one attention they need to achieve their fitness goals. But personal trainers do more than just supervise your push-ups and ask you to do more reps: They talk to you about your eating and sleeping habits, sometimes see you cry, and might even end up earning an invite to your wedding. Here are a few insider secrets personal trainers shared with Mental Floss about their jobs.

1. Personal trainers really don’t like it when you’re late.

Several of the trainers Mental Floss spoke to said their biggest pet peeve is when clients show up late to their session. After all, the trainer has created a plan for the workout, and it’s frustrating to have to adjust that plan to accommodate the shorter workout.

“You’re kind of wasting your money,” says Ackeem Emmons, a personal trainer who began his career at Equinox, later started his own training business, and now works with Aaptiv, an audio-based workout app. “It’s so funny, because [clients] think they’re getting over on me—when you’re just short-changing yourself.”

2. Their hours aren’t as flexible as you think.

“They tell you [that] you can make your own hours,” Emmons explains. “That’s a lie. I wake up at 4 or 5 every day, because people either want to train before work or after work.” That means busy mornings and evenings, and inevitable afternoon downtime for trainers.

3. The salary for personal trainers varies widely ...

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for fitness trainers and instructors across the U.S. is a little more than $39,000 a year, or roughly $18.85 an hour. But that’s just the median: The pay can vary quite a bit between location (in California, the average fitness salary is closer to $50,000), clientele (celebrity trainers can command hundreds of dollars per hour), the facility (a trainer at a private gym typically makes more than someone working at a local rec center), and certification levels.

4. ... and so do the qualifications.

There are numerous certifications available, which can boost earning power and add to a trainer’s potential client base. Organizations such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) all offer training manuals and certifications designed to make sure that anyone who calls themselves a personal trainer is well-versed in how the body works, nutrition, and injury prevention. In addition to general athletic certifications, there are specific courses for different exercise techniques, like using barbells, and for training specific populations, like people with chronic diseases or disabilities.

Some certifications are more rigorous than others, and some gyms are more stringent than others about the exact certifications their trainers hold, but in general, most trainers are always working on new certifications to add to their depth of knowledge. “I like to do it at least every couple of months to just learn something new,” Emmons says.

5. Personal trainers know when you’re not bringing your A-game.

Trainers can tell when you’re not totally focused on your workout, and they may pause the session to figure out why. “You have to figure out the reason why their mind is somewhere else,” explains Karyn Toffolo, a trainer who provides nutrition and fitness coaching through her company Happy Belly Strong as well as working at several New York City-area gyms. Solving that mental puzzle can be more important in the long run than it is to "kick their ass and give them this hard workout.”

Sometimes, however, the reason someone is distracted is much more simple. “I’ve had people come in drunk before,” Toffolo says. “You can just tell they’re not paying attention. So I have sent people home.”

6. Many clients come in with unrealistic expectations.

“A lot of people come in and say this actor put on 20 pounds of muscle in three months and I want the same result,” says Sean Collins, the co-owner and head powerlifting coach at Murder of Crows Barbell Club in Brooklyn. Goals like that are not in reach for the vast majority of the population—certainly not without performance-enhancing drugs—and he has to be the one to explain that. As Emmons puts it, “I’m a trainer, not a magician.”

They get a lot of very stereotypical requests, too.“Men all want huge arms, a big chest, and six-pack abs. And they need it by the 14th, because they’re going on vacation in two weeks,” Emmons says. “And women always want the triceps, the glutes, the inner thighs, and a six-pack—those are always the main things.”

7. Personal trainers also want to know about your diet.

Though most personal trainers aren’t nutritionists (Toffolo is an exception), helping clients eat right is still a big part of most fitness plans, according to Lacey Stone, a bi-coastal fitness expert who offers private training, group classes, boot camps, and virtual training, in addition to appearing as a celebrity trainer on E!’s Revenge Body With Khloe Kardashian. "I make certain that they have some kind of a higher protein/carbohydrate fuel before they work out," she says, because their body needs that fuel to perform.

Some of the education is just the basics. Stone says her clients often ask things like, "'Should I do keto? Should I fast? Should I do paleo?' I'm like, let's not worry about that until you even get like, what a vegetable is." (Stone is currently helping to launch a new line of milk-based protein shakes, called Core Power high protein milk shakes, so she likes to recommend those for an after-workout snack.)

“A lot of people come in with misconceptions about food—like someone will come in and say, ‘I haven’t eaten a carb in like four weeks,’” Collins says. “An important part of increasing muscle mass is increasing carb consumption. Sometimes they think fat will make you fat. They think too much protein will kill you, or too much carbohydrates will give you diabetes.” Part of the job of a personal trainer is to help re-educate clients on the role of food in their lives. That means not just telling people not to eat five slices of pizza in a row, but talking about what they're eating, when they're eating, and how that impacts their workout.

8. If they don’t ask about scheduling more sessions, it’s probably because they don’t want you to.

Not every client-trainer relationship works out, and sometimes trainers would prefer to let certain clients go. (Clients who are perpetually flaky or do nothing but complain throughout their sessions might not be asked back.) Of course, they try to be diplomatic about it. “I wouldn’t say I fired them,” Toffolo says of some former clients, “because they are paying me for sessions.” But if she doesn’t enjoy working with a client, when it comes time to schedule and pay for a new batch of sessions, “I just won’t ask if they want to renew.”

It’s not always personal, though. Toffolo works as a trainer at gyms like Brooklyn Boulders and Drive 495, and she occasionally hands her clients off to another trainer at the facility who might be better suited to helping them achieve their goals. For instance, if someone is rehabbing an injury, she is more likely to refer them to one of her colleagues with physical therapy experience.

9. Sometimes their sessions involve tears.

Stone says a fair amount of her clients end up crying at some point during the course of their training with her. “A big part of my program is getting people mentally and emotionally healthy before I can get them to do what I want physically,” she explains. Occasionally, that means tears—but “not sad tears. It's like, realization tears. It's like, finding your soul again tears.”

Collins deals with tears occasionally, too. “In power lifting, you can train for three to four months for one specific competition,” he says. So when people feel like they have fallen short of their goals when that big competition comes, it gets emotional. “I have had to manage a lot of tears,” he explains. “Any kind of fitness professional has to have a high level of empathy. I think the best ones out there are the ones who can completely understand why this is so upsetting to an individual.”

10. Personal trainers can get very close with their clients.

Personal training includes sharing a lot of intimate details about your life, like your diet, weight goals, sleep routine, and more, and as a result, trainers form tight bonds with many of their clients. Sometimes, "it can be more of a therapy session" than a workout session, Toffolo says. (That may happen whether the trainer likes it that way or not—"I’ve had a lot of people definitely share more than I wanted to," she adds.)

But Toffolo sees the client-trainer relationship as more of a friendship than a straight business relationship. She trains some clients for years on end, and has even been invited to some of their weddings. “It’s just nice to have that type of rapport with someone. It makes time go by quicker.”

11. They don’t need a big space to work …

Toffolo does house calls, and while some condo and apartment buildings feature high-end gyms, she doesn’t need a lot of space to work. “I can utilize a space as small as a closet,” she says. “I can manipulate [the program] so that it works with whatever the environment that I’m in.” That includes moves like stepping up onto benches, sprinting up stairs, and other moves that use the client's own weight as resistance.

12. … or fancy equipment.

Stone says that if there’s a few basic exercises she recommends to everyone, it’s squats, push-ups, and crunches—all things you don’t need a gym to do. “They've been around forever because they work,” she says. “I’m always like, ‘Get the basics down before you’re throwing a medicine ball around.’"

13. Personal trainers work with a lot of future brides.

Many personal trainers have a number of clients who are looking to get or stay fit for their wedding day. Stone and Toffolo both say they’ve had clients come on for just a few weeks or months prior to their wedding. “I had a lot of brides this summer,” Toffolo says, whose goal was “making sure they look good when they go down the aisle.”

While it may seem unrealistic to hope for dramatic changes just a few months before an event, with the right dedication, some of those pre-wedding workouts can yield impressive results. “I just had someone that lost 30 pounds with me in like seven months,” Stone says. “She looks unbelievable. She's been super inspiring.”

14. Yes, they heard you fart.

Everyone is human, and inevitably, a client will let a fart slip out during a workout. “It happens,” Toffolo says. “Most of my clients now I’m pretty close with, so I pretty much just laugh it off.”

15. Not all of them appreciate your New Year's resolution.

"The New Year’s resolutioners, they’re a little bit of my pet peeve," Toffolo says. "They take a lot of space at the gym for maybe one month," but aren't typically dedicated to sticking around for the rest of the year. "We make good money around this time of year, but usually, the New Year's resolutioners die down in February."

16. Personal trainers have to fit in their own workouts, too.

Personal trainers may spend a lot of time in the gym, but observing and coaching other people’s workouts isn’t the same as doing their own. In fact, Emmons says, “Not every personal trainer is in shape. As much as you’re training other people you have to train yourself.”

For Collins, being a trainer has actually made it harder for him to keep up with his own workouts. “Opening up a gym and coaching people has been the worst thing I’ve ever done for my own athletic endeavors,” he says. “There’s so much you have to get done as a business owner and a trainer, and so many things you have to do outside of client-facing hours.” That includes scheduling sessions, emailing clients, and coming up with new programs. As a result, he just doesn’t have the time he once did to focus on his own fitness goals.

But how much time a trainer spends on their own fitness depends on what training they’re doing, too. While Collins doesn’t get much of a workout coaching powerlifters, Stone leads classes at Flywheel, which specializes in indoor cycling. Though she may not be huffing and puffing as much as her students, she’s working out as she’s teaching. “When I’m working out, I can talk, because I'm at a high level of fitness,” she explains. “They're working out with me, so they get to actually see me doing what I'm telling them to do, five days a week.”

And though personal trainers love fitness, motivation can be as be as much of a problem for them as it is for you. “I’m just like everyone else,” Emmons explains. “I don’t want to work out every day—sometimes I just want to relax and catch up on my Netflix shows.” But he’s got to get himself to the gym anyway, because it’s his job.

14 Secrets of Cruise Ship Workers

iStock/Remus Kotsell
iStock/Remus Kotsell

From an outsider’s perspective, working on a cruise ship might seem like a dream job. What could be more glamorous than getting paid to travel the world by sea, without having to pay for housing or food? But as with many “dream” jobs, there are a few significant downsides to consider before you fill out an application. We spoke to a few cruise ship employees about what it’s like to live and work on a floating hotel.

1. Americans are the worst cruise workers.

On most large cruise liners, the majority of staff and crew are not American. “On any given contract, you’re working with about 64 nationalities,” says Kat, who spent three years working for a major cruise line. There are a number of possible drivers behind this statistic, but one is that cruise ship employees work really long hours and almost never get a day off, which isn’t particularly appealing to Americans used to a 40-hour workweek and relaxing on weekends. “On my worst contract, I was working close to 300 hours a month,” Kat says. “Yeah, you might be in beautiful places, but you’re so tired sometimes you don’t even want to go out and explore. A lot of times they won’t even hire Americans because the rate of people quitting is so high.”

Americans are also more expensive to employ, even if they do the same work as their counterparts from developing countries. Sam, who worked on Princess Cruises for two years, says her monthly salary of $1100 was higher than that of her Filipino boss. According to Sam, the official reason the ship gave was that the dollar is worth more to people from developing countries than it is to Americans.

2. Cruise ship workers are trained for pirate attacks.

It’s rare for pirates to take on a massive cruise ship, but it can happen, and if it does, the crew is prepared. Nolan, who worked for both Princess Cruises and Oceania Cruises, says he was trained to get all guests away from windows and spray the intruders with giant water cannons.

“Our ship can totally outrun their little dinghies,” he says. “We could spray them with water and they’d be helpless.” Other ships may be equipped with Long Range Acoustic Devices that emit loud, painful noises to deter attacks. That’s how a luxury cruise liner escaped a pirate attack off the coast of Africa in 2005.

3. Want to lose weight? Work on a cruise liner.

While passengers are feasting on steak and scrumptious seafood, the staff and crew aren’t so lucky. “Imagine eating at your high-school cafeteria three meals a day, seven days a week for a year,” writes one former cruise ship worker on Reddit. Kat recalls strange offerings like goat foot stew. The unappetizing food, combined with the many hours spent running the length of the ship, often mean crew members lose a significant amount of weight during their time at sea. “I would lose about 10 to 12 pounds per contract,” Kat says.

Gavin, who worked as a waiter for a major cruise line, said the crew would occasionally get treated to whatever leftovers remained from the passenger buffet, but “it would disappear so fast.”

4. Crew members sometimes mess with passengers.

Life at sea can get a bit monotonous. “It got mundane really fast,” writes one former worker on Reddit. “It was basically the same comedy of errors each day of the week, with a different ‘cast’ of passengers each week.”

Some crew members shake things up by getting a rise out of passengers in the form of good old practical jokes. According to another former crew member, “a favorite was while in a passenger area say to another crew member, loud enough to be heard by passengers, ‘Meet you in the bowling alley tonight!’” Of course, there wasn’t actually a bowling alley on board. “Then we'd wait for the comment cards to come in: ‘Why do crew get a bowling alley when we don't?’”

5. … and chance are the workers might be drunk.

When they’re not working, employees are probably drinking and partying. “We partied our asses off,” Gavin says. “We joked about how it makes a frat house look like a monastery.” The staff get their own designated watering holes on board, referred to as the crew bars, where the drinks are dirt cheap. “At the passenger bars they were charging like $15 for a drink and we’d go down into the crew bar and you could get a beer or mixed drinks for $1.25,” Sam says.

And what happens when you give copious amounts of cheap alcohol to people who are cooped up together for months at a time? “It seems like a cliche, but everyone was hooking up with each other,” Sam says. “In a lot of the crew areas there were these huge posters about STD prevention.”

The crew is regularly threatened with the possibility of random breathalyzer tests (and drug testing), but even this isn’t always enforced. “There was a strict limit on our ship of no more than .04 blood alcohol content at any time,” Gavin says, “but as long as you didn’t make a fool of yourself, you wouldn’t get randomly breathalyzed, so people would break that rule all the time.”

6. For the crew, hooking up with guests on the cruise is strictly forbidden.

So you spotted a cute crew member on your ship and are thinking of chatting them up? Good luck with that. Having sexual relations with a guest is one of the fastest ways for a crew member to get fired. This is mainly to protect the cruise line from reputation-damaging accusations of abuse. Ship security keeps a close eye on crew members day and night. That doesn’t mean hookups never happen, but if a crew member is caught in the act with a guest, they’re kicked off the ship at the next port.

7. Crew passengers are almost always being watched.

“It is safe to assume if you are outside of your cabin you are probably on camera,” Gavin says. “In the event of any kind of emergency, they could pull security footage at any time.”

8. Passengers have a lot of power over how much the crew gets paid.

At the end of a journey, you might be asked to rate your experience and share any praise or complaints on a comment card. These reviews are taken very seriously and often translate directly into salaries and bonuses for workers. “For most people, their salaries are quite low and they rely on those bonuses,” Kat says. So if you leave a bad review and mention someone by name, you can be sure they’ll feel the impact on their paycheck.

“The very best thing you can do for a crew member is to write a glowing review, mentioning them specifically on your comment card,” says a former cruise worker on Reddit. “Their superior’s superiors take note of that.”

9. Some cruise workers have double lives.

“You get a lot of married people that have their own separate lives on the cruise ship,” Kat says. “I’ve worked with couples that have wives at home and a whole different relationship while they’re on the cruise ship. It’s kind of like a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.”

Gavin says one of his fellow employees lived as an out-of-the-closet gay man while on board, but was still closeted on land.

10. They have no idea what’s going on in the world.

“You stop following news and sports and pop culture,” Gavin says. “You’re really kind of isolated out there.” It can be difficult (and expensive) to find an internet connection while at sea, so many ship workers completely lose track of current events while on contract.

11. They speak in code.

Crew members have shorthand codes for everything from fires to medical emergencies, which they can announce over the loudspeaker without alarming passengers.

Code Adam: a child is missing
Code Alpha: there’s a medical emergency
Code Oscar: man overboard
Code Bravo: fire on the ship

12. The cruise ship has many mafias.

But not the kind that will make you an offer you can’t refuse. According to Sam, the crew members on her ship were split into “mafias” based on their country of origin, and each mafia dealt in specific goods. For example, the Indian mafia was in charge of getting good food for the crew parties, she says. Because Sam worked in the youth center, she was tasked with providing art supplies for crew costume parties. “That’s just one of the economies of the ship,” Sam says. “Everyone is always trying to figure out what they can get from another person.”

One former cruise ship worker says the Filipino mafia was known for getting good booze at all hours. “If you wanted anything after hours, they would get it for you! The crew bar would close around 1 or 2. If you wanted to keep drinking, but were out of booze, you would just go to the Filipino mafia and get what you needed. You paid a huge markup obviously, but it was still pretty cool!”

13. There’s a morgue on board.

Roughly 200 people die on cruise ships every year, and cruise lines need some place to store the bodies safely until they get back to shore. As a result, many ships have small morgues on board that can hold five or six bodies. “We definitely had a morgue on board,” one former ship employee told me. “Because the line was for older demographics, we had people die on the ship pretty regularly.”

14. They will leave you behind.

If you leave the ship for an on-land excursion, make sure you get back before departure time. Cruise lines pay massive fines if they overstay their port time, so chances are high the ship will leave without you if you’re running behind. “You’re on your own,” Kat says. “They won’t wait.”

This list first ran in 2016 and was republished in 2019.

14 Things You Might Not Know About Sephora

iStock/RiverNorthPhotography
iStock/RiverNorthPhotography

It’s the store that’s all about that face … and nails, and skin. Makeup mecca Sephora was first born as a perfumery in 1969. French business owner Dominique Mandonnaud wanted to remove fragrances from behind the counter and allow customers to touch, smell, and spritz on the scents. Three-plus decades later, the cosmetics juggernaut—which is currently in the news for shutting down its stores for an hour today (June 5) to host diversity and inclusivity workshops for all of its 16,000 employees—employs the same client-first philosophy. (Did you know you could get a free 15-minute makeup service at any location?) Try on these other facts.

1. BEAUTY IS (SORT OF) IN THE NAME.

The official line is that Sephora originates from the Greek word sephos (which the company claims means "beauty") and the name Zipporah—she was Moses’ exceptionally pretty wife in the Book of Exodus. Not everyone buys this explanation, however, noting that "sephos" is nothing like the ancient Greek word for "beauty" or "beautiful."

2. IT'S A TOURIST DESTINATION.

The exterior of Sephora's Paris flagship
iStock/serts

Approximately 6 million cosmetics-seekers stroll through the company’s Parisian flagship store on the Champs-Élysées every year. That’s almost as many annual visitors as the Eiffel Tower receives.

3. CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT A PRODUCT? THAT'S COOL!

Stores will take back makeup—even opened products!—within 60 days of purchase. Employees admit it’s often heartbreaking for them to have to trash barely-used makeup.

4. SHOPPERS CAN SCORE TONS OF PERKS …

Along with complimentary mini makeovers, stores offer a 45-minute session when customers spend $50, and a 90-minute consultation (it includes a makeover and personal shopping session) when they shell out $125. The company’s (free) Beauty Insider program also has its benefits. Signing up means you can attend any beauty class gratis and each dollar you spend nets you a point that you can use towards fun gifts. (In some cases, they’ll even let you go into a negative points balance to score the product.)

The company also tracks your purchases to give you recommendations for other products. (Bridget Dolan, VP of Interactive Media, told Forbes that 80 percent of their transactions “run through our loyalty program.”)  Spending $350 a year catapults you to VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider) status and gains you access to private shopping events and first dibs on new products. Shell out $1,000 annually and you get Rouge Status—that means free two-day shipping on all orders, unlimited in-store makeovers, and invites to chic store events. At one, VIBs got the chance to meet Jennifer Aniston!

5. … AND MORE SAMPLES THAN THEY KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH.

Sephora employees are told that customers shouldn’t leave without new products to try. That means you can get a trial size of just about every product they carry. (Most makeup products can be tested in-store and they’ll pour any liquid product, such as a night cream or fragrance, into a sample-size vial.) The general rule, say employees, is that customers are entitled to three samples each trip. Shopping online? Each purchase comes with a choice of three freebies. And while the store rarely has sales, you can score big at the site’s Beauty Deals section.

6. GETTING A SPECIFIC PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION CAN BE TRICKY.

Employees aren’t allowed to refer shoppers to particular brands. So instead of asking for their favorite lip shade, it’s smarter to ask which lip products perform the best. (Translation: What are other shoppers buying and not returning?)

7. NEED THE PERFECT FOUNDATION? THEY HAVE AN APP FOR THAT.

Okay, well, it’s a device. The handheld Color IQ scans the surface of your skin and then finds the scientifically precise foundation—there are 1,500 options—for your visage. To create the library, the Pantone Color Institute researched and mapped out 110 different skin tones.  

8. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LANGUAGE.

Women shop for makeup at Sephora
iStock/wdstock

Each store is divided into three distinct “worlds”: fragrance, skincare and color. In a 2008 interview with Jezebel, one employee spilled on the lingo. The sales floor is known as the “stage” (which makes everything else “backstage”), employees are called “cast members,” and managers are dubbed “directors.” As for the required all-black outfits, they’re not uniforms, they’re “costumes.”

9. EMPLOYEES REALLY ARE BEAUTY EXPERTS …

Some cast members undergo a month of intensive, all-day training at the company’s beauty school, Science of Sephora. There, according to the company’s website, they learn about “skin physiology, the history of makeup, application techniques, the science of creating fragrances, and most importantly, how to interact with Sephora’s diverse clientele.”

10. … AND THEIR MEDICINE CABINETS ARE STOCKED.

A woman stands in front of a makeup display in Sephora
iStock/arinahabich

Employees have said working at Sephora means constantly receiving new products from companies to try out. A particularly good sales day can also net a salesperson a “gratis ticket” from their manager. Plus, there’s the 20 percent employee discount that jumps up to 30 percent during the holiday season.

11. LOOKING GOOD IS A REQUIREMENT.

Part of the employee handbook: thou shall embrace eyeliner. Cast members are told to wear a certain amount of makeup while working.

12. THEY'RE WARY OF RESALE.

One cast member says they limit people from buying more than six identical items (unless they offer a good reason, such as bridal party gifts). Explains the employee, “This is to discourage people reselling our products at their own establishments.”

13. UNPOPULAR PRODUCTS USUALLY GET THE BOOT.

Stores keep lists of the products that get returned most often, and the products that don’t work are phased out over time. While it's hard to nail down an official list of frequently-returned goods, individual employees will occasionally open up about the company's most loathed and/or most misunderstood makeup.

14. SEPHORA'S APPEAL IS WIDE.

Susan Sontag at an event in Weimar, Germany in 2002
Susan Sontag
JENS-ULRICH KOCH/AFP/Getty Images

In 2014, the L.A. Review of Books dug through the contents of a Power Mac G4 once owned by Susan Sontag and discovered the famed author was on Sephora’s Beauty Insider mailing list.

A version of this article first ran in 2015. It was updated in 2019.

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