Borderline Heretic

As years pass, my opinions on some things change.  I may even change certain ways I train or coach, and make no apologies for implementing these changes when new information comes to light that would benefit my athletes.

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Generally, changes have been brought in to improve efficiency, effectiveness, scalability or safety.  Sometimes changes were required based on where training was being held, or whom I was dealing with.  Although progress may need to be redefined, the mission remains the same.

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A frog in a well only sees the world from the perspective provided by a small hole.

Sometime ago a trainer told me all they needed in this occupation was “a standardized programming model and an anatomy textbook.” He was proud of the fact that he never received instruction in specialized equipment.

In my opinion, that is placing significant limitations on oneself, potentially robs clients of benefits gained from the proper use of specialized equipment, while increasing potential risks.

Minimally, the trainer has decided to remain at entry level, and the frog in the well.

A longtime client on extended travel recently told me that based on her observations at six different gyms good trainers are uncommon.  She went so far as to say “I am so glad I am not a client of these trainers”   I wasn’t her first trainer (I was her fourth), so she has a decent comparison group.

Heresy: It is cases like these that make me think that trainer certifications are overrated.

Entry level certification largely means a person passed a written exam.  Among other topics the exams generally cover anatomy and physiology and exercise technique.  The depth varies per agency and some tests are easily passable.  Even the harder exams don’t automatically mean a person can apply, or even recall fundamental material from the course. They may not have the slightest idea of how to adjust exercises for an individual, and may never have even trained themselves.

Would entry-level personal training certifications matter more if they were harder to obtain? I believe a combination of academics (Were you tested on your knowledge?), performance (Do you even lift?) and coaching/teaching ability (Can you teach someone unlike you?) should be required.

Many trainers tend to forget that Personal Trainer Certifications are a fairly new thing.  We also lose sight of the fact that many people on the gym floor watch what we do very carefully. That can be a good or bad thing.

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While the Overhead Squat Assessment uses a dowel or PVC pipe, the above image is similar to the position the screen wants you to obtain. The Overhead squat happens to be one of the more difficult bilateral squat variations, but is necessary for Olympic lifting. 

Heresy: I’ve removed the Overhead Squat Assessment (a prominent part of both the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist and the Functional Movement Screen) for several reasons.

1) Outside of those previously well trained in the Olympic lifts, most people cannot do it very well.

2) Those with Olympic Weightlifting training do not perform the Overhead Squat like the screen demands.

3) It’s not a natural movement, and certainly not natural for beginners or the sedentary. Many people have issues simply figuring out Squat from Sit and from Hinge to Bend Over. Like training, the screen should meet you where you are.

4) Load exposes you.  You could have a perfectly fine looking Overhead Squat with a PVC pipe in your hands, and fold into human origami when load is imposed.

Heresy: I’ve also reduced mobility work down to just a few minutes (if needed), and rarely use the foam roller.

Further, I’ve removed the term Dysfunction from my Coaching vocabulary except as applied to lifting performance. I never liked the context the word was often used and don’t believe its within my professional scope of practice to call something a dysfunction, when it could be a variation of normal, or something else entirely.
1) If you’re new to exercise, we focus on what you can do, instead of me nitpicking at all the things you can’t do.
2) If you are experienced in training, we look for makes you better and inches you closer to your goal. My job as a Strength Coach involves making the good, better.
3) Can things be cued to achieve the desired movement? Do I necessarily need to regress?
4) If it’s beyond that, or involves pain then the Dr they go.  This doesn’t mean training has completely stopped as I can often work other parts of the body.

 

 

 

Postures and Ideals

Digest Version: If you’re going to correct a persons technique, make sure you truly know what it is you’re seeing, and how to address the issue. Don’t bring opinions to a science fight.

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Me vs a Drawing: My elbows come closer to my body, my grip is narrower, my feet are turned out slightly, my abs are not nearly as well defined but my lats are far bigger….and I’m browner.

One day in a gym not my own….A guy told me that I shouldn’t bench press (with a barbell) or Deadlift (again, with a barbell), and that there are safer ways to build my chest and legs. Barbell Bench Press and Deadlifts weren’t ideal exercises for me. Mind you, this person was a total stranger. Our only previous interaction was my asking him to spot me for an effort.

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SIDENOTE: I’ll agree to the fact that there are safer options than Barbell Bench Presses and that Deadlifts can be done with safer things than barbells.

When I asked “Why?” his response was that the Bench Press and Deadlift both create internal rotation of the shoulders…and left it at that. I could understand it if my technique was poor and I had no control of the load, but this wasn’t the case.  Proper technique takes care of that issue pretty well.

Mental notes formed within seconds…        

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Internal Shoulder Rotation test.

I have no major history of shoulder injuries and don’t present pain in any given shoulder range. He never asked.

There is a slight structural difference between my left and right shoulder. Although it could stand improvement, my internal shoulder rotation is actually within normal ranges. He never asked or checked.

I typically only Deadlift once per week, and bench twice per week tops. Unless preparing for competition, I may only train maximum effort level 1-2x per month. I also use the ShouldeRok and Indian clubs daily along with a few lift specific mobility drills to keep my shoulders healthy. I don’t just Bench Press and Deadlift. He didn’t ask anything about my current training, he didn’t even ask if he could observe some repeated efforts just to see if it was a case “one off rep” or an actual lift issue.

I’m a competitive powerlifter in the Drug-Free Masters Raw Division. As such, I compete in the Bench Press and may compete in Deadlift as well. For me, Benching and Deadlifting are sport-specific to what I do. He didn’t ask me about my training history, training status or goals.

I left out the fact that the legs are only part of what the Deadlift builds. For all I know he does some squatty type of Deadlift. I bypassed all of those bullets and went straight for the heart.

“Why should internal shoulder rotation be avoided so heavily when it is a naturally occurring action, couldn’t internal rotation be managed during the set up and execution of the lift?” He couldn’t provide an answer.

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The guys brain in action after my single question.  I could only imagine how it would have went down had I unloaded on him.

In his head, he had an idealized set of postures and ideal angles. That what he saw for a single repetition and zero knowledge of the person lifting the load was “wrong” and something else was “right”, but he couldn’t explain why he believed them to be wrong.

I can’t back this up, but I have the suspicion the guy may have been a trainer.  I don’t know, I didn’t ask.

 

Going off the possibility of my suspicion, according to a number of trainer textbooks there seems to be an assumption that there is an idealized posture, with ideal angles of body alignments and that they are identical for everyone. While it is certainly possible to lift something incorrectly, at least according to the intent of the exercise, I believe a few fundamental assumptions are flawed,and aim to challenge that belief.

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Despite not having any moving parts, the Kettlebell is quite possibly the most technically butchered piece of equipment in a gym based on the intent of the exercise.

Absolute positions such as “this is wrong” and “this is right “ may only serve to reveal a lack of insight into evaluation and understanding.  I think every discussion regarding ideal body type, posture or alignment has to be prefaced with the question “ideal for what, and for whom?” and “ideal compared to what standard?”

Having an insight into the variety found in a given movement, and being able to transfer observations to another persons needs is key. In short,being able to adapt an exercise to an individual, and knowing the “why” behind the exercise.

Four things that I believe can somewhat be agreed upon…
There isn’t an ideal body type, there are simply human shaped people.
Although there will always be exceptions, certain activities often favor certain body types. This is why we typically don’t see Sumo sized Figure skaters.
The human body is amazingly adaptable. Look how many people lost their asses simply by sitting in comfy chairs all the time.
The human body will adapt to the external requirements it encounters. Adaptation does not need to be forced.

In high-level athletics an Olympic weightlifter has completely different physiological and kinesiological needs compared to a same weight/age/gender Olympic marathon runner. Within those two sports, specific lifters and runners have different requirements compared to other competitors.

In gymnastics, you will see different body types according to the event the athlete is strongest in. For example, Mens Rings specialists, Pommel Horse specialists and Floor specialists all appear slightly different. This doesn’t mean they cannot compete in all the events, just that they are superior in one of them.

Physiques, and postures will accordingly change in response to the demands placed upon it, Different leverage (arm,leg and torso length proportions) will change how an exercise is experienced or viewed. There is an idealized set of angles and ranges per person, and it may not look like the textbooks drawing.

Recent Thoughts (and a new page!)

Todays Blog is a collection of thoughts I’ve had over the week and largely meant as professional recommendations to Personal Trainers. (Although non-trainers may benefit as well!)

Learn about Pain Science.  A lot of people that come to us are in, or have been in pain of some sort.  “No pain,No Gain” and “Rub some dirt in it” Went away a long time ago. If the athlete is stating they are in pain then you cannot simply wave it off.

Every session, and every movement is an assessment, and the assessment starts with “How are you feeling today?”

Try to listen more than you speak,or at least try to keep it 50/50. Client feedback is valuable.

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Having some Detective skills comes in hand.

People present their own ranges of motion (ROM.)  Sometimes limited ROM could be as (relatively) simple as a case of confidence or physical competence (weakness), but it could also be a motor control issue, a structural issue,a muscle imbalance or any other number of things.

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Biggest waste of $1.25 in my pre-teen life.

The fact is, we cannot see beneath a persons clothing (unless they are sporting some seriously sheer tops and bottoms) much less under the skin and into the joints and muscles.  Understand that there are conditions and situations that NO amount of exercise will change no matter how expertly applied. As trainers and coaches we get to work with what the client/athlete brings us.

Don’t pigeonhole clients based on age,gender or size. I have this thought because I still see it happening with fair frequency.  At one point in history women were told not to lift heavy things or else they’d turn into bearded men, men were told Yoga (and the other stretchy ways of training) was for ladies and long slow distance cardio was the only true path to fitness, especially for the obese. Don’t be one of the un-evolved.

Mobility warm ups have a place.  Normally they do not need to be the entire session.

Use the tools and training methods most suitable for the client, not the ones you love the most.

Do not be afraid to question instructors or textbooks. They can be wrong, and you may have something to teach no matter how esteemed their position.

SIDENOTE: No textbook, even the highly popular ones,are ever perfect.  I follow a decent  number of industry thought leaders and at present, only two have I never found myself disagreeing with on some matter.

After a solid base of knowledge has been established, I suggest not confining yourself to a single source of information on a topic. Personally I like starting with sources that counter my own lines of thinking.

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He needs a hug.

Although they may be painful to tackle,unsexy subjects have value.  Part of my current studies involves the Foot and Ankle complex. In the words of Dan John “Embrace the boring.”

Have a “why” behind every exercise listed on your clients program. Understand how exercise effects the human beyond “makes x muscle bigger” or “makes jiggly parts jiggle” and develop physical empathy behind every exercise you prescribe. This means YOU must be physically capable of performing anything YOU assign.  

Isometrics have value with athletes presenting, or not presenting pain.

Know that by altering the grip,tempo or angle of an exercise you alter the exercise itself and the exercise experience. This alters the mind-muscle connection, joint torque forces and learning curve.  In anything, the athlete defines the exercise.

Correct movement, in my opinion is perhaps the best Corrective Exercise. Merely getting someone to move properly (for them) with micro-progressed demands (according to them) can unlock a lot of things.

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Some athletes are closet masochists. It is important that you explain to them that crippling levels of soreness, vomiting, mid-session losses of bladder control or ending the session laying in a puddle of their own sweat are not indicators of a productive session. The bad part is that there are trainers out there that believe that they do.

That said, I would rather prudently give the masochist athlete 10% of what they want by ending the session with a smoker routine and 90% of what they need.

Manageable home exercise programs are ones that require little or no equipment. If you gain athlete compliance in this area you can later stack, or substitute homework assignments to address the clients greatest needs.

Volume, Intensity and Sophistication are instructive. Volume precedes Intensity, Simple precedes Sophisticated.  Fear of failing is a reality and going from a sit to stand with competence to quarter depth door knob squat should be viewed as a progression.

The be-all, end-all assignment of rep ranges for any exercise: One, done exceptionally well…followed by another done exceptionally well, then another and so on.

Fitness methods are nearly a religion to some trainers. Base your decisions not on your fitness preferences but on the best available evidence, and know how to think critically. It is very easy to fall in love with your methods and can be hard to see the flaws or gaps within it.

Identify those who’s work you can follow and know to be reputable. In the Internet age fitness gurus pop up every month. Take a wait and see approach on whom you listen to.

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(Credit Juggernaut Training Systems)  A bench press with an arched back is common in powerlifting and allows the athlete to lift the greatest load.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard certified trainers say “She’ll blow her back out”…and it is always with smaller female powerlifters….somehow larger females and men in general cannot blow their backs out this way.

Just because something looks different doesn’t automatically make it wrong. Just because something is published doesn’t make it right. Take a wide view of things and think critically.

Select your associations wisely. BroScience that it may be, I believe simply being around better trainers can make you a better trainer…if you’re open to becoming better.
Read and digest the questions they ask and the responses they give. Check out the books they’re reading or the coaches they reference. This applies even if they train in a completely different methodology than your own.

BONUS:  Dragon Door has listed me on their instructors page!  https://www.dragondoor.com/chris_shimana/

I before E

I recently did a guest spot at a different local gym. It was totally unlike mine and I believe a change of scenery can sometimes be a good thing for me.  Other than needing to figure out where everything was located and abiding by the gyms rules (no chalk, no bare feet and no bags on the floor), I can still say I had a good training session.

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This is also why I typically prefer smaller gyms to bigger ones.  I once had a momentarily embarrassing situation at an upscale gym when I got lost in mens restroom on what must have been naked senior citizen day.

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My ideal scenario.

That said, my best work both as a lifter and coach have been in gyms that fall more towards the serious lifter side of things.  This includes not only the equipment and general gym vibe, but also the clientele and other trainers I might be working around. I actively scan for gym D-Bags and keep my distance.

SIDENOTE: For now at least, I’m the last man left standing at my current gym.  No other trainer could sustain a clientele.

Many people might consider my gym intimidating, perhaps dated and lacking certain “essentials.”

We don’t offer child care, We don’t offer trendy group exercise classes, We don’t have spa facilities, or even a shower, We don’t have TV screens on every piece of cardio equipment and We don’t have a small army of U̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶c̶a̶r̶ ̶s̶a̶l̶e̶s̶m̶e̶n̶ Personal Trainers.

We don’t even have a Bosu…which is not a negative in this guys world.

I’m not in the gym for these things, but I don’t have any issue with those that are. In truth, available child care and group exercise options alone have probably helped more people than I can count.

I’m there to get better and to help make others better. I’m something of a training minimalist by nature and don’t need very much equipment to get the job done. My workout one day consisted of a single kettle bell, the floor and a horizontal bar. There were other days where all I needed was the floor and a wall. Equipment didn’t matter much, and environment could have been anywhere.

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A large wall looms over the deadlifting platforms. It lists the names of people who have lifted hundreds of pounds over bodyweight just for a place on it. That wall is filled with Intent, and this was the environment where it happened.

I believe that training Intent comes before training Environment. Could I have a solid workout at a regular commercial gym? Yes, I can have anywhere, but that is because I carry intent with me wherever I may roam.  I also believe environment has its effect on people and that a type of selection pressure is at play. The environment, in a sense, helps shape and focus ones intent, which we often equate to being a purely internal thing.

Intent is key.  Why are you there in the first place?  The gym could be any version of “the best gym for you” (an ideal environment), but without intent you could find yourself wasting your time.

 

Approachable / Unapproachable

“Trainers carrying extra weight on them are seen as being more approachable.”

I can’t get behind that line of thinking.  If anything, it sounds like an excuse made by a trainer that happens to be carrying extra weight. Are muscular, athletic or even undersized people naturally considered less approachable than others? I personally don’t believe a person can be equally approachable or unapproachable in the eyes of everyone. Mind you, I’m not a guy that has any issues or bias against overweight or undersized trainers in the first place.  I just hate the idiot trainers.

Approachable:Friendly or easy to talk to.

Unapproachable:Not Welcoming or Friendly.

Neither word is associated with a particular body shape,gender,nationality or age. People form their own opinions on your approachability (or lack thereof) based on any number of factors.

While first impressions matter, so does ones actions and actual abilities.  As I’ve stated before, a persons exterior has no bearing on their ability to do a job well.

The trainers “carrying the extra weight” love hearing, and repeating things like that …along with mentioning the high number of football coaches with guts on them. What they forget is that carrying extra weight doesn’t necessarily mean that your excellent in actual coaching or motivation, or that looking like someone that has put in the work at the gym doesn’t automatically mean they’re a bad trainer either.

In a profession dominated by a lot younger faces, I’m a 47 year old guy who’s just shy of 175 pounds at 5’7″(ish.) Up until I decided to grow a half-white beard I was told I looked much younger and I’m undeniably not a huge guy by most standards. I also happen to be self-employed as a private strength coach, and a number of people contact me for suggestions on programming, strength development,dealing with training problems and for professional advice. I help people, both in the gym and within the profession.

As a Strength Coach, I generally help clients train for strength,size, improved mobility or sport performance. Based on my own job description, it could be argued that my rather average looking physical appearance could render me unapproachable to those looking for a Coach that specializes in the areas that I do.

What  could a 5’7’ medium build older guy really know about strength, or how to train heavyweight lifters? Seeing the results of their work across a variety of individuals is a decent indicator.

“Weak”, “Lazy” “Unathletic” or “Ineffective” are not words I hear attached to my name. If they were it certainly wouldn’t have helped me gain any business or kept me in the good graces of the gyms superior lifters. The fact that I’m routinely seen lifting and training strong people along with being a strength sport competitor certainly hasn’t hurt.

My actions and actual abilities helped determine whether or not I am viewed as approachable, or at least viewed as approachable to the segments of the population with whom I want to view me as such.

I’m perfectly cool if some people consider me unapproachable.

Using my own 80/20 rule (where I stated that 1-2 out of every 10 trainers was actually good) then each side would have trainers of every shape. The 20% has within it trainers that look very average, some that are overweight/undersized and some that present very impressive physiques. It is their abilities as a coach and dedication as students of the craft that define them.  They are always getting slightly better than before.

The lower ends of the 80% reached a comfortable plateau and have decided to stay there, they may or may not be carrying extra weight.

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“Think about it, if you read only one book, no matter how many times you read it you will only learn so much.” Louie Simmons, Westside Barbell

Sometime ago a young trainer asked veteran coaches for a list of books they considered to be “the bibles of our field.”  It was late and my eyes saw the word “bubbles.”  According to one person who identified himself as a twelve year veteran the bubbles of our field were…

Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training and Essentials of Sports Performance Training.

Fitness professionals may notice the trend, but for those who are not fitness professionals I will inform you that all three books are from the same credentialing agency.

Sidenote: The early editions of the Personal Fitness Training textbook contained a lot of the material found in the present day Corrective Exercise and Sports Performance texts. They were later separated into three courses. 

Unfortunately, these seem to be the only three books this trainer goes by, or at least considers worthy of mentioning. Once again, not bad choices and he could certainly pick worse. But it is a bad thing if they’re the only three books he has read.  You wind up living within a relatively small academic bubble.

There are positive and negative factors at play here. The information presented was meant to mesh together and work along a continuum, but you’re getting a very limited view of things. I speak with a level credibility here as I’ve completed all three courses. I also happen to read daily, and usually read more than one book at a time.

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The fitness world is a much bigger place than the contents of any three books and no singular textbook is perfect. No singular certification has all the answers and no trainer knows it all.

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One of two book stacks I own.  The other stack is composed of my top 30 reference texts and I also own a considerable amount of E-books and some DVD’s as well.  Had I never given away books to others, I imagine the stack would be nearly double this size. I’m told its not considering hoarding as long as it involves books.

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Questions I ask myself at 3 a.m, or one that you can ask yourself…

“Can you provide a verifiable list of four personal trainers/strength coaches whose lives you have positively influenced? Someone from whom you’ve ignited a fire?”

If the answer is “Yes, I have their numbers/contact information on my phone” (or some other form of contact) then I would say you’ve moved beyond being a fitness professional, and now join the ranks of fitness influencers.  Whether or not you agree with me, you are no longer just a “Normal Trainer” and you are influencing the next generation of fitness professionals. This carries a set of responsibilities.

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While it may seem that being a “Normal Trainer” is a good thing, I ask that you reconsider the term “Normal”, or at least consider the fact that “Abnormal” isn’t necessarily a negative and that “Normal” in the fitness profession isn’t always a positive.

Would you rather be the trainer that improves year by year, or the one that remains in exactly the same spot year after year? The latter is fairly normal.

My eye-opener towards re-defining normal came from working in a commercial gym and later as a private coach.  What passed for “Normal” among the majority of my co-workers or competitors was something I knew I could be better than, and falling to that level would be unacceptable. My clients and athletes deserve the best from me, and I hope to influence newer trainers to be the coach I wish I HAD.