The Tipping Point

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”  John Lewis

“…unsolicited gym advice is often not well received. Even if coming from an educated, well-meaning and respectful approach.”      A constant self-reminder.

I believe my self-reminder to be true and I largely keep to myself. I also believe there is a tipping point. Namely, when someone is going to injure themselves if left unchecked.

In the space of less than two weeks I’ve witnessed two people get pinned under the bar while attempting to bench press. The first time I was the person that pulled the bar off of them, the second thankfully had someone standing there to help them.  In this case, the tipping point was right after the bar left the stands.

The first person didn’t know how to bench press, and was honestly receptive to properly learn the technique. I never bothered approaching the second person and hopefully they learned from their error…which in this case was “don’t put so much weight on the damn bar for rep 1.”

A few facts about barbell bench pressing…

It’s a lift with attributable deaths. (The worst case versions of what happened to the two people, thankfully neither were hurt)

Even though you are laying down, it is still a full-body movement. Literally from the feet to the grip. (Neither person knew this fact, I can tell by observation)

Not everyone has to bench press, and some people probably shouldn’t as there are other exercises better suited for them and their goals.  (Neither person knew this fact)

Every great bencher started with an empty bar. (Neither person did this, both tried their first rep with more than I start with without nearly the strength or skill to do so.)

I’ve given consideration to offering free “Learn to Lift” classes at the gym.  I would cover 2-3 exercises per class to keep the material easy to absorb and initially base things off the most common exercises I see gym members performing. It would essentially be the nuts and bolts of what something is for, why something is being done and on a client defined basis how to do it.

Back in the early to mid-1980’s this wasn’t an uncommon thing for some gyms, as personal training certifications hadn’t became widespread or a potential income stream.

It’s actually how I initially learned to lift. Back then it was the Weider principles,Muscle and Fitness magazine and gym bro’s pulling me aside to show me where I was screwing up.


3×12 years later, things are guided by a lot of professional experience,NSCA/ACSM guidelines, where the evidence leads, joint structure and function and a large toolbox at my disposal. While I haven’t picked up a copy of Muscle and Fiction in years, I still prudently utilize a couple of the Weider principles.

Despite its good intentions, the idea is not without potential drawbacks. Namely, people often don’t appreciate things given freely, and there’s no guarantee that anyone would show up. There also happens to be a trainer employed by the gym, and the mere suggestion of classes could be misinterpreted as a hostile take-over.

Learning to Lift is one thing, learning how to put together a session and when to change exercise variations are entirely different matters.

I believe the universe will send me an answer.


Bad Student

“No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.  Teacher say, Student do.”

Mr. Miyagi.

There may not be bad students, but there sure are lazy ones.

Rarely does a week go by where I am not contacted by at least one trainer seeking assistance or advice. Usually this involves programming, exercise options, client management, serving as a sanity check or on continuing education pathways.

Recently I told a young trainer to not bother asking for my advice anymore. I cannot help them, and everything I offered over the past months have not been put to use. If anything, the individual did the opposite of my advice.

The following is either the story of a bad student, or a top-shelf troll.

The trainer in question was freshly certified and either hadn’t grasped how to develop and program training sessions (their opinion), or lacked confidence in their ability to do so. This isn’t an uncommon thing.

I offered to review a draft session and discuss any potential issues noted. In full transparency I do this quite commonly and believe the process can help the student connect the dots.

By the time I received a single session plan, the trainer was already training other people.

Between the time of my request and actually receiving something, I was asked for my opinions on Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) as an added service, for a list of courses they could take to increase business and on Powerlifting for general fitness clients.


ADIVCE ON MLM: Don’t involve yourself with this. You stand the highest chance of losing money and it does nothing to improve your credibility. There is also the matter that it at least borders on violating a trainers scope of practice.

It’s worth noting that the trainer had zero education on nutrition, beyond whatever the entry level CPT course covered.

TRAINER ACTION: Signed up with an MLM. It’s speculation on my part, but the trainer may already have been signed up before seeking my opinion.

ADVICE ON COURSES: You’ve only recently certified at the entry level point. Take some time to learn how to apply what you’ve already been taught instead of jumping into something else.

TRAINER ACTION: Signed up for a course, didn’t complete it in time and has to pay for an extension. I would have rather they failed the exam on the first try rather than miss a deadline.

ADVICE ON POWERLIFTING FOR GENERAL POPULATIONS: I think barbell lifts are important and confer many benefits. That said, it takes skill to teach them effectively, and the rules of Powerlifting do not apply to non-Powerlifters.  There is also the fact that some clients are unwilling to train with barbells, and others that are at least partially contraindicated against them. The trainer has no previous exposure to basic barbell training, and didn’t initially understand the difference between basic barbell and powerlifting training.

I asked for the trainer to record their form on the lifts for review, which were never received.

TRAINER ACTION: All clients assigned barbell training, regardless of goal or starting point.


I finally received what I thought would be a draft training plan…which unfortunately turned out to be a set of excuses.

“We don’t get paid much and I’m putting in long hours. A number of my clients are flakey (don’t show up consistently) and I don’t think it’s even worth putting together a workout.”

Translation: Every session was made up on the spot.

MY RESPONSE: Get another fu-king job and stop asking for my advice.

Armed with adequate client data, I believe a quality trainer can produce an effective session on the spot, but not nearly as good as it would be if they were given some time to develop one.

I also believe that knowing when, why and how to deviate from a plan is a good thing. These are both skills developed over time after working with a high number of clients.

It’s not hard to track sessions, especially with beginners and its even easier with the inconsistent ones. Beginners do not typically require the need to record exact lift percentages of 1 rep max, rate of perceived exertion or bar velocities. They do however benefit by recording volume (how much), load (how heavy), work performed (session composition) and progression.

As a trainer you should be able to show where a client has improved from their starting point. This requires a basic level of measurements and management.

If you are going to ask other trainers and coaches for advice it helps to follow it.  You could be avoiding mistakes they have already paid the price for.

Training by Feel

You’ve built your own training plan based on a goal, number of days you can commit and even have a basic outline of what a particular session might look like,  Great!

Now what about the actual lifting

” Experiment to develop an instinct as to what works best for you. Use your training results along with past experiences to constantly fine-tune your program. Go by feel in the gym: if your biceps just dont feel like they’ve recovered from the last workout, do another bodypart that day instead.”  

Joe Weider, The Instinctive Training Principle.

Personally, I believe instinctive training is meant more for advanced lifters with years of training under their belt that are in tune with themselves.

When instinct absolutely applies…                                                                                                       1. If a movement, or range of motion hurts, stop. Don’t do it any more and get checked by a Physical Therapist.

2. When you feel dizzy or sick after completing the movement, stop.  Don’t do it anymore and get checked by your primary care provider.

3. If it seems too complex, or you cannot control the movement(s), stop.  Find a simpler version of the exercise that you can control.

4. You honestly haven’t recovered from the last session. That said, there is a difference between having a tiny bit of lingering muscle soreness and being unable to walk normally.

5. If the exercise feels harder, even if its been completed successfully in the recent past. This could be as simple as requiring another warm-up set, or could be an indicator to adjust the days training (lower the load,reduce the number of repetitions, increase the rest period or all of the above.)

Aside from those situations, learning to train instinctively is a skill which requires development over time, and ideally under the guidance of someone with far more experience.

I know when I need to change a particular exercise, how much loading I can generally start with in a given exercise and roughly what volume/density I can withstand.  There have been times where I needed to deviate from the plan I walked in the door with.

I know which ranges of motion I can control and how to set-up every lift I program for myself.  I keep a good training log and know what I have performed over the course of time, so I can quickly tell if training is stalling, progressing or needs variation.

I also notes if a particular exercise isn’t working for me, and why that might be the case. I can apply the same things to another human with entirely different goals and training capacities.


For the solo beginner there are numerous risks attached to going by feel.

1.We are not the greatest natural estimators. The overestimation/underestimation pendulum swings widely and optimal training changes over time. Changes in sleep patterns, food intake or life stress can also impact training quality.

This is why I start every session with the worlds simplest assessment:  “Hi, how are you feeling today?”  Asking yourself the same question isn’t the worst idea.

2. We don’t often make the wisest initial decisions, and exercise selection is no different. While there is benefit to learning from ones mistakes, it is even better to learn from the mistakes of others.

3. It is entirely possible that your instinct is tied to your emotional state.  This can be caused by a change in sleep patterns, food intake or life stress and can impact training quality.  On two separate occasions I’ve had to end a clients session early due to their emotional states, which in this case was anger.  Both clients were beginners, my advanced clients were able to put things aside and still complete an adjusted session.

Why is this a problem? Because if you’re pissed off, sad or mentally distracted you can easily become negligent under load.

4. We can be lazy, and instinctive training can become a built in excuse to make a session easier than it truly needs to be.  For the solo lifter, unless you are a highly motivated individual I recommend starting your training with a basic program that requires only simple adjustments.





A Basic Daily Training Plan

“Just because something worked for you, doesn’t mean it will work for others.  Just because something worked great for many people, doesn’t mean it will work great for an individual.”  

DISCLAIMER: The information below is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice (diagnosis or treatment) or client defined personal training.  All content contained is for general information purposes only.  You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained with other sources, and consult with your physician before engaging in an exercise program. 

In last weeks blog I covered several variations of a training week. Today I will provide an outline for what a basic full body workout (single session) might look like.

What is the goal?  This answer helps determine what sort of training you should focus on.  For example, if the goal is to run a 5k, training purely using bodybuilding methods wouldn’t help.

If the goal is the vague (but commonly heard) “just get fitter/look better than I am now”…I can understand.  However a realistic goal still needs to be defined, and the clearer the better.

Where are you starting from?  This includes any medical, pharmaceutical or orthopedic concerns along with your current state of fitness and training history.

Do any movements/motions cause pain? If yes, avoid those movements/motions and consult with your primary care provider, or better yet a physical therapist.

If you have already been training, what do you like to do?  What do you NOT like to do?  Honestly, there are cases where the things you avoid are the things you need the most.

STEP 1: Show up at the gym.  Congratulations, you just did better than a high percentage of people you might know.

STEP 2: Now that you’re in the gym, be in the gym FOR A PURPOSE.

Targeted or General warm-up:  There is something of a fine line between these two. Warm-ups are tailored to a persons specific needs, and extra emphasis may be applied to address any physical gaps.  Personally, this is never 30 minutes of me rolling around on a foam roller, I typically get through a warm-up in under ten-minutes,even with beginners.

The main movement of the session:  I have a triage/prison yard mentality here. With beginners the first major movement performed in a given day is the exercise (or exercise pairing) I believe will create the largest improvements in the individual.

With some people this is the exercise with the greatest loading potential.  With others its the exercise with the highest technical demands on the individual. In either case, the most important matter was taken care of first (Triage mentality) and if it were the only thing we could get done, it has the greatest potential benefit (prison yard mentality.)

For the first major movement in a full-body routine, I typically prefer the hinge pattern (Deadlift variations)  The tool and version used is individualized per client based on what they can do, and if the movement is even available to them.  The hinge pattern in a general exercise with high carryover to many general fitness goals (weight loss, strength gain, power development, stability/flexibility etc.)

For beginners, I typically work in sets of three to five, for 3-5 sets.  This provides up to 25 total repetitions depending on loading (3×3/4/5,4×3/4/5 or 5×3/4/5.  The idea is that client can complete all assigned reps without decay in form.

In-between Deadlift sets I will have the client perform a plank of some sort to help drive the Deadlift skill.  The planks are held briefly (5-10 secs) but with high tension along the body.  The plank is key to other exercises and helps tie things together.





The second movement will be a push pattern.  For people without shoulder injuries or limitations I tend to gravitate towards standing dumbbell presses.  In the event a shoulder issue is present, I might substitute the Landmine press.  In the meantime, the lower body and grip is getting a chance to recover from the Hinge pattern.  Unlike the Deadlift, I will typically favor slightly higher repetitions here (8-15 reps isn’t uncommon as the load will initially be fairly light.)


Dan John (Left) provides instruction on the fine points of the Kettlebell Goblet Squat

The third movement will be a squat pattern.  Once again the initial variation is specific to the individual, and it could be as simple as a sit to stand exercise, TRX assisted squats or Goblet Squat variation.  Triage/Prison Yard mentality, and sometimes equipment availability will dictate if this is the first or third exercise chosen.  With squats I typically work in lower rep ranges and seek movement quality first.


In between squats, I am a fan of row variations, especially with suspension training units to introduce the pull-pattern and to re-inforce the muscular contractions involved in the movement.  Since the level of difficulty in this exercise is quickly adjustable, I will assign higher rep counts to this movement.


The fourth movement will be a loaded carry.  I particularly like single sided carries and will often assign more than one loading position per session.  I vary distance based on the tool,load,loaded position,individual tolerances and available space.  I might adjust load, or carry time as well.

I look at carries as having both building (strength,cardio capacity, stability) and corrective qualities.  Since this is a highly variable exercise I adjust things accordingly. This is one situation where I am first looking to develop a baseline set of abilities where the individual can cover a distance with an asymmetric load (top photos) before moving to heavier stable loads (bottom photos.)



Weekly Training Plans

I’ve recently joined a new gym that is closer to my house and overall I am pretty happy with the move. Having been a coach/member of gyms with more serious training minded clients, a few things have immediately stood out…

1.I have not spent much time around beginners relative to the total number of years I’ve been coaching.  I don’t believe I’ve lost an ability to train beginners, and quite frankly I think working with beginners can make you a better trainer.  I also feel there is a certain joy in training them that is absent from coaching the intermediate and advanced lifters.

2. I’ve quickly regained the ability to tell which guys will curl in the squat rack.

3. The observation that too many people come to the gym with no plan whatsoever, and to remind myself that unsolicited gym advice is often not well received. Even if coming from an educated, well-meaning and respectful approach.


While I don’t look nearly as approachable as Chris Pratt…or so I’m told, I do approach my training as if its my job to perform the work to the best of my ability that day.  I apply the same thought process to the people I’m training regardless of their skill level.

Below are a few weekly training plan examples to help cut down some of the confusion. What you can recover from is more important that what you can do. I have personally known several beginners that could initially tolerate training only two days per week (Monday and Friday.)  Then again, perhaps they could only tolerate me twice per week.

The days listed are only recommendations and not set in stone.  There is no harm in switching out a training day and there is nothing wrong with starting out conservatively.

Beginner friendly weekly plans with low complexity. Because beginners need beginner plans. Simple before Sophisticated, Quality over Quantity and Intensity,Stable before Unstable.

3 Day Plan A: Monday, Wednesday,Friday (or Tuesday, Thursday,Saturday)
Full Body training
Focus on the primary movement patterns of Push,Pull,Hinge,Squat and Loaded Carry (credit to Dan John.) If you picked one to two exercises from each category you would cover a lot of bases.

3 Day Plan B: Monday, Wednesday,Friday (or Tuesday, Thursday,Saturday)
Push- Pull-Squat
Focus: Numerous coaches have stated recommended ratios of push to pull and some have stated its unimportant if one outnumbers the other.  I tend to be somewhat conservative here and recommend at least 2 pulls for every push.  

A slightly more aggressive weekly plan.  Volume and intensity management is key, and changes may need to be done in a given training session.  At this point I would advise at least consulting with a Certified Trainer or Strength Coach. 

4 Day Plan A: Monday,Tuesday,Thursday,Friday
Push Pull Push Pull
Focus: Same as 3 Day Plan B but with higher frequency.  In this case, Squats are categorized as a Push movement, whereas the Deadlift would qualify as a Pull Movement.

Complex weekly plans. At this point I would highly advise having a trainer for at least one of the weekly sessions, preferably for two or more of them.  

4 Day Plan B: Monday,Tuesday,Thursday,Friday                                                                      Upper Body-Lower Body-Upper Body-Lower Body
Focus: All work performed in a given session focuses on only the upper or lower halves of the body and push-pull are performed in the same session.

Personal opinion: I like to further split lifts into Bilateral/Unilateral days in this sort of set up.  Example: Push-ups (Mon) and One Arm Dumbbell Chest Press (Thu) and Goblet Squat (Tues) Front Split Squat (Fri)

6 Day Plan A: Monday,Tuesday,Wednesday,Thursday,Friday,Saturday
Push,Pull,Squat (Repeat)
Focus: Recovery can prove challenging because of the higher training frequency.  Major efforts can take up 72hrs to fully recover.  

6 Day Plan B: Monday,Tuesday,Wednesday,Thursday,Friday,Saturday   Chest,Back,Legs,Shoulders,Arms,Legs.
Focus: Considered a Bodybuilding style split, or a “Bro Split” where muscle groups are trained once per week largely in isolation with each muscle group is trained in multiple angles. Can also work well for elderly clients using simplified methods..

Investment and Identity

I’ve been giving my future educational needs a thought lately and mentally ran some numbers and dates through my head. Afterwards, I required a disco nap.
It turns out nearly everything I am interested in starts in the four-digit figures, and at least two are in the five-digit figure range. Interestingly, several of the comparatively lower priced courses have higher costs in expected gym time.
Many require out of state travel. I don’t mind going places, its the actual traveling part that I don’t care for so much…unless I upgrade everything.
One particular course requires multiple trips to be taken over 18 months, and has a notorious live full day final examination. The pre-requisites alone would scare off a number of people.
Several require specific physical abilities that have to be performed under supervision, along with a proof of coaching skills. Hiring as specialist coach (which thankfully I know a few) would be of great benefit.
At least two courses have exceptionally high academic requirements. When I say high, I mean a year or more of study and application of principles before sitting for the exam.
None of this surprised me, as I’ve already been through each of these scenarios.
I consider education as an investment, but not as my identity.  I could never shake the cultish feeling behind some organizations, and if I relinquished a particular credential today I would still be the same coach.
I believe that assuming the identity of the instructors or organizations that were chosen  is quite common, and its not necessarily a bad thing.  I also believe that people can feel personally attacked if the instructor, or instructional claims are questioned, and will defend themselves against all logic and available evidence. There reactions have become fairly predictable, and even level-headed reasoning seems to fail more than it succeeds.
Don’t get me started on the various fitness devices.  Every time I crack a BOSU joke someone will respond like a knife wielding, hoarder level stray cat owning, overly-clingy girlfriend.  Matter of fact, it doesn’t even have to be a joke, I just have to question why its being used.
I have made several criticisms of organizations that I have invested time, money and effort into and consider education as an investment, but not my identity.  If I believed I made a mistake in choosing an organization, I would relinquish the credential and if asked about it would be fair in my critique.  Just because I liked or didn’t like something doesn’t mean everyone will have the same experience.
This is possibly why I have a hard time fully understanding how some people can be bought in to the point where and no other answer but theres is even remotely possible.
Two examples of Identification…

“Certification A is the gold standard in the fitness community providing evidence based material utilizing its proprietary model that will allow you to learn how to take a client through specific stages of training allowing them to reach their goal. There really is no comparison between Certification B and Certification A”

“Certification C may be the Gold standard in Theory and Clinical Exercise Physiology however Certification A is the Gold Standard on program design and practical applications.”

Some questions and a fact…
Q: How was the “Gold Standard” rating awarded, and who awarded it?
Q: If Certification A is indeed the Gold Standard, why is it not referenced in any other certifications textbooks?
Q: Does the person making the claim of Certification A being a Gold standard have at least equivalent education in the other certifications to make a valid comparison?
Q: If Certification A is the Gold Standard in program design and practical application, why are there course graduates that cannot design programs or apply the material? Was is not tested material?
Fact: I’ve read the major certification texts and at different times held more than a singular one. I will state that while Certification A is good, it’s not going to win any Gold Standards.




Open Minded (Part 2 of 2)

“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions”

Leonardo DaVinci

I want to believe that I have few problems changing my mind on a given subject.  That said, the evidence supporting change has to be compelling, and I never make my decisions based on a single source of information. I have no problems admitting when I was wrong or when I was right but not for the reasons why I initially thought.

I believe that it pays to keep an open mind and leave room for interpretation.  Ask yourself, how well does the new information hold up to the established scientific principles of training?  Afterall, methods and approaches are many, but principles are relatively few.

Today’s blog covers things where I have remained relatively unchanged, or have further deepened my position over the past three years.

Continuing Education: This should come as no surprise.  A minor change over the past three years has been in attending courses that do not award any credits towards re-certifiation.  Since I easily surpass the minimums each cycle I have stopped caring if the course awards me anything beyond the value of its educational content.

In short, I don’t care if it adds letters after my name or points towards re-certification.  Improving my professional skills and challenging myself are my motivations.

Some trainers define themselves by the length of letters after their name. In some cases it serves as a means to act elitist or to look-down upon others.  Every time I’ve personally met one of these people they have failed to impress, and if they’re an ass online I have little faith that they’re actually nice people in real life.

Then again, perhaps in real life they behave nicer…because the threat of getting punched is now real.

For myself, I cannot train another person in a tool or method which I myself have not been educated to some degree. There are far too many trainers guessing their way through things and I have no intention of adding to their numbers.

Fair Criticisms: I hold a combination of a modestly varied educational background, athletics at a decent level and a diverse training background.  I am well-read, having read the essential textbooks of the major credential organizations among many others and by nature tend to view things as problem solving opportunities that require examination from multiple angles.

At current, I hold education from nine different organizations, with a tenth in progress.  I don’t view any of them as being above fair criticisms or comparisons.

I’d like to believe I can be fair about the relative pro’s or con’s of a given training method, organization, educational material or risk/reward benefit of an exercise.  I’ve found that there will always be those people that view any contradiction to their thoughts as a personal attack, no matter how well supported the contradiction might be.

Mentorship: I believe we never outgrow this, and consider it a form of continuing education.

The value of strength: To me, this is the primary adaptation to pursue in many efforts.  “Strength” runs along a continuum starting at rehabilitation level to athletic performance, and is the mother adaptation that rules all other adaptations, or makes them easier to obtain.

The value of movement quality: I view movement quality as being hand-in-hand with strength. Movement quality is a combination of stability, mobility,flexibility and control.

Planning, and ability to deviate: Failure to plan is Planning to Fail. I take many things into consideration when designing training programs for individuals and leave room for adjustments in a given session.

Client defined training: The client brings us the answers, it is up to us as trainers and coaches to respect those answers and work within the clients tolerances with the eye on building up their status.  The further the client sits on either end of the training continuum (rehab/post-rehab to athletic performance) is when client definition becomes even more fine.

Exercise vs. Training: I can go to the gym or get into a group exercise class and get sweaty and tired for an hour or so and call it good. My achievement was based on that days effort.  I can also go to the gym and train in a way to develop a specific adaptation.  The achievement occurs over the course of time, and often the grander the goal the longer the process. As a coach, I deal exclusively in the latter, and everything done is for a purpose.

Exercises with questionable application: I say questionable because I don’t know “why?” a certain exercise was prescribed to a client in the first place.  Although my comedy history would suggest otherwise, an exercise doesn’t even have to look odd for me to consider it questionable.  Just a few real world examples…

Plyometrics/General Jumping: “Why?” would a trainer have a smaller than average senior citizen perform jumps up and down a plastic stepper on the ladies first training session?

Bodybuilding/Hypertrophy/Cicuit training: “Why” would a trainer have an obese lady perform 6 sets of different bicep curls (all to failure) back to back…only to follow it with burpees performed at various tempos? (Trainer called for a burpee to be performed either very fast or very slow at irregular intervals.)

Basic Barbell: “Why” would a trainer have a client perform a Deadlift with the bar well outside the proper set-up position?

Unknown: “Why” would trainer prescribe strength exercises while the client stands on an unstable surface during the initial stages of client training?