3 sets of 10

“Down!”  “Up!”                                                                                                                                   This was the alpha and omega of the coaching cues I overheard this week while observing a trainer having an obvious beginner bench press.

Literally, that and the repetition number was all that was said.  The trainer was on his phone between sets while the client performed (you guessed it) ten burpees between bench press sets.  The highly convenient three sets of ten reps…for everything they did.

“3 sets of 10 is not the magic formula for every exercise or all adaptations”                           Me, running my mouth on Facebook.

On its own,there is nothing inherently wrong with performing 3 sets of 10 repetitions for a given exercise. (1)

Whether its a good idea or not depends on a few things, For who?, For what intended purpose? (desired adaptation), Can the person do a single repetition well? (Technique, style,form and control?) and does the trainer know that other set and repetition schemes might be more appropriate for the person in front of them?

In this weeks case, the client could not perform a single repetition well, and I lay responsibility for this on the trainer. In my opinion the client would have been better served training in a lower repetition range,even if total volume (30 total repetitions) were equated.


Credit: StrongerbyScience (2)

A few thoughts on this weeks observation….

“Up” and “Down” might be the extent of what the trainer knows about bench pressing and working outside their depth.

The trainer does know how to instruct exercises, but was being lazy and not training the client to the level of their professional ability.

“Universal 3×10” is mentally easy to apply.

Based on a single observation, fatigue seemed to be the goal of the session and safety was not a consideration.  I come to this conclusion given the fact that burpees (a fatiguing full body exercise) were placed between bench press repetitions. Fatigue leads to technical decay, and the bench press is rather technical lift.

Burpees may have been used as a time filler/breath taker/sweat maker more than anything else. I form that opinion based on the fact the trainer was on his phone in between the clients sets during the primary exercise.

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592167

2. https://www.strongerbyscience.com/hypertrophy-range-fact-fiction/


The 20% Challenge

“I’ve come to believe that there is an 80/20 reality to things. 1-2 out of every 10 trainers are skilled to well skilled. These are the “thinking persons trainers” and compared against their peers they can often seem over-qualified. Another 1-2 out of 10 can reach that level with mentorship,education,time and personal dedication. Some reach this level faster than others and age is not an indicator.”      “80/20”  June 2016 (1)

I ticked some people off following the 80/20 blog and its eventual follow-up. What I never addressed were the challenges faced by the 20%, and the 10-20% of trainers that are actively working towards professional growth.

Personally, I owe some thanks to the 80%. If it weren’t for them I might not be where I am today, and they remind me why I continually drive to improve myself. I want to crack that 20% range someday, and I can say I’m closer this year than I was last year.

FACT: NO TRAINER started off automatically in the 20%, this includes those with degrees and the CSCS or any other fancy combination of letters after their name.(2)  The 20% worked hard to improve themselves to get to that point, and for the dedicated it is a never-ending process. It would be arrogant of me to assume that I’m in the 20%,but every year I get better than before.  Furthermore, I recognize areas which I consider myself in the 80%, and thankfully have the benefit of knowing whom to consult or refer out when needed.

The 20% can face the challenge of being surrounded by people whom they cannot professionally relate.  The fact they perform similar functions and cannot communicate on the basics and scientific principles of training can be mentally draining.

In some cases, the 20% trainer may be viewed negatively simply because they do things differently from the majority.  If the majority of trainers are having clients perform random circuits and exercises with little attention to form, and the minority are prescribing client-defined exercises with suitable levels of progression then the latter might appear to be the oddballs.

Interestingly, when the minority are viewed positively it seems that little managerial effort is given towards retaining them, or at least leveraging their positive qualities to improve the majority.

For some of the 20%, it can be demotivating to pursue costly, academically demanding or physically challenging continuing education courses when your co-workers are looking for the paths of least cost/least resistance…and they still sit on their thumbs until the last minute to complete even those small requirements! (3)

what-youve-just-said-is-one-of-the-most-insanely-19798259TRUTH TIME:  It can be hard to listen to some trainers talk or try rationalizing things, and even harder to watch some of them with their clients. At one point I tried telling myself to not let it effect me, but I’ve since changed my opinion and don’t want to ever become numb to what amounts to malpractice.

(1) https://mytrainerchris.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/8020/

(2) Will likely generate more hate mail.

(3) Or worse, they think attending YouTube University is the same as actually attending a live course and being tested on the material by a subject matter expert.

Snob Trainers

From Merriam-Webster                                                                                                                   Snob.  a : one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior
b : one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.

From the Book of Bro                                                                                                                             Snob: An A̶$̶$̶h̶o̶l̶e̶ that often seems to fall short of their self-proclaimed skills and abilities. Generally not seen training with heavy weights. (1)

Over the course of the last six weeks I’ve ran into two snobbish trainers. I’ve run into people like this in past, but never with this frequency.


(L) Snob (R) Me. Personally, I view academic/trainer snobs as a type of bully.  People that I happen to love chin checking by putting them into situations where I know they are disadvantaged…just like they do to others.

ExPhys Trainer asked me what degree I held.  Mind you, I wasn’t applying for a job and the entire conversation started off as basic small talk.  I detected an odd from him when I told him that my degree is in Communications.  He responded with “My degree is in Exercise Physiology, don’t you see having a non-Exercise related degree as a occupational handicap?”

Short Answer: No.

After saying no, I asked when he graduated, which according to him was 2003.  I asked what happened since then, why didn’t he go for his Master’s. He said the financial burden of an additional 18-24 month of schooling deterred him.  Once again I’ll take his word for it.  I nearly asked “So what really happened, did you fail to get into medical school?”



Then I asked if he ever planned on adding any weight to his bar.  My first warm-up weight was heavier than his current loading.

FACT: My education didn’t end in 2003.


I honestly hoped that ExPhys Trainer would be up for some Bench Pressing.

WXYZ Trainer: “If you’re not certified by WXYX, then you lack credibility as a trainer.” (2)

I had no response for this, nor do I think one would have even been heard.  In this persons mind, there is only a singular certification body that has anything to offer.  I find this interesting as the references within the companies primary textbook come from two other well-known credential granting agencies.  

The WXYZ Trainer stated the three certifications he presently holds, and being fair I feel the companies texts do a good job of connecting with each other.  That said, it could be argued that Mr. WXYZ has only read one book. (3)

The WXYZ agency does seem to produce the most certified trainers and is favored by some employers. In my opinion, it is the trainer that makes the certification, not the other way around.  Trainers that are good are good because of their continued efforts in learning and improving, the exact after their name matter little.  Further, no singular course or text is ever perfect.

Would I hire a WXYZ certified trainer? Sure, if they can pass both a practical and coaching skills test and don’t come off as a Snob.

(1) Snobs will be armed with a multitude of reasons why they are not seen around heavy weights.  The classics include “Squats are bad for the knees”, “Deadlifts are bad for your back”  “Weight training is over-rated” and “I used to Bench 315 in High School.”

Higher level Snobs will be able to recite singular lines from (possibly outdated) singular websites or studies that provide confirmation bias. My favorite is when they misinterpret what was actually stated, or state something that has been scientifically proven as false.

(2) “WXYZ” is my way of not naming-names.  The actual certification is one of the most well-known within the fitness industry and isn’t a bad certifcation, but not nearly as good as many people like to think either.  It comes down to whether or not you can apply the material and know when to look elsewhere for answers.

(3) Have a box…Know whats inside the box….Make a bigger box…Know whats outside the box….If needed,know when to burn the box.

The Commercial Gym Challenge

“I wonder how they sleep at night, when the sale comes first and the truth comes second.”  Price Tag by Jessie J.

Despite my frequent Planet Fitness jokes, I believe all gym models serve a purpose.

In my case, I’m happy they exist for three reasons (1) Gyms are available at every price point (2) Everybody could use a good trainer and (3) They keep the majority of the D-Bags out of the places that I like to train.

My very short history of commercial gyms…

At some point 25-30 years ago, a gym owner figured out that personal training was a potential income stream. Eventually the industrial age model of hiring the lowest level of competency took hold and people with minimal skill were hired as trainers.

This wasn’t particularly difficult to do since a high amount of the training was performed on specially designed machines.  Instruction (when based only on an external view) required a relatively low level of ability, essentially the ability to get someone to sit down and for the trainer to count to ten three times.

Machines also made it easy to get someone in and out of the gym fairly quickly.

Later came the creation of personal trainer credentialing organizations and countless specializations, which continues to this day.  While I will state that the certification itself doesn’t make the trainer, I will also state that some organizations provide an education, while others simply sell you a pretty piece of paper.

As an example of the latter, I once semi-seriously tried to bomb an online test and I still managed to pass the exam.  I could have been titled as a Golf Specialist had I just sent in the $100 payment.

Later came the ultimate business goal of having members pay for a service (a low monthly gym fee) without ever stepping foot in the gym.

Commercial Gyms have served as the entry point for the overwhelming majority of personal trainers.  The high-volume/low cost/continual drive  to sign new clients model has produced some stellar trainers, as well as burning quite a few potentially promising ones out.

“All the client really needs is to have their ass kicked for 30 minutes.” was the singular bit of professional advice I was given from a fellow commercial gym trainer back in 2012. I don’t know about them, but I didn’t become a trainer to kick someones ass.

How does someone even form that training philosophy, much less give it as professional advice? My immediate thought is the person doesn’t know what they don’t know, or they themselves are un-coachable. Then again, The Biggest Loser TV series had already been on the air for 8 years.  Perhaps this is where the trainer found their influence.

I’ve come up with a few thoughts….

Eighteen months is the long end of the average commercial trainers career at a single location. Many leave within six months or less.  This indicates that the average person viewed personal training as a gig, or something easy to do until something better comes along.  In fairness, some of these people were minimally qualified  (or even failed to meet the minimum job standards) and were given the job based on their ability to sell training packages and supplements. The fact that they never took the job seriously should come as no surprise.

The same 6-18 month period also includes trainers with higher levels of skills and qualification that either burned out or found greener pastures elsewhere.  Attempts to retain them on staff are often non-existant. Some trainers manage to exceed 18 months and maintain financially lucrative positions with a good balance of quality instruction.

Some gyms pay all starting trainers the same wage. I’m not entirely against this idea when taking the high turn-over rate into consideration, however there needs to be some financial incentive to retain the better qualified applicants.  

While I am all for learning the sales and business end of things, trainers with high monthly supplement sales or training package quotas (which turns trainers into part of the sales force) can result in trainers delivering less than their potential in the actual training of clients.

Gyms that invest in their trainers (in house education being an example) tend to acquire, and retain higher quality talents.  Unfortunately, there will always trainers that don’t take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.

My advice to young commercial trainers (as in newly certified, not necessarily your chronological age.)  Save your money, build yourself to your best potential, learn and continually develop your craft. Know when it is time to move on.

Remember that clients are more loyal to a GOOD TRAINER than they are a particular gym.

Remember that ANY JACKASS TRAINER can kick someones ass for 30 minutes, but only so many can improve someone life in 30 minutes.



Professional Education

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

Buckminster Fuller

Over the past two weekends I’ve had the fortune of attending the Dynamic Variable Resistance Training (DVRT) Restoration course taught by Josh Henkin and Jessica Bento and the Kabuki Movement Systems (KMS L1) course taught by Chris Duffin and the Kabuki Strength staff.

I’ve also divided my home education into more manageable chunks.  I am spending slightly less time on a given subject per day, but I am absorbing the material and putting things into practice with greater efficiency and effectiveness.

By receiving education from different schools of thought I’ve been able to see where thought leaders agree, and disagree on best approaches. I’ve also been able to change my opinions and approaches based on the latest best available evidence. (1)

I’m not afraid to disagree with well-known thought leaders. If I’m proven wrong I don’t feel bad about it.  To date, there has only been a few educators that I’ve never found myself in disagreement.

Corrective exercise is an example of something completely foreign to me in 2012. Six years later I no longer use the term corrective exercise and my approaches in initial screening and application differ completely from what I was originally taught.

SYNERGY the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

Trends emerged when reviewing my previous education. I continually sought instruction related to strength,movement and the art of coaching. I’ve been consistent, and never too fast to jump into something.

My recent attendance of DVRT and KMS shared several similarities with each other, and with previous instruction from seemingly unrelated courses. I was quickly able to see where each course had a place along my training continuum. Both DVRT and KMS are additive, and provide far greater coaching flexibility when compared to a person that relies on a single method,tool or school of thought. (2)

I have also noted my educational gaps.  While not completely uneducated, I have not sought out deeper instruction in training special populations or nutrition beyond that which is within my scope of practice.  I believe the former gap will eventually be addressed possibly out of need, but out of intellectual curiosity if nothing else.

(1) I’m putting in an honest effort into not be as biased against (or for) a particular method or tool.  Despite a history of having made more jokes about BOSU balls than I have had hot meals, I actually sat down and jotted notes on potential applications of the device. If my gym had one I would go so far as to test my ideas on an n=1 basis. I regard this as an improvement of sorts as previously all I did was sneer at the BOSU and judge gyms based on number of visible BOSU balls.

PS Bosu Storage

The sight of this still triggers my GTFO reaction, and historically there has been plenty of good reasons why things are that way.


It can always be made better.

(2) Both DVRT and KMS have multiple influences from other sources and from noted thought leaders.  It’s when I hear the same concepts and names come up that my interest rises even further…and future education gets put on the To Do list.

Do Good Work


I came across a sad situation the other day.  Sad enough that it made me pause for a moment and consider the events that led to it.

My collection of Kettlebells had a layer of dust on them, and I realized that I hadn’t trained with them in quite some time.  This meant that entire loading strategies, physical benefits and technical challenges went untrained.

For a guy that trains in a Conjugate method, this is tantamount to leaving money unattended.  It’s even worse when you consider that the owner of said dusty bells has received education from both Dragon Door AND StrongFirst.

Two thoughts quickly formed: (1) There were reasons why kettlebells fell out of my training life. (2) There are reasons why they’ve come back.

Taking action on the latter, I’ve begun a short cycle of daily Kettlebell training, much like I would assign to a beginner but with greater potential for variation.

“DGW-30”  (Do good work-30 days)                                                                                                               

10 Swings,5 Squats,5 Presses 

It’s very simple and almost too easy looking. 

The primary goal is to Do Good Work everyday for 30 days, and to do each technique perfectly.  I believe that is the difference between “Do Good Work” and “Do The Work.”

The secondary goal is to develop each technique so that it would pass muster at an RKC/StrongFirst certification with a test sized bell.  Believe me when I say the passable technical standards of these organizations are not easy.

The load can be waved daily and technique variation can be changed whenever I feel the need. Currently I am training the standard versions of each technique as that is both the logical starting point, and supportive of the secondary goal.

For those that get bored easily…

Swing: Two-Hand Swing, One-Hand Swing,Hand-to-Hand Swings or Double Bell Swings. They can be done with a Deadstop, an overdriven eccentric phase or continuous swing, or in the case of double bells, with unequal loads per hand.

Squat: Goblet position, single bell offset, double bells in rack, double bells overhead, single or double bottoms up or with two different bell sizes.  I can pause the bottom position or alter how fast I squat in either direction.

Press: Single, Double, See-saw Presses,Single or Double press off the squat. I can also add accommodating resistance with a band or chain to increase starting or lockout strength and change the press position (standing,kneeling, sitting etc)

Thats over 25 variations off the top of my head, which provides months of possibilities. That said, to earn a variation one must possess the standard movement skill with both competence and control, or what I call “Good Work.”


Everything for Nothing.

I briefly considered coming out of retirement the other day.

I was contacted by an interested party that were highly motivated towards a goal, which based on the provided stats and timeframe was not unrealistic.

The party had done a considerable amount of research to narrow the field of potential hires.  They were specific on their list of non-negotiable minimum levels of experience and qualifications.

They requested I provide a recent photo of myself, which thankfully I didn’t do as you can’t be too careful these days. This was my first warning order that something odd could go down.


TRUTH TIME: Yes, I would have sent this as my pic.

Their requirements exceeded most jobs opportunities I’ve come across. They actually seemed more industry informed than a number of hiring managers I’ve met.


Minimum of 5yrs experience in 1-1 or 1-2 training with supporting documentation.

Certified and in good standing with one of three named credentialing agencies.

Specialization in sports training with supporting documentation, NSCA CSCS preferred, but EXOS or NASM PES were deemed acceptable.

“Nice to have,but not super essential” RYT200 Yoga or Mobility/Stretching education, Kettlebell certification.

Nothing outright unreasonable, but it does tilt to the side of over-qualification.  The CSCS/Sports training background in particular as the goal didn’t absolutely require that level of trainer education.

Although not explicitly stated, I can reasonably speculate that they also wanted a trainer to “look the part.”  I base my speculation on the fact they asked for a recent photograph.


About 15 minutes into the conversation is when things soured.

“You seem nearly ideal for us…but you’re expensive. We’re looking for someone a fifth your fee.” 

Mind you, the individual requires a trainer with 5yrs minimum experience, holds one of three selected certifications (none of which are inexpensive and all have relatively high failure rates), a preference to those with four-year degrees (NSCA CSCS requires a degree to sit for the examination) or a named alternatives,additional specialized education in multiple areas AND had to “look the part.”

Based on their set of minimums, I equaled or exceeded all the non-negotiables and fill  the “nice to haves.”  I have no idea if I “look the part”, but I haven’t broken any mirrors lately.

Quite frankly, the odds of finding a trainer that legitimately meets most, or all the non-negotiables and charges roughly the equivalent of dinner for three at McDonalds would be astronomically low.

I simply said that I’m not as ideal as they thought, and recommended they try their luck at Planet Fitness.  The person won’t have to go far to find less for less.