Ethics and Education

One of my grand goals is to influence future generations of personal trainers.  I wish to make an effort towards improving the standards of service commonly found in our industry.

I want to help produce the trainers that I wish I had. 

I believe education includes the production of trainers that can engage their cortex, that are not afraid to ask questions and are willing to work with other professionals.  I’ve seen far too many trainers that fail to meet these criterion, and a few that challenge the belief that there is no such thing as stupid questions.

The universe recently presented a job opportunity that based on requirements, I could be considered a near-perfect candidate.  I have above the preferred level of education, well above the preferred level of industry experience and a previous work history that includes academic teaching positions and public speaking.  The teaching hour requirements and travel distance were not unreasonable.  I never bothered looking into the pay or benefits.

Teaching personal training students would be a ideal way to influence things. My passion for trying to improve things outweighs what I would get paid to do it.

After further consideration, I may not have been such a near-perfect of a candidate.  Based on my resume’ I could be considered over-qualified for the position.

The problems:  The course is based solely off a singular textbook and designed to get the graduates to pass the exam, which admittedly isn’t the easiest test.  A personal issues of mine is that I don’t fully agree with textbook (none are perfect) and what the courses goals should be aimed towards.

I cannot teach material that I don’t fully support. In my opinion, getting someone to rote memorize material to pass a test versus actually educating someone are two vastly different things. There are apps designed for the former, but they aren’t very handy once you have a live person in front of you.

I want to help produce trainers that are qualified, not just certified.  To do otherwise would only contribute to the problems our industry faces,and my heart wouldn’t be fully into things.

Disordered Eating

“Your ideal body weight is the range where you feel healthy and fit, have no signs of an eating disorder to maintain that weight, and have healthy functioning immune and reproductive systems.”   Dr. Carol Otis

I am not a Registered Dietician, nor do I hold myself out as an expert in nutrition science, biochemistry or food psychology.  That said, I am not without some knowledge on the subjects and happen to know a few people that are very sharp in those areas. I subscribe to the idea of eating like an adult, and enjoying a variety of foods.

Each state in the United States has its own set of nutrition laws(1) and personal trainer certifications draw professional lines when it comes to dietary advice and prescription. The prescription of supplements is generally outside of a personal trainers scope of practice. This of course does not mean there are not trainers profiting, or recommending them.

 

“It is the responsibility of the personal trainer to educate clients about the risks of disordered eating and to avoid promoting risky weight loss behaviors or setting unrealistic goals.”  NSCA Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Ed.

There are short, and longterm medical and psychological implications associated with disordered eating, which includes anorexia and bulimia nervosa, in addition to fad dieting,highly restrictive diets (I.E. the Grapefruit diet) or more extreme dietary approaches.

“You who are so good with words, and at keeping things vague…”                     Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez

As a trainer, you were hired under the presumption that you were educated and professionally competent.  Whether it be the truth or not, your words still matter, at least to an uneducated population. An inappropriate comment, questionable supplement advice/prescription or unrealistic goals or before and after photos(2) can serve as a trigger for someone already susceptible to disordered eating.

Nearly 100% of all disordered eating cases I’ve come across over the decades involved the use of questionable supplements.

When friends or acquaintances present me the supplements they are being told to purchase, I immediately check labels for a few things; Is this a single ingredient or multi-ingredient formulation? If multi-ingredient, is anything marked as “proprietary”?,  If multi-ingredient (with or without a proprietary formulation), how many ingredients contain stimulant, diuretic or laxative properties?  Lastly, “What does this formulation contain that has evidence of being effective for the users intended purpose, and what is the strength of the evidence?”

Remember, I stated that I’m DON’T consider myself an expert in these matters.  Las Vegas odds suggest there is a 50% chance that I know more about the product than the person selling it to you.

1. http://www.nutritionadvocacy.org/laws-state

2.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/06/17/fitness-trainer-fakes-fitspo-photo_n_7602304.html

Redefining Progress

CLIENTS STARTING POINT…………………………..CLIENTS GOAL(S)

As trainers, our job is to fill-in the dots between the two points.

Blank Chalkboard-horizontal

Ideally, we select a balance between the most appropriate choices and the optimum tools.  Risk to Benefit ratios based on the individuals needs are considered, and we live by the golden rule of “First, do no harm.”

ra,unisex_tshirt,x2950,fafafa-ca443f4786,front-c,648,590,750,1000-bg,f8f8f8.lite-1u2

Don’t be that trainer. 

Further, we do not attempt to use methods we have not tested ourselves, or teach lifts we don’t actually know….I don’t care how many times you read page 123 of the CPT book.  Pre-supposing you have a total absence of closely related experience, how well can a trainer understand something without first-hand experience?

If you don’t  fully understand something, you cannot apply it.

If a clients starting point, goal and dots in-between cannot be supported at my skill level (or fall outside my scope of practice) then I refer to someone that I believe can help them. Personally I wish more trainers would do the same.

SIDENOTE: I can understand how a trainer might think that referring a client out might make them feel, or be viewed as less of a professional.  I completely disagree, if anything I believe it makes you look MORE professional, especially if you happen to have a speed dial of local professionals to refer.  This could be a more experienced trainer, a trainer with specialized education or an allied health professional.  If they do their job right, you come off looking good because you were the one that put the client in the right hands, the client wins by getting the help they need and the referral wins with some added business.

 The Dots in-between.  Rarely is training purely a linear effort. Life has a way of changing things on you and it doesn’t happen on a predictable schedule.  While part of me would love for EVERY session to end in Personal Records and more weight on the bar, this won’t always be the case, nor should it be the goal of every session or is the need of every client.  Progress can be defined multiple ways, and its not always “It was heavier than last time”, although that too has its place and is not without merit.

What you do during those dots in-between counts.  If the dot filling trainings defining characteristic is you laying in a pool of sweat, nauseous and unable to move very well over the next few days, then I ask how is progress being defined?  Was the goal you getting your ass kicked less?

N=1 Example: Four weeks ago I started the GMB Integral Strength program as a break from my Powerlifting training.  It’s a 100% bodyweight program and the only loaded movement I’ve perform is daily use of my ShouldeRok.  I knew going into the program that there were certain movements I would do well in, and others quite poorly.  On day 1, I was tasked to record my standing long jump. Although I did passably well, my mechanics and timing in the initial counter-movement was poor, and my landing mechanics were borderline dangerous.

I didn’t bother re-measuring my performance until today.  I spent my training dots working on jump form, breathing pattern, landing mechanics and ankle mobility. I have improved my jump performance by 12%, have better jumping form and reduced my chances of an ankle injury.  My progress during those dots was defined by my ability to improve one small, but important detail at a time, or at least to have my jumps “feel easier.”

I’ve also rediscovered the fun of sprinting 20-50m.  I haven’t been timed or filmed yet, but look forward to the opportunity to do so, and possibly attend a Sprinting course at a later date.

Link to my GMB Testimonial!  https://gmb.io/reviews/#is

 

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.

improvise_adapt_and_overcome_magnet-r4fafd64be7f340bf9d6333195041ee20_am0uf_8byvr_324

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.

the_frog_in_the_well_by_elshastara-d4y2yua.png

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.

deep-overhead-squatting-in-the-gym

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.

bench-press

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.

SYd2Tll

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…        

F7-21 Lim IR_PS Capsule

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.

o-HAMSTER-facebook

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.

kettlebell-1

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.

715498_445

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.

a40d0cd6086dd6068286659c9a075d32

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.

ra,unisex_tshirt,x1000,dd2121-8219e99865,front-c,235,200,225,294-bg,ffffff.lite-1u1

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.

Peeing-During-Workouts1

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.

11406565_845383522165330_3554089970487770585_o-1518x1012

(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.

yZilR

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.

BuYeXL6IcAEe-JX

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.

img_7128

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.