Online Training

“If I’m right, and up to 8 out of 10 personal trainers suck, then what would lead me to believe that those numbers improve among online personal trainers?”  

While I can understand its appeal, I feel it’s in a new trainers best interest to accumulate floor hours and gain experience working with people directly before venturing into the online training world.

I consider a number of scenarios with new trainers…
1. They might have limited, or no experience in training other people.
2. They may have only trained themselves.
3. They may not have trained themselves.
4. They have been trained by a good, or bad trainer and benefitted from it.

FACT: I firmly believe trainers can learn a lot from bad trainers.


Given the possible scenarios,  “Does a CPT certification adequately prepare an individual to train another person online?” is a fair question.

How do trainers become certified? The two major paths are (1) Trade School, Internship/Mentorship programs and (2) Home Study courses. To my knowledge neither  address online training, although there could be individual examples that I’m unaware of.

Personal observations. In the interest of transparency, my observations are not exclusive to new trainers.

An alarmingly high amount of trainers cannot do what their certification says they can do.  I discovered this when 80% of trainer applicants couldn’t pass a practical evaluation of their knowledge, skills and abilities. The test covered material common to five different CPT organizations (ACE,ACSM,ISSA,NASM and NSCA) and nothing was proprietary or academically biased towards one organization or another.  To me, the trainers paper is only as good as the trainer that holds it.

Program design and management appear to be a particularly common initial challenges.

A percentage of trainers get in over their heads by taking on clients they are ill-equipped to handle.  Two particular issues being clients outside of the trainers scope of practice, or clients within scope but with needs/goals outside of the trainers skillset.

That’s in-person training, and these are things which reputable certifications suggest should be within the bearers competency level.

If observations could be entertained as fact then it suggests the CPT Exam alone doesn’t fully prepare a person to train others. In light of this, wouldn’t online training be all the more complicated?



Show Up and Follow Up


“80 percent of success in life is just showing up”  

Woody Allen

While I won’t be taking any of Mr. Allens dating advice, 80% seems reasonable. This would logically leave 20% to Following Up

It’s been said that showing up to the gym is the hardest part of training and exercise and it could equate 80% of the work. While I believe there’s some truth to this, an overlooked part is “who showed up?” This is where lines start to blur.

I like to train 4-5 times a week, but some weeks its as few as 2.  On the outside of the gym stands one person, and what comes through the door is someone else. People have told me the change is visible, and it is certainly felt.  There is an internal switch that triggers, and I can evoke the response simply by visualizing myself enter a gym.

I show up with a purpose, which is to train and practice skills leading towards an intended adaptation and goal. I have set goals ranging from forty sessions to ten years from now, and each day brings me closer towards realizing them. 

I remain present and connected to the movements I perform.  I am focused and do my best to be effective at the task at hand. I’m not afraid to fail, but I try to avoid it. 

Simply put, I am present. There is nothing I’ve written so far that is beyond anyone else’s ability.

clicker and watch

A stopwatch and tally clicker have been a big part of my own training for the last few years. I even keep back-ups in case of loss or malfunction. I am liberating myself from them for the next 40 sessions to improve my Follow Up level.  

FACT: I accidentally left my stopwatch/clicker combo at the gym and the gyms owner put them in the Lost and Found Bin.  Some kind gym-goer decided they looked nice and stole them.  I can nearly guarantee I was the ONLY PERSON in that gym that actually timed and logged his training density.  Matter of fact, if there’s even five members that did, I was three of them.

Why did you walk into the gym?  Was it to improve your ability to carry on phone conversations and perform partial effort repetitions?  Was it to play mobile games while moving unchallenging loads though pre-determined paths? Was it to spend more time looking at your phone than actually training?  

I can reasonably assume the goal wasn’t to pay for a gym membership and waste your time…unless of course you want to have a gym membership for the sake of saying you have one. If there was a goal, the actions aren’t fully in line with it. You showed up in the physical sense, but that’s about it.  

This is where the 20% Following Up comes into play.

History File: Some years ago my back muscles acted up. Increasing my water intake, applying heating pads, popping ibuprofen and visiting my chiropractor were only a small help, so I decided to get a massage.

My “massage therapist” (trust me when I say this is a generous description) barely touched my back. She actually tried to apply a hands-free “woo treatment”  over my knees and appeared shocked when I asked if she knew what I was there for in the first place…and wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) answer my question.   

The lady showed up, but couldn’t follow up.

Would you accept a waiter/waitress, auto-mechanic, doctor/nurse, lawyer, repairman or teacher being inattentive to you?  Probably not.  Therefore, how can you accept being inattentive to yourself? 

I am of the belief that simply being present during your gym time can measurably improve your odds of attaining your goal, and its both the simplest yet hardest thing you will do. 

Suggestions on ways to Show Up.

Remember WHY you are there.

Detach yourself from the phone while you are there.

Suggestions on ways to Follow Up

 Listen to your body. The muscles, the involved joints, your breathing (or breath holding) and your heart rate.

Don’t judge the quality of your work based on a single set or even a single session. We all have good/bad days.

While you cannot compare your training to someone else, you can look at things like work ethic and how they approach their training.  There is both short term and long term differences between the guy who trains mindfully and the one that lifts like an @$$#ole.

80/20 (Three years later)

“1-2 out of every 10 trainers are passably skilled to well skilled. These are the “thinking persons trainers” and compared to 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. I’ve met and spoke with exceptionally talented and promising twenty-somethings and ran across more than a few over the forties idiots.

The others will remain at a certain level and never reach full potential, or perhaps they already did and thats it.”


I made that bold claim nearly three years ago and my opinion hasn’t changed, and three years later I question if the 80% growth is outpacing the 20%. I don’t believe I’m in the 20%, but I do see myself as someone working his ass off to someday break into it.

Unsurprisingly my opinion is not well liked, but its also not without its supporters and a few people my math is off and its closer to 1 out of 10 being passably good.  There is also the fact that I cannot possibly be the first person to notice this divide.

Applied BroScience: A person disagreed with my numbers but was willing to hear my points. It was friendly and no personal attacks made on either side. I respected his difference of opinion and asked that next time he visited a large gym to take note of how many HE WOULD HIRE for himself, his partner or as an employee.

FACT: People can disagree and still remain friendly and civil.

He later responded stating my number (at least on that day) was unfortunately accurate, but that still doesn’t mean I’m right.  I agree with him, and a singular gym on a singular day is not a fair representation.  I thanked him for his fairness and asked that he keep my numbers in his head whenever he visits a new gym. Some gyms do an exceptional job in hiring and developing their team, but those gyms are the exception and not the rule.

Three years of additional observation has also provided examples of people without any upward movement.  They are the same trainers now that they were three years ago, and quite possibly longer than that.  I’ve also seen people make significant jumps in their education, athletic abilities and application of skills.

Putting myself under the same scrutiny, my last three years applied practice has grown in clarity and sophistication. Another change has been how I choose to view the 80/20.

I’d like to believe I’ve become fairer, and not so quick to make a call either way.  Having said that, there are always outliers that leave no doubts as to where they currently sit, and could remain unless something causes them to step up their game.

What changed?

I once read that 50% of the people signing up for CPT courses don’t complete the course, and another 50% do not re-certify when the time comes due. The accuracy of the numbers (like my own 80/20) is unknown, however it wouldn’t shock me if they were proven true.

I give a “light pass” to trainers with less than two years practical experience as they are still leaning the craft. Among the new trainers there are things that stick out to me:  (1) People who already know it all  (2) People that can’t accept being wrong  and (3) People that data dumped everything they memorized to pass the exam.  These three have >2yr counterparts and most of them are in the 80%.

However, I’ve become more critical of trainers claiming  >5 years experience.

My unofficial checklist of 80% identifiers
Inability to do what their certification says they can do.
Never upgrading or deepening existing skills
Taking courses that offer minimal or no return on investment.
Not taking care of themselves.
Lapsed certification without justification
History of injuring clients
Not referring clients out when needed
Not seeing things through

Along the continuum of trainer experience levels I ask a simple question “Can they do what their certification says they can do?”  While the depth of information might differ, all the major CPT courses cover similar material at the entry level. Therefore what is being asked is “Can they apply the basics?”

In my mind it’s a yes, no or “in certain areas” answer.

They might be great in a particular area and not so much in others, or good to above average in more than one area…or they could suck across the board.

I generally have higher initial confidence in trainers that completed academically or physically demanding courses, internships or mentorships however these things are not ironclad guarantees of anything and not having them isn’t automatically held against someone.

If I had to put it down to one thing , I would say laziness is a common denominator among the “never leave the 80%” group.  An individual might have a rough start, but they can apply themselves and move up.

A different view of the Big Four

The Barbell Big 4: Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift and Overhead Press.

Two things surprise me about these lifts.

1. The rarity in which I see trainers teaching them in the average commercial gym

2. The number of trainers that don’t know how to teach these lifts, and in some cases even being able to do them.

In fairness, I’d rather they NOT TEACH THEM unless they could teach them well, so in that light perhaps they are doing the right thing for the right reasons.

My question would therefore be, what is preventing them?  Is it the lift and the associated learning curve?  Is it because it’s a barbell, or is it the trainer themselves?

FACT: I’ve ran into one trainer with the opinion that weight training is obsolete.  She happens to look like the type of person that never lifted a weight, so I can sort of see where she is coming from. That said, her inexperience with weight training makes her unqualified to lend an opinion on the subject.

Suppose the Barbell was removed, would the lifts still present a problem?  

As much as I love the barbell lifts, I’ll be the first to admit that they are not always the best choice for a given person. Instead of forcing a specific tool on someone, try matching a tool to them.

In place of the Bench Press (Credit: Westside Barbell)

Dumbbell Chest Press…

Elbows at 45 degrees for tricep work

Elbows tight and hands neutral for delts

Elbows flared and hands neutral for the chest

Elbows at 45 degrees at the bottom with external rotation on the concentric phase (similar to a punch)

The above can all be performed off a bench, the floor or on incline/decline benches.

Push Ups off the larger DB heads or handles to mimic a cambered bar press.

In place of the Squat…

The Kettlebell/Dumbbell Goblet Squat

Off-Set or Double Kettlebell/Dumbbell Squats

Sandbag Zercher/Bearhug/Shoulder hold Squats

Split Stance or Rear Foot Elevated variations

In place of the Deadlift…

Hex Bar Deadlift (Theres minimally one option here, and up to four depending on the bar design)

Kettlebell Deadlift (add a band increase resistance)

Sandbag Deadlift (using bags that have handles)

In place of the Overhead Press…

Single/Double Kettlebell Press

Sandbag Press

Landmine Press

Standing, Seated, Kneeling or Lunge positions.

There are other options of course, and you will note that none of the above are machine based exercises (I.E. Machine Chest Press, Leg Press, Machine Shoulder Press et al)  This is not because they are “bad exercises”, but their overall transfer to the Big 4 is limited.

Where to learn the barbell lifts? 

Kabuki Strength – Principles of Loaded Movement.  Teaches the Deadlift, Squat and Bench Press.  No pre-requisites

Seminars – Principles of Loaded Movement

StrongFirst – SFL Barbell. Both a one-day course and a multi-day certification are available, with the latter having prior attendance to StrongFirst Kettlebell (1 day or certification) as a pre-requisite.

StrongFirst Barbell Course



The Bar, and the Tab

Due to travel commitments I will be posting new blogs ahead of my USA Sunday/International Monday post dates for the next two weeks.

“You’re only as good as you next training session.  Do you want that session to be in a day or two, or next year following a lengthy rehab?”

With the exception of the Deadlift, it is not a bad idea to start your warm-up sets with just the bar.  While I have a general idea of what I can walk up to and put overhead, squat and bench press, I rarely if ever go straight to the load.

I can’t say the same for some of my fellow gym-goers, at least when it comes to the Bench Press.  As a matter fact, it largely comes to the Bench Press as I don’t need all my fingers to count how many people I’ve seen Squat,Overhead Press or Deadlift.


The exact number of “bar only” presses I do varies by session. On great training days it could be as few as three repetitions, on sub-optimal days it might be several sets of ten.  By the time loading has reached 70% of my maximum I typically have an idea of what I can expect from myself for the day, and how I will have to attack things for training to progress.

I recall the funny looks a guy gave me when he saw starting off with just the 20kg bar before I jumped to 95lbs/43kg, 135lbs/61kg and so on. He and I are roughly same age and size, and he went straight to 135lbs and jumped loads from there.

I can do the same thing but choose to do otherwise.  Why is that? Especially for someone with a competitive background in the lift?

Shortest answer: Just because you can do something, doesn’t automatically mean you should do it.

Long answer: In my mind EVERY REP counts. Despite the low loads I still focus maximally into each rep.  During each successive set I am coaching myself to improve on the last set.  Sometimes its very small and invisible things, but I’ve found that as you get closer to your current limits (and probably older as well) the more those little things matter.

I want to continue being able to bench press for many years to come. I choose to start with the empty bar, it only takes one bad day for a shoulder to say “F’ this guy” and the choice no longer be there.

I damn sure don’t want to be the old guy seen rubbing his shoulders after every press/push movement.  It’s terrible when I see younger men (or teenagers) exhibiting what appears to be shoulder pain after benching.

He only focused on what I started with, not why, or how it led to bigger things. I can’t fault him as that is pretty common and I’m certain I’ve done the same thing.

A bigger picture needs to be seen, by the time the benching work was completed, he had performed 6 reps of his maximum load for the day, I on the other hand completed 20 reps.  While not identica, our loads were within 10% of each other and neither of us used the maximum loads we are capable of performing.

For those that are still focused on the maximum number, using the simple load x reps formula you can see the differences in training.

Him: 6x225lbs/120kg = 1350lbs/720kg

Me:   20×205/92kg = 4100lbs/1840kg 

From an efficiency standpoint, his work was completed faster than mine, it serves a purpose and there is nothing inherently wrong with this.  There will undoubtedly be times when this sort of work will be needed and I am not knocking the scheme or taking a swipe at the individual.

However from an athletic and performance standpoint, he had 1-2 great reps and 4 of descending quality whereas I had a minimum of 10 great reps. I completed 66% more work, and the  lifts were performed using 45 second intervals which added a bit of conditioning to things.

From a long-term standpoint, I am trying to insure that I don’t have a painful tab to pay.


Reps Training

“In the brain, each time a task is performed, the nerve pathways that converge to perform that task are wrapped in a layer of something called myelin. Each wrapping of myelin allows that specific task to be performed faster and with greater ease. However, just mindlessly repeating the task many times is not sufficient. You must push yourself to the edge of your ability, making a systematic effort to improve at every step.”  (1)

On the other hand, the biological law of accommodation states that stimulus to the body decreases over time if the stimulus remains constant.

In the gym the most famous set and rep scheme commonly seen is three sets of ten repetitions.  It’s not inherently bad and certainly simple enough to get started with, but some people never more beyond this and apply it equally to all exercises. I would know as I see people (including some trainers) doing it all the time, and at one point in history I was among the gym-goers doing the same thing.

The difference is I’ve moved on, and I place a premium on the quality of individual form and style.  I’m not obsessive about it, we’re not aiming for perfection but trying to hit excellent. Personally I’m happy if I’m told my technique passes muster.  Then again I come from the generation before “every kid gets a trophy” and not everyone made the team.

Today I will present two alternatives to the 3×10 set/rep scheme. What first must be understood is Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) with the further understanding that RPE is fluid and subject to variation in any given week.

RPE 8: Two more reps could definitely been completed with good form

RPE 8.5: Maybe two more reps were capable.

RPE 9: One more rep could definitely been completed with good form

RPE 9.5: Maybe one more rep was capable. This is the rep before technical breakdown occurs.

Referring back to the opening quote, consistent practice both improves and alters your RPE.


Option 1: “Do what you can, as well as you can.”

Example Exercise Dumbbell Chest Press 100lbs/45kg x30 reps

Set 1: Complete reps to your RPE 8.5-9 range.

Set 2: Complete as many reps as possible to RPE 9.5 on the next set.

Set 3: Attempt to hit the 30 rep goal.  

 If you fell short of the 30 rep goal (example: Set 1=10, Set 2=8, Set 3=4 = 22/30) try increasing the reps per set in the next Bench Press session using the same load.  We are targeting a 23/30 minimum next session. If you equaled  or surpassed 30/30 increase the load by 5lbs/2.2kg next session.

I think this is potentially safer for beginners and naturally introverted people.


Option 2:It’s your set until it isn’t”

Example Exercise Dumbbell Chest Press 100lbs/45kg x30 reps

Get the work done with quality reps regardless of the number of sets it takes. Depending on the days performance, increase the load or attempt to decrease the number of sets in the next session. There will come a point where the number of sets cannot be lowered any further. If this is the case, the load is probably too light or your’e cheating the movement. 

Relatively safer with smaller muscle group exercises and machines. Higher intensity exercises would benefit from having a competent spotter on hand.  This also might be better suited for naturally extroverted people or ones with better a sense of their days RPE.

1. Source:




When A$$clowns run things…

“To me, the sign of an excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces progressive long-term improvement without soreness, injury or the athlete ever feeling thoroughly depleted. 

Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would virtually kill the toughest Marine or hardiest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.”  Dr. Mel Siff

What Dr.Siff describes in the first paragraph summarizes a well-developed and individualized training plan based on the day, with an eye on the long game. 

What he describes in the second paragraph I charitably call the “Any A$$clown workout.”  


“I used to use a dry erase board and took a pic everyday but I haven’t written workouts down in four months. I just wing it”  The work of an A$$clown. Although I do find the honesty refreshing, I question if that honesty extends to their clients.  

How does the consumer know if they’ve hired an A$$clown or not?  It can sometimes be tricky as some A$$clowns are very convincing in speech and “look the part.”  Complicating matters further, the general public believes that all trainers are fairly equal across the board when it comes to doing their job. Nothing could be further from the truth, and there’s a high number of A$$clowns running things.

A few red flags for the beginner…Was a health history/injury history taken? We can argue about specific certifications or training methods later, but knowing your history is non-negotiable. If anything, the CPR/AED certification is the #1 certification you should concern yourself with and trumps any of the alphabet soup organizations of fancy post-nominals.

 Lets say one the below accurately describes you on your first session with your trainer,  you are…classified as obese, pregnant/post-partum, previously injured, taking multiple prescription medications, have orthopedic limitations, are over 55 years old, a non-athlete over 300lbs, coming from a sedentary lifestyle, had a previous stroke or heart attack or had a recent surgery.

Mind you, that was just off the top of my head, and these are very common situations which change how I proceed with training. These are among the many conditions which guide my decision, the first of which being  “am I professionally equipped to train this individual?”  


I speak not with a forked tongue. I’ve personally seen these red flags being trained by the Any A$$clown trainers out there and feel confident enough to state that many of my professional colleagues have witnessed the same.

The short and unofficial “Any A$$clown” test


Inside the mind of the A$$clown trainers that make up every session on the spot.

Does your training appear completely random? Do you find yourself never improving in any particular movement?

FACT: I believe that having the skills to divert from a plan is a good thing, and at times a necessity.  That said, some trainers literally make up stuff every session. If they’re operating on the fly they’re likely not thinking about your needs or tracking any improvements. Any A$$clown can make stuff up

Does your trainer appear to not document anything you do? If you requested records of what you’ve done to date, could they provide it?  Links to social media videos don’t count in my world.

HISTORY FILE: Some years ago a co-worker got in trouble for not having any documentation on client training.  Their story of shredding every workout after it was completed “to prevent other trainers from copying them” wasn’t believed.  

When copies of the client workouts miraculously appeared (despite previously being shredded?) they were outed as fakes after a quick copy-paste into a Google search. 


Is your workout the same as the rest of the trainers clients? The One-Size fits all approach can’t be applied even if based off similar appearances.

At one point I had three healthy weight females all exceeding 6ft/182cm tall.  I had to look up to talk to them and they trained NOTHING LIKE each other.

Why? One was an athlete, two were not.  One was in her early 20’s, two were not.  Two were uninjured, one had a fairly recent knee and ankle injury, two had previous training histories, one hadn’t exercised since high school, of the two with training histories neither had trained with a barbell before….and that’s the simple stuff.


An A$$clown trainer just would see three tall women and figure they should be trained the same. A bigger A$$clown trainer would put everyone through the same workout regardless of their individual needs/limitations/capacities.