Comic Books come to life

“The Boys” by Garth Ennis was a 2006 comic book series later adapted to a live action series on Amazon Prime. In this story, super-powered people exist alongside us are viewed as  celebrities.  The principal antagonist was Vought American, a defense contractor with a lengthy history of producing faulty products.  While exceptional at the business end of things, they never quite nailed the science and development end of things.Think of fighter planes with dangerous fuel tank designs and rifles that wouldn’t reliably fire design flaws.

Their corner-cutting efforts nearly sank the company, until they fell onto the creation of a super-powered humans and they would quickly go on to holding a monopoly on super-powered individuals.  The problem was that creating an exceptional superhuman was incalculably expensive…so the company looked at ways of doing things cheaper. This of course led to…you guessed it…lots of crappy level super powered humans.


The Seven.  The pre-eminent Superhero team in the Boys Universe and creation of Vought American.  Starlight (far left) was the only redeemable character within the comic/show. The others were all quite powerful, but otherwise incompetent at their jobs and irresponsible with their powers.

In both the comic and live action series three issues became clear: (1) Having super-powers doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be a remotely good person (2) Having power, and knowing how to use it are different things and (3) Faulty powers are a possibility. (Image Credit: Den of Geek)

You can imagine the problems that could happen if this were reality.

 The Trainer world copied the comics. The Boys storyline got me to thinking about certification companies, specifically the large ones offering a high numbers of specialization courses.  One company I looked at currently offers 11 specializations in addition to their entry level certification. 12 if you count their optional Mastery level specialization.

While not easy, the entry level test isn’t exceptionally hard either and the barrier to most entry-level personal trainer programs isn’t particularly high. No proof of actual skill is required, just the passing of a multiple choice exam.  Only the Mastery course requires a demonstration of skill using the proprietary model.

They’re obviously not producing super-powered beings, but they are producing a large percentage of the people that could be placed in charge of your safety.

The company is possibly the largest trainer credentialing organization and I’ll take the  educated guess that they produce more trainers monthly than any two other organizations combined.  This would suggest something of a monopoly on newly minted trainers. I cannot look at you say that there aren’t some courses they offer that outright suck among their offerings.

I’ll be so bold as to say that some of those courses aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, and that far better options exist elsewhere.

So what we have is a large company with exceptional marketing skills that produces a high percentage of the incoming workforce.  A company that got a couple products down decently, but also produced a number of stinkers…which they HAVE TO KNOW are crap products yet went ahead and sold them anyhow.

1) Having a certification doesn’t automatically mean you’re remotely qualified (2) Having certification, and being able to apply the material are different things and (3) Crap trainers exist, regardless of pedigree and packaging.

….and people once said comics would rot your brain.





“Unpopular belief; Exercise variety is overrated, and not even required for nearly all goals. Rationale:I can take the same ten exercises and create different workouts of exceptional challenge simply by changing resistance amount, duration, rep ranges, etc. That some folks get bored with the same exercises is a psychological challenge, and not the fault of the program, trainer, or exercise. “  (Credit: Facebook Trainers Group)

The commenter is entitled to his training beliefs.  There are conditions where I can partially agree and disagree, it depends. I’m a big supporter of clients learning the basics, but the client is the one that defines what those basics are.

An aerial view of our backgrounds could shed  light on why our opinions might differ.

Commenter: Lifelong non-athlete with non-athletic clients.

Myself: Athletic background with mostly athletic clients.

Our differences are apparent, I don’t know the commenters experience level or educational history level, so I cannot fairly compare/contrast off unknown factors.

My (possibly) unpopular beliefs; Beginners need beginner level programs and trainers shouldn’t try out-punt their coverage by teaching things they don’t know. The ability to do ten things well can cover quite a bit of training mileage, but history continually shows that the average new personal trainer isn’t well-equipped in teaching the basics. Quite frankly some of the not-so-new personal trainers aren’t equipped to teach the basics either.

This brings me to the question, “If specificity is key, why employ variations?” Let’s start with the basics of human movement. These have been defined as…

Push,Pull,Hinge,Squat and Carry by Dan John

Gait,Push,Pull,Twist,Bend,Lunge and Squat by Paul Chek

Squat,Hip Hinge,Lunge,Cary, Upper Body Push, Upper Body Pull by Dr. John Rusin

Now lets consider the laws and principles of training…

Law of Individual Differences

Law of Accommodation

Specificity Principle

Overcompensation Principle

Overload Principle

Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) Principle

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) Principle

“Use it or Lose it” Principle

The above two lists are some of the things I consider when designing a program. I try checking as many boxes as I can, and accept some degree of compromise between things.

The commenters belief works with beginners or when introducing a new movement pattern…for awhile at least.  Once an individual owns a particular level of sophistication, progressive overload is employed, and we can achieve that in more than one way besides adding weight. 

Client qualification (their training level among other things) can also be a factor.  I’m a decent bench presser, at least as confirmed under competition standards and as assessed by multiple coaches.  If I trained a completely new bench press variation today, the first few sets might look ugly…but my learning curve is rather short and movement ownership would soon follow.  Why? I’m quite proficient in the fundamental pattern and can adapt that skill to a slightly different environment.

It was those challenging sets where I probably got the most out of the variation.

Where variation comes into play would be motor learning, change of training stimulus and addressing weak points while maintaining a degree of biomechanical similarity to a given movement pattern. The research on constant vs. varied learning has shown a number of cools things. 

Variation can also serve as a type of deload/overload, and therefore stress management. Example exercise:  Straight bar deadlift.   Pattern: Hip hinge

First, unless the person is involved in a sport requiring a bar be picked up from the floor, then it doesn’t HAVE to start there.  I don’t know if the commenter considers exercise range of motion as a variation or not.

Hex Bar Deadlifts can allow for heavier loading, and create more of a hinge/squat hybrid with a more upright torso.   An Axle Bar on the other hand, with its greater bar diameter limits loading capacity. The bar can be brutal to pick up due to its design features and can require slightly rounding the back to lift it.  Stance is pretty close to the standard barbell deadlift.   The law of individual differences would guide which exercises the individual might be contraindicated against.  

“The body will become better at whatever you do, or don’t do.  If you don’t move, your body will make you better at not moving.  If you move, your body will allow more movement. “  Ido Portal

Anecdotally speaking, even with adjustments to loading, speed, duration and volume the person is still performing a pattern in the same manner.  In time this could invite overuse injuries in the involved joints, while leaving other available ranges relatively untrained.

Further, this disregards the potential of some exercises thriving off specified variety, loaded carries, pull-ups and push-ups (Gait/Carry, Pull and Push) being just three examples.




Systems Thinking and Poo Flinging

A system is a group of interconnected elements working together to achieve a common purpose or function.

According to Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy, in order for us to consider something a system, it must have three things:

Elements: The individual parts of the system.

Interconnections and interdependence must exist among the elements.

Purpose or function: The objectives of the organization as a whole have a higher priority than the objectives of its subsystem(s) (Credit: Stuart McMillan)

A systems thinking approach helps when it comes to designing a training program.  Based on the individual and the goal there are at least two ways you could initially approach things based off the screening and performance data.

The Elements first approach: What is available to me, and what can I do? If Barbells were considered the ideal element for an intended purpose, but are not available, or I lack the ability to safely teach others how to use them then they’re not an element.  

If you’re essentially married to a singular element, then you’re limited to it.

The Purpose or function first approach: What is the goal? Can I train someone to this goal? Previous success may not be as great of an indicator as we’d like to think. A lengthy track record tiling towards positive outcomes is a good thing so long as we remember that there are always outliers, and that what works for one works for many might not work for an individual. 

Think of this as knowing where you’re going before you leave the house.

Not to diminish the other two, but interconnection and interdependence is where things often seem to drop off.  Given the individual and the goal/purpose, I look at the connections between elements within the session and how they evolve over subsequent sessions and cycles.  There is a “why” behind and between each element.


The opposite of the Systems Thinking approach is what I like to call  “The Poo Flinging approach”.  Essentially a trainer keeps throwing crap until something sticks. Either they are playing amateur hour, have misplaced over-confidence, don’t give a damn or perhaps a combination of those things.

Systems Thinking applied. I am currently building a home training center. 

Purpose and Function are clear. Build with an eye towards longterm needs and the capabilities of people above, below or differently skilled from myself.  

Elements in this case are the individual pieces of equipment, and build quality a personal priority.  

Interconnection and Interdependence between elements helps maximize investments.  Can the item be used for a singular purpose (is it highly specialized?) or can it be used in multiple ways, and do those ways contribute to the Purpose and Function? 

Poo Flinging applied.  I would be buying stuff simply based off looks based and impulse.

Systems thinking might be considered a lengthier process, and could invite paralysis by analysis. Ideally, it lessens the odds you’ll wind up with a face full of poo, or in my case reduce the odds of poor investments and buyers remorse.

A lesson from Tupac


“We’re not being taught to deal with the world as it is. We’re being taught to deal with this fairy land that we’re not even living in anymore. And it’s sad because it’s me telling you, and it should not be me telling you.”Tupac Shakur (

The take-home message: Tailoring education to the specific needs of the trainer, while instilling a strong foundation in the basics.  In my opinion, the basics is where the personal trainer credentialing organizations are failing the graduates.

The trainers  performance of what I consider to be generally accepted basic techniques tells me a lot about them.  I qualify these as “generally accepted” since they are common to the majority CPT texts: Pull,Push,Squat,Hip Hinge,Lunge, Rotate and Carry.

I recognize individual differences in form and style, but there is only so much departure from the basic that can be had before it becomes something else.

This opinion only solidified when trainers were asked to teach the material, improve an individuals performance and explain how the technique could be programmed.  Testing in this manner provides multiple opportunities to shine, but also shows where the trainers weaknesses lay.  It also screens screens out people with insufficient skills in the fundamentals.

Trainers can choose to grow from this wake up call, or not.

The certification body did their part by selling you an exam. If thats the only book you read then you’re limited to it.

After certification, it’s up to you to make more of  yourself.

Education should never stop. To think you’ve got it all is both arrogant and ignorant.

Don’t be afraid of a challenge or information that conflicts with what you’ve been taught.

Old Man Strength

Time is catching up on me.  

In the last five live courses I’ve taken I’ve been among the top 2-3 oldest people in the room.  I used to think that being the oldest person in the gym wasn’t the worst vague goal a person could have. I’ve since changed that to being the oldest capable person in the gym.

FACT: Whining and complaining about our advancing age will not stop the aging process.  We all eventually lose in our fight against time.

Three things we know about time…

1.  Our muscle mass starts to decline. 

2. Th brain cells responsible for controlling movement reduce in number. 

3. Our tissues begin to stiffen and dehydrate.

In light of 1-3, our functional skills and abilities are on a decreasing slope…unless we choose to do something about it.

Resistance training slows the decrease of muscle mass, and even non-previously trained elderly populations can grow muscle. The major problem is not having a balanced approach in training.

Varying movement patterns can help increase our neural cells. Moving in multiple planes of motion, at various intensities and velocities is what we are designed to do.

Flexibility, Mobility, Stability and Balance.  There are different things and don’t simply mean being able to touch your toes or scratch your own back.  This means becoming more limber and being able to control ranges of motion.

Recovery becomes more serious as we age, and as low level as it sounds, the simple act of drinking water can be a difference maker in your life.

A tale of two-capabilities…At one time I had two older clients, one male and one female that were less than a year apart in age.  On any given day either could have been the oldest person in the gym.

That ends the similarities, in training they were polar opposites of each other.

The lady looked a conservative decade younger than she was. She could engage the ground for Yoga postures and control free weights in space.  She was a joy to train and I looked forward to our next session together. You couldn’t ask for a better client. 

The male on the other hand looked like someone exceptional at beer drinking, chili-dog eating and remote control using. He seemed to hate training and wouldn’t follow instructions…or he just hated me.

I removed exercises from his program due to his inability to answer if something hurt or not.  I take a direct approach with pain, if I ask if something causes pain and the answer isn’t a No, then it’s a Yes.

By any set of measurements he needed to lose weight and admitted so himself. I am well-aware that people can be stuck in their ways of eating unless there is a serious medical intervention beyond my scope of practice. 

Anticipating the two-pronged difficulty, I set the bar low…but high enough to since achieving consistency was a need. I asked that he start walking 10 minutes a day in his non-hilly neighborhood, and drink 33% of his bodyweight in water daily for a week. Previous to this he reported only minimally walked around the house and didn’t drink much water. In hindsight I might have set the bar too high.  

“For two weeks I ask they (the client) only do two things:  Park the car further away from the store and drink two glasses of water a day.  At 9:00pm I will call and ask if you’ve done both.  I know when it takes a number of rings that they are getting in that glass of water. ”     Dan John.

A week later I asked how the daily walks and water drinking went. He stated he did both, but not without giving me an eye roll and insolent tone.  I swear it was like talking to the worlds oldest looking teenager. 

Hearing about this success, I asked if he could up his walk time to 12 minutes and water intake to 50% Bodyweight. I would have taken the 12 minutes broken into two 6 minute rounds but the conversation never got that far.  My motivation exceeded his, and I was told “No” with a look that I’ll describe as an “FU Smirk.” 

I relieved myself as his trainer the following week, I know when I can’t help someone.  

Balance these similar aged people against the three things we know about aging and imagine how they might stack up in just a few years.  

A tale of two courses.


Four years ago I received a free course from a well-known accredited personal trainer organization. It was completely online and in full-transparency. I admit to barely looking at the material. 

I carelessly clicked my way through the course and passed the multi-choice in less than 45 minutes.  Once the certificate was printed I was officially a “specialist” according to this company and fulfilled all my continuing education credits. I never applied any of this information in the gym, or even to another person. 

The sad fact is that courses like this appeal to some trainers: Maximum credit for minimum effort and post-nominals upon completion.  

I’m not one of those trainers, and I can’t relate to those that are.  “Did I improve?” is an important self-question.


Two years ago I  took a unaccredited course that was a mixture of nineteen books and recorded seminars.  The reading requirements alone told me there was NO WAY I could get through the material in six months, even with my daily reading habit.

I purchased the major texts and started reading before ordering the course.  It took 11 months just to get through one book alone, and the other books required multiple readings in whole or part and all videos were watched multiple times.  

“You need to add some weights to your library”  Louie Simmons

Add I did.  I spent 18 months training 4-6 days a week in order to understand the material being covered.  Along the way I took four other courses to supplement the education. 

Chris Duffin, Kabuki Movement Systems- Intro to Loaded Movement

Dan John, Dragon Door – Hardstyle Kettlebell

Dr. Andreo Spina – Functional Anatomy Seminars – FRC Mobility Specialist

Rik Brown – Mace Swinging

Gray Cook – Indian Club Fundamentals

Out of state weekend travel was required for two of those courses, and the purchase of specialized training equipment followed. 

Like the unchallenging course taken two years previous, the test was also open-book and online. That’s where any test similarities ended.

The answers were largely in essay form and could not be direct quotes from the textbooks without explanation in my own words. It was even stated that direct quotes would be marked wrong.  There were few multi-choice questions and the test was hand-graded by the author of most of the required reading.  There was no way to pass this exam with lucky clicks or rote memorization.  You had to know the material and be able to show your work in terms of equations and programming.

I finished the exam with less than 20 minutes remaining on the clock, and  waited two-months for the results.  Had I failed, it would have been a four-month wait to re-test with no idea what area(s) I failed.  

I passed on my first attempt.  The material learned has been used consistently and synthesized with material learned from other high value courses.  I’ve been able to apply many of  the training principles learned on people ranging from untrained beginners to highly qualified lifters and trainers ranging from year one to veteran.

Take a guess which course made me a better trainer.

Spilling some beans…


There are things your personal trainer might not be willing to admit.

I’m not speaking about your trainer specifically, nor am I saying they’re a bad person.  These are some unfortunate facts. Aside from Apps, nothing listed below is particularly new, however they do seem to be increasing.

Some trainers overly rely on apps. In fact it could be the app that automatically generated the workouts you are doing. Pro-Tip: If all you wanted was a follow-along workout then you can download one yourself and cut out the personal trainer middle man.

Some trainers passed their exam due to their memorization skills.  The NCCA accredited Certified Personal Trainer exams follow this format:  (1) Complete course work based off a singular textbook. (2) Obtain an in-person CPR/AED certification. (3) Bring your ID and copy of your CPR/AED card to a testing center. (4) Take a multiple choice exam. Pass/Fail results are known immediately.

Being NCCA accredited is not a mark of excellence or some gold-standard in and of itself. It simply means the test was administered under a particular set of conditions. It does not reflect the accuracy of the information tested.

Assuming they earned a passing score, that’s it. There is no test of actual abilities and it’s entirely possible to pass the test without previously picking up a weight beforehand.

In theory, you are now considered hirable in the majority of commercial gyms and YMCA’s. The organization that you tested under did their part by selling you an exam, the rest is up to the trainer. 

Some trainers “learn exercises” from watching online videos or from an app exercise library right before they make you do it. They spent minimal, if any time actually learning the material themselves. They only have a surface level knowledge of the exercise, little to no idea whether it’s a good/bad idea for you and zero idea how performing it will effect you the next day.

Education might not be a priority.

“What’s the quickest way to get continuing education units? I may be near my deadline.”

“Hell, I don’t want to have to study my ass off again!!!”

These were actual comments made by trainers. One has very poor time management skills and the other is intellectually lazy at best. 

These aren’t trainers looking for academically rigorous of physically challenging courses.  They are looking for a trophy (credits) for putting in the minimum effort at minimum personal expense.  I’ll take an intellectual guess that these individuals largely don’t invest in material that doesn’t award credits.

While I understand that individual finances dictates things, I cannot reasonably speculate these same people will want to be paid over minimum-wage (not accept the lowest pay) and not appreciate clients intentionally giving their minimum effort.