Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Know it All

“A know it all client needs a trainer that knows it all.”
C.S. Shimana

Not too many months ago I walked past a guy I will call “Carpet Guy Chris” (C.G.C.) We didn’t exchange any words, but based on the look he gave me I’m certain that he remembered me.

I originally met C.G.C in late 2012 while working as a commercial trainer and although I was already an experienced trainer I was new to the sales game. Like all new gym members, C.G.C was scheduled for a complimentary 1-on-1 personal training orientation and showed up early for his appointment. I had no appointments following him for more than an hour so I thought I would be able to take my time and improve my sales pitching.

C.G.C and I are nearly the same age with me being only two weeks older. I thought this would favor me as I presupposed he would relate better with me (aka a regular guy) than a 22 year old with 12 pack abs.

I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

C.G.C sat there with his arms protectively crossed above his massive belly telling me about his weightlifting history. 15 years ago he joined the 400 lb bench press club and had been working in carpet installation for 20 years. Recently he laid 100 yards of carpet in a single day.

According to C.G.C there is NO trainer that he could relate to, much less had anything that they could possibly show him or teach him that he didn’t already know.

Putting that information upfront was actually a good thing. I could have easily reacted in an aggressive manner, but instead chose to listen. I believed at the time I had close, if not ZERO chance of influencing this person to sign up for personal training.

Still… If he KNEW there was no chance of him signing a personal training agreement, and that this was a 1-1 personal training session with the intent of selling said training what motivated him to show up in the first place?

I could at least gain some insight and education out of this situation. That way I wouldn’t have considered my time wasted and could hone my sales pitch on a client convinced there is no value in offered services.

C.G.C stated he started gaining weight after the birth of his daughter, (which was 5 years ago at the time.) He guessed he weighed around 285-300 lbs but didn’t know since he hadn’t weighed himself “in awhile.”

I was certain 300 lbs was a gross underestimation (unless he happened to be hollow.) To confirm my suspicion, and as a required part of the free session I asked if he would follow me across the gym to a scale so I could get a current reading.

While we are making the short trek to the gym scale I reminded myself of some of my new client rules.

“Never judge people.”

“Have a degree of sympathy for those in poor physical condition; we’ve all been in a bad place at one time or another.”

“Speaking truthfully is good, shaming is not.”

“Have thick skin.”

The scale reading was telling… 353.8lbs. I remember the number quite vividly. I’ve seen higher numbers, but I’ve yet to see that combination of shock, disbelief and anger all at once.

C.G.C was off by 53 lbs on the high side of his estimated weight. He actually stepped off, took off his shoes and re-weighed himself. I swear looked behind him to see if I was using my foot to push down on the scale to add false pounds. My amateur hour telepathy tells me that he believed the scale was calibrated high to fool the public into believing they are a lot heavier than they really weigh.

One thing for certain, taking off his shoes didn’t drop him to 285 lbs.

I didn’t bother getting a bio-impedance bodyfat reading since I was certain he would have exceeded the maximum reading. In hindsight it was for the best since I believe C.G.C would have figured the device was faulty and calibrated to “run high.”

I noticed that C.G.C was noticeably out of breath and starting to sweat after walking a total of 150 feet, and had difficulty getting in and out of chairs due to the squatting involved.

Based purely on those observations I can reasonably suspect C.G.C had no recent blood tests or medical check-ups.

Enter my not so savvy salesmanship….

C.G.C. “I Don’t need a trainer, I’ve been raising hell in gyms for 20 years, there’s nothing you guys could teach me…O.K…..maybe I might learn something” in a vocal tone that could only be described as condescending and childish.

Slip #1.
Me. “You’ve been a member of gyms for 20 years, and a trainer just taught you that you’re a lot heavier than you thought you were. So whatever you’ve been doing in the gym and the kitchen for 20 years isn’t working when it comes to weight loss.”

I didn’t bother mentioning were a few members on our personal training staff at the time….
A Senior men’s top 5 national bodybuilder.
A Female IFBB physique competitor.

The discipline and dedication an established bodybuilder/physique competitor puts into their diet is only matched by their training dedication.

Two former college athletes, one with a B.S. in Kinesiology and the other with a B.S. in Exercise Science.

A trainer that has helped several clients drop 70+lbs and was a 2 time franchise winning weight loss coach.

A trainer with over 20 years of tactical military fitness coaching and former national level competitive athlete.

I never bothered mentioning any of these trainers since none of them, especially me, could not teach him anything. Not that any of us didn’t have anything worthwhile to offer, he simply wouldn’t listen to any opinion or advice other than his own.

The world of fitness according to C.G.C
“Your job ain’t hard, look…it’s eat less, workout more.”

Slip #2…
” How much?”

Quizzical look from C.G.C

“How much less should you be eating? What is your actual caloric need presently? What are your dietary macros? What energy system and exercises are going to be the most effective in working towards your goal?”

“Honestly, your weight underestimation amounts to one-third of an adult female. I don’t think you know what “less” actually is. “

C.G.C “I’ve lost weight before, I’ll lose it again.”

”I believe you, but it’s obvious you only thought you lost the weight. It managed to find you again and brought some more fat to the party. The fact is you have ideas how to lose weight, but you don’t know crap about keeping it off.”

C.G.C “I laid 100 yards of carpet yesterday; I’d like to see you do that.”

Slip #3…
“That doesn’t sound hard, it’s just drop it and unroll it right.”

I’ll admit, I was a little pissed he dismissed my career so quickly along with his condescending manner and reacted poorly by flinging poo back at him.

In fairness to C.G.C, I’ve seen numerous trainers I too would categorize as “clown shoes” but also known plenty of dedicated trainers that get results. For him to judge an entire field by the actions of a few is narrow minded.

Truthfully I’m certain laying 100 yards of carpet it isn’t easy. But bio- mechanically speaking what is happening is a slow crawl and some pushing with ample amounts of pausing in between.

C.G.C has had 20 years to physically adapt to meet a given task. This would have required explanation of the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.) The demands on his body are therefore far less than a similar sized person that has never done it before, or someone that hasn’t done it for very long.

SAID in a nutshell
If you pressed a 45 lb weight overhead for 3 sets of 8 repetitions with a 60 second breaks in-between the sets you would eventually get good at doing 45 lb overhead presses, and eventually cease seeing any results. You’ll be able to move the weight faster or with better form, but not make any gains unless you make a change to your pressing.

For a more scientific answer…

Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle

“When designing a program for enhancing sports performance, one of the most important acute variables Sport Performance Professionals must consider is exercise selection. All exercises chosen should follow the Principle of Specificity also known as the SAID Principle. The SAID Principle essentially means the body will adapt to the type of demands placed on it. For example, if an athlete continuously lifts heavy loads, the adaptation will be maximal strength. Conversely, if the athlete continuously lifts light loads with high repetitions, the outcome will be muscular endurance. This is a fairly simple concept to understand. In essence, you get what you train for.” (Thank you NSCA!)

The continued lifting of the same load would no longer produce levels of central nervous system activity, muscle growth, skeletal loading or conditioning that it did when it was still new. Progression is key.

Simple fixes
1. Increase the load (add weight)
2. Increase the volume (+reps/sets)
3. Increase the density (cut break time)
4. Alter the lifting tempo
5. Progress the exercise to a more sophisticated variation.

6. Change from seated to standing

7. Change from using both hands to one hand

8. Press a variable loaded object (like a 45lb sandbag) etc etc etc

I didn’t bother with trying to explain the three human body energy systems, or the fact that the main system being tapped during his carpet laying was likely his glycolytic system, which supplies the primary source of energy for activities for activities that that between (roughly) 15 seconds to two minutes and is not oxygen dependent, it is however carbohydrate dependent.

I didn’t bother explaining that the oxidative system (aka aerobic energy system) is the one that is oxygen dependent and that both fats and carbs are required for fuel.

His activity is being fueled largely by carbs, which I can all but guarantee his intake of is (1) Excessive (2) Nutrient poor (3) Calorically dense and (4) Processed beyond belief.

The bodybuilder trainers, either of our two nutritionist trainers or our exercise science trainers could have explained the same thing.

Fact: There are benefits in moving slow,fast and still. (Eccentric,Concentric and Isometric, or in Chris talk “Grind,Explode and Endure.”

Trying to recover from my previous slips…

“100 yards sounds tough though, let me ask you, can you climb up 100 yards of stairs without getting out of breath? Can you Farmers Walk half-body weight for 100 yards?”

C.G.C Didn’t have an answer for that question, but did re-mention his 15 year old 400 lb bench press PR and the fact that he knew I couldn’t bench 400.

He had me dead to rights; my bench never came close to 400 lbs. That’s a pretty easy statement to get behind when you’re looking at a person that only weighs 170’ish.

1. His epic lift was 15 years ago, that isn’t now. Quite frankly it may never have actually happened or it may be overestimation.

2. 400 lb bench presses are impressive and I certainly dig watching people lift monster weights, but strength is often considered more impressive relative to the lifters size and there are high school kids in America benching far higher numbers without 20 years experience of raising hell in gyms.

3. How does benching a huge number work towards getting you to your weight loss goal?

4. The bench press is an indicator of upper body strength. It is also a heavy-slow lift that can be assisted in numerous ways:

– Bench Press Shirts
– Spotters that turn your bench into their trapezius exercise
– Partial range lifts

Save for wrist straps, a farmers walk cannot really be assisted.

I would be interested to see how many push-ups he could complete in two-minutes.

5. The bench press is not considered an indicator of health. A person could smoke 2 packs of cigarettes per day, eat a diet of nothing but junk food and be a high functioning alcoholic and still bench press 400 lbs.

C.G.C was a client in total denial. He needed help and wouldn’t, or couldn’t admit it. His condescending attitude was a self-defense mechanism and he is clearly living in the past.

He is a heart attack or major joint injury waiting to happen. His ego and confrontational nature would eventually result in a gym mishap or in negative results.

I believed he would continue doing whatever exercises he’d been doing all along.

His attitude would drive a number of trainers away from him and the best suited trainer for the job would be an exceptionally thick skinned individual able to influence another’s outlook, attitude and lifestyle….and able to bench press 405 lbs.

When C.G.C and I saw each other I noted that he was on the recumbent bike pedaling slowly and drinking a huge Gatorade and was situated nowhere near the sightline of the bench press area.

He didn’t look any different than before. C.G.C can change when he is ready and willing to change.

I believe than anyone that has the mental toughness to lay underneath a 400 lb iron object with the intent of pressing it or completing a football field length of carpeting in a day can accomplish other difficult tasks….if they open and set their mind to it.


The Why

Why is a certain exercise part of your program?

By extension, how does that exercise contribute towards the clients’ goals or address a client need? Granted, this presupposes the trainer actually does program and doesn’t wing it during every session.

I read an article the other day where one of the interviewees stated that in his gym his trainers police each other. When a trainer spots another trainer making questionable exercise choices with their client they can come up to the trainer and whisper “Why?”

The questioned trainer is now required to explain the exercise selection to their peer.

Let that sink in for a second.

For the questioned trainer, one of several things comes to light.

(1) A trainer noticed you doing something potentially odd, therefore other people in the gym likely noticed it.

(2) Too many “Why?” Questions can’t possibly be a good thing.

It is my opinion that every exercise in a program must be there for a reason and be the most logical choice according to the clients’ goals, needs and capabilities.

There would be no reason for me to program accommodated resistance band dead lifts if the client hasn’t reached a decent dead lift number.

There would be little, if any reason for me to use a kettlebell if a barbell or dumbbell would do a better job.

There would be no reason for me to program plyometrics if the action does not support the goal or if the action is beyond the clients’ physical capabilities.

For the question asker, if you’re going to ask why you better come correct. I seriously consider that there may indeed be good reason “why” a certain exercise is performed by a client realizing that I am not that persons trainer, therefore do not know what their goal is or any medical/movement issues they may have.

Being ill-prepared when questioning other trainers’ methods can be awkward or socially embarrassing. I would know, I’ve been questioned “Why?” myself and it didn’t turn out very well for the question askers. (Yes, there were two of them. Between the two of them they made a passable trainer.)

Although I did provide a logical answer, I think I actually made things more difficult to understand.

Some trainers will gladly tell you their reasons, others will take offense and say its none of your business. I believe it comes down to the trainers’ character, confidence and knowledge.

For the trainers that do answer the why question you may get more of an answer than you bargained for,

A “Why?” moment that has been brought up several times here on MyTrainerChris is the now famous “Make an old lady plyo hop onto a step” exercise. Quite frankly there is NO answer the trainer could have given me that I would have found reasonable.

More recently, “Why” would you perform hip thrusts on the laying hamstring curl machine and in the same workout perform laying hamstring curls with a resistance band on you ankles?

My half answer is the hip thrust being performed on the laying hamstring curl machine would be more comfortable for the user due to the big pad. If anything, using the same machine for both purposes would be a more efficient use of time.

Take a critical and honest look at your programming and ask “Why?”

MLM Rant

It’s been awhile, but I’m due for a rant.

Over the past several weeks I’ve been inundated with Multi-Level Marketers (aka MLM/ Network Marketing) to the point where I have temporarily left a trainers board that I was part of. Quite literally it seems that I cannot go 48 hours without getting into it with some BeachBody Coach, Advocare consultant, Isagenix, Herbalife, ViSalus or some other supplement MLM personality.

“Hi Chris, I see you’re a personal trainer and into health and fitness like me! I’m a Beachbody coach….”

OK stop right there. We are two VERY different types of coaches. I have yet to meet a self-respecting trainer/coach that tacks “Beachbody Coach” after their name. We typically like initials.

CSCS,RKC II,CF-L2,SFG,USAW,PES,CES,HFS,MES (We don’t spell stuff out.)

I have a wide range of professional influences, none of which have the title “Beachbody Coach” after their name.

I recently ran into a person that was promising “Lose 15lbs of weight in 21 days.” She attempted to avoid answering my questions in regards to her qualifications in weight loss, nutrition, personal training or wellness. I finally got my answer…She is a Spin Instructor at a YMCA.

Having spent a little time researching the various products I’ve come to a few following conclusions:

The MLM guys seem far more interested in getting me interested in selling their stuff.

The products may actually be pretty decent, however MLM is the worst way they could put the product out there.

Even if the product is quite good, the mark-up is really high due to all the residuals that have to be paid.

I don’t buy into the fact that a certain highly visible CrossFit athlete uses a particular brand as proof of its efficacy. The fact is he truthfully has used the product for sometime now, but that he couldn’t speak about due to the fact he was previously under contract to popular over the counter supplement.

I can understand the attraction that MLM’s hold for some trainers. Personal Training (and by extension CrossFit) are entrepreneurial by nature and supplements do factor into fitness plans for a number of goals. Once again, the product itself may indeed be very good quality but I have yet to meet a trainer that made a “ton of cash” trying to sell MLM products to other trainers.

I don’t blindly trust “published studies” produced by the company. In at least one case the published study was submitted to a “pay to publish” journal, which means the company would have been able to design the study to determine an outcome they want. “Pay to Publish” sends me the message that the company knows their crap is crap.

The founder of Herbalife died following a toxic lifestyle.

Diverse vs. Niche

It’s been nearly 18 months since I wrote “Training the Many, Training the Few”

I thought it would cool to re-visit the topic to see how things have since changed for me.

Since the publication of that post I have moved into a private personal training practice where I have total control of which clients I work with. I pre-qualify clients and will refer to other trainers if I feel their needs/goals are outside of my abilities or if I feel we will not be a good fit.

As a commercial gym trainer I had small degree of power to refuse a client (and did on several occasions) but those decisions came with consequences beyond immediate financial gain. Over 50% of my commercial gym clients were either over the age of 55 years old, or had functional movement issues or medical conditions that required a higher degree of attention to detail. This was disproportionately higher than any other trainer on staff and on a number for number for basis was higher than any three put together. I am thankful for the experience provided and the challenges helped develop me as trainer. It was also a driving factor in my decision to enter private practice.

My current clientele:
Two Amateur Mixed Martial Artists, both male. One weighs 140lbs the other just over 200lbs. Both are highly athletic and have decades of training experience. The 140lb fighter is capable of a 400lb dead lift and runs the 100m dash in -10 seconds.

One 60 y.o male, former shoulder post-rehab client that now trains in power lifting. His 1 repetition max weights in the Squat, Deadlift, Press and Bench Press all fall into the masters’ class advanced/elite level of strength standards. Two years ago this man couldn’t move his arm above his own head.

One 60 y.o female general fitness client. Client has lost more that 20lbs and principally trains using suspension systems, bodyweight calisthenics, kettlebell and mobility training.

One 30 y.o female weight loss client. We achieved her target dress size before deadline and are working toward dropping another dress size. To date she has lost roughly 1 dress size every 30 days and her performance markers in cardiovascular endurance, speed and strength have all improved greatly.

One 25 y.o female aesthetics client. New client with physique goals for her upcoming wedding.

One 22 y.o female performance client. New client will be training for the fire fighting academy physical requirements.

I also have several clients that I am providing consultation service but not actively training.

I maintain a decent degree of variety given my relatively small number of clients. Any plans of client expansion will maintain a similar distribution unless I decide to narrow my training focus.

A few things I learned over the last 18 months…

1. Training challenging clients is not for everyone, nor should it be. Training a challenging client and getting that person to achieve positive outcomes is far different than taking an otherwise healthy person and making them better.

I refuse to believe that “anybody can train them” (Quote from another trainer, who ironically didn’t’ have many older clients.)

2. In a commercial gym where clients are assigned there is the distinct chance that clients of a similar type will be assigned if you show ability in handling them. This has its advantages if this is what you wish to specialize in, have the training for and are passionate about. This also has its disadvantages as training numerous challenging clients in a day, all with unique needs and programming can cause professional burnout over time.

3. In private practice one can specify their niche. While this may seem to a poor business decision it does specify and define what you are, what you do and what separates you from the pack. It is my opinion that having 2-3 things you are exceptional in is better than being passable in numerous areas. In my case I have three distinct areas where I feel I perform exceptionally. I am able to modify those three areas to train a wide-range of client needs.

4. Having a closet full (ok two closets full) of books, including a number still unread is a good thing. For the independent trainer I advise balancing your technical reading with the business skills/personal development reading.

5. I stick to my original opinion that some trainers are very limited. I am not referring to trainers that focus on a single method (I.E. Only power lifting, only bodybuilding, only Yoga etc) but rather the trainers that limit themselves only to what they know,that which agrees with their line of thinking or are capable of getting results only within a narrow client type. A power lifter, an Oly lifter and a Strongman lifter all lift heavy things. Perfectly cool and all have value. It’s when one says the others are crap and that their method is the ONLY method to achieving a goal where I take issue.

Even more limited is the trainer that knows (or sort of knows) what they know and doesn’t see a reason to learn anything more than that.

6. For new trainers I suggest the following:

For the first two years absorb, absorb, absorb. The CPT test gave you the basics to do your job, now go learn how to apply the lessons.

Read daily, find influences and mentors and stand on the shoulders of giants.

Over the course of 1-2 years your interests may change but you will discover your passion within your passion.

Don’t let someone else define you.

Circus Tricks II

 After finishing my blog “Circus Tricks” I was sitting around bored one day (which doesn’t happen very much) questioning the allure circus tricks hold. I honestly believe I would fire a circus trick trainer as they violate three of my big client rules:

(1) Don’t hurt the client

(2) Don’t make the client look like an idiot

(3) Don’t do stupid sh!t.

Any rate, I came up with a few possible answers.

For clients

1. They are generally difficult to perform and can be bio-mechanically complex. This gives the person the sense that they are “really working out.”

2. Circus tricks involving props (I.E. Bosu, Battleropes, Kettlebells, Bands et al) appear far more “advanced.”

3. Quite likely more entertaining. Squatting with a barbell can be outright miserable, squatting while straddling two large plyo boxes with a much lighter kettlebell is comparatively much easier.

4. The client doesn’t know any better.

For Trainers

1. Circus Tricks don’t present a movement with a high need to correct the users form or track multiple performance variables.

2. It is pretty easy to con someone into believing the training is either functional (has some transfer to the needs of life or sport) High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or is taken from CrossFit, especially if the person has NEVER trained in CrossFit.

3. Since heavy weights are not used the trainer never has to explain that women won’t get bulky doing this sort of training nor lug anything  heavy around the gym.

4. The circus tricks can be made compound or isolation movements. Simply being able to graft one circus to another takes care of this problem.

5. YouTube is a veritable encyclopedia of circus trick ideas.

6. Programming isn’t necessary since every workout is different.