Monthly Archives: October 2014

Coaching Part 2

“There’s no crying in baseball! Tom Hanks “A League of their own”

“There’s no whining in the gym!”

I preface today’s blog by stating that none of my recent training sessions have involved whining clients and that this entry is reflective in nature.

Truth Time: I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I am not nearly as good at dealing with whiners as I thought I was. I previously liked to believe that I had improved my tolerance levels, but all I’ve simply done is not yell at people. Nowadays I typically voice my displeasure at the clients continued whining in a very low tone with an emotionless face.

One of my athletes stated he would rather I yell at him because the “you let me down” treatment feels so much worse than an a$$ chewing.

Coaches have their various means and methods of dealing with whining, which occurs across the full spectrum of clients from elite level athletes all the way to those that were literal “training failures” and those where improving mobility and functional movement is the driving goal.

Athletes, tactical personnel and some executive types have one driving thing in common; they have all to one degree or another become comfortable being uncomfortable.

– The athlete needs to remain on top against increasing levels of competition, or become competitive for the top positions within their sports.

– Tactical personnel typically have careers where success can be measured in life or death.

– White collar executives make numerous tough decisions on a daily basis. Some of which can change the entire course their employers position in the economy.

Do any of these people whine? I’m certain they do. But they take personal responsibility for their actions and move on. In military terms, they embrace the suck.

Stress Managers
I believe coaches are stress managers. The client has a baseline physical stress capacity. The coach provides the programming, direction and motivation needed to increase the clients’ ability to handle physical stress. In time, continued adaptation to stress leads to mental toughness and ideally the will to win.

I view training as an applied science. My current assessments include a set of timed performance tests that can be regressed if required. Aside from the clients functional movement patterns, strength and cardio capacity I am assessing their mental toughness and their intrinsic motivation. Typically closet whiners will out themselves during the performance tests.

Some people can’t do one push-up, but they will fight like hell the entire time to try and do one. I’ll take that person over the one that can perform 30 push-ups but held back for whatever reason.

Whining never solves anything. It simply provides an excuse to avoid doing work. I will admit there were times I was tempted to give a client a pass on an exercise simply to avoid their whining. I make it abundantly clear that I do not progress an exercise or increase loads unless I believe the client is fully capable of performing the exercise. I never said they wouldn’t be challenged, but they have the chance to succeed.


Coaching Part 1

Coach, as defined by Merriam-Webster…

“A person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer.
“A person who teaches and trains members of a sports team and makes decisions about how the team plays during games.
“A private teacher who gives someone lessons in a particular subject.”

The role of the coach in the context of strength and conditioning or performance enhancement requires numerous skills to effectively deliver positive functional outcomes.

– Communications.
– Knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology.
– Technical Skill and Knowledge.
– Psychology.
– Physics.
– Applied Science

An effective coach sees the potential in each client/athlete and develops the systems, methods and long term training plans needed for the athlete to reach their full genetic potential.

The effective coach not only looks at the “here and now” but also “what is down the road”,sets realistic and measurable goals.

Constantly, the effective coach seeks one thing.

“How do I make this better?”

My inspirations for this blog came from two sources. One from the writings of an athlete blogger here on WordPress that has an especially tight relationship with her coach, and the other after reading a post on a social media site where a person (I can’t type the word trainer or coach to describe this person) stated that she didn’t she need be able to perform an exercise provided she “understood the exercise, knew how to coach it, spot it etc.” in order to teach it to a client.

My thoughts are “How can you really say you know something if you have never experienced it yourself?”

Learning an exercise on the academic level is one thing. There is substantial information from numerous quality sources on how to perform a given technique written by people far smarter than me.

YouTube DOES have some quality instructional videos and a sharp eyed person could pick out small details that others may miss. You just need to know where to look.

Knowing how to cue a movement could simply be a regurgitation of the same cues someone else gave.
A good coach knows when to be active and when to be passive.

Proper spotting greatly depends on the exercise.

It is my belief that in order to truly know something you must have spent time away from the books actually LEARNING and EXPERIENCING it.

What is the human body actually going through?

What mistakes have you made, and how did you fix them?

What accomplishments and frustrations did you run into?

Where do performance flaws typically show up and how to avoid them?

How can you coach the barbell squat without known what it feels like to have a very heavy thing on your back?

How can you honestly coach a pull-up if you’ve never performed them yourself?

This in now way means that to coach the deadlift I had to have achieved and an arbitrary number or could perform 100 Kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes to teach the KB Snatch. It does however mean that I have pushed my deadlift weight and worked high repetition snatches.

I know that the bottom position of the deadlift is a pretty uncomfortable place to be.

I know what it’s like to have your abs fatigue during high rep snatches or barbell squats.

I’ll give a personal pass to the walking wounded trainers that have medical reasons why they can’t perform a given exercise. Some people are looking for any excuse they can find to avoid a thing called “effort.”

I have great respect for the credentials and specializations that require live testing and coaching performance from their candidates. To the best of my knowledge the following organizations require the abilities to perform, plan, communicate, troubleshoot and instruct to earn a designation:

NASM Master Trainer. The NASM Master Trainer requires candidates to hold a minimum of three specializations in addition to their certified personal trainer credential and the candidates must pass a written exam and live peer review of their skills. Currently there are three particular Master Trainer tracks candidates can pursue depending on their specializations.

I could talk my way through a lot of this, but I would still have to be able to deliver the goods when it comes to the peer review. Me being the bastard that I am would ask the candidate to demonstrate and breakdown an exercise they want to give a client. If the candidate couldn’t do physically perform it (without medical justification ) I would ask why are they expecting someone else to be able to perform it?

Dragon Door RKC and StrongFirst Kettlebell Level 1-2 both include evaluations of the candidates ability to perform the core movements and skills in teaching techniques to others within a short timeframe. Strength standards are required with entry level and graduate performance minimums.

I could only talk so much about the kettlebell movement without having to actually perform the movement myself. There is no way I could show up and pass an RKC/SFG without preparation and physical literacy in the techniques.

USA Weightlifting National Coach requires video submission of your personal Snatch and Clean and Jerk technique in addition to producing athletes that have competed at the National level and a level 1 Sport Performance coach certification.

Starting Strength Certification. The coach must demonstrate proficiency in the performance and coaching of the basic barbell lifts (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Press and Power clean) according to the Starting Strength model, pass a rigorous exam demonstrating theoretical knowledge of the physics and biology involved. I’ve read the pass rate for the SSC certification is around 10-20%.

I could memorize Starting Strength cover to cover but would still have to had spent a lot of time under the bar.


Two recent questions on a certified personal trainer board (that I’m no longer a member of, but occasionally view because….well I don’t know why, but I do.) recently caught my attention.

One was from a trainer that doesn’t know how to perform a squat and wanted the proper form for performing the movement on the Smith Rack.

The other question was pretty interesting. “Do trainers feel the pressure to be able to perform any movement they prescribe?”

“The Smith Rack”
I’m biased against the use of the Smith Rack. I am not alone in this opinion but for everyone opposed there is at least one person in favor of them. The Smith Rack is not totally without its uses for bodybuilders and physique competitors looking for local quad/glute hypertrophy and I have used the Smith Rack myself for those specific purposes. I’m not an outright Smith Rack bigot, but if my gym didn’t have one I wouldn’t miss it.

My training system is designed for outcomes besides aesthetics with most of my clients training for performance. Therefore my use of the Smith Machine is limited. I find the Smith Machine valuable for teaching push-up regressions, Australian pull-ups and of course for hanging the TRX from (including TRX Squats!)

A $4000 piece of equipment and the only things I can see using it for (aside from monster shrugs) are regressed bodyweight exercises and suspension training.

Squat mechanics in the Smith Rack are different from the alternative methods thus requiring different foot positions and hip movement. The Smith Rack Squat and Barbell Squat are similar in name only.

The Smith Rack is not an inherently safer exercise.

Yes, the Smith Rack does focus the quadriceps, but this comes at the expense of the tendons and joints.

Pure speculation on my part, but I think many of the people totally against the Smith Rack are probably against most weight machines.

Personally, I think beginners are better off learning the fundamental pattern versus being locked into the Smith Rack.

It’s not all squats/split squats and bench presses in the Smith Rack. I’ve seen trainers have their clients perform various overhead presses and even curls in the Smith Rack.

Why they do this I have no idea. Probably has something to do with less technical instruction required. These guys are probably the same guys that poke fun at CrossFitters for “crap technique” while they are teaching “no technique.”

My answer to this trainer would be to learn the fundamental squat mechanics first. Start with the Air Squat (which is one of the CrossFit fundamental movements) or the Goblet Squat (one of the 5 basic movements of Hardstyle Kettlebell) and progress to other squat variants. Learn the hip hinge pattern.

“Can teach, but not perform.”
The trainer confided that she could not perform a pull-up and do trainers feel a certain pressure to perform every exercise and be perfect at them.

My first thought when I read the question was “What is stopping you from learning how to perform a pull-up?”

I believe that the trainer should be able to perform any movement they are prescribing to a client. Save for an injury preventing such, how can I justify making a client perform an exercise that I myself cannot?

Two of my self-imposed training rules:

“Don’t make someone do something that I’m not prepared to do myself.”

“Don’t give someone an challenge they are not prepared for.”

I have had cases where I was demonstrating a stretch technique that my client could perform it better than I could and I have one client that can sprint 100m much faster than I can. I have three clients that can power lift heavier loads than I can as well.

I can sprint 100m, I can perform the basic barbell lifts and my body parts move mostly the way they should. The fact that I can perform the movements and know how to coach and explain the movements is key.

Not long ago one of my fighters stated he wanted to be able to power clean and strict barbell press his own bodyweight (225lbs / 102kg.) My power clean technique is ugly in the racked position and I have only strict barbell pressed my own bodyweight a few times, although I am nearing a half-bodyweight single kettlebell press at a current weight of 170lbs/77kg.

I’m a firm believer that you should teach to your abilities. I can’t lift his loads, but I can perform the techniques. I could be incredible at coaching and cuing the movements and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the lift but not having some degree of skill in the technique I believe lessens my ability to teach it to someone else.

The client twice asked if I could demonstrate exactly what it was I was trying to communicate. Had I not been able to accomplish the movement it wouldn’t have looked good.

It could rightfully be argued that Tiger Woods golf coach is not a better golfer than Tiger, or that Mike Tyson’s boxing coach was not a tougher guy than Iron Mike. I would agree to those statements. The coach needs the eye and communications skills necessary to watch their athlete perform and answer the question “How do I make this person do that better?”

My terrible golfing skills are legendary. No grass, cart or fellow golfer is safe when I’m on the green as my ball flies wildly and my club tossed with anger like a war club.

If I could somehow absorb the knowledge of every great golf coach that ever lived (Bagger Chris?) and be given a young client with the skill potential of Tiger Woods I don’t think I would be able to build the next big thing. If however, I was able to develop a level of personal skill, spend time learning the craft and build my golf coaching skills I might get somewhere.

“Mediocre athletes that tried like hell to get good are the best coaches” Mark Rippetoe.

Fear Itself

“Fear is a force that sharpens your senses. Being afraid is a state of paralysis in which you can’t do nothing.”
Marcus Luttrell

I’ve had friends that were afraid, or feared failure. Failure in business, failure at CrossFit, failure of not losing weight or not hitting a new PR. Everyone knows the feeling of fear.

Fear sucks but can be dealt with. The common denominator is you.
Is your strength greater than your fear?

On an early Saturday morning, laying on the gym floor I was holding a 35lb kettlebell in the bottoms up (heavy end up) position when fear itself crept up on me.

35lbs of cast iron is more than enough weight to seriously hurt me if things go bad.

The wrist and shoulders are not very forgiving joints, and I’m not that young.

I’ve been refining my get up technique in preparation for an upcoming StrongFirst certification. A shoulder injury could be a serious setback.

I am thankful that my view of lifting techniques parallel my view of martial art techniques and that I consider every small movement an exercise of its own.

I’ve performed the get up, the half get up and the quarter get up with heavier loads, yet nearly every day I also practice the movement while balancing a shoe atop my fist.

The bottoms up get up is a different animal. It requires the lifters technique to be even more precise and coordinated throughout a range of movements and get ups challenge the stability and mobility of every joint in the human body.

35 lbs shouldn’t feel this heavy.
35 lbs is something I normally don’t fear.

Yet looking up at the gyms ceiling I keep thinking that kettlebell looks more like a wrecking ball.


It’s said that we all have two dogs living inside of us; A dog named Fear and a dog named Strength. They walk with us for all our days and constantly fight each other.

The dog that gets more food and attention takes the dominant role, while the neglected dog becomes weaker and smaller.

I had been feeding the wrong dog.

It would be easy to substitute the lift for a standard get up.
It would have easy to grab the 24lb kettlebell, even easier to grab the 18lb one.
It would have been really easy to scrap the whole idea and get off the damn floor.

My objective, my sole focus is to get to the elbow position. That position defines my success today.

I just need to move from my back to sitting upright on my left elbow. I’ve done this a lot lately.

My right arm is the sword and the kettlebell the sword tip.
The ceiling is my target.

I am the weapon and I refuse
to be afraid.

Breathe-Focus-Push-Get There

Take the damn elbow position.
Now take the upright position.
Now take the high plank position.
Now return to the ground…and smile.