Fundamentals

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.

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