Monthly Archives: March 2016

On Learning

“As Iron sharpens Iron, so one man sharpens another.”

-Proverbs 27:17

As a coach, understanding the three major styles, Visual,Auditory and Kinesthetic is important and changes your delivery as well as your students experience.   Adults have their preferences, but ultimately most involve all three and in some cases may switch learning styles depending on the situation.  With the occasional exception of highly athletic students, I try keeping the sessions new learning to three movements.

What those three movements are depends on where I am meeting the student from a physical capability.

Visual learners focus on demonstrations (photo, video or live person) and may even have preferences within the context.  Video in regular,slow and fast modes, sometimes even in reverse, Photos showing various angles and live instruction with total breakdowns  of movement. In live presentation they are often within the first row and may not take many notes.  Anecdotally I’ve noted a number a natural athletes are visual learners.

The coach, or an assistant must be able to demonstrate with technical competence as the visual learner will mimic what they see. If your form is off, their form will be off. This is a small part of the importance in not teaching things you don’t really know yourself.  There are things you can get away with playing amateur hour, and things you cannot.  The thin line between the two is called the client.

Auditory learners like a good description of of what is needed.  Breaking down techniques into their component parts and then “stacking”  new learning on top of previously learned instruction, or being able to offer comparisons in a plain simple language are good things to employ.

The creative coach can describe movements in a way that the student can form mental pictures to grasp the situation. Literally you could spend nearly as much time talking about a given exercise than actually doing the exercise.  In some cases, repetition of the cues will be needed for a long time and even need to be brought back when higher loads are imposed.  You can shorten the learning curve by selecting exercises with similar but different properties, for example teaching the natural progression of the hinge pattern to the deadlift, to the two-hand swing, to the single hand swing and then on to the other hinge ballistic movements.

It is reasonable that even visual and kinesthetic learners will require auditory cues during the execution of a technique.

Kinesthetic Learners are the ‘learn it by doing it” types.  Volume is key.  In some cases the technique will require many small adjustments to go from a rough to a competent execution in simple movements such as the Lat Pull-Down or Barbell curl to training sections at a time in sophisticated movements such as the Turkish Get Up or the Olympic Lifts. The Kinesthetic learner needs to feel everything from the connection of their body to the equipment involved and the coordinated actions of the muscles to perform the task.


  1. EXPLAIN.  Break down the task at hand and the reason WHY it is being done. If the technique has particular warning orders, such as the Bench Press now is the time to give them.  (Auditory Learners)   NOTE:  The majority of my students are personal trainers that I can explain things in technical terms ranging from entry level to advanced learning.  With non-trainer clients I speak and cue as simply as possible regardless of the persons educational level.  In either case, I believe heavily in the role as the coach as an educator and that arming any client with solid practical knowledge is a good thing.
  2. DEMONSTRATE. Physically show how the move is to be performed, first in a slower motion for movements that can be done slowly and then at actual speed.  Depending on the technique this may require multiple stages as the technique is broken into sections.  (Auditory+Visual Learners)
  3. PERFORM:  Have the student perform the movement based on what was learned in steps 1-2 (Kinesthetic Learners)
  4. OBSERVE:  I typically keep the initial volume per set fairly short (5-10 reps) in the learning stage to avoid fatigue. 5 sets of 5, or 3 sets of 10 is pretty common depending on what is being trained.
  5. REVIEW:  This is where I apply my critique sandwich.  What did they do right? What could be better? How do we make it better?   FACT: Beginner student performance will never be 100% unless you’re dealing with a kinesthetic genius that can duplicate things perfectly on sight.  In applying the corrections I always start with the biggest and most important detail first, that being the one that will either make or break the lift or the lifter.  By focusing on the big items, the smaller items sometimes clear themselves up. Assigning homework and go over steps 3-5 are common here, especially with students requiring correctives and skill acquisitions.



Out of Touch


I come from a time that pre-dates trainer certifications and the internet.  I learned how to train others by first being trained myself, then being mentored over a period of years in multiple ways of training methods. To this day I still spend an hour daily in self-study and on a weekly basis am contacted by other trainers to help solve various problems.

In that amount of years I’ve come to a few thoughts.

Having a Degree does not mean you know everything.  If anything it means you can ask better questions.  For better or worse, having a degree in a health or exercise science related field is not a strict requirement for many positions within the fitness. My degree is unrelated to the Exercise Sciences, I am not alone in this and feel it does not make me less of a coach.

I believe having knowledge of anatomy,biology,physiology,physics,kinesiology,psychology and biochemistry are important.  Although the fitness world is a big place, the internet has put quite a bit of it within ones fingertips.

Old knowledge isn’t automatically bad knowledge. Sometimes new knowledge confirms that old knowledge was correct.  There are training lessons that have been passed down over 100 years ago and still hold true today just like there are recent advancements in training that have greatly improved the process. I say this as a person that trains others with objects with histories exceeding 300 years as well as modern methodologies.

I’ve come across some quotes recently from some trainers that view themselves as some sort of fount of knowledge that us lesser beings should bow, going so far as to remind everyone of their Masters Degrees seemingly every chance they get.

On Hypertrophy (Muscle Building/Body Building)…

“Yes there is lots of information out there on hypertrophy training but I challenge some of the science behind it…Most is written by old school body builders that don’t understand human movement science.”

I will agree that there is quite a bit of old school material out there, but is it necessarily wrong? Reading the works of coaches pre-dating steroids and separation of bodybuilding,strongman and power lifting into separate sports has provided me a number of ideas and inspiration.  Looking at the results these people produced in others tells me they were doing something right.

There are a number of well-known modern day researchers and thought leaders in the field of hypertrophy, most of which are NOT current or former bodybuilders, not to mention many highly successful bodybuilding coaches and strength coaches employing hypertrophy phased training in their programs.

Muscle building is a science and also an individual thing.  The three laws of hypertrophy are (1) Muscle Tension (2) Muscle Damage and (3) Metabolic Stress.  These have been well established for quite sometime.  Movement science is not among the laws,although for long term health sake it certainly should be as proper form protects your joints,tendons and ligaments. Put simply, you can move a weight with terrible form and still build muscle.

On Weight training being outdated….  

“We use very few weights in our workouts and virtually no machines preferring progressions to adding weight and bodyweight,balls.bands and TRX to machines and weights. (Skip the part where the trainer brags about her numbers that cannot possibly be confirmed) I can honestly say we’ve not used weights with the exception of prone rows in close to a decade.  Personally I find them useless and an antiquated modality for most of our clients whose goals are general conditioning and/or weight loss.”

The Bro in me immediately believed these to be the statements of a non-lifter.  A quick view of her photo confirmed the answer was yes.  I have no issues with bodyweight training.  A high percentage of my own training is bodyweight based and most of my clients have some bodyweight work in their programs.  To say that its the end-all-be-all however is at best professional myopia.  For all the BOSU jokes I’ve made in the past, even I have stated the device has its place within a training continuum.

It could just be me, but both weight training and bodyweight training have stood the test of time.

If she were truly serious about her bodyweight training superiority why are accessory items being used?  The balls,bands and TRX are relatively new inventions compared to the pull-up bar, walls and gravity.

My second thought is this person deals in exercise, not training, and that they only co-exist with people who share the same world-view and are not open to any other kind of conversation. You can’t talk to these people and the time invested isn’t worth it.


Smoke and Mirrors

In my previous career I spent a number of years learning Public Relations and Public Affairs.  My diverse formal training in the area included public speaking (which I was told I’m a natural),messaging,advertising and interestingly enough, Psychological Operations. I decided to apply my education to a topic that trainers continually face, the day when a client brings you a bottle of something and asks your opinion if its any good.

One thing I learned early in advertising was perhaps one of the most important lesson.  What drives the process?  Fear, and Hope. If you can identify what people are afraid of or hope for then you have found a way to sell them something.

In Psychological Operations, we learned to convey only part of the information (the part that drives fear or hope) to influence behavior, reasoning and emotions.

People fear what they cannot control and don’t understand. In terms of health, fitness and aging people are often looking for the path of least resistance. The diet supplement industry rakes in billions annually largely based on peoples fears and hopes.

Are all supplements bad? No. Do all supplements have a substantial amount of clinical research backing their efficacy? No. For lack of better words some rely purely anecdotal evidence (which being honest I’m not one to totally dismiss) and some studies are poorly designed.

In the case of the MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) diet supplements, a high percentage of the glowing testimonials are from current or previous distributors,therefore there is a financial and emotional bias attached.  The OTC (over the counter) supplements are not off the hook as the glowing testimonials are at best individual to the person. Anecdotally I have taken some well-regarded supplements and seemed to gain no benefit, while some other brands produced noticeable improvements.

I spent less than five minutes reviewing a popular MLM website. Although arguably not explicitly stated, the products they offer work best as a cocktail and are completely life changing. COPIED FROM THE WEBSITE (Bold Text and Underlines are mine)

“The PRODUCT NAME REMOVED Experience is an 8-week premium lifestyle plan to help individuals experience and reach peak physical & mental levels. You’re going to live, look, and feel Ultra Premium like never before! Results from the PRODUCT NAME REMOVED Experience are high impact, and can differ slightly from person to person, depending on your 8-week goal, and which areas of your lifestyle need the most help. Whether your goal is to lose weight, get in the best shape of your life, or simply be the best you can be, we know the 8-Week PRODUCT NAME REMOVED Experience will get you PRODUCT NAME VARIATION REMOVED in all areas of your life! Individuals on the Experience will enjoy premium support and benefits in the areas of:

“> Weight Management+ > Cognitive Performance+
> Digestive & Immune Support+ > Healthy Joint Function+
> Lean Muscle Support+ > Calms General Discomfort+
> Age-Defying & Antioxidant Support+
PRODUCT NAME REMOVED is something that’s hard to explain, and challenging to describe… it’s something that can only be experienced.”

All that in some pills,a transdermal patch and a shake?  It seems to address the most common health fears and hopes. If you’re overweight, or think you are, believe you’re having memory problems, have or think you have gut issues, have or think you have joint issues, are getting older (aren’t well all?), don’t “feel right” and want to hold on to your looks  then this product can help you with all of that?

So many questions here. What does the fine print have to say?

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to cure or prevent any disease. Keep of out reach of children. Not suitable for individuals under 18 years of age. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding consult a doctor before using this product. If you are taking any medication, or have any type of medical issue, consult with a doctor before using this product.”

Considering what the product is advertising, it seems it would replace Registered Dietician, a Fitness professional (possibly one with specialization), a Psychologist, a Gastroenterologist, a Gerontologist and a Medical professional.  Why isn’t this product prescribed?  Why can I not think of single thought leader in the fields of health, fitness and performance putting their name behind this product?

Five repetitions of the product name in fifteen lines of text. Lots of reminders that this is a  short-term program, which also happens to be about the same amount of time your body adapts to training stress. No kidding here, total beginners typical see great improvements in the first 6-8 weeks of diet and exercise programs provided they adhere to the program.

Will the product work? Will I see some benefit to taking it?  If you stick with it then you could possibly see some positive changes, but will it last past 8 weeks?  Will it create any sustainable healthy habits rather than reliance on a specific product each month?


Ben Franklin and Mike Tyson

” If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”  Benjamin Franklin  
                                                                                                                                                              “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” Mike Tyson

There is truth in both quotes.  As a coach I like taking a longterm view of things, including the eventual time where my client or student is no longer with me.  While the long view (and ultra long view) are great, one needs to plot the course to get there.  This comes is smaller journeys which will be listed below.

In my previous blog on What is Exercise? What is Training?

I covered the difference between the two and that I primarily deal in the latter.  This is not to say I discount the value in the former as the skill of being able to adapt to the unknown is essential. There is a huge difference between adapting to a situation and making stuff up as you go, and even then making stuff up as you go has value in some situations.

Some years ago I was assigned a client that on any given day presented some musculoskeletal issue that made designing, much less adhering to a consistent exercise program near impossible.  Even today, with greater experience and tools at my disposal I would be challenged. I had no choice but to take the person at their word and that the complaints were real and not being over-exaggerated, even though I had my suspicions and occasional tests proved me correct.

My ability to adapt to an ever-changing situation was honed during my military career, so I had a leg up so to speak.  Still, there was always the bomb squad thought going through my head, one miscalculation is all it would take to have a very bad day.

Those sorts of situations are a test of ones patience,knowledge,professionalism and creativity.

The textbook definitions of training periods. (Ben Franklin situation)                                 Training Session:  A duration of up to several hours.  If there is a rest period of 30min or more it will be considered a multi-workout day.   A training day can contain multiple sessions and is designed for the microcycle which it is contained.

Microcycle: Several days to 2 weeks, composed of several sessions.  A Mesocycle is often 2-6 week blocks of linked microcycles.   A Macrocycle is several months up to one year and some authors refer to it as an annual plan.

Annual Training Plan: Is one year and can contain a single or multiple macrocycles. Plans beyond one year are known as quadrennial plans.

When deviating from the plan is called for. (Mike Tyson situation)   Often the Mike Tyson situation occurs within a training session, but in some cases it can affect annual training. Client/Student/Athlete shows up for training with an injury. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if its real or imagined. You have several options available depending on the severity and duration.
Cancel the session, refer out.
Work around the issue.
Alter the days the training session to accommodate what the person can do pain free.
Be realistic. If this isn’t a competitive athlete will the microcycle REALLY be affected?

The client is habitually late.  I’m not a fan of tardiness but understand that sometimes things in life happen.  I don’t mind if its very few and far between. Aside from being disrespectful,repeated tardiness is cumulative and doesn’t help the person reach their goal.
I first have “the talk.” Habitual tardiness in my opinion is indicative of a problem, one that likely got them to where they are now.
If the person is habitually late I subtract it from their time, not start the session counter when they decide to arrive. This is not well-liked by client.
If it becomes too cumulative I terminate the clients agreement with me. Further, I do not refer the client to any coaches within my local network.  If they can’t appreciate my time then maybe they will appreciate my absence.

The Client is having a “rough day” Essentially the client showed up in less that optimal condition either psychologically,physically or physiologically.  It depends on whom you’re dealing with and what level of experience they have.

On one hand you can dial back the session and address mobility needs and a refreshing tonic workout. Not enough food,air,sleep or water or clients that are depressed are good candidates for this.  Controlling load, volume and rest periods are key. You may need to subtract/regress entire exercises, especially those with higher levels of technical sophistication even if the person is normally good at them.

On the other hand you can take advantage of the persons aggression and focus it on controlled lifts that the person is used to doing.   Be mindful of breaks and training stress. If the person is used to 5 sets of 5 now is not the time to make them do 10 sets of 10. Personally this is where I like focusing on the isometric portion of lifts and the grip dependent techniques.