The Sledgehammer Approach

I have no issues with hard training sessions. Hard sessions have their place and are not without value. Personally I find some of the well-regarded ACSM and NASM recommendations to be overly cautious in approach. The lure of hard training attracts some people and some trainers are a better fit to lead it than others.  Hard can be conducted smartly, or can be hard simply to be hard.

That said, the definition of “hard training” is subject to personal interpretation and hard is not synonymous with good.


What I consider “hard” might be less than someones warm up, or my warm-up could possibly be beyond the capacity of another person. Methodology counts as well, saying that all training is equally legitimate simply because all can be hard work is like saying aspirin and arsenic are equally good for you because they both come in pill form and can be easily swallowed.

The details matter.

The minimum details that one should concern themselves:
Who is the client?
Where are they starting from?
What is the goal?

The answers leads to the fourth question, What is the safest (most appropriate) and most efficient path to get this client from where they are,to where they want to be?


I feel deep disdain when I read posts by trainers proudly stating they “trashed a client” or “left them in a pool of sweat trembling”  As if that somehow suggests the session was particularly great and helpful in the longterm.

These comments are not always coming from CrossFit, Power Lifting, Hardstyle Kettlebell, Basic Barbell or Strongman coaches even though these types of training can be incredibly demanding. Fact is people from all sorts of starting points get into these methods and training can be conducted safely under the eyes and brains of a smart coach.

These comments are not coming from coaches preparing people for demanding tests, occupations or sports such Special Operations or Tactical program selection or training athletes in combat and collision sports. It is in this coaches interest to keep the client healthy as one bad session could spell the end towards a goal.

No, these are statements made by garden variety Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers. These people are supposed to be helping deconditioned and medically cleared people get in better shape through group or individualized programs.

It takes zero skill to use exercise as a sledgehammer on another human being, especially if fatigue is the sessions defining goal. What is being improved is the clients ability to endure getting trashed and lay in sweat.IMG_6795

Going back to the fourth question “use a Sledgehammer” is rarely if ever the correct response. Making something harder is relatively easy, Making something better is another thing entirely.

Group Fitness falls under three general types.
The class is pre-set to a specific routine. Everyone does the same work,although volume and technique will differ according to fitness level. Instructor quality will vary, but the material is essentially the same.

The class is pre-set, however scaling (regressing,progressing or substituting exercises) is allowed and directed as required based on the participants skill level.

The groupex leader forms their own program. This can range from well-planned to made up on the spot. The same range found in Personal Training but applied to a group of people simultaneously.

Personal Training varies considerably more but going off the extremes of things…
Each program and exercise is individually client defined. It is tracked and adjusted as required in order to reach a specific adaptation or goal. A partial or total session rewrite could occur depending on the client on a given day or even mid-session.

One program for all clients that day (aka Cookie Cutter workouts)  or worse, one program from every client regardless of variables or goals. No tracking of data.

“But my clients ARE losing weight!”

I believe you, they probably are and will continue  as long as they are consistent…until they adapt to taking physical beatings. Meanwhile, their joints, which were possibly already compromised are only getting worse along with a host of other possible issues.

I’ve seen firsthand how the sledgehammer line of thinking can create a twisted game of trainer one upsmanship. Training is after all being also something of a competitive and image driven business.

This results in the client paying the physical price, and the trainer, if not sued for their actions render themselves irrelevant within a few years.  Really, who wants to be known as the trainer that “trashes people and leaves them laying in a pool of sweat” being their only quality?


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