Monthly Archives: June 2016

Dumb Questions and “Duh”

Carl Sagan said that there is no such thing as a dumb question. With all due respect to Mr. Sagan I have to partly disagree as to the best of my knowledge he was a never a member of an internet fitness board.

This is the only occupation where a person can hold a degree in an exercise or health related science, have a wall full of certifications and specializations, possess multiple decades of training or trainer experience and a record of sports/coaching achievements up to world level and there will still be a DYEL idiot that believes they know more than you, or anyone else for that matter. This is also an occupation where a person can have a fancy certificate stating they are a personal trainer and still be incapable of training people appropriately.

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”
Bruce Lee

“Depends on the stubbornness of the fool, or the arrogance of the wise man.”
Anonymous

When I come across something I view as a “questionable question” I dissect things to concoct a reasonable answer that could be explained in the simplest terms. Unfortunately for the asker, a high percent of the time this requires a lot more information and they wind up having to answer 5-10 questions from me in order to give them an answer to their question.

I don’t mind that actually. A person is asking for help and doesn’t know, or didn’t consider the details and the variables. Ideally this will help tease out some information to get them in the direction.

This hasn’t always worked out as sometime the other side still failed to grasp the answer or the answer was lost in a dog pile of answers ranging from outright wrong to partially correct to somewhat passable to purely anecdotal.

I especially like the questions students pose during training classes that stump me and require me to give them an IOU. This requires work on my part and I have yet to come away from things without having learned a lot of new information.

It’s when a person with claimed experience (as in years of experience) in a matter asks very fundamental questions that give me pause.  I would presume a GroupEx instructor would able to teach a GroupEx class in a different room, or outdoors if needed.  I would presume a Strength and Conditioning Coach would be able to rattle off at least a dozen upper body and arm exercises suitable for teenage girls. My first thought when re-reading these questions is  “Does this person know what they’re doing, and would any answer I give be lost on them?”

Of all possible answers,including not giving an answer at all, the worst response I believe is  “Duh”  I hate the Duh response, when a trainer posts it as a comment in response to something. I’ve noted that Duh responders never seem to post any performance videos of themselves, provide informational posts or give much in the form of enlightening answers. Despite what they may think they’re not the smartest man/woman in the room and based on what I’ve observed, they’re just good at typing Duh.

Whether you believe dumb questions exist or not, the condescending response “Duh” only demonstrates a level of arrogance. IF the question truly was dumb, did “Duh” really add anything?

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Information Alignment

Some years ago I was teaching a course on barbell back squats. It was the last class of squat series that month as we already covered the mechanics, regressions and variations of other squat techniques. One student in the group was newly certified while the others ranged in experience from 1-6 years, but not all came from weight training backgrounds.

As with previous classes, I began by demonstrating a few reps, cover any particular warning orders and the lift set-up details. How to do it, how to coach it and why certain things are important.

New Trainer Student: “That’s not what my certification organization says.”

I’ve heard or read this quote, or something similar many times. In the interest of transparency, I recently completed a resistance training course for education credits and paid particular attention to how a particular organization teaches the barbell squat.

I can safely say we have a differing views on squat technique.

Sometimes differences of approach,technique or opinion can open up fantastic dialog and other times all it seems to do is create fights. I hope for the former, as new insights or  considerations can be gained.  I avoid the latter. After having been in some of those fights I’ve found that no matter how solid the evidence some people’s minds are welded shut. There are those that refuse to accept any information that doesn’t align with what they believe, even in the face of irrefutable, and overwhelming facts.

Like anything else, it depends on whom you’re dealing with.

Me: “That’s not a question that’s a vague statement. Can you tell me what your organization states?”

I didn’t believe I received a completely accurate answer, but going from the available information the requirements per the organization were (a) Feet had to point straight forward. (b) Stance had to be hip width and not wider. (c) Bar position (on the back) apparently isn’t important, or the student couldn’t recall if it was addressed, (d) Knees could not pass over the toes.

Therefore my instruction wasn’t in alignment with the students previously learned material. Matter of fact is was in complete opposition. Either way, it was new to the student. Just because information is new to doesn’t mean it’s new to the world or that it’s automatically wrong.  Best available evidence and real world application (the client in front of you) are details that can’t be overlooked.

As the coach, how does one adjust in the face of conflicting information/instruction,not lose the remaining students in the process and not make the student look like a fool if it was a case of bad/misinterpreted previous information.

Going into the class I had the “Why?” behind my material, but I had to be able to compare it against conflicting standards that I wasn’t aware of. I’m not saying the previous instruction was wrong since I didn’t have the full details, but I did know what my instruction covered.

I asked the student to demonstrate the squat per his instruction standards as best possible.  While he was squatting the effort was recorded from the side and rear views for technical reference. Being fair and to save the student some face, I repeated the same number of squats with the same load to the depth I felt comfortable and matching the book standard as best I could.

The class now had two males with a 20 year age gap,significant differences in training/injury histories and skeletal proportions to review and coach towards competence.

With completely different physiques both of us had significant challenges in hitting the squat per the restrictive standards, but for different reasons. In my case I was putting my lower body joints in positions they didn’t want to be in and it clearly showed. The load was well within my tolerable range so it wasn’t as a case of weakness.

I can’t say the same for my co-squatter as loads had to be dropped. He never really squatted until taking my fundamentals class and even the lighter load proved challenging. In his defense, a true back squat can take a beginner weeks to become autonomous and even today I keep working towards that one perfect rep. Maybe the next one will be it.

After reviewing the footage the group took turns correcting our squat form. The corrections differed greatly between us due to our structural differences, available range of motion, load tolerance and a host of other factors. My co-squatter was regressed in movement while I had to have some body parts moved around to re-establish a squat pattern.

At the end of class my co-squatters squat form improved greatly as the corrections led to his defined squat pattern. His squat didn’t look like a taller,younger version of mine nor did it look like the book said it had to. A week later I was able to review the section of his CPT course that covered the back squat and his memory was about 50% accurate.  In my opinion to book left out numerous important details on not just the squat but all techniques covered.

Fact: He is a real person, not a diagram in a book.

Fact: The book and certification are the STARTING POINTS. You must learn and grow from there.

 

Exteriors II

Before reading this weeks blog I highly recommend reading my previous blog titled “Exteriors”… then come back here to catch up.  

https://mytrainerchris.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/exteriors-aka-chris-on-hiring/

“…you cant judge competence by the persons exterior.”

I stick with that opinion. That said, I believe you CAN judge competence based on someones performance. Competence is also relative to the task at hand and ones experience with the task. Put a barbell in my hands and I can teach a client how to use it with competence. Put a yoga mat under me and I become totally incompetent.

As a Strength Coach I believe it’s not about what I can do or what I’ve done but what I can bring out in others. My ability to get results across a range of athletes is what has kept my services in demand,not my appearance. I’m not one to judge a trainer on their appearance or even their credentials for that matter. I let their ability, or lack thereof define their competence.

My minimum-minimum competency expectations for entry level trainers are on the modest side. In addition to holding a current CPT and CPR/AED qualification the trainer needs to possess the following…
1. Practical knowledge of the location and function of the muscles and joints.
2.The ability to practically apply what they learned in their CPT course in a safe and client appropriate manner.
3.The basics. They should know and be able to perform them along with the progressions and regressions with competence and be able to teach them using simple terminology.

The longer they have been a trainer the better at #1-3 they should be. I can reasonably expect some advanced training or specialization to be part of their resume after the second year.

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Todays blog focuses on professional competency in a real world scenario. Confounding matters slightly is this specific case involves a fat trainer.

Sidebar: Fat Personal Trainers/Coaches are a polarizing subject in the industry. Many of those against fat trainers fail to take into account coaches that specialize in areas where mass is an advantage, or the fact some of the top thought leaders in fitness have a few pounds on them.

Those accepting of (or are) fat trainers love emphasizing those points, but fail to mention that those coaches do not represent the majority of the fitness industry and their professional credibility and talent is of the highest caliber. 

History (Sept. 2015…Hopefully you read Exteriors) My gym manager friend decided to call the young lady in for an interview. Although her resume’ met the minimum job requirements and listed CPT and CPR/AED for seven years,she held no previous personal training or group exercise experience.

I’ve known several people that earned their CPT and even advanced credentials but never put them to use. This by itself isn’t a huge red flag in my opinion. For all I know she was raising children as a stay-at-home mom which is more than full-time job.

According to my friend, she did decently well on the interview and openly admitted she let herself go over the last two years and gained considerable weight. She believed that being employed by the gym would help her to lose weight.

Personally I find her honesty on her weight gain refreshing.

She stated she was physically fit to perform the job which required the ability to lift and transport 45lbs, the equivalent of the heaviest plates in the gym and a standard barbell but far less than the heaviest Dumbbells or another human being.

The problems occurred during the practical component. She couldn’t adequately demonstrate,explain or teach anything asked of her.

I can understand initial difficulties with some machines as manufacturer user settings are inconsistent. I made that point clear to the manager but apparently even some simple setting machines proved to be an issue. Additionally, if the machine is called seated row or incline chest press and the applicant doesn’t know which muscles are being targeted then this is indicative of a problem beyond simple interview nerves.

They moved onto barbell work to observe the candidate load a barbell (45lbs) with 45lb plates on each side in a squat rack set for the lifters height. She wasn’t going to physically squat the load,this was to see if she could handle the loads required.

Basically, you just have to be strong enough to meet the 45b lifting requirement and know where and how a barbell should be set for a lifter of given height.

The candidate failed to be able to initially set the bar to the correct height for squatting and couldn’t move the plates to the desired height. 45lb plates were substituted with 10lb plates.  Personally I would have already stopped the interview.

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Based on the managers description the applicants squat technique looked like this photo.

The candidate was asked to demonstrate a barbell squat of choice for 5 reps and then teach the technique back to the reviewer. According to my friend, The candidate “had no clue how to squat..imagine a dog taking a s..t with a barbell on its back.”

This ended the practical.

The manager thanked her and called her back two days later to inform her they went with another applicant. She didn’t ask for guidance on what she could do to improved her interview performance or if the gym offered unpaid internship and none was offered.

Present Day (June 2016) The manager contacted me last week informing me the applicant has resubmitted her resume. The only changes were the date and her address. She hadn’t gained any work experience,formal education or physically changed based on his memory.

Which once again,doesn’t mean she’s incompetent. During the last interview she could have been petite and still not have been hired. My suggestion was to consider calling her in for an interview anyhow to see how she performs on the practical this time as she still met the minimum job requirements.

Sidebar: I cant believe how many trainers let their CPT certifications elapse and still somehow consider themselves eligible applicants. This applicants certifications were still in good standing.

It was possible she spent the last ten months learning her craft both academically and in practical application. Ideally she would have hired her own trainer to learn how to lift and train.

A practical review would reveal the answer quickly, or in the words of Dan John “exercise exposes you.”

In the interest of keeping things fair, the manager delegated the running of the practical to his trusted head trainer who had ample experience in these matters. The practical tests selected were different than the first time but of similar difficulty.

The results were disappointing to say the least, and a near duplicate of the first interview.

The applicant was clearly incompetent and hadn’t improved by any measure over the last ten months. Machines were still confusing,Barbells were even worse, progressions and regressions with bodyweight exercises seemingly unknown.

My advice at this point was that the manager and head trainer have done their job and twice gave the applicant a fair shot at the job. Her practical test was no different than any other applicants. In the managers opinion there is no need to grant her a third interview at this point.

My thoughts and opinions on all of this.
Interviews are a time consuming necessity. They are costly if you hire wrong and worth tenfold if you hire correctly.

Just because a trainer appears a certain way (very overweight in this case) doesn’t mean they cannot be a good trainer. Competence and incompetence come in all body shapes and sizes.

Unfortunately competence is often equated with appearance.

Weaknesses do not become strengths over time without effort.

Having a CPT is one thing, knowing what you’re doing is another. The applicant put in the effort to maintain certification and CPR/AED for seven years but seemingly did nothing else in that time, or at least in the ten months between interviews. She missed 3 out 4 of the minimum-minimums. 

The gym manager twice gave opportunity to an applicant other gyms would dismiss without the benefit of doubt. Had the applicant demonstrated a level of competency the job could potentially have been hers.

My advice to the applicant: Hire a well rounded trainer of your own and not the cheapest one you can find. Fat/Skinny/Musclebound, Young/Old, Male/Female I really don’t care, you want one that is competent and experienced.  Your goal, if you’re actually serious about becoming a trainer and no just saying you are, is to learn how to be a student.

Based on reports of your performance you would be starting at day one. You need a coach that has no problems taking people from day one starting points and educating them towards competence.

80/20

“I got love for the game, but I’m not in love with all of it.”
T.I      

I love my job as a Strength Coach and fitness educator.  As my second career it’s hard to see myself being happy doing anything else. That said, I’m not in love with a sizable portion of the industry and it seems the things I dislike outpaces and outnumbers that which I like.

I believe my former career heavily influences my perspectives on my current career.  My former career was spent in a low admittance community comprised of roughly only 10% of the total U.S. Navy, and in my direct field under 5%. The odds of getting into Yale or Princeton are better.

I grew accustomed to working around high performers and forgot that this isn’t truly representative of the average. I simply expect more of people that put themselves in positions of leadership or teaching. While there are disadvantages to holding this outlook, namely in the form of social isolation,being viewed as an elitist or contempt from co-workers I have no intentions of changing just yet.

If pressed to name one thing that I believe would change things for the better it would be raising the standards to become a trainer. There are simply too many trainers out there that are both in my opinion and reality ill-prepared for the job. Educational pedigree alone isn’t enough as there are well educated trainers that cannot apply their academic knowledge in a practical manner on another human being.

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Based on personal and online observation gathered from several decades of training I’ve come to the belief that theres an 80/20 reality to things. 1-2 out of every 10 trainers are skilled to well skilled. These are the “thinking persons trainers” and compared against their peers they can often seem over-qualified.

Another 1-2 out of 10 can reach that level with mentorship,education,time and personal dedication. Some reach this level faster than others and age is not an indicator. I’ve met and spoke with exceptionally talented and promising twenty-somethings and ran across more than a few over the forties idiots.

The others will remain at a certain level and never reach full potential, or perhaps they already did and thats it.  Ironically, it’s this lower spectrum that believes, and has no problems telling you how great they are as their high number of Instagram followers stand as proof. The thinking trainers on the other hand are often out to learn new things or dig deeper into their existing knowledge. They get better with time.

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“I genuinely don’t think there’s anything to gain by keeping him around.”
Silvio Dante- The Soprano’s

This Pareto principle specifies “an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. The principle states that, for many phenomena, 20% of invested input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained.”

In a community of trainers the task is to align with the thinking trainers and cut ties with those that will never leave the 80%.  Cutting ties comes with its own set of consequences and is something in which I take no pleasure. A relationship that exists with only one side doing all the giving means the other side is doing all the taking, and the taker might not even know the value of what they’ve been given or grow from the professional generosity of others.

To the 20%, continue to develop yourself and try to improve all manageable and controllable things around you. Seek out the promising, and be the coach you wish you had. The profession is a better place with you in it.

To the 80%, step up or step out.  Whether you believe or even recognize it, your actions reflect on all of us.