Monthly Archives: October 2016

Your Training Sucks (On Guru’s and Cultists)

Confidence is knowing you’re right. Arrogance is believing everyone else is wrong.

There are various groups and personalities online that train only in certain modalities or with particular tools. Some disregard, or even scorn all other forms of training regardless of how well-established they might be, the credibility of the instructor or the weight of supporting scientific evidence behind other methods.

In the mind of the Guru or Cultist, All other instructors, or the science behind what they teach is flawed,or being blunt…your training sucks.

Somehow the Guru is above the possibility of being wrong, and that their training couldn’t possibly suck.

Bodyweight training as an example has certainly stood the test of time (Yoga and Martial Arts anyone?)and over the past few years has increased in popularity.  A person can certainly develop numerous positive physical adaptations from consistent training using only their bodyweight and in my opinion is the most convenient and excuse-free form of training out there.

That said, it isn’t without limitations and it isn’t ideal, or the most efficient for all adaptations. Just like any other form of training, it has its share of Guru’s and Cultists.


Based on what I’m seeing this lady either isn’t ready for this level of Push-Up difficulty, or just learned how to do it and hasn’t built proper technique.  The beach bootcamp coach quoted below believes otherwise….then again maybe its the coach doing the push-up.

“We use very few “weights” in our workouts and virtually no machines preferring progressions to “adding weight” and body weight / balls, bands, trx to machines and weights. That having been said, it really depends on your demographic and their goals. 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. I use them personally for a few  exercises but my goals are not the same as 99% of our clients”

If the beach bootcamp running lady (with 1% level goals) that made this comment is to be believed, then Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength Basic Barbell), Louie Simmons (Westside Barbell), Pavel (StrongFirst), Martin Rooney (Training for Warriors) and Dan John (legendary Strength Coach) have all been very wrong.

I’m going out on a limb here and will side with the latter gentlemen’s opinions. This has nothing to do with BroCode.

Incidentally, all five gentlemen have made various levels of recommendations for  bodyweight training as an adjunct to what they primarily teach, or as part of the overall program.  I do the same.

What I find interesting is that a high percentage of Guru’s and Cultists lack any relevant experience in what it is they are criticizing.  I’ve been criticized for several of my thoughts on barbell training. Ironically my critics have never been people that lift heavy things, or coach people with goals of lifting heavy things.

I suppose it’s easy to become emotionally attached when one has invested considerable time and effort into something, especially if it happens to be tied to a single way of doing things, or single school of thought. Personally I feel it’s not a good thing to limit oneself to only a single way of seeing or doing things. I feel that it limits perspective,potential learning and possible training opportunities.

“If all you ever read was one book you’re limited to its contents no matter how many times you’ve read it.”  Louie Simmons

Wait…isn’t Chris sort of a Guru?
I don’t think I meed the criteria. My social circle is fairly big and I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me….even if they bring bad science or outdated information as part of their anti-Chris argument.

I’m perfectly fine admitting when I’ve changed opinion on a subject or admitting when I don’t understand something. I have a decent sized speed dial worth of professionals I can contact in the areas I absolutely don’t know.

Don’t I use primarily free-weights in training? Yes, but that doesn’t mean other methods aren’t effective depending on the goal and the client. Further, it doesn’t mean I’m lost without having Free-weights at my disposal. I’m equally capable of training people using bodyweight or odd objects in strength,mobility,restoration and performance.

It’s speculation on my part, but I would wager that “Mrs. weights are useless and an antiquated modality” is lost when it comes to weight training, specifically barbell based strength training.

I’ve made it a point over the years to have at a lay level understanding of Yoga (which I consider the opposite of what I do), CrossFit, Bodybuilding,Hardstyle Kettlebell and at least a passing familiarity with the mainstream group exercise formats. There are clients more fit for exercise than training (there is a difference between the two) and I like being able to give a recommendation based on some level of experience.


The Why and The WTF.

An advantage to going to the gym five days a week is the ability to observe others.  More often than not its the trainers, specifically it’s how they are training their clients that momentarily diverts my attention.

I consider myself pretty good at blocking things out and simply concentrating on the work at hand. That said, there are things once seen that cannot be unseen. THis is where the mental note taking begins, starting with the word “Why”, and sometimes…


To gym goers everywhere: Just because you saw a trainer doing something doesn’t automatically make what they’re doing right. Even if it is right, it doesn’t automatically make it right for you.

Training is client defined and client refined. There is no real standard to how a techniqe can be performed and still be “right.”  I’m ok with people performing exercises differently. Just because something appears different doesn’t automatically make it wrong. Right or Wrong depends on the “Why” and “Why are you doing this?”

Is there a legitimate reason behind the technical alteration, or is it different simply to be different? Sometimes it’s the former, unfortunately it is often the latter and wrong is wrong. 


A local area trainer. I’ve got nothing here. 

OK I got a few things, Starting with “WTF is this person thinking?”  The lady on the bottom is performing what appears to be either a skull crush exercise (a legitimate Tricep exercise) or possibly a barbell pull-over exercise (a legitimate Lat exercise.) I’m not removing the possibility that it was some other exercise, such as a barbell V-up, which given the full situation would make even less sense.

Why are her feet are on a ball?  Both ladies are one loss of posture away from having a very bad day and unstable feet on either presumed exercise add nothing of value.

Why is her head raised?   Actually she has no choice given how she is positioned on the bench, but all this does is (a) potentially strain the neck and (b) reduce the Skull Crush range of motion.

If its a Pullover, why would you want to significantly raise the hips in this exercise?

Why the hell is another lady pinning her down with a resistance band using her near max weight?. Is it to get the lifter to raise her hips and contract her glutes and abs?  I assure you that you can contract both your glutes and abs without needing someone stand on you.

“The Jackstand and the Jackwagon Trainer” a real life case study. Not too many months ago I witnessed a trainer having her client perform barbell deadlifts while the bar remained in the barbell jack stand.


A barbell jackstand is used to raise a barbell off the floor to make exchanging loads easier.  Note the slight angle and barrier created. The distance from the floor to the bottom of a standard Olympic bumper plate when hoisted is around 2in/5cm. 

I can understand the reasons why elevating a deadlift start position could be needed. I perform them myself and have prescribed them as a regression, a post-rehab exercise or as a special exercise to address weakness in the lifters performance.

What I can’t understand is “why” the trainer didn’t place the bar on blocks (the gym has several of various heights) or do it off a pin setting in a rack.  Either answer would have been better. Trying to Deadlift from the jack completely alters the lift…and not in a good way.

img_8001The Conventional Stance Deadlift set-up.  Note the following: The lifters hand position relative to their shin  and foot, the shoulder relative to the arm/hand position and the hip and spine relationship.  Hip position is determined by the lifters structure.  In my case (relatively short arms and long femurs) my hip position is closest to #1. A different body requires some adjustments to find their optimum start point.  Elevating the barbell  creates changes in the involved joint angles and moving the barbell forward changes the balance and further changes joint angles. Illustration Credit: Starting Strength 3rd Ed.

Although the jack does elevate the bar,reducing the vertical pull distance, it also becomes a barrier and creates additional inches of forward space. During the execution of the Deadlift the lifter pulls the bar upwards, while also pulling the bar towards themselves to maintain the load over their center of gravity and pull in the shortest path of travel of possible. The barrier prevents the lifter from centering (or nearly centering) the bar under over the middle of their feet. The jack also becomes a hazard in the event a lift needs to be aborted (aka drop the damn bar.)

By attempting to lift from the Jack the lifter places a disproportionate load on their lower back. Their shoulders being so far behind the bar prevent their lats from being in the maximum angle of efficiency. What this creates is a situation where the lifters arms are not aligned with the scapula and weakened Lat muscles are working from an unusual angle.

My guess answer to the WTF question: The trainer was being lazy, doesn’t know the basic mechanics of the Deadlift, or both.

A Student of Science and Art

I consider both science and art to be lifetime studies.  I believe the ability to effectively Coach requires application of both, with some coaches favoring one side slightly more than the other.  I’m approaching my third decade as a coach and still consider myself a student.

Coaching is a Science.
Putting on a shirt that says “Personal Trainer” on the back doesn’t make you a trainer,a coach or much less of a Scientist. Being frank,even possessing a degree in Exercise Science or Physiology doesn’t make you a trainer either. It makes you a person that passed collegiate level coursework in the science behind the subject.

In becoming a coach, the scientist half examines exercises and asks the questions “How does this work? What is the intent of this exercise?  and How can this be applied, and to whom?”


For all the jokes I’ve made about the BOSU ball (and there have been many) I have also stated two points (a) The BOSU is not totally without use and (b) The BOSU didn’t make the decision as to what was being done with it, a human did…and possibly one wearing a shirt that said “Trainer” on the back of it.

ANALYSIS: Taken as individual exercises, standing on the BOSU is a challenge to a persons righting reflexes and can help rehabilitate ankle or knee injuries.  The single arm cable pull is good exercise to train pulling and rotation or anti-rotation qualities.  When combing the two exercises the load is greatly lowered as force cannot be  adequately produced off the unstable surface. It is possible that the load could create a degree of stability on the unstable surface, which would seem to nullify any benefit. Numerous studies (1) have shown training on unstable surfaces does not improve, or limitedly improves performance on stable surfaces. I’m not sure why the guy is shirtless, but I’m going with marketing.

While I believe exercises have varying levels of return on investment, I believe that none are inherently good or bad on their own. The application and person doing the work determines if something is good or bad.

Possessing a knowledge of basic physics,mathematics and anatomy can create the ability to understand an exercise. Not simply the point (a) to (b), but the actions both seen and unseen that occur in a given motion or movement. This level knowledge creates a deeper understanding,and allows the coach to create truly client defined exercises.

By no means am I suggesting you learn how to split the atom, but knowing what force, inertia, momentum and moment arms should be considered essential.

Coaching is an Art.
Put a paintbrush in someone’s hand and they are not automatically an artist.

Given time, a person can develop their individual artistic qualities. For the non-naturally gifted, interacting with,being instructed by and studying the works of people known to be talented is normally a great start. I believe the assembly of numerous Scientist/Artist level coaches can positively impact an individuals motivation to improve themselves.

It could also be overwhelming and lead to a students failure to absorb anything.  I’ve seen this occur firsthand.

Some people will either never develop,or be resistant to it. They will find a comfortable intellectual plateau and remain there, or see themselves as something far more than they actually are.  They may actually be passably good trainers, or they might be good within the pond they swim.

The art of coaching partially resides within ones ability to communicate what needs to be done,how the work is to be performed and when needed, the motivation to do the work. The ability to impart confidence to another person is a talent typically not covered on page 123 of the certified personal trainer books.

The certified personal trainer certification is a fine starting point, but until you understand the foundations of physics and practical anatomy as applied to training you will never see your full potential.

“Potential” is often expressed as a positive. This isn’t always the case,to some coaches “potential” translates to “that which is holding you back” or even “simply a wish,until realized.”

In fairness,being “less than full potential” might still very good and certainly better when subjectively (or objectively) compared to the average trainer.

That said,I offer three points to consider…
(1) Your “less than full potential” may be far less than what you’re actually capable of doing. Are you the type of person that’s okay with settling for less?

(2) Consider your subjective comparison group. 60-80% of the trainers around you likely vary from borderline acceptable to outright dangerous. Fact is there is a high number of substandard trainers within the industry.

Read about it here:

(3) The subjective top percentile are always looking to stay on top and ahead of things. This is a fact.

The good news is you can always catch up and we live in an age where credible information is literally clicks away. .

The worst thing that could happen would be for good teachers to relieve themselves of trying to teach you. You can blame whomever you want, but when the dust settles you’re the one that lost. That said, even that isn’t completely insurmountable and a person can move forward and upward having learned from the experience.

If one is open to it.
…is able to put their ego aside.
…is able be a student.
…is able to demonstrate growth over time.
…is willing the become both a scientist and artist.


(1) The effects of ten weeks of lower-body unstable surface training on markers of athletic performance.

A message to the Entry Level Trainers

By no means is this blog an attack on you. If anything, this blog entry is one of hope.

I hope you reach your full potential.

I hope you become a better coach than I ever was, or better yet, be the coach I wish I had.

I hope that through your daily actions you represent the best of what we can be in this profession.

I am certified through Westside Barbell along with several other agencies and a large part of what I do is train new trainers. I take great pride in this role, and quite frankly enjoy the hell out of it.  It’s not something that I consider “work.”

In my coaching  and teaching practice I often cross-reference both the ACSM and NSCA texts and READ DAILY on a broad selection of topics central to means and modes in which I deliver training. I have numerous books I’ve re-read at least six-times and have freely given books to other trainers, only to wind up replacing them later on. (Oh how I love you Amazon.)

HISTORY. When I first started out the field of personal training was in its infancy. In fact, my entry into the field predates the formation of my credentialing bodies.

The first goal was actually learning how to coach another person that was noting like me. Training another young male of similar build and goals wasn’t at least on the surface, a very difficult thing.   This goal evolved into being able to apply the scientific principles of exercise, create client defined training programs and developing others into improved versions of themselves.

These are the intents of the coach, at least they are for those that take that title to heart.

Through the years I learned how to take a heart rate and blood pressure readings, how to assess clients through a battery of different testing measures and how to control and monitor load for strength training.

I learned that clients presenting certain medical or orthopedic problems need to be referred out (unless they were medically cleared or referred.)

I learned that the overload principle doesn’t mean injuring clients, and that a given exercise can be manipulated numerous to create a different experience and response.


Over the last several years, I and many of my colleagues have watched our professional calling roll off the road. The production and commonness of substandard, and in some cases outright dangerous non-professionals grows at a rate far faster than qualified coaches.

Although not fully responsible, the agencies that certify personal trainers have contributed to this problem despite otherwise good intentions. Personally I believe we’ve gotten away from too many things that shouldn’t have been left aside.

For the worse, we live in a time where Instagram births a new “fitness guru’s” daily and science is ignored or openly scoffed.
– Literally, anyone can become a trainer. They don’t even need to know how to exercise themselves.
– Those that actually did earn a certification may not stay updated on matters relevant to what they do,or possess certifications that have longed since lapsed.
– Cardiovascular Health and Strength assessments are unseen, despite the fact the typical client isn’t getting younger or thinner.
– Emphasis on the practical application and performance in the fundamental human movement patterns is not instructed by a high-percentage of “trainers”. Some don’t even know how to perform these movements themselves.
– Client entertainment and suffering seem more important than actual fitness.

I keenly read the results of trials involving client injuries involving trainers. In far too many cases trainers have caused serious injuries by making average or older clients attempt exercises that would be difficult for athletic populations. I honestly don’t want to read about anyone I know having to defending themselves in court.

– Take a health history.
Require medical clearance,it will make you look professional.
– Learn how to screen via the methods of one of the credible agencies.
– Assess the clients relative strength and flexibility.
– Don’t be afraid to start with the basics. There is nothing wrong with this.
– Act like a professional and you’ll be treated as one.

I challenge you to bring TRAINING back to being a recognized profession and not simply something where the primary skill involved is counting to ten three times and client exhaustion and soreness are the indicators of “Awesome training.”

Corrective Exercise

Preface: This blog will likely piss some people off (although possibly not to the extent my 80/20 blog did.) If you’re the easily offended type I suggest backing out now.


Based on observation trainers are making at least two major errors when it comes to Corrective Exercise.

1) The Trainers failure to understand their scope of practice.
2) The Trainers failure to understand what Corrective Exercise actually is,where it fits in a training continuum and what it is they’re looking at.

I have education in corrective exercise. In the interest of transparency I’ll say I failed forward into it after being wrongly billed as a “Corrective Exercise Specialist.”  My manager at the time knew NASM’s Certified Personal Trainer course heavily covered anatomy and had roots in Physical Therapy based approaches.

I figured to make things right I needed to live up to my billing and educate myself on the topic. One thing that I am decently good at is learning ,and being able to practically apply new information rather quickly. This was a need and expectation while I served in the military and I have two decades worth of practice doing it.

Corrective Exercise wasn’t something I would have volunteered for. Due to the fact that I was certified by NASM (and depressingly one of the few certified trainers on staff) I became the “resident expert on all things corrective exercise” by default.  Based purely on a comparative basis this may have been true, but in reality this was far from the case. There were both positive and negative consequences to holding that (at least partially) undeserved reputation.

Being blunt, my molehill of corrective exercise knowledge was a mountain compared to everyone else.  Problem is people don’t trip over mountains.

In hindsight I’m glad I did it. It opened up an entirely new area which I previously held no interest and added tools to my training repertoire that could be broadly applied. I stand by my opinion that the NASM CES is acceptable for learning the concepts of elementary level rehab exercise and does a very good job of teaching practical anatomy. Like any area of study, the exam only indicates a minimum level of knowledge as defined by the organization. It is on the trainer to continue learning and improving their skills.

The key words are elementary level. The NASM CES, good course that it is,really only scratches the surface of things. If you only read one book you’re limited to that level of knowledge no matter how many times you read it.

I’ve gone on to learn more corrective exercise and screening strategies over the years and two constants has remained the same.  My approach continues to simplify and I’m quicker to refer out.  What I do now bears near zero resemblance to what I was initially taught, although some fine details and lines of thinking remain intact.  I don’t even use the word “dysfunction”

I encountered a situation recently where a trainer stated he had an enlarged Sternocleidomastoid  (SCM) muscle along the left side of his neck which has become uncomfortable and is accompanied by pain shooting down his left arm. He wanted to know what corrective exercises could be applied to remedy this situation.

The Sternocleidomastoid muscle (Left) and all the neat stuff surrounding it.

When I read things  like this my  first thoughts are “what’s the worst things this could be?” Once again the military mindset reveals itself.  The person could be right and it could be a muscle imbalance of some sort, but then again he could be very wrong.

The presence of pain shooting down the left arm alone suggests the person visits their primary care manager. Enlargement of the SCM,presupposing it is the SCM and not something my level of understanding and sight unseen of the person could indicate a number of things that CES won’t help.

CES trainers need to refer out clients for medical evaluations and treatment plans when things exceed their depth.

NASM’s Corrective Exercise Specialist (Left) and the Functional Movement Systems (FMS) are two of the larger and more established screening and correctives approaches. NASM states that diagnosis does not fall under the CES scope of practice and does not require a college degree if the candidate already holds an accredited Certified Personal Trainer credential. The FMS states explicitly where the FMS trained practitioner must refer to the higher level SFMA practitioner (Selective Functional Movement Assessment). SFMA holders are medically credentialed professionals.

Unless the CES course has radically changed over the last few years, it focused only on biomechanical issues that might lead to pain or some type of “dysfunction” BioMechanical issues are only one possibility when it comes to these things. One glance at the SCM images above shows we are pretty complex creations. CES doesn’t cover the other things that could be a factor such as neurological,endocrinological, disease state,structural et al…. the very same things that are outside of a trainer’s scope of practice and that no amount of Corrective Exercise will “fix”

Truthfully several CES recommendations can make matters worse. The otherwise innocent looking and popular foam roller for example is contraindicated in multiple conditions and thats not taking the more hardcore approaches into account.

CES has a place for clients that have been cleared of the more serious possibilities and for whom biomechanics have been determined as the main cause. Someone with a Dr title makes that call,a person with a deeper toolbox,imaging resources, understanding of many common health issues and ihow to  properly work with them.