Monthly Archives: December 2016

Hiring a Personal Trainer

You’ve decided that 2017 will be the year you get in shape.  You know this will take work and that you would benefit from having a professional guide you along the way.  How does one determine if the Personal Trainer they are hiring is really any good?   There are some landmines in the personal trainer ranks.


Trainers who are not certified,educated or experienced.  Social media status doesn’t equate their actual level of ability, it simply means they were able to gain a following.


Insider Fact: MLM supplement trainers don’t fare well when confronted in open forums or in the presence of trainers actually educated in the nutrition sciences.  Does this mean MLM supplements are poison? Not at all.  It simply means the product is overpriced and typically overhyped for what it is and that in many cases superior over the counter products exist for less cost.

Trainers using personal training as a bridge to get you into various multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes.  Personally I could care less if the trainer likes Shakeology,Spark or any of the other seemingly endless MLM supplements of choice. They shouldn’t be pushing the product off on clients as its minimally a conflict of interest, and typically violates most CPT organizations code of ethics.  Even worse is the MLM Trainer that tries to recruit other Trainers, and by extension their clients (aka “the easy warm leads that I’ve already formed a trusting relationship with.)

Trainers without relevant experience in training clients with your particular needs or age.

Interview your possible future trainer, ask to see the following…
A CPR/AED certification: The legitimate ones required a hands-on component such as through the American Red Cross or American Heart Association. Above all other things this represents lifesaving skills.  Some trainers include Advanced First Aid/Advance Life saving skills.


Their College Degree if they claim one: I would go so far as to check the school if you’ve never heard of it.  Possession of a degree isn’t an entry-level requirement and the majority of certifications do not require one.  Furthermore, there are plenty of people with degrees unrelated to the Health and Exercise sciences working as trainers and coaches.

Training certification: I’ve honestly never been asked to provide a copy of mine.  I believe most people assume every trainer is qualified to do their job.  When viewing a Certified Personal Trainer certification you are looking for one of two dates, the issue date or the expiration date.  CPT certifications are valid from 1-4 years with 2 years being the industry majority.  To maintain their CPT certification a certain number of continuing education hours must be met along with a few administrative needs.  I have run across CPT certifications being presented that expired ten years ago.

This includes any areas of specialization that they claim. If I were to claim that I am a specialist in training clients with Type 2 Diabetes and Post-Partum…what documentation and education do I possess to back that up?

Proof of Liability Insurance (Independent Contractors).  The industry standard minimum is a $1 million USD policy.  Commercial Trainers are typically covered under their employer but can elect to purchase additional insurance.

Nice, but not strictly required would be the ability to speak with any of the trainers current or previous clients.  Ideally ones that had similar needs to your own.

Your initial Consult: You are taking significant risks if they did not conduct an evaluation/assessment of your health history and put through a workout day one. You may really want to get going now, which is cool, but the assessment sets the foundation of where you start.  If for example, you could not touch your toes it would dangerous of me to make you pick-up loads from the floor until you can touch your toes.

What about the Non-Certified, but experienced trainer?  They are out there too, and vary just as widely in quality.  The immediate question would be asking them if the are certified or not, and if not, is it specified in their liability waiver so that the client is informed of this.

In my amateur-Lawyer opinion still opens the trainer up to tremendous liability as competence cannot be proved so easily. The easiest way to do so is by obtaining one of the established certifications. To the Non-Certified (but highly experienced and capable) trainer I sincerely recommend obtaining a certification and insurance.  You are one bad training day away from a lawsuit and bankruptcy.


CF can suck

Preface: I have several CF friends (all being well qualified at what they do) and have detailed my own experience in CF several times. In this weeks blog I pull no punches.

CF can suck.

Actually, it’s not so much CF that sucks, but rather the people running the training that cause things to suck. That said, CF typically gets the blame.  Things I’ve witnessed at various CF locations…

Allowing lifting form that bordered on obscene, if not outright dangerous. If allowed to continue the lifter will eventually pay the price for this horror show.

Trainers with dubious skill and education.  Based on conversations and observations of their actions I sincerely wonder if any certification, even a weekend one…was ever obtained.

Having clients perform exercises they haven’t earned yet. I’ve witnessed trainers do this with movements they couldn’t do very well themselves, or they could do it exceptionally well and forget that not everyone is them.

Training people at an intensity level that leaves them nauseous, or even to the point of passing out.

Trainers seemingly doing nothing beyond watching YouTube videos to “advance their education.”

Sidenote on YouTube: While nothing replaces true experiential learning, there is some quality educational material on YouTube.  The trick is in knowing who, or what to look for and the context of the information.


My suspicion that the workout was made up that day without any thought or reference to (a) The clients needs or (b) What the client has recently done.

The Near one size/One size fits all approach to training doesn’t work optimally when applied to an individual.  In a group of 5-25 people, even a well-designed workout might be perfect for 1-2 people and sub-optimal (or dangerous) for the rest unless appropriate regressions are given per person….and even then there are individual issues.

The “workout  of the day” may even be made up on the fly,and there may be no record of what the client has done in the past for reference. This in my opinion really doesn’t make it programming, much less training. It simply makes it exercise.

Sidenote on the Daily workout: Making adjustments to a session is a reality and one that all coaches should be capable.  You really don’t know what is walking in the front door and your best laid plan could change very quickly. The key is knowing where the person typically is, and which way they need to be going.

Those are some of the things that can make CF suck…or in some opinions its just another day of CrossFit right?

Actually, I was never referring to CrossFit.


You CrossFitters can stop typing the hate mail.

This is all too common in the Commercial Fitness personal training and bootcamps across the world. Everything the non-CrossFit trainers have accused CrossFit guilty of doing has been, and by all accounts still is on-going in the Commercial Fitness world.  There is even a population of trainers with no previous CrossFit education presenting themselves as capable in the method. I shall call this the Non-CrossFit CrossFit trainer.

An observation I’ve made over the years since CrossFit gained popularity is the rise of trainers trying to imitate the CrossFit model.  Less ethical trainers have even had the nerve to call what they do “CrossFit” when in reality it bears no resemblance.  Pre-CrossFit it was called “Circuit Training” and some of the methods used in non-CrossFit CrossFit are simply rebranded versions of such.

Why is this?  It’s speculation on my part, but I would wager the following: (1) CrossFit is a household word, the marketing of which has been exceptional.  (2) It typically gets things done fast and it can be done in groups. This can be very lucrative for the trainer and some people find enjoyment in group training. (3) A lazy or uneducated trainer can exploit some of the flaws in the CrossFit model and literally go day to day without a plan.

Furthering this observation, there is a growing trend of commercial gyms allocating space for “CrossFit like” training, which has to be called Functional training areas due to the fact CrossFit HQ would sue them for unauthorized use of the brand.  The space is being created for a few needs, one of which is lower cost to maintain and the other being something that draws people in the front door. On the flip side of that, walk into a CrossFit box and one thing you’re highly unlikely to see is a bunch of resistance machines.


A local commercial gym put the functional area in the middle of the gym. Names have changed but the gym used to be known for Bodybuilding (Where they got their start and still best known for), to being a garden variety Globo-Gym, to this.  The low cost/high volume/pressure sales/long term contract and and industrial era hiring practice is still in effect.

I don’t agree with everything CrossFit does,and there are a number of things they do that I find counterproductive, but nothing unique to them.  Still, it’s my opinion that the fitness industry owes CrossFit a level of thanks. No other fitness movement has changed the industries landscape the way that is has and Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, Gymnastics, Rowers and Mobility all gained new visibility thanks to the rub-off effect. My own business improved when I demonstrated the ability to work with ex-CrossFitters, or help current CrossFitters improve a specific fitness domain and entire cottage industries, thought leaders and subject matter experts have gained new followings.



Changes of Opinion

“We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” Zhuangzi

Things I’ve changed my opinions on over the last year (or so)…


Two of the three views taken during an Overhead Squat Assessment (NASM CES)

Assessments. What hasn’t changed: (1) The need to perform an assessment before training the client. (2) That every movement serves as an assessment.

What has changed: Specifically going from a complex and time consuming assessment that could put clients in positions or movement patterns they couldn’t perform to a simplified approach.

The simplified approach can be regressed or progressed if an easier or deeper testing is required. The influences were Martin Rooney of Training for Warriors and The 1,2,3,4 Assessment by Dan John.

Guess what happened after moving to a simplified approach? Clients still got screened and results still came out the same.   I’m still adding new screening tools to my toolbox.


The value of one certification over another..sort of.
NASM,NSCA and ACSM are the top three most recognized Certified Personal Trainer credentials.  My opinion that any of the three can get your foot into nearly any gym, at least within in the United States. None of them guarantee that you will be a passably good trainer, or that you can apply the lessons taught.  You simply passed a proctored test.

What has changed: My recommendation differs if you are working for yourself, or the employer accepts a range of certifications. That range includes NCSF,NFPT,ACE,NESTA,NCCPT and ISSA along with  (too many in my opinion) other alphabet organizations.

My suggestion now is to pick one,don’t let it limit your learning and don’t consider it a lifelong marriage.

“Master Trainer, Certified Personal Trainer, Correctives Specialist, Performance Specialist, Nutrition Specialist, Women’s Fitness Specialist, Golf Fitness, Youth Specialist, MMA Conditioning, Group Training Specialist, Senior Specialist, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Weight Loss Specialist and (even more stuff) Certified.”

Yes, all this followed a persons last name.  Maybe it is me, but two thoughts come to mind: (1) Jack of all trades and (2) Overkill

Trainers with multiple suffixes.
This happened after seeing a person sign their name with FIFTEEN trainer suffixes after their name, and another with the modest self-given title of “National Master Trainer and Celebrity Trainer”

Personally, If I’m impressed by anything it would be the suffixes that are notably difficult to obtain and cannot be self-awarded.

I’m in the process of going the other route and reducing letters after my name. This doesn’t mean I am skipping education or courses that award suffixes.  It simply means I’m electing not to use them on the majority of my marketing material.

In the last few years only one person (which ironically was another trainer) even bothered asking what I have. Reducing the letters after my name hasn’t hurt my earning potential and the acquisition of new letters didn’t automatically increase things.  These days I’m highly selective of where I spend my money.

Enjoy the letters after your name. Take pride in earning them, but keep it real.

Open Book Tests.
I still prefer proctored exams, but an open book test shouldn’t be underestimated.

Yes, there are those by design that are overly easy to pass.  However there are others that are quite difficult and require deep familiarity with multiple textbooks. Rote memorization will disqualify you on the essay format answers.

Open book tests tends to create a false sense of security, but that security is misplaced.  For example, when the testable material comes from SuperTraining (over 500 pages of exceptionally dense information), the Science and Practice of Strength Training (over 200 pages, also quite dense)…and 16 other books, discussions and DVD’s you cannot simply speed read/page flip your way through things.

Dysfunction Junction


Dysfunction. Impaired or abnormal functioning.

I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the word Dysfunction.  Not so much the word but rather the typical context in it is used.  In personal practice I rarely use it when speaking to clients, whereas some other trainers will use it three times in a single sentence when first looking at you, or be at least part of the reason behind a dysfunction (as in the trainer is dysfunctional.)

Ok maybe thats a stretch…but then again it has happened enough and observing the work of a high percent of commercial gym trainers formed my opinion. Not just me being an angry bastard.

When it comes to human movement patterns I am not so quick to label what I’m seeing as an actual dysfunction, as it could simply be a variation of normal human movement.  I have an “ideal” in my head (if such a thing truly exists), but that is me.  When something doesn’t quite match my believed ideal it becomes a variation, not necessarily a dysfunction. Besides, I can only see an clothe covered external view of things, and this is no indicator of what is going on inside the body.

As I’ve matured and gained experience as a coach I’ve become more observant. I note how people breathe, how easily they move from position to position, how mindful they are in their movement.  All these things connect to each other and it pays to know about these types of things.

My first experience with the word Dysfunction (as applied in fitness training) was through the National Academy of Sports Medicine Corrective Exercise Specialist course (NASM CES.) According to the texts 4th ed, Dysfunction comes from biomechanical origins. After completing the course I formed a few of my own opinions and was left with more questions than answers.


Despite an ever-growing toolbox, I’m still not in the business of fixing people.

Despite what I learned in the NASM CES education, the belief that “I can fix people”  (dysfunctions)  wasn’t one of them. It did however give me a new way of seeing things and another set of questions to ask. In reality I’m closer to being a manager than a repairman. How someone  without a significant background in the human movement sciences can finish the course and believe that they can fix people is beyond me.

“Fixing people” is taking someone from below a baseline to functional. This  is responsibility of Physical Therapists and other Doctors.  My job to improve things from above the current baseline.   It is my belief that some trainers forget this fact, and that while the CES course is very good, it is merely an entry point to an area with much greater depth.

In my opinion that the CES course overemphasized biomechanical issues and failed to cover other possibilities that while outside a trainer’s scope of practice, could provide alternate explanations and directions for referral (DPT,LMT,Sports Medicine,RD et al)Furthermore, despite otherwise good intentions several of the corrective exercise recommendations could make matters worse.


As a newly minted “Corrective Exercise Specialist” I knew that the depth of my assessment skills was about one inch…which compared to a high number of trainers is like comparing the Marianas Trench to a puddle.

A better grasp of health issues,training adaptability and practical application are needed to be pursued. There are many notable thought leaders in the field and I always encourage reading broadly. That still mean you can fix things, but you will better equipped to deal with the situation.


“Okay everyone…just start flailing your body parts around! If you get hurt suck it up and don’t worry because I can fix people”

Sidenote: If the first session with your trainer doesn’t have some form of assessment and you go straight to a workout, especially a demanding full-body type session, then you might want to consider hiring a new trainer. This one is literally guessing their way through things.

On Dysfunction Types
Muscle (Biomechanical) Dysfunction. Occurs when a muscle is been damaged and has presence of scar tissue, a muscle balance exists, the muscle is shortened or deconditioned.

Joint Dysfunction. An abnormal motion of a joint, the joint is compressed, or the joint has become separated.

Structural. Anatomical variations common to all humans and something that cannot be “fixed” through exercise alone.

Nerve Dysfunction. When tension or compression of the nerve has decreased or altered the action potentials of the nerve. Altered proprioception at the joint inhibit the potential strength of the muscle.

Biochemical Dysfunction. Occurs when over training, or deficiency in specific nutrients causes a lack of strength and recovery.

Training/Trainer Dysfunction. My personal favorite. The lifting form is not optimized for the person doing the lifter. Essentially the exercise has not been defined by the clients ability, tolerance,  available range of motion,training maturity or athletic ability. There is no true “textbook perfect form”. We all possess different structures, available ranges of motion and learning curves.

The selected exercise could be too sophisticated for the trainees ability level, the load too heavy or too light, the exercise could have been taught improperly or allowed to be performed improperly. On a simpler level, too much of the exercise was taught at once and needs to be broken into manageable chunks.


Dysfunction all over the place:  I’m trying to make sense of this. It appears to be a handstand press off a Bosu with a resistance band to deload some of the weight…or in simpler terms “one loss of posture away from having a severe neck injury. Handstand presses, awesome that they are, are the domain of very fit and relatively strong individuals. The addition of the band reduces the strength component and the Bosu (thankfully not flat side up) markedly decreases the persons ability to press.

Proper form, or even logical exercises are not strict requirement to create muscle growth. Proper form and logical exercise choices do however reduce injury potential and long term damage to the involved joints.

If you’re looking for a way to cause dysfunction, here you go.


A sight that makes every legitimate Kettlebell coach cringe.

The highly technical lifts are not tolerant of poor technique. In my opinion this specifically means the Kettlebell Lifts, the Basic Barbell and the Olympic Lifts. Having a coach with legitimate education and experience with these tools and methods is key.

Even in the case of machines with fixed paths or bodyweight exercises with near infinite levels of adjustability the need for stabilizing the joints and being mindful of movement still exists. This somewhat reduces the differences between free weight, machine and bodyweight resistance training, at least from an internal view.

“Jacked up form” (aka wrong for the individual or missing important technical details) is a reality. Every trip to the gym proves this fact, and poor form isn’t limited to free-weights. People can make all the CrossFit jokes they want, crappy form existed long long before CrossFit came around.

Growth and Decline

Over the last fifteen years the fitness industry has seen tremendous growth. That success unfortunately hasn’t correlated with the overall health and wellness of our population.In fact, as the fitness industry has grown, so has the rates of obesity, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyles.

What has caused the biggest growth in the last 15 or so years? In no particular order I offer the following:  The Biggest Loser, Home workout programs, Celebrity Trainers (many of whom seem to have no idea what they are doing), CrossFit/CrossFit Games, The Health Supplement Industry (Over the counter and MLM), Facebook/Instagram/YouTube Fitness Guru’s, The Low Cost/High Volume Gym Model (later the Groupon and Class Pass Deals) and the Non-Gym Model.

The latter two increased membership sales, but not neccessarily actual gym attendance.  The goal of the Low Cost/Non-Gym model is to get you to sign up for a membership and NOT show up.   


Personally, more than a few of those things needs to go, and I wouldn’t mind being the guy found holding the smoking gun.  

Within the industry, and as a response to market demands there has been an equally large growth of certifying organizations and specializations over the last 15yrs. While uncommonly known to the public, many working within the industry will state that trainers, certifications and specializations can vary widely in legitimacy, depth and quality. Some place far higher demands and expectations on course participants than others.

Certification does not equal qualification, regardless of pedigree.


All the Sick Gainz. 

In my opinion the credentialing bodies are partly to blame as many are producing unprepared,or outright substandard trainers. There is also the matter that some gyms will hire people as trainers with no formal education whatsoever.

An unfortunate fact is that certification as a Personal Trainer, or even obtaining a specialization can sometimes be accomplished rather quickly and without much effort or expense.

An example of comedically easy….

Digest version: “If you don’t pass, you don’t pay”. I literally guessed every answer on the Golf certification and still passed. This certification should be payable in Monopoly money.

….compared to the current Gold Standard for Golf fitness specialization


While no official ranking exists, I’m sure if there was a “Worlds Top 10 Most Lethal Guys on the Golf Course” list, I would be 4 of them.   Having said that, I could very easily qualify and present myself as a Golf Specialist if I were to go the path of least resistance (and least value.) 

With an increasingly large population of trainers ranging from potentially dangerous to “ineffective, but not harmful” and a client base that isn’t getting younger,stronger or thinner I can understand why things have gone the way they have.

A positive note is that there will always be those trainers continually working towards improving themselves, and many take on a protege’ to help build a better industry.