Author Archives: mytrainerchris

Five Years Later

Over the past fives there has been some significant changes, while other things have remained relatively intact. I’ve changed my mind on a number of things and make no apologies.

I still prefer free-weights over machine training, however I am not as opposed to machines as I once was and they serve a purpose beyond aesthetic development.

It’s been my observation that many trainers cannot teach the proper execution of the basic barbell lifts, or even machines for that matter.  This is indicative of a problem in the certification process.  The value of courses with live components that test ones ability to perform and coach lifts cannot be emphasized enough.  Simply passing a written exam is not enough, not matter how academically challenging.

Bodyweight training has always been present, and over the past two years has increased in my programming.

I still don’t train people on unstable objects, but would if there was a direct need. Trainers that are quick to put people on unstable surfaces often have a very hard time telling me their “why?” behind the exercise.

My client base has completely changed completely, and many of the clients I had five years ago are still with me. For that, I am a blessed man.  In addition to my in-person training, I have several international clients as well as deployed military personnel.  At present, all my clients are younger than me.

Five years ago greater than 70% of my clients were older than me and nearly 100% had notable physical issues.  Although it partly contributed to minor professional burnout, part of me misses working with that population, and I still believe they are under-served.  I’ve found that I do best when my client types are relatively balanced. Being something of an extrovert by nature, I thrive with stimulation.

Due to a highly packed schedule it was previously difficult to find time to train myself.  Now I have more than enough time to accomplish both, as I intentionally limit the number of clients I see in a single day.  I’ve personally found it best to separate my training from days I train others.  Both ends suffer when I combine them, and I refuse to be one of the idiot trainers that get in their own workout during the clients paid time.

While not a present issue, If licensure for Personal Trainers were to become law, then there is a good chance that I would leave the profession both as a coach and an educator.  Would I still attend courses and keep my reading habits? I’m sure I would.  It would just suck that there would be nobody to share it with.

I have found myself moving in the opposite direction of my initial certification body.  This feeling has continued to grow stronger over the years and I don’t see things changing anytime soon.

In terms of the majority of commercial gyms, I am convinced that I am unhireable. Not so much due to my education or certifications but rather due to a combination of my age and the 100% likelihood of me speaking my mind….and the fact that I’ve been told I can be intimidating  during interviews.

My advice to first and second year trainers, if you are offered upon hire the position of assistant fitness manager/assistant personal training sales manager I ask that consider NOT taking the offer.  Did you go through the process of getting certified in the first place to sell personal training packages, or actually train people?

Professionally, I have become less tolerant of under-performers. This could be a result of age,unrealistic expectations or previous bad experiences.  I will gladly help someone trying to elevate themselves, and I continue to do so at my own financial expense. You wouldn’t believe how many books have never been returned, and even some equipment loans have failed to come back.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Years Ago

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Five years (and two months) ago I retired following 24yrs of military service. I decided that I would enjoy a profession that would allow me to make use of my backgrounds in leadership,problem solving and education and ideally, not let me watch myself get fat in the process.

Three months following retirement I began training civilian populations at a commercial gym. I had trained civilians before, but this represented an exposure to a far wider range of them.

Before my hiring, I earned a certified personal trainer certification and a Fitness Nutrition specialization. My military trainer qualifications didn’t carry-over and the courses weren’t that bad.  In full transparency, I barely studied for the exams.  I reviewed the proprietary information and had to brush up on the exercise science portions.  I always review the exercise technique descriptions as different texts describe things differently.

Three months later I added a Corrective Exercise specialization, which was a completely new way of looking things, and one that I have been moving away from.

I wasn’t a brand new trainer.  I already had close to two decades of practical experience.  I simply wasn’t certified based on the industry standards and my military instructor qualifications only mattered while I was actually serving.

I personally wouldn’t have chosen the Correct Exercise specialization in the first place, but two important things spurred the decision.
(1) I was assigned an unusually high number of elderly and highly de-conditioned clients. This was odd as my primary background and experience was in strength and general physical preparedness, not post-rehab or geriatric fitness.  Eventually, my senior citizen and de-conditioned population greatly outnumbered any other trainers, even if combining several trainers together.

(2) I was being falsely advertised as a Corrective Exercise Specialist before I even signed up for the course.  I couldn’t stand the thought of not living up to billing.

Because of this situation, I rarely taught the barbell lifts. In my mind the clientele were largely not physically prepared for it and the time allotted (25min) was insufficient for the task at hand. Kettlebells weren’t a consideration at the time, or even an option as the gym didn’t have any.

In fairness, it was a very good experience for me as I learned the values of empathy and client defined exercise programming.  The military skill of learning how to become passably smart on a given topic quickly came in hand, and this in turn grew my professional library.

SIDETONE: At the time, the only option I knew of for Kettlebell instruction was the RKC or Girevoy Sport. Five years later there are several highly credible organizations, and a few not worth the paper they are printed on.

I didn’t know that many trainers weren’t certified and that gyms would still hire them, or that bad trainers outnumbered good ones and that gyms would retain them provided they continued to sell.  I always knew there would be a proportion of substandard trainers, but had no idea it was such a high number.

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Despite formal instruction suggesting otherwise, I never touched a Bosu. Five years later I find myself in a gym without one. Does the Bosu have its place (aside from comedy material?) Yes, but the questions that needs be asked; Does the clients goal require its inclusion? What is the intent of the exercise and was the person being put on the Bosu properly progressed?

Insanity was the popular home program at the time, and a number of my middle-aged clients had spoke of it. Namely about the injuries they incurred. Some trainers were even going so far as to copy the material.  I know this because I borrowed a DVD copy as well as the manuals that came with it. I managed to complete the program to gain an understanding of it. Yes, it was challenging.

If a fit, healthy weight person that knows the extent of their injury history and has decent exercise form has problems with the program, what are the odds an unfit,overweight/obese person that may not know the extent of their injury history and not the greatest exercise form will fare better?

Yes, the latter will lose weight.  Frequency and Intensity along with inefficient movement  and a caloric deficit tends to create weightloss.

Insanity also my first encounters with MLM peddlers. I had no idea there were so many MLM peddlers in the field. Many started off as peddlers then became trainers, others were the opposite scenario.  Based on observation a percentage hop between various MLM ventures.  I’ve always wondered if the original MLM was so great, why did they leave it for another?

SIDENOTE: I could care less if someone likes a particular MLM product. That is their choice and pocketbook. It’s when they start trying to push it on to clients, or other trainers and their clients is where I have a professional problem.

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I’ve given up trying to convince otherwise good trainers to leave MLM.  I considered requesting the Pro-MLM trainers to put together a group of four and engage  in a civil debate in an open forum.  I would gather three Anti-MLM trainers on my side, and believe me I say that I would come rolling in with serious gangsters.

In the end I decided it would be a waste of time, and I have doubts that the Pro-MLM side would be able to field a team.

 

 

 

Survey

I was recently sent a survey regarding the personal training industry.  I thought it would be fun to share some of the questions…

Do you have a personal training/CrossFit or any other fitness certificate?  Yes. 11 at present and I am currently studying and physically preparing for future courses*  I can reasonably state that my current educational resume’ will change greatly over the next 18 months as my needs have grown in both sophistication and depth.

Do you hire personal trainers/coaches? I formerly did, and occasionally I am asked to review applicant resume’s as a disinterested third party.

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If so, which fitness certificates if any, do you require? This depends on the gym and its client demographics. Minimums: Current CPR/AED with a live component (not a 100% online course) and whichever certification the gym accepted.  The trainers specific credentialing agency isn’t that important to me as the certificate is only as good as the person who bears it.

Although I place better odds on the more well-known certifications than those considered fly-by-night or overly-easy to pass, the certificate alone (or lack thereof) DOES NOT MEAN the trainer is necessarily better or worse.

I have a personal bias towards certifications that are notably difficult to attain and include a proof of coaching requirement. Standard CPT certifications do not require any proof of ability other than passing a test and CPR/AED qualification.

FACT: Google “Personal Training Certification” and see how many possible results you get. I would like to see a reduction in the sheer number of personal training certifications that are out there, however I also see the value in having price points available to all

Do you think personal trainers should be licensed?  I used to, and it may one day happen.  I personally am against it as it could limit my ability to serve my athletes.  Further, I don’t believe it will weed-out the trainers that are liabilities, at least initially. It might weed out those that are not certified, but not all not all certified ones are good.

Every town has its share of bad doctors and lawyers, and its entirely possible some of  the limitations placed upon me will be made by people without any formal background in training.

I’m in a position where I can choose not to work. If I deemed that licensure was too expensive of a proposition, as it would naturally raise the costs of things, and possibly place too many limitations on what I could offer then I would leave the occupation.  I can’t possibly be the only well-educated and highly experienced near 30 year veteran holding this opinion.

That said, I think it should become harder to become, and remain a personal trainer.  The barrier to entry is low to nonexistent.  I’ve actually had people state that the practical portion of my interviews were “too tough.” The fact is, the practical was based on the material common to the standard personal training certification manual.

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Do you think personal trainers should be held accountable when they breach duty of care?  Yes.  “First, do no harm” should be our mantra.  There have been notable lawsuits involving personal trainer negligence and it never ends well for the trainer.

Personally, I believe if the athlete/client/student gets hurt in training, outside of the unforeseeable freak accidents, its the trainers fault.   As trainers, we will never 100% eliminate or prevent all injuries, but we can take measures to reduce them.

FACT: I talk the talk on this one.  When teaching exercises, including benches, I typically “stress test” the equipment before the athlete touches it. I’d rather an accident happen to me than the athlete.

How can the general public, who have never worked out before, protect themselves against bad trainers?  (1) Don’t base your judgement on the # of followers the trainer has on social media. Fact is, some trainers still don’t have any major form of social media and are “word of mouth” hires.  (2) Realize that if you’re paying $10 USD a month for gym membership your odds of landing an exceptional trainer are on the low side. (3) If the trainer will willingly introduce you to his/her other clients, ideally those with similar needs to your own, it is a positive.**  (4) If the first session has very little exercise (possibly none) a screen, health history interview and talking about your goals, then this is a positive thing.  If the first session resulted in you lying in a puddle of your sweat then it isn’t.  (5) The trainer should be able to provide proof of their certifications/related degree and CPR/AED qualification. Ask to see the liability insurance of Independent trainers (those not directly employed by the gym), the industry standard is $1 million USD. (6) It helps to be observant. Before hiring a trainer, watch how they actually train other people.  (7) Some established trainers network themselves with Physical Therapists, Chiropractors and Sports Medicine Specialists.  (8) If the trainer is attempting to sell you supplements and is NOT an Registered Dietician I would proceed with extreme caution.  Minimally, they are exceeding their scope of practice and professional ethics and potentially exposing you to something hazardous to your health. (9) If the trainer DOES NOT take you on as a client, it isn’t necessarily a negative as you may have needs beyond their skills,education and experience.  Ideally, they have a trainer they can refer you to.  Personally I wish more trainers would do that, and I have a 100+ trainer network just for these purposes.

This blog features multiple articles on hiring trainers, and light-hearted (but still accurate) ways of finding trainers that suck.

* Even when there are no major courses on the horizon, I’m always studying. Some certifications and specializations have extensive academic, or physically demanding requirements.  Westside Barbell for example requires the reading and familiarity of 19 textbooks, while others courses have performance and proof of coaching ability attached.  Standard Certified Personal Trainer exams can vary between being proctored and timed (NCCA accredited certifications) to online and open book tests. Some are notoriously tough while others are frighteningly easy to pass.

** Newer trainers, or those recently hired may not have the ability of making any introductions as the clientele base is being built.

 

Education

“The shortage of adequately trained strength specialists in local gyms renders the incorrect use of supplementary resistance training as a real possibility for for serious athletes.”  Supertraining 6th Ed (Expanded)

Translation: There are many trainers out there instructing others in methods that they themselves don’t know.  The downside is that the limitations of these trainers may only be obvious to well-qualified and experienced trainers. Degrees,titles or number of letters following a persons name provides no guarantee of their actual quality.

No trainer started off their career perfectly, nor does any know all there is to know.  The good ones grew over time to become what they are today, and many would openly state they are still students and far from where they hope to ascend. This is the importance of continued education, reading broadly, mentorship,asking questions and the practical application of time under load.

100% of my business is through referral from a current athlete, they were a previous athlete or they come to me on the gym floor, often after by being referred by another gym member. My business relies on several key things; (1) Honesty and Transparency (2) Not getting anyone injured (3) Results.

I spend a significant portion of my income addressing #2 and 3, and I always ask myself “How can this be made better?”

Over the past 48hrs I’ve come across an article on a trainer hospitalizing a man after a singular workout (1) and witnessed a feeding frenzy of MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) Personal Trainers trying to recruit a prospect. The former I have linked below, in the latter case, an individual simply asked if an MLM product was an effective business tool or waste of energy.

Interestingly, not one MLM trainer responded to my counter-post showing that when tested by a third-party, the product fails to live up to anecdotes and sales pitches.

FACT: In the online presence of qualified trainers, the MLM trainers typically get roasted when they try peddling their products.

Can an MLM trainer be good? I suppose they could,after all a non-MLM trainer isn’t always good themselves, but I am suspicious of those that are in the sales and recruiting portion of MLM.  To me it is a violation of professional ethics and breeches the typical trainers scope of practice. Its bad when I know details of their product BETTER than they do.

For example, the last sales pitch I received told me that by drinking their special concoction my body would be in near instant ketosis (2).  I asked “How would I know that?”  I was told I could pee on a special urine strip and it would show my level.

FACT: Don’t bring anecdotes to a science fight.

Science problem:  I could take a big dose of  ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) and it would render the same results while my blood panels would remain unchanged.  The urine strip would only show I pee’d out what I drank, as once in ketosis my body would be ketones as fuel, and not peeing them out.

If the trainer is strictly a consumer of the product then I’d have no issue.   That said, I believe it has been historically well-established that those who actually know nutrition and have an ability to interpret actual research tend to avoid from MLM products.  The reasons should be crystal clear.

(1) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4680708/Man-sues-Snap-Fitness-personal-trainer-injury.html

(2) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/180858.php

 

 

Fat Man Skwaatts

“Bro, your best looking squats come when you widen your stance…try squatting like a fat guy.”  A Training Partner

Preface: I’m a firm believer that every clients first session with a trainer should be a assessment. I also believe the assessment process is an on-going thing, that every movement serves as an assessment (including the “Hi, How are you today?” question) and that assessments need to be matched to the clients ability.  I continually educate myself in these matters and consider myself to be mindful of the information I am taking in.

Secondly, I’ve met a number of fat guys that have rather narrow squat stances.

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If only 35 out of 870 Orthopedic physical tests performed by Doctors have high clinical utility, what are the odds that the various physical tests performed by the garden variety personal trainers will have a greater level of utility?  

Screening Heresy. Just over two years ago I removed the Overhead Squat Assessment (OHSA) from my assessment toolbox. I’ve come to believe that it is a test that nearly everyone is going to fail, and only a small percentage of all my clients will ever be doing overhead squats.

Athletic people…Middle 98% of all clients…Unathletic/Injured People

I credit Dan John as the influence behind this continuum.  There are essentially two groups of outliers; The athletic types (which I will define as those that actually compete in something) and the unathletic types (down to those who have difficulty, or cannot pass simple screen tests, and can temporarily include the post-rehab athlete.)

I have several friends that are very good lifters, some having set competition records and others with high relative/absolute strength. These individuals can express their athletic abilities in various speed ranges and in complex lifts requiring different mobility/stability/flexibility/strength/speed demands. They are not reflective of the average.

The only ones that could likely “ace” an OHSA are ones with Olympic Lifting backgrounds (Oly or CrossFit) and if performed unloaded, significant Dance,Yoga or Calisthenics experience  Further, even if they aced the OHSA, things change the minute the barbell is loaded.

If the athletic end of the continuum is challenged by this movement, how do you think the other 99% are going to fare?

If the clients goal included learning Olympic Weightlifting, then I would refer them to a trainer that specializes in such, but not before they developed a decent ability to squat and deadlift first.  Loaded movements have a way exposing issues, and if I can correct the pattern to the individual I believe they can enjoy longer and safer training years.

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The OHSA is sometimes performed while holding a dowel or PVC pipe.  I regard it as a very unnatural movement and I don’t believe everyones structure can perform it to that exact standard. By imposing it, I am setting some people up to fail.

“But the OHSA breaks down all the muscular imbalances the person has.” I used agreed with that line of thinking at one time too…then I started reading a lot more books, attending a lot of courses and working with broader variety of people, including the bottom and top 1% (People that need assistance to sit and stand and well-qualified athletes.)

I’m not alone in my observation that a good number of trainers don’t know how to coach the squat, and that there are some that believe the OHSA Squat and a Barbell Squat are identical in nature, or don’t realize that no two people squat the same.

How certain are we that what we are seeing is a muscle imbalance, and not a structural issue? Or perhaps the person lacks the kinesthetic awareness to perform a squat with their arms overhead?

Does the person ever sit on a toilet? If yes,That means they can squat to some degree. Their supposed inability to squat can be checked several ways which can help determine if it is a structural issue, a psychological issue (fear of falling on their butt), a motor control issue or a mobility issue. A muscle imbalance is not always my go-to answer.  Matter of fact, I consider muscle imbalances when other things have been ruled out.

The presence of pain in the squat (or any screen for that matter) means they are going to see the Dr to get it checked, even if I can get them to a pain-free range.

Their feet externally rotated or their knees caved in while they tried to squat?  Try widening their stance a little. Notice that by improving their form things magically improved. Most squat variations require a degree of external foot rotation, by limiting the contribution of bodies lateral muscles you increase the odds of knee valgus.

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Credit: The Movement Fix.  Due to our unique structures we all squat differently. For example, I squat like a Fat Guy. Does standing partial squats on a Bosu sound like something that would change my structure? No! But I would get better at doing partial squats on a Bosu.

In my opinion, coaching proper movement is the best corrective exercise. A historically sedentary individual is not going to have the physical, technical or kinesthetic awareness to realize all of the non-optimized moments within a given exercise.  This is where the educated and qualified trainers can shine.

Fact: At the veteran level you are more of an educator than a trainer.

 

Optimal Training

“Complexity of drills and apparatus often seems to replace optimal simplicity, technical correctness and elegance.” – Unknown

The bottom line upfront:  I am known for my bias towards training that makes use of relatively simple methods.  Further, I am also known to leave no stone unturned and am open towards learning new techniques and material.  In the beginning and end, I must be able to shape my training around the needs of the individual client, and meet them at where they stand.

Optimal Training is defined by the client.

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The basic barbell. Historically proven effective at building strength in fundamental movements,Infinitely loadable and something that has stood the test of time. One of the five major tools I use with a broad clientele and nearly as simple as simple gets in the gym. That said, not every client picks up a barbell nor is every client confined to only five tools.  It’s always a case of “which tool works best for this individual, right now?”

I’ve written numerous blogs on the value of simplicity in training, and on the attraction of flashy workouts.  I’ve also stated that “training” and “working out” are different things and that some trainers cannot separate the two.

My training is anything but flashy. If anything,I believe it would be closer to an educational course at the University of You.

I believe everyone should engage in exercise.  I also believe that exercise (or working out) is good enough for a portion of the population. For others, this won’t do, at least not in the long haul.

Properly structured training as defined by the individual is the most efficient path towards a given adaptation. Depending on the goal and starting point this could be a long journey.  Properly structured training means that everything being done fulfills a need and is in step with the clients present status.

Further,that there is a defendable reason why an exercise is there.  That its not an arbitrary listing of exercises, sets and reps. When I say defendable, I mean defendable against high bandwidth trainers,not against an unknowing public that automatically assumes all trainers are highly capable.

Case in point: I’m old enough to roll my eyes every time I see “Death by Burpees” as part of the days training requirements.  I have coach friends that have personally lost high double to triple digits in weight, I have several that are competitive lifters, many with standing records and others that are stronger and move better now that they did more than a decade ago.

None got to where they are now solely due to “Death by Burpees”

 

Are Burpees inherently bad? No, they are not without purpose.

Have I ever programmed Burpees? Yes,quite selectively and infrequently.

Can they be programmed intelligently? Yes, but I have yet to find a time where another exercise wasn’t a better/more efficient/safer choice on a client defined basis.

I can almost forgive the high rep Burpees if they part of a better constructed whole, with the remaining 90% of the session being composed of exercises with a greater return on investment.  It’s when the high-rep Burpees are the cherry on top following exercises that defy logic, biomechanics, client prescription or the old school smell test.

It’s in those scenarios where I start questioning the trainers ability, or at lest their dedication to their craft.

 

 

 

Ethics and Education

One of my grand goals is to influence future generations of personal trainers.  I wish to make an effort towards improving the standards of service commonly found in our industry.

I want to help produce the trainers that I wish I had. 

I believe education includes the production of trainers that can engage their cortex, that are not afraid to ask questions and are willing to work with other professionals.  I’ve seen far too many trainers that fail to meet these criterion, and a few that challenge the belief that there is no such thing as stupid questions.

The universe recently presented a job opportunity that based on requirements, I could be considered a near-perfect candidate.  I have above the preferred level of education, well above the preferred level of industry experience and a previous work history that includes academic teaching positions and public speaking.  The teaching hour requirements and travel distance were not unreasonable.  I never bothered looking into the pay or benefits.

Teaching personal training students would be a ideal way to influence things. My passion for trying to improve things outweighs what I would get paid to do it.

After further consideration, I may not have been such a near-perfect of a candidate.  Based on my resume’ I could be considered over-qualified for the position.

The problems:  The course is based solely off a singular textbook and designed to get the graduates to pass the exam, which admittedly isn’t the easiest test.  A personal issues of mine is that I don’t fully agree with textbook (none are perfect) and what the courses goals should be aimed towards.

I cannot teach material that I don’t fully support. In my opinion, getting someone to rote memorize material to pass a test versus actually educating someone are two vastly different things. There are apps designed for the former, but they aren’t very handy once you have a live person in front of you.

I want to help produce trainers that are qualified, not just certified.  To do otherwise would only contribute to the problems our industry faces,and my heart wouldn’t be fully into things.