Author Archives: mytrainerchris

Training Stalls

The Biological Law of Accommodation: The response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. The decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus.


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The Incline Lever Row is considered a general back exercise and my performance has stalled. I use both sets of handles with equal load and volume and cannot, with continued good form, go any heavier than current. What’s worse is that performance numbers appear to be trending downwards. (1)

I have already altered the lifts tempo from explosive, to rhythmic to mechanical with isometric pausea and changed grip patterns to the most challenging positions.

In my personal programming, undulating producing the best results (for me). My lat muscles noticeably thickened  and widened over the past few weeks and I believe the combination of high volume/frequency paired with relatively short density (-60 sec rest between sets) led to improvements in form. I hope that the exercise transfers improvement to my bench press speed.

I have several options.

A) Change the exercise.  Considering the loading potential and effect of the exercise, it might require two exercises to replace it. Since I bench twice weekly, I can split the exercises per session.

B) Continue going the way I’m going and train instinctively, hope for the best.

C) Use lifting straps to overload the exercise. While my stalling is not a case of grip failure, the straps will aid in allowing me to pull more than I can without them.

With respect the law of accommodation I believe that option A is the better choice, and I can rotate option C in a few weeks.  A change in angle from 45 degrees to other positions (roughly past 30 and 60 degrees respectively) will create a new of stresses.  Even a 45 degree pull with entirely different handles or lifting posture would elicit a different response, but it would still be within a range to which I’ve accommodated.

This is fine N=1 stuff, but how does the average Joe/Jane know when to tweak their program?

The “Are you still making progress?” chart  (Credit: Greg Nucklos) 

Yes: Don’t change anything

No: How do you feel?

Good:  Train harder

I’m feeling worn out/fatigued

Outside the Gym? 

Good: Lower Volume

Needs Work: Focus here                                                                                                              (Look at Food/Sleep/Water/Other recovery methods/Life Stress)

(1) The 45 Lever Row isn’t my only pull exercise.  I also perform Face Pulls (Warm Up before squat/bench press) Lat-Pull Downs, Seated Rows and Pull-ups. The key point is that I pull in multiple directions weekly.  On a per session basis, my pulls outnumber my push exercises at least 2-1.


Seven things your gym doesn’t want you to know.

This weeks blog primarily focuses on the high-volume/low monthly price gym model, but many of the points also apply equally to costly gyms and independent contract trainers.

I have personally witnessed each one of these events.

1. Your personal trainer may not be qualified…in anything.  It is entirely possible that your trainer holds no education or certification whatsoever, and may have zero experience training anyone other than themselves.  They may not have any training in CPR/AED or basic first aid.

Potential Clients: Ask the trainer or their fitness manager to show you the trainers certification and proof of current CPR/AED.  Trainer certifications are valid for periods between 1-4 years (varies per agency) before they need to be renewed.  This needs to happen BEFORE any training service has been rendered.    

Trainers: Having a photo of your certification and CPR/AED qualification on your phone is an easy way of having ready proof.

2. Sexiness can mean more than Ability.  I will preface this by saying that a trainers exterior does not serve as a full indicator of their ability, and as a mean looking bastard.

I have personally seen people hired as trainers purely due to their looks.  Those looks in turn were leveraged as a sales tactic. If a young lady was potentially interested in training, a handsome well-built male was assigned.  If a male was interested in training, an attractive lady was often brought out.  If a male or female was tentative about hiring a trainer, they would bring out a rather unimposing looking trainer, especially if the interested party was older.

Purely from observation the attractive trainers may be preferentially assigned clients simply to keep them on the staff and on the gym floor. Whether or not they were actually any good, or remotely qualified for the job was irrelevant.

3. Gyms don’t want you being there, but they do want your monthly dues.  The IDEAL person is someone that never shows up. Thats free-money, and has been the ideal for quite some time.

4. They will go to great lengths to get you to sign the dotted line. I’ve been called numerous times by gyms I’ve visited, and every call seems to have a special limited time offer attached. There seems to be no end to the psychological tricks used to sell a gym membership. The selling party always seems interested in the gym that I actually hold a membership. My speculation is that they are trying to determine if I go to a direct competitor or not. If I did, they would magically be able to match or beat the deal.

FACT: Many (not all) of the sales staff have zero knowledge of training.

5. Cancelling a contract can be exceedingly difficult, especially when compared to how easy it is for them to take your monthly payments.


6. Most gyms don’t clean surfaces or equipment nearly as much as they claim.  You are your best janitor in these cases by wiping equipment surfaces before/after use and covering any cuts or scrapes.  In highly populated gyms I suggest wearing long sleeves and pants no matter how badly you want to blast your guns to the admiring public.


This local gym didn’t seem to sure how to balance the layout of the functional training area (note the BOSU on the far left) and the cardio equipment, so they surrounded the functional area with cardio equipment.

7. Decor and Layout are meant for an effect.  Typically there will be images of exceptionally fit people on the walls (aka genetic lottery winners with possible photoshoppery) and lots of cardio equipment, or some form of functional training area at the front of the gym. The barbells and dumbbells will almost always be in the rear.

A training gym, much less a hardcore lifters gym will be the opposite.

Why?  The images are there to sell you a dream and the cardio equipment isn’t nearly as intimidating as the barbells.  I believe the functional training areas are out of response to the growth and name recognition of CrossFit.  My degree in bastardology leads me to suspect that the functional training areas can also hide a trainers inability to teach and train core lifts.







Professional Growth

“Give people the benefit of the doubt, until you begin to doubt their benefit.”

Circa 2013: As the resident bastard I was tasked with having a hard talk with another trainer.  The digest version is that the trainer was working well-below their supposed abilities as stated on their resume’.

Me: “What was the last educational course you took, and when was it completed?

Her: “I’ve been a trainer for 5 fu-king years!”

Me: “From what I’ve been seeing you’ve been a trainer for less than 1 year and on repeat since.”

She quit a few days later. I guess I have that effect on people.


A certification, or even a degree for that matter, suggests but doesn’t guarantee that a trainer knows what they are doing. It also doesn’t mean any meaningful education followed afterwards. What it shows is that a person passed a test at or above the minimum standard. (1)

Standards themselves are not quite what many think. Although often touted as “superior” by the holders, NCCA accreditation covers only the administrative portions of a certification.  It does not measure test difficulty or the accuracy of tested material. This is partly why certified trainer tests vary in relative testing difficulty. (2)

Personally, I’d like to see a reduction in the number of credentialing agencies and a higher emphasis on continuing education.

I’ve openly told students that my training is continually evolving. I believe I’m a better trainer in May 2018 than I was in January 2018, and certainly better than I was in May 2013.  I fully admit that I’ve changed my mind on a number of subjects over the years.

What remained unchanged is my adherence to the basics and the fundamental principles of training.  I would offer that ones ability to apply their knowledge in the real world and produce repeatable results is far more important than ones certification.

For professional growth, I suggest the following:  

Learn from the best. If in doubt, start by looking at who other top people are learning from.

YouTube is handy, but it doesn’t replace experiential education.

Hiring a specialist to train you is a good thing, and doesn’t make you less of a trainer.

Learn how to properly use your tools…but don’t get married to them.

Certification was the starting point. Consistent education, applied practice and a healthy obsession for increased knowledge is what sets you apart from others.

(1) Historically, NSCA,ACSM and NASM have all been noted for having relatively difficult exams with higher failure rates than other NCCA trainer exams. That said, holders of these certifications are not automatically better than non-holders.



Talk,Walk and Chalk


Although it’s rarer than you might think, a random gym-goer struck up a conversation with me.  After finding out what I did, he asked an interesting question:

 “Is a fitness test required to become a coach?”

He was surprised to hear that there were no physical requirements for the entry-level Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) or Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) paths. He then said that might explain why he’s seen trainers that looked like they didn’t know what they were doing.

TRAINERS: I wasn’t joking when I said people on the gym floor are watching you.

I believe that physical and academic testing should be required.  A person with the CPT or CSCS designator should be able to do what their certification says they can do. By no means does it imply expertise, it simply means a set of organizational minimums have been met. Academic tests are fairly easy to run, its the physical portion that presents some difficulties.

There are speciality certifications with physical requirements,including some with strict load minimums, live coaching assessments or both.  Personally, I place higher value on these as I believe it indicates the trainers degree of professional commitment. I further believe courses with live instruction and coaching assessment components provide a more well-rounded education. I believe quality internships and mentorships can also fill this void assuming that physical work has been put in.

In short, it helps lead to trainers that are able to talk the talk, walk the walk and chalk the chalk.

I’ve met newly minted certified trainers that admitted having no clue of how to train someone else, and in some cases they had very little experience training even themselves. I find their honestly refreshing and can usually work with that type of person.

It’s the ones that believe that they know everything that I can’t help.



3 sets of 10

“Down!”  “Up!”                                                                                                                                   This was the alpha and omega of the coaching cues I overheard this week while observing a trainer having an obvious beginner bench press.

Literally, that and the repetition number was all that was said.  The trainer was on his phone between sets while the client performed (you guessed it) ten burpees between bench press sets.  The highly convenient three sets of ten reps…for everything they did.

“3 sets of 10 is not the magic formula for every exercise or all adaptations”                           Me, running my mouth on Facebook.

On its own,there is nothing inherently wrong with performing 3 sets of 10 repetitions for a given exercise. (1)

Whether its a good idea or not depends on a few things, For who?, For what intended purpose? (desired adaptation), Can the person do a single repetition well? (Technique, style,form and control?) and does the trainer know that other set and repetition schemes might be more appropriate for the person in front of them?

In this weeks case, the client could not perform a single repetition well, and I lay responsibility for this on the trainer. In my opinion the client would have been better served training in a lower repetition range,even if total volume (30 total repetitions) were equated.


Credit: StrongerbyScience (2)

A few thoughts on this weeks observation….

“Up” and “Down” might be the extent of what the trainer knows about bench pressing and working outside their depth.

The trainer does know how to instruct exercises, but was being lazy and not training the client to the level of their professional ability.

“Universal 3×10” is mentally easy to apply.

Based on a single observation, fatigue seemed to be the goal of the session and safety was not a consideration.  I come to this conclusion given the fact that burpees (a fatiguing full body exercise) were placed between bench press repetitions. Fatigue leads to technical decay, and the bench press is rather technical lift.

Burpees may have been used as a time filler/breath taker/sweat maker more than anything else. I form that opinion based on the fact the trainer was on his phone in between the clients sets during the primary exercise.



The 20% Challenge

“I’ve come to believe that there is 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.”      “80/20”  June 2016 (1)

I ticked some people off following the 80/20 blog and its eventual follow-up. What I never addressed were the challenges faced by the 20%, and the 10-20% of trainers that are actively working towards professional growth.

Personally, I owe some thanks to the 80%. If it weren’t for them I might not be where I am today, and they remind me why I continually drive to improve myself. I want to crack that 20% range someday, and I can say I’m closer this year than I was last year.

FACT: NO TRAINER started off automatically in the 20%, this includes those with degrees and the CSCS or any other fancy combination of letters after their name.(2)  The 20% worked hard to improve themselves to get to that point, and for the dedicated it is a never-ending process. It would be arrogant of me to assume that I’m in the 20%,but every year I get better than before.  Furthermore, I recognize areas which I consider myself in the 80%, and thankfully have the benefit of knowing whom to consult or refer out when needed.

The 20% can face the challenge of being surrounded by people whom they cannot professionally relate.  The fact they perform similar functions and cannot communicate on the basics and scientific principles of training can be mentally draining.

In some cases, the 20% trainer may be viewed negatively simply because they do things differently from the majority.  If the majority of trainers are having clients perform random circuits and exercises with little attention to form, and the minority are prescribing client-defined exercises with suitable levels of progression then the latter might appear to be the oddballs.

Interestingly, when the minority are viewed positively it seems that little managerial effort is given towards retaining them, or at least leveraging their positive qualities to improve the majority.

For some of the 20%, it can be demotivating to pursue costly, academically demanding or physically challenging continuing education courses when your co-workers are looking for the paths of least cost/least resistance…and they still sit on their thumbs until the last minute to complete even those small requirements! (3)

what-youve-just-said-is-one-of-the-most-insanely-19798259TRUTH TIME:  It can be hard to listen to some trainers talk or try rationalizing things, and even harder to watch some of them with their clients. At one point I tried telling myself to not let it effect me, but I’ve since changed my opinion and don’t want to ever become numb to what amounts to malpractice.


(2) Will likely generate more hate mail.

(3) Or worse, they think attending YouTube University is the same as actually attending a live course and being tested on the material by a subject matter expert.

Snob Trainers

From Merriam-Webster                                                                                                                   Snob.  a : one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior
b : one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.

From the Book of Bro                                                                                                                             Snob: An A̶$̶$̶h̶o̶l̶e̶ that often seems to fall short of their self-proclaimed skills and abilities. Generally not seen training with heavy weights. (1)

Over the course of the last six weeks I’ve ran into two snobbish trainers. I’ve run into people like this in past, but never with this frequency.


(L) Snob (R) Me. Personally, I view academic/trainer snobs as a type of bully.  People that I happen to love chin checking by putting them into situations where I know they are disadvantaged…just like they do to others.

ExPhys Trainer asked me what degree I held.  Mind you, I wasn’t applying for a job and the entire conversation started off as basic small talk.  I detected an odd from him when I told him that my degree is in Communications.  He responded with “My degree is in Exercise Physiology, don’t you see having a non-Exercise related degree as a occupational handicap?”

Short Answer: No.

After saying no, I asked when he graduated, which according to him was 2003.  I asked what happened since then, why didn’t he go for his Master’s. He said the financial burden of an additional 18-24 month of schooling deterred him.  Once again I’ll take his word for it.  I nearly asked “So what really happened, did you fail to get into medical school?”



Then I asked if he ever planned on adding any weight to his bar.  My first warm-up weight was heavier than his current loading.

FACT: My education didn’t end in 2003.


I honestly hoped that ExPhys Trainer would be up for some Bench Pressing.

WXYZ Trainer: “If you’re not certified by WXYX, then you lack credibility as a trainer.” (2)

I had no response for this, nor do I think one would have even been heard.  In this persons mind, there is only a singular certification body that has anything to offer.  I find this interesting as the references within the companies primary textbook come from two other well-known credential granting agencies.  

The WXYZ Trainer stated the three certifications he presently holds, and being fair I feel the companies texts do a good job of connecting with each other.  That said, it could be argued that Mr. WXYZ has only read one book. (3)

The WXYZ agency does seem to produce the most certified trainers and is favored by some employers. In my opinion, it is the trainer that makes the certification, not the other way around.  Trainers that are good are good because of their continued efforts in learning and improving, the exact after their name matter little.  Further, no singular course or text is ever perfect.

Would I hire a WXYZ certified trainer? Sure, if they can pass both a practical and coaching skills test and don’t come off as a Snob.

(1) Snobs will be armed with a multitude of reasons why they are not seen around heavy weights.  The classics include “Squats are bad for the knees”, “Deadlifts are bad for your back”  “Weight training is over-rated” and “I used to Bench 315 in High School.”

Higher level Snobs will be able to recite singular lines from (possibly outdated) singular websites or studies that provide confirmation bias. My favorite is when they misinterpret what was actually stated, or state something that has been scientifically proven as false.

(2) “WXYZ” is my way of not naming-names.  The actual certification is one of the most well-known within the fitness industry and isn’t a bad certifcation, but not nearly as good as many people like to think either.  It comes down to whether or not you can apply the material and know when to look elsewhere for answers.

(3) Have a box…Know whats inside the box….Make a bigger box…Know whats outside the box….If needed,know when to burn the box.