Exercise Absolutism

ab·so·lut·ism: The acceptance of or belief in absolute principles in political, philosophical, ethical, or theological matters.

A person once told me that barbell training, explosive power training and horizontal bar training were only serving as sure-fire means that I would eventually cripple myself.  The fact that the commenter looked as if they never ran into a weight was not lost on me.

Some Non-lifters will say lifters are using methods that are outdated. Outdated for what exactly is something they rarely address.

Some people who suck at using lifting straps will say that straps are cheating. If a lifting event allows straps in its rules, then I fail to see how it would be considered cheating.

People who don’t know how to use a belt (or are too fat to use one) will say belts are cheating. I own a belt and rarely use it in training.  Does the fact that I own a belt make a potential cheat?

Tall, long-legged people cry about how unfair deadlifts are, especially if they also have short arms.   Short people will complain about Atlas stone platform heights.


There is also the possibility that someone tried it, found out they weren’t good at it within five minutes and decided NOBODY should do it.

I say “in general” because there is also the group that doesn’t know what they’re looking at. Since it doesn’t look familiar to them, it MUST be wrong.

The Bench Press performed with an arched back, as seen in Powerlifting “looks wrong” to someone unfamiliar with Powerlifting technique. In some cases, the person is also unfamiliar with Bench Pressing.  In the case of Certified Trainers, the lift doesn’t look exactly like the photo/diagram of a bench press on page 123 of the CPT book.

Oddly, it seems only smaller females are at risking “blowing out their back.” The spines of larger males and females must be immune.


MINI-RANT: Don’t get me started on “the knees can’t go past the toes…ever” or “toes must always point forward” people when it comes to squats.  (Photo Credit: Starting Strength 3rd Ed)

Such absolutism. I wonder if the absolutists ever took the time and effort to read broadly on the subject they speak of, or if they only read things that supported their view. Did they ever make an effort to test things for themselves?

For example…
I like Bench Pressing. It’s in my programming twice per week (1)
I compete in a sport that has rules defining what qualifies as a passable lift.
I think I’m pretty good at teaching it, and I can remedy a number of commons lift errors and weaknesses.
Properly applied,I think it can be a decent post-rehab/prehabilitation exercise for the shoulder. (2)

That said…
The Bench Press (with a Barbell) is not for everyone, nor does it apply to all goals.
The lifts range of motion (outside the sport of Powerlifting) is defined by the individual.
“Down” and “Up” are the only two benching commands some trainers seem to know. If thats all they know then they have no business trying to make others do it.
It’s an exercises that people can easily over-do, often to their detriment.
It’s a lift with attributable deaths.

(1) One day is reserved for maximum effort working to the days heaviest single lift. It may or may not be a record. The second day is reserved for maximum speed,and is set to a load percentage based on the weeks maximum.  The lift variation changes every 1-3 weeks depending on my skill in the lift. This prevents accommodation in the lift and reduces the potential for injury. Some weeks I skip maxing altogether and strictly work on repetition efforts.  This type of programming is designed for an intermediate to advanced lifter, and not something I have beginners do.

(2)  A well coached powerlifting style of bench press requires engagement of the upper-back, shoulders and humeral positioning to stabilize and repetitively move a large load.  This isn’t where I would start someone, but it is a good progression that could fall within a client defined training continuum.


Lessons from Failures


Friend: “What would you have done different in your career?”

Me: “Other than maybe learning to say “No” earlier, nothing. Everything I’ve done right,wrong or otherwise put me to where I am today.  I’m as much a product of my failures, and observations of the failures of others as I am my successes.”

My job as a strength coach is to educate and to help others reach a level of fitness using client defined exercise selections and progressions while avoiding the mistakes made by myself and others.

That’s a lot of material to draw from, and it extends to my work training other trainers.

Behind the scenes each week I spend a fair amount of time reviewing programs written by other trainers.  Every time a program is sent, I almost always wind up asking 10-20 questions about the client and their specifics.  Hour long phone conversations are nothing out of the ordinary. If this helps produce better trainers, then its time well spent.

Below are my big take aways.

First, Do no harm: Whether an exercise is a “good or bad” option depends on the client and their goal.  Does the client have the available joint ranges of motion, motor control,  tolerance or functional capacity to do what is asked?  Does the exercise fit the clients goal?  Does the program align with the trainers abilities?

Tailor: Beginners need beginner programs. I’ve seen beginner programs that if performed exactly as written, would take over 2 hours to complete.  Remember who the client is.

Balance. I will tell you to resubmit programs if I see 100 reps of push exercises and not at least the same number of pull exercises with similar magnitudes and volume. I also look at the planes of motion and energy systems being used in a microcycle.

Logic: Have a “Why?” behind every exercise in the session.  Imagine you’re on stage under a harsh spotlight explaining the why to a room full of exceptionally smart coaches.   Does the program match the client? Does the program support the goal?

Can YOU go? (Shoutout to Dan John):  Are you prescribing exercises YOU actually know how to do, or at least teach exceptionally well?  The number of times I’ve seen a kettle bell swing or basic barbell technique taught improperly is staggering.

Fact: Not every gym goer watching you is uneducated or inexperienced in lifting things. Fact II: Would you be willing to demonstrate and teach the exercise to a more experienced and knowledgeable fitness professional?

Order:  I take a triage view of things.  What are the most important things the client needs now and how can I best help them? My general order of organizing things.  (1) Client defined warm-up.  This can be tied to the main movement of the session or address issues the client has.  (2) Main movement. Normally this will be the most demanding exercise performed in the session (greatest load, highest technical demands or a skill being developed.) These are things where I don’t want fatigue sabotaging the clients efforts.  (3) Supplemental lifts: 1-2 exercises that build the main lift and address the client defined weaknesses.  (4) Accessory lifts:  1-3 exercises that “build the builders.”  Depending on whom is in front of me, I will push supplemental or accessory lifts and rotate them out as needed.

I see too many cases where exercise order seemed to be overlooked, and training to failure over-used.

Be careful with your sources of information:  Even scientific studies are not without their shortcomings. Be willing to read things that contradict what you have been taught or believe to be real.

Train the hell out of your programs:  A simple well-designed program coached well trumps a complex well-designed program coached poorly.

You never graduate


Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist (FRCms) course taught at the UFC Performance Institute here in Las Vegas taught by the systems creator, Dr. Andreo Spina.

Thanks to Facebook memories, it was this time last year that I attended the USPA Powerlifting Coaches course, and two years ago at StrongFirst’s Kettlebell instructor course.  I’ve also attended a number of other courses, both live and online and read constantly.

I’m not unique.

A common denominator I’ve found among dedicated coaches is that they are always studying, even when not taking official courses. I’ve known more that a few that don’t care if the course adds letters after their name or awards educational credits for recertification. How selective they are varies from coach to coach.  For them, it is more about the education, and less about the actual certification.  The certification is like the cherry on top.

This goes on, and they never graduate. They become better students.

I have also noted trends on the other end of the education continuum.


Truth Time:  I’ve had several people offer me money to complete educational courses for them. Despite the easy money, I have never accepted any offers. The bad part is I’m sure that someone did.

BEAT THE CLOCKS: People that wait until the last weeks/days/hours to complete minimum educational credits. I put these guys one step ahead of the ones that allow their certification to lapse, but still meet grace period deadlines and several steps ahead of those that simply let the certifications lapse and never renew, or upgrade it.

I understand that sometimes life presents challenges where education demands need to take a backseat to more pressing matters. That said, this is a stress you can do without and solve fairly easily.


Truth Time: There are certifications available that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, and any certification is only as good as the person that holds it and what they can, or can’t do with the information.

WALLPAPER LOVERS: People that seem to be in a rush to collect as many suffixes after their name as possible, filling a wall with a huge amount of certifications.

The issue here is when newer trainers, with otherwise great intentions, try to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.  Depending on ones pre-certification background, I believe that over the course of the first one to two years a trainer should focus on learning to apply their craft on live humans.  Having a mentor in this case is especially handy.

Although it doesn’t award official education credits or letters after your name, I believe simply talking to, or observing top trainers can be highly beneficial.





I’ve been on sabbatical for a little while now, but haven’t dropped off the grid.

I parted ways with Iron Addicts Gym Las Vegas due to a disagreement regarding our business relationship.  I worked as an independent contractor for the gym, which meant I paid a monthly fee to rent space in the gym and was responsible for obtaining and retaining my own clientele along with maintaining personal liability insurance.  I was not an employee or paid by the gym in any way.

I believe the gym owners were wrong by insisting that I wear the gyms shirt whenever I trained my clients. I would not be allowed to wear personal branded shirts or any other suitable shirt.  Mind you, I had been renting space in the gym for more than two years, and this rule came out of the blue.  The gym is not a franchise operation and is Iron Addicts in name only.

This unforeseeable situation represented not only a contractual issue, but also a slippery slope. Would I be told to change the branding on my business card? What about any social media platforms that I have? How about having to perform janitorial duties on messes that I, or a athlete of mine didn’t create?

The decision to leave was both difficult and easy, and not without some follow-on pains. It was made easy by the fact that I don’t NEED to work for a living.  Fact is, I never did.

Since then, I have remained unemployed as a private strength coach.  Some of that time I believe was due to feeling down about things, but I fully accept the consequences of my decision to stand up for myself, and have put my time to very good use. I still study daily, and have two live courses already lined up. Daily study has been a habit for so long that I can’t see myself changing.

My sabbatical has allowed me to become nearly a full-time student and opened up greater time to train myself. My training log proves I’ve gotten stronger, having to give away shirts proves I gained size and I would like to think I’ve gained an I.Q. point or two from the studying. I still consult for a number of individuals,including other trainers and administrate a small international online network of health and fitness professionals.

I honestly believe I will come out of this sabbatical a better coach than I am now, and I can’t stand the thought of 2018 me being no better than 2017 me.


Watching YouTube isn’t the same as Education.  I don’t believe there is any controversy to this opinion.  In fairness, I can say the same applies to blog sites such as this.


There are trainers out there that consider YouTube a go-to resource.  Why do I have the feeling they view Wikipedia in the same light?

Yes, there are some YouTube sites putting out exceptional material that can either serve as an adjunct, or possibly clarify a topic through visual examples. The trick is managing to land on a page that is putting out quality information.  Overall I find YouTube to be handy and have picked up some gems over the years.

If you did you manage to land on a quality YouTube channel, the material covered can often require a level of understanding beyond what the video covers.  For example, I know that a kettle bell swing video from StrongFirst, RKC or StrengthMatters will demonstrate exceptional technique.

As a person that has attended the StrongFirst Kettlebell three and single day courses, along with working with three different SFG instructors, and having attended Dragon Doors HKC certification, I can assure you that there is a reason why half a day is spent covering the swing.  

Personally, I believe its possible to spend more than an entire day on single technique.  It comes down to how much knowledge the instructor can pass on and the level of the class.

Remember, with the possible exception of the StrongFirst single day course, people TRAINED  to be ready for these courses.  Hiring an SFG/RKC/SMK certified coach in advance is a wise idea and well worth the investment.

How well do you really think you’ll understand something when the sum of your education came from watching some YouTube videos? Well enough to apply it to another human? Well enough to pass a testing criteria under the eyes of a coach that actually does knows what they’re doing?

The world is full of  YouBoob trainers. This is a profession that sincerely needs more professionals, and less amateurs.

Be Real.


“Look the Part”

Them: “So were you a gymnast, or a sprinter?”                                                                  

Me:  (Hearty Laugh) “Neither, I’m a stiff biff and move at the speed of a tectonic plate”

Truth time, I enjoy the programs offered through GMB (1) and am not the worst sprinter in the world thanks to Training for Warriors level 2.  My stiff biff and tectonic plate comparisons are a bit off and looking like a gymnast or sprinter certainly isn’t the worst look (or more importantly, physical abilities) to have at any age.

In the eyes of a gym goer and a coach that didn’t previously know me, I “looked the part” of a person that was/is one or the other.  While I am not without some skill in teaching bodyweight strength training or improving sprinting form, I don’t consider myself an expert in either.  There are other coaches that fill that need and its good to have them on speed dial. I gladly refer business their way and only ask that they return my texts. (2)


I didn’t look the part of a Powerlifter, much less a coach that happens to teach the Powerlifts (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and their variations)  What were they expecting? The classic big guy with a power gut that gets out of breath eating third lunch?  While there is some truth to the stereotype, it is not representative of all Powerlifters. One visit to Powerlifting meet will prove that fact when you see the lighter weight classes compete.

Mind you, I genuinely liked these people at first meeting, and I can fully understand their perception, especially since I had just dropped off a horizontal bar working on lever holds.


On one side is what the trainer looks like. On the other is what they are actually capable of doing, and how well they do it. While I believe a balance can be achieved, I favor the side of ability. 

I can reasonably speculate the entire “Looking the part” thing stems from three major sources;  (a) Gym Bro’s that look particularly impressive and won’t take advice from anyone that doesn’t look MORE impressive than they do. (b) Trainers that look a certain way, and believe that no trainer that looks otherwise is qualified to lend an opinion.  (c) The general publics belief that the better the trainer looks, the better they are at training other people.

Speaking on behalf of the Gym Bro’s, I’ve observed a small gradual shift in this line of thinking, and that a percentage of serious Bro’s will seek qualified information regardless of what the source looks like.  They live in a world of results, if a smaller or fatter trainer can get the results they’re seeking, they will listen.

Older trainers can swing either way and be viewed as being either highly knowledgeable or not in touch with modern training science.  As an older trainer myself I will state that wisdom (in training) does not always accompany age.

Possibly BroScience on my behalf, but based on observations I’ve found many of the trainers that overstate the importance of a trainers appearance tend to lack in other areas.  I can’t fault them for playing their strengths, but applying that thinking broadly is illogical.

As a trainer, especially one that deals with the general population, I can understand that overweight or underweight trainers finding themselves at a disadvantage in terms of perceived credibility.  This can be professionally overcome, however it can be an uphill battle.

I believe the worst-case scenario would be a trainer that doesn’t look the part and cannot perform the part either.  Having seen this firsthand, my standing advice in this is if the trainer is serious about this profession, they need to hire a trainer of their own (ideally more than one) and spend a year in the trenches learning the craft.

(1) My testimonial for GMB: https://gmb.io/reviews/#is

(2) Sprinting Education: https://primalspeed.com/events/



Sucker Punch

“Life can change your directions, even when you ain’t planned it
All you can do it handle it, worst thing you can do is panic
Use it to your advantage, avoid insanity manage
To conquer, every obstacle, make impossible possible
Even when winning illogical, losing is still far from optional”

“No Matter What” by T.I, 

Its been barely a week since I posted “Five Years Later”, and I now find myself in a somewhat familiar place.  I no longer have a gym in which to offer my services as I chose to terminate my agreement with the gym over a matter of principles.

I will admit that I’m feeling slightly down about this, but I have a number of options in front of me, and it certainly isn’t the only gym in town. As a matter of fact, a gym just opened up around the corner.  Full retirement is also an option which I have considered.

In the meantime, I have my routines. The single most impacted one is where I can train myself, and even that can be worked around.

Daily routines are an important thing to me.  My morning routine and “daily do’s” has seen some changes over the years but my daily professional reading has been consistent. I am presently reading SuperTraining by Dr. Mel Siff and Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky.  It is a 500+ page encyclopedia  of incredibly dense material steeped in Russian and Eastern European training science.

I’ve found that on average, I can best manage its material in ten-minute chunks in order retain the information.

There are pages with large question marks scribbled in the margins as I need other books to explain this book. Luckily, every now and then I run across topics which I am comparatively more knowledgeable,can absorb the information and apply it in a practical manner.

I’ve been told it takes roughly a year to get through the book during the first read through.  So far that is looking to be a pretty accurate estimate.

It was during one of my ten-minute reading snacks yesterday when I paused my timer (yes, I time things) and asked “If I stopped training people, would any of this (my daily study habit) matter?  I’d have this knowledge, but nobody to share it with or that could benefit from it? Am I simply doing this out of habit?


Leave no stone unturned. Be able to explain and practically apply each of the methods shown on a athlete defined basis.                                                                                                                                           

Despite the Sucker Punch, I don’t believe the universe wants me to stop doing what I’m doing just yet.  It simply reminded me that standing up for your principles will sometimes mean that you’re going to take some shots in the process.