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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.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Disordered Eating

“Your ideal body weight is the range where you feel healthy and fit, have no signs of an eating disorder to maintain that weight, and have healthy functioning immune and reproductive systems.”   Dr. Carol Otis

I am not a Registered Dietician, nor do I hold myself out as an expert in nutrition science, biochemistry or food psychology.  That said, I am not without some knowledge on the subjects and happen to know a few people that are very sharp in those areas. I subscribe to the idea of eating like an adult, and enjoying a variety of foods.

Each state in the United States has its own set of nutrition laws(1) and personal trainer certifications draw professional lines when it comes to dietary advice and prescription. The prescription of supplements is generally outside of a personal trainers scope of practice. This of course does not mean there are not trainers profiting, or recommending them.

 

“It is the responsibility of the personal trainer to educate clients about the risks of disordered eating and to avoid promoting risky weight loss behaviors or setting unrealistic goals.”  NSCA Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Ed.

There are short, and longterm medical and psychological implications associated with disordered eating, which includes anorexia and bulimia nervosa, in addition to fad dieting,highly restrictive diets (I.E. the Grapefruit diet) or more extreme dietary approaches.

“You who are so good with words, and at keeping things vague…”                     Diamonds and Rust, Joan Baez

As a trainer, you were hired under the presumption that you were educated and professionally competent.  Whether it be the truth or not, your words still matter, at least to an uneducated population. An inappropriate comment, questionable supplement advice/prescription or unrealistic goals or before and after photos(2) can serve as a trigger for someone already susceptible to disordered eating.

Nearly 100% of all disordered eating cases I’ve come across over the decades involved the use of questionable supplements.

When friends or acquaintances present me the supplements they are being told to purchase, I immediately check labels for a few things; Is this a single ingredient or multi-ingredient formulation? If multi-ingredient, is anything marked as “proprietary”?,  If multi-ingredient (with or without a proprietary formulation), how many ingredients contain stimulant, diuretic or laxative properties?  Lastly, “What does this formulation contain that has evidence of being effective for the users intended purpose, and what is the strength of the evidence?”

Remember, I stated that I’m DON’T consider myself an expert in these matters.  Las Vegas odds suggest there is a 50% chance that I know more about the product than the person selling it to you.

1. http://www.nutritionadvocacy.org/laws-state

2.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/06/17/fitness-trainer-fakes-fitspo-photo_n_7602304.html

Redefining Progress

CLIENTS STARTING POINT…………………………..CLIENTS GOAL(S)

As trainers, our job is to fill-in the dots between the two points.

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Ideally, we select a balance between the most appropriate choices and the optimum tools.  Risk to Benefit ratios based on the individuals needs are considered, and we live by the golden rule of “First, do no harm.”

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Don’t be that trainer. 

Further, we do not attempt to use methods we have not tested ourselves, or teach lifts we don’t actually know….I don’t care how many times you read page 123 of the CPT book.  Pre-supposing you have a total absence of closely related experience, how well can a trainer understand something without first-hand experience?

If you don’t  fully understand something, you cannot apply it.

If a clients starting point, goal and dots in-between cannot be supported at my skill level (or fall outside my scope of practice) then I refer to someone that I believe can help them. Personally I wish more trainers would do the same.

SIDENOTE: I can understand how a trainer might think that referring a client out might make them feel, or be viewed as less of a professional.  I completely disagree, if anything I believe it makes you look MORE professional, especially if you happen to have a speed dial of local professionals to refer.  This could be a more experienced trainer, a trainer with specialized education or an allied health professional.  If they do their job right, you come off looking good because you were the one that put the client in the right hands, the client wins by getting the help they need and the referral wins with some added business.

 The Dots in-between.  Rarely is training purely a linear effort. Life has a way of changing things on you and it doesn’t happen on a predictable schedule.  While part of me would love for EVERY session to end in Personal Records and more weight on the bar, this won’t always be the case, nor should it be the goal of every session or is the need of every client.  Progress can be defined multiple ways, and its not always “It was heavier than last time”, although that too has its place and is not without merit.

What you do during those dots in-between counts.  If the dot filling trainings defining characteristic is you laying in a pool of sweat, nauseous and unable to move very well over the next few days, then I ask how is progress being defined?  Was the goal you getting your ass kicked less?

N=1 Example: Four weeks ago I started the GMB Integral Strength program as a break from my Powerlifting training.  It’s a 100% bodyweight program and the only loaded movement I’ve perform is daily use of my ShouldeRok.  I knew going into the program that there were certain movements I would do well in, and others quite poorly.  On day 1, I was tasked to record my standing long jump. Although I did passably well, my mechanics and timing in the initial counter-movement was poor, and my landing mechanics were borderline dangerous.

I didn’t bother re-measuring my performance until today.  I spent my training dots working on jump form, breathing pattern, landing mechanics and ankle mobility. I have improved my jump performance by 12%, have better jumping form and reduced my chances of an ankle injury.  My progress during those dots was defined by my ability to improve one small, but important detail at a time, or at least to have my jumps “feel easier.”

I’ve also rediscovered the fun of sprinting 20-50m.  I haven’t been timed or filmed yet, but look forward to the opportunity to do so, and possibly attend a Sprinting course at a later date.

Link to my GMB Testimonial!  https://gmb.io/reviews/#is

 

Borderline Heretic

As years pass, my opinions on some things change.  I may even change certain ways I train or coach, and make no apologies for implementing these changes when new information comes to light that would benefit my athletes.

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Generally, changes have been brought in to improve efficiency, effectiveness, scalability or safety.  Sometimes changes were required based on where training was being held, or whom I was dealing with.  Although progress may need to be redefined, the mission remains the same.

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A frog in a well only sees the world from the perspective provided by a small hole.

Sometime ago a trainer told me all they needed in this occupation was “a standardized programming model and an anatomy textbook.” He was proud of the fact that he never received instruction in specialized equipment.

In my opinion, that is placing significant limitations on oneself, potentially robs clients of benefits gained from the proper use of specialized equipment, while increasing potential risks.

Minimally, the trainer has decided to remain at entry level, and the frog in the well.

A longtime client on extended travel recently told me that based on her observations at six different gyms good trainers are uncommon.  She went so far as to say “I am so glad I am not a client of these trainers”   I wasn’t her first trainer (I was her fourth), so she has a decent comparison group.

Heresy: It is cases like these that make me think that trainer certifications are overrated.

Entry level certification largely means a person passed a written exam.  Among other topics the exams generally cover anatomy and physiology and exercise technique.  The depth varies per agency and some tests are easily passable.  Even the harder exams don’t automatically mean a person can apply, or even recall fundamental material from the course. They may not have the slightest idea of how to adjust exercises for an individual, and may never have even trained themselves.

Would entry-level personal training certifications matter more if they were harder to obtain? I believe a combination of academics (Were you tested on your knowledge?), performance (Do you even lift?) and coaching/teaching ability (Can you teach someone unlike you?) should be required.

Many trainers tend to forget that Personal Trainer Certifications are a fairly new thing.  We also lose sight of the fact that many people on the gym floor watch what we do very carefully. That can be a good or bad thing.

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While the Overhead Squat Assessment uses a dowel or PVC pipe, the above image is similar to the position the screen wants you to obtain. The Overhead squat happens to be one of the more difficult bilateral squat variations, but is necessary for Olympic lifting. 

Heresy: I’ve removed the Overhead Squat Assessment (a prominent part of both the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist and the Functional Movement Screen) for several reasons.

1) Outside of those previously well trained in the Olympic lifts, most people cannot do it very well.

2) Those with Olympic Weightlifting training do not perform the Overhead Squat like the screen demands.

3) It’s not a natural movement, and certainly not natural for beginners or the sedentary. Many people have issues simply figuring out Squat from Sit and from Hinge to Bend Over. Like training, the screen should meet you where you are.

4) Load exposes you.  You could have a perfectly fine looking Overhead Squat with a PVC pipe in your hands, and fold into human origami when load is imposed.

Heresy: I’ve also reduced mobility work down to just a few minutes (if needed), and rarely use the foam roller.

Further, I’ve removed the term Dysfunction from my Coaching vocabulary except as applied to lifting performance. I never liked the context the word was often used and don’t believe its within my professional scope of practice to call something a dysfunction, when it could be a variation of normal, or something else entirely.
1) If you’re new to exercise, we focus on what you can do, instead of me nitpicking at all the things you can’t do.
2) If you are experienced in training, we look for makes you better and inches you closer to your goal. My job as a Strength Coach involves making the good, better.
3) Can things be cued to achieve the desired movement? Do I necessarily need to regress?
4) If it’s beyond that, or involves pain then the Dr they go.  This doesn’t mean training has completely stopped as I can often work other parts of the body.