Tag Archives: Fitness Industry

The Way of the Bookcase.


“Once you understand the way broadly, you can see it in all things.”  

Miyamoto Musashi, Book of Rings (1643)

For years I’ve kept my textbooks on the floor along a wall.  Last week I decided it was time for a change and purchased a nice iron bookcase.  I soon realized my collection fit too perfectly, there is no room left for even a slender book.

The next day I returned to the store and ordered a second bookcase. There are simply too many things I don’t know, and every book,course,seminar,training session and conversation with colleagues continues to prove this to me.

I believe every trainer should form their own training philosophy. I further believe that trainers should base things in science and the fundamental principles of training.  One must continually educate themselves in both matters, gaining an understanding of one helps make the other easier to understand.

I was reading a local personal trainers bio recently (because I do stuff like that) and came across this line;  “His philosophy is to never do the same workout twice, so you can continue to confuse the body.”

I found this comment interesting. Interesting enough to pull some textbooks from my bookcase and do a little reading.

I’m not sure what “continue to confuse the body” means, but I speculate he isn’t talking about the biological law of accommodation. Perhaps he loads a barbell for back squats, gets the client under the bar, has them prepare to un-rack it and then run over to the seated chest press machine to fool the body into thinking it was legs day and build some massive chesticles.

While I believe that straying from the days plan can be called for, doing random things for the sake of randomness suggests that things are not being managed and that the individual is not getting better at any one thing.

I know the body responds to the demands placed upon it. I know that the nervous system can be easily fooled, but it gets smart pretty quick. I know that biomechanical efficiency makes a given exercise at a given resistance easier to perform, and that biomechanical inefficiency could result in injury.

“I think everything works for about six weeks.”

Dan John

With beginner clients, I believe they require beginner programs. I look for the hardest things they can do well, and with control. They tend require less stimulus as all stimulus is new to them. Their programs are typically fairly linear in nature, which means they take time to develop skill in a given movement pattern before progressing to a more sophisticated version.

More advanced and qualified athletes can benefit from variety in their training, and in the case of extroverts it could be the preferred approach.  The better the athlete, the better they are at compensating for things.  This means I can have greater flexibility in their programming as their bodies have been adapted to training in various ranges and directions.  It still doesn’t mean that I change their training every session.




Lessons from a newbie

Today I observed a guy at the gym that clearly had no idea what he was doing, and he wasn’t even a trainer!


Newbies in most gyms across the country this time of year are not a unique thing, but it isn’t something I see in a place filled with Olympic lifters, or those with the desire to learn the Olympic lifts from a highly qualified coach.

I have no problems with new people in the gym.  I’m the type of guy that offers help and free advice.  I just look like a bastard.

When a person sits on an incline bench press seat backwards and tries to figure out how to bench press, I can safely guess they’ve never used it before.  After a quick correction on my part  (You need to turn the other way) I went about my warm up.  I had no idea the guy followed me until I heard “Oh so that’s how you use that thing!”

This brings me to todays blog.

Training is defined by the needs of the individual athlete.  My answer was short.  “It’s how I use it, I am warming up for the work I’m about to do  and taking care of my shoulder joints.”   The gentleman literally followed me to every station during my session today.  I made a point of telling him that I wouldn’t recommend anything I was doing as automatically suitable for him.

My session on 12.30.17                                                                                                              Shoulder Warm Up complex: ShouldeRok swings (30 R/L) then two sets of Face Pulls (40lbs 15 reps) superset with Rope Tricep Presses (40lbs 15 reps)

Wide Grip Bench Press (70% 1RM)  I’ve started working with an AAU powerlifting coach and he suggested my using a wide grip.  Today was 10 sets of 3 with a pause at a higher position on my chest to practice his suggestion. Rest time between sets was roughly 30 secs and 15 band pull-parts were super-set.

Close Grip Bench Press (50% 1RM against Mini and Monster Mini bands attached)  5 sets of 5 for speed and tricep work. Band Bench Presses are not something I use with lifters with poor technique or beginners. The overspeed eccentric action created by the bands presents a series of challenges to overcome.  Rest time was also around 30 secs between sets.

Standing Bradford Press 3×10 with descending loads each set.  The ability to put a load behind the head is limited to a small population of people, and the need even less. This lift has a high risk to benefit ratio and not something I program longer than three weeks before switching out.  Todays heaviest loading represented only 60% of what I am capable of performing in the strict overhead press.

Seated Row 4×10-15 with Neutral Grip handle. Nothing too sexy here.

Neutral Grip Hanging Knee Raises 1×20.  Definitely nothing sexy here.

Fat Grip Hanging Knee Raises 1×20, for fun I followed the second set of Hanging Knee Raises with a set of Bodyweight Tricep Dips “one rep from failure”

Since I was being observed, I am actually glad that today didn’t involve kettlebells.

What works for you may or may not work for another person.  The gentleman could easily injure himself if he attempted to duplicate my session, even if loads were adjusted for our different strength levels and not recognizing the twenty-year age difference.



CAPACITY >>LOAD = PREVENTION  (Credit: Functional Anatomy Seminars)

Use training principles to guide you.  When it comes to training there a countless methods and tools to pull from, many claiming to be superior, or game changing.

Superior to what? Game changing compared to what? for whom? under what conditions or set of circumstances?

Too many people get overly attached, and outright emotional when it comes to specific training methods or tools.  It’s nearly religion, or in some cases part of a cult mindset.

Training principles are relatively few, and if well understood they apply broadly.

Precision.  “How can this be made better?” is a constant question in my head. This applies to my own work and the training I provide to others.  Am I coaching this/ Are they performing it to the best that we can? Is this better than before?

Progressions and Regressions, Form,Style and Technique.  While I like the handiness of exercise technique videos, I believe they should not be completely relied on. It is my opinion that once you’ve absorbed the visual information, the exercise technique,form and style need be defined by the individuals ability.

To absorb only the visual information provided by a video is to learn only the most superficial level of things.

Training exists on a continuum.  We do not all start at the same point, nor do we end at the same point.  Further, we do not share the same segmental proportions, force output capabilities, joint ranges, connective tissue tolerances,physical self-confidence,medical/injury history or the numerous other things that affect how we respond to an exercise…and thats not even mentioning goals,age or gender.


“In any story, the villain is the catalyst. The hero’s not a person who will bend the rules or show the cracks in his armor.”
Marilyn Manson

Yesterday I was able to spend an hour assisting with a persons training. I  realized how much I missed training people and am thankful for that brief opportunity.  Ironically, it happened in a large commercial gym, and I also remembered why I usually dislike those places.

Trust me when I say it didn’t take long.

A good trainer, or coach is first an educator.  Whether intentional or not,a good trainer or coach (hopefully) offers some degree of motivation.  I believe there is no significant argument over these statements.

Irritation is another matter.  It can be unintentional (your trainer sucks) or it can be intentional. In the case of the latter,the coach knows the individual athlete and when prudent aggression is needed. They’re not just being an ass to be an ass.

I prefer the first two options. I believe this was the case yesterday, and probably represents 90% of all sessions. The third option is always on the table. In fact, I’ve found a small population of personalities thrive when irritated. Control is a necessity, as just like anything else, it is easy to overdo things.


I take a Dose-Response relationship view of things and try to drive training in the optimal direction for the given day.

According to the biological law of accommodation, the response of a biological object to a given constant stimulus decreases over time. Thus, accommodation is the decrease in response of your body to a constant continued stimulus.

This is why beginner lifters need beginner programs.

In practical application, this is one reason why I have experienced lifters approach heavy lifts with as little emotion as possible.  If they continually need to psyche themselves up before an effort in training (BroScience: “Go apesh!t), they will not get the same effect in competition…when the heaviest efforts actually matter.  This is also part of the reason why I have beginners, with relatively light loads, approach their lifts with full concentration and efforts.

Personally I don’t believe the third option is available for all trainers.  If you are so fortunate as to not need it, I would consider it a good thing.  Some trainers are not cut out to be the villain, and this by itself does not take away from your skills and abilities as a professional.

Ultimately,be the trainer YOU WISH YOU HAD.  Odds are, that trainer would be someone that educates and motivates,not just someone that irritates the hell out of you.




Strength Coach

I was recently asked what the differences were between personal trainers,certified personal trainers and strength coaches. My verbal answer was fairly short, todays blog is the longer version and in completely my own opinion. (1)

A good strength coach is a teacher.

We teach our athletes how exercises are properly performed.  We understand the difference between exercise TECHNIQUE, FORM and STYLE.  Page 123 of the CPT book (or any exercise book for that matter) shows the technique. Things go far deeper than page 123.

Once the basic technique is grasped, we work with the individual to determine the form and style that works best for them.  Since no two people possess the same physical qualities, no two will share the same form.

Good coaches know this, bad coaches force everybody to lift the same way, which is either how the technique was described on page 123 of the CPT book, as visually memorized on YouTube, how the trainer has always done it or represents the limit of what the trainer presently knows.

Fact: Even the same athlete will not completely replicate the same exercise twice in a row, although they might look highly consistent from an external view. The best ones seem to be the best at compensating for this.

We understand that a good training for one person could be damaging to another.  We further understand that this applies to the softer skills. Even if age,experience and gender were matched, extroverts and introverts benefit from different approaches.

We can understand that there are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals, and we can program exercise selections best suited to the individual based on that knowledge.

We look past the external view of the individual, and consider the internal view of things, what is happening inside the body during an exercises execution?

When needed,we can adapt and modify on the fly.

We have critical thinking skills along with an open-mind. Both are requirements to determine what works best for a given individual.

We put aside time and money for our own education, and we never graduate. We know our scope of practice, and the depths and limits of our skills and abilities.

(1) Unlike Physical Therapists (DPT/PT), Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT) and Registered Dietitians (RD), Personal Training is not a protected title.

I am aware of some internal policing done where individuals claimed particular qualifications/specializations and were outed by others that actually held the credentials.

Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) vs Personal Trainer.  A CPT has passed a certification exam from one of the numerous credentialing bodies, which on average are valid for 1-4 years and require a specified amount of continuing education credits to maintain.

A personal trainer has not taken any type of exam nor is held to maintaining an educational minimum. This difference in and of itself does not mean the trainer is bad nor does being certified mean the trainer is necessarily good. The CPT exams vary widely in terms of difficulty, with some having relatively high failure rates and others meant to be easily passed.

A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) has met two requirements: (A) The hold a minimum of a bachelors degree (any field of study) and (B) completed the NSCA CSCS examination.  The CSCS is often considered the minimum qualification required to work with professional and collegiate athletes, however there are many well-regarded coaches without the CSCS designation doing the same.

A Strength Coach may, or may not hold a CSCS,CPT or any other credential.  There are individuals that “self-award” themselves this title, while having no experience in the matter.


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.