Tag Archives: Las Vegas Personal Trainer

Succesful Personal Trainers

“Don’t nobody know nothing? What up with this?”   Nino Brown, New Jack City

I recently read a question on a personal trainers board that despite a 6k membership has gone unanswered.

“What are the common characteristics of successful fitness professionals?”

I contacted the original poster asking them if I could use the question for this weeks blog.  My question was not verbally acknowledged, but I did get one of these…

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Despite a love of comics, I prefer words over pics.

There are a ton of potential answers to the question. How is success being defined? I ask because some people will read past “characteristic” and focus on “successful.”

Characteristic. A feature or quality belonging typically to a person, place, or thing and serving to identify it.

Can success be tied to an annual income? Is it having a good work/life balance? Is it having a sustained business model? Is it based on the results consistently obtained in clients? Is it daily happiness in ones work?  Is it the number of social media followers one has? Is it not looking like a DYEL?  Is it simply remaining employed for greater than the average drop-off points?

People have used all of these to validate success, and I’m certain there are plenty of other measuring sticks. I’ve met trainers that meet nearly all the above, yet are actually poor trainers. I also know some exceptional trainers that only meet a few of the above criterion.

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Below are some of the common characteristics of the best trainers I know based purely on my opinion.

They are largely humble about their accomplishments. They don’t speak down to those with less prestigious educational pedigrees, less enviable physiques, smaller social circles or lower income.

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They enjoy teaching,but will not suffer fools gladly.

They are scholar-warriors. They continually advance their knowledge and abilities both in depth and breadth. They consistently study and can separate sources of information. They question what they read.

They have no problems saying “I don’t know” (or admit having limited knowledge on a subject) but often know someone that does. They can admit when they were wrong on a subject.

They are comfortable holding conflicting thoughts in their head. They are open to hearing/reading material that opposes their line of thinking, not just the material that supports their way of seeing things.

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“To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not”  The Hagakure.

They know their opinion will not be shared by all, no matter how well articulated or the strength of supporting evidence. We live in a world with a Flat Earth society and trainers that have only read one book.

They let principles guide their practice, not fads.

They realize it’s not the tool, but what you do with the tool that counts.

They can explain complex things simply.  They do not talk like they swallowed a Latin dictionary, unless they need to.

They don’t get their clients hurt.

They don’t bring anecdotes to a science fight.  If they DO bring anecdotes, they state such and do not attempt to pass it off as facts.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sabbatical

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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.

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.