Tag Archives: Las Vegas Personal Training

3 sets of 10

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

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

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

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

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

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


Credit: StrongerbyScience (2)

A few thoughts on this weeks observation….

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

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

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

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

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

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592167

2. https://www.strongerbyscience.com/hypertrophy-range-fact-fiction/


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.



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…


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.

On Lifting Gear

A personal trainer posted a question on lifting gear.

“What do you all think about wearing a belt and knee wraps when deadlifting?”

My answer: “They serve a purpose. Whether it’s a good idea or a bad one depends on a number of things.”  (I could have simply said “It depends”, but must have felt talkative that night.)

Bottom line upfront: A high percentage of general population clients won’t need either one of these. Although I admit a bias towards the basic barbell lifts, I will state that not everyone will have the tolerance, available ranges of motion or force output capabilities (at least initially) nor do they necessarily need to lift according to Powerlifting standards. Being honest, they don’t even have to Deadlift a barbell.

Is the clients goal to compete in powerlifting?
Yes or No.

If yes, have they competed without any gear?

Does the trainer have personal experience and education in competitive Powerlifting, and familiar with the use of gear?
Yes of No

The third question could be argued by some, but I offer that only a person that has spent time under a loaded bar themselves, especially in competition, will truly know what another person is going through in those moments.

In the case of the Deadlift, it’s both a psychological lift and one that happens to be last in a competition.

Learning to maximize performance in gear is a skill just like initially learning the lift. These are not inactive devices and require practice. Even elite total and specialist lifters practice in their gear from time to time. If the persons form is already good, which for the purpose of todays blog I will define good form as passing Powerlifting judging standards, then gear could improve it.

If the form is crap,gear will make it crappier. It isn’t a band-aid.


Some of my lifting gear. A pair of Inzer wrist wraps and a single-prong 13mm Inzer belt. Neither has ever been required in competition and both are infrequently worn in training, the belt being more commonly used.  Not shown is a pair of neoprene elbow sleeves (worn most days) and a pair of warming shorts which are worn only on high-volume squat days.

On Belts
Personal Notes: Before a belt is even brought up I have a set of qualification minimums. With the possible exception of Masters Division lifters, and presupposing the lifters form is good…

Does the female client Deadlift at least 1.5x bodyweight?
Does the male client deadlift at least 315lbs?                                                                               Does the client train single lift maximums?

If not, they likely don’t need a belt.

The belt is used to enhance a natural stabilizing abdominal contraction, not to replace it. The correct sizing and type need to be considered, as well as prong vs. double prong vs lever type, and there are pronounced differences in belts named Valeo,Harbinger or Golds and a belts named Best,Titan or Inzer, both in quality, durability and powerlifting federation legality.

On Wraps
Wearing knee wraps during deadlifts presents a few issues. The negatives that I’m aware of are (1) The lifter now has another variable to deal with while pulling, (2) The lifter will have to clear the wrap or else get caught on it. (3) Overly applied tension could cause the lifters legs to lockout too soon. (4) The technical adjustments in the pull and the preferred wrapping method will create an additional  learning curve and cost time that could have been better spent training the lift and it supplemental lifts and (5) It’s something I’ve not seen done with Deadlifts, even during 1000lb efforts

Wraps are strands of heavy elastic material wrapped tightly around the knees. They store energy during knee flexion in order to actively assist knee extension. Wrapping methods and degree of compression are personal to the lifter.

“Sleeves”, which could have been confused for wraps, are neoprene slip-ons and provide a bit of support for the knees and help keep them warm. Some add slightly to lifts while others do not. The knee sleeves that add to lifts are typically difficult to put-on and sometimes require special tricks to get the job done.


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.


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.