Tag Archives: personal training

Reasonable Goals

“The goal is to keep the goal the goal”

Dan John

Last October I set my goals for 2018 in education and training. Last month I completed all but one of them, or which I’m simply awaiting the results. Although there were multiple courses, I managed to keep the goal the goal each time.

“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals” 

Michael Korda

Seeing as I completed most things ahead of schedule, I’ve had to come up with some new 2018 goals.  Academically speaking, I have enough to keep me busy for some time, so the drive is now towards the physical. (1)

Specifically, my goals in powerlifting are to best my last competition numbers (in competition) and develop new skills in bodyweight training.

I’ve found that when drafting non-academic goals my best results came from setting relatively easy and achievable mini-goals, with an eye on the grand goal.  There have been times where I might have set the mini-goal too low, but I don’t see that as a negative.  If anything, it helps drive the process in a positive direction.

“Chris, how fast can you get this gut off me?”

“I don’t know, how long did it take to get there?”

Yes, this was an actual conversation from 2013…and the gut prominent

Applying the same concept to another person is different matter, as many people are looking for the fastest results and the path of least of resistance.  In several personal training textbooks the SMART goal setting method is covered, and I think its as solid of a start as anything else.  The devil is in the adherence.


Using my previously mentioned Powerlifting goal as an example…

SPECIFIC (Realistic): I know what my last record was, and the date and conditions under it was achieved.  I know the minimum load that must be added in order to achieve that goal and the date of the next competition.

SPECIFIC (Grand): I know what percentage over my last record I want to hit.

MEANINGFUL (Realistic and Grand):  Sometimes this is defined as MEASURABLE. I think that either word works, and I actually use both. Meaningful serves as a validation of my training process that leads to exceeding my former best efforts. S+M=A fuel source.  Measurable means that something can be Managed.

ACTION ORIENTED:  Since I know the next competition date,and the targeted realistic/grand goals, I can work backwards on the calendar with the realization that progress isnt linear, and that life can sometimes get in the way.  I know that I must train my competition lifts with a certain amount of frequency and intensity and that I typically peak within three weeks. (2)

“I need one more pull-up today than I did two days ago.  It needs to be a clean rep or it doesn’t count.  I just need that one, I’ve been here before and I’m stronger today than I was 48hrs ago.  I’m here for a reason.”

Actual self-talk while standing under the pull-up bar.(3)

REALISTIC:Achieveable or unachievable differs between people, and I believe this is where the creation of smaller goals that lead in the direction of the grand goal is a good thing.  Some people will set their mini-goals too high, they will either learn from that experience or stop moving forward.

TIMELY: This can be a challenge with others (or even with yourself) and may require some calibration in order to make things realistic. I tend to view deadlines as deadlines, not as target dates. I will actually lower a goal or not even take it on if I think I cannot complete the task in the assigned time. That said, I have no issues with hiring professionals to assist or consult with if needed.  I’d like to think I have enough social credit that many issues are resolvable within reach of my speed dial.

(1) I also have some loose goals listed for 2019 and 2020.  Being able to think and plan years in advance was a great lesson learned while serving in the military.

(2) Experience has shown me that qualified lighter class lifters (<200lb/<90kg) and some masters lifters peak faster than their heavyweight/super heavyweight peers.  If I were to go up or down a weight class my peaking time might differ slightly.

(3) I didn’t get one more pull-up, I got three more, and equalled a previous PR. I’m now one rep away from beating that, so the goal has been re-adjusted for an even higher number (SPECIFIC AND REASONABLE) by next week, which happens to be the day this bar is rotated back into the program (TIMELY.)  Not all my goals are number/repetition based, some are simply to move better in a given range or a skill based. I personally don’t believe that hanging 100% of ones training on a certain number (on the bar, or on the scale for that matter) is a good thing.



“The shortage of adequately trained strength specialists in local gyms renders the incorrect use of supplementary resistance training as a real possibility for for serious athletes.”  Supertraining 6th Ed (Expanded)

Translation: There are many trainers out there instructing others in methods that they themselves don’t know.  The downside is that the limitations of these trainers may only be obvious to well-qualified and experienced trainers. Degrees,titles or number of letters following a persons name provides no guarantee of their actual quality.

No trainer started off their career perfectly, nor does any know all there is to know.  The good ones grew over time to become what they are today, and many would openly state they are still students and far from where they hope to ascend. This is the importance of continued education, reading broadly, mentorship,asking questions and the practical application of time under load.

100% of my business is through referral from a current athlete, they were a previous athlete or they come to me on the gym floor, often after by being referred by another gym member. My business relies on several key things; (1) Honesty and Transparency (2) Not getting anyone injured (3) Results.

I spend a significant portion of my income addressing #2 and 3, and I always ask myself “How can this be made better?”

Over the past 48hrs I’ve come across an article on a trainer hospitalizing a man after a singular workout (1) and witnessed a feeding frenzy of MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) Personal Trainers trying to recruit a prospect. The former I have linked below, in the latter case, an individual simply asked if an MLM product was an effective business tool or waste of energy.

Interestingly, not one MLM trainer responded to my counter-post showing that when tested by a third-party, the product fails to live up to anecdotes and sales pitches.

FACT: In the online presence of qualified trainers, the MLM trainers typically get roasted when they try peddling their products.

Can an MLM trainer be good? I suppose they could,after all a non-MLM trainer isn’t always good themselves, but I am suspicious of those that are in the sales and recruiting portion of MLM.  To me it is a violation of professional ethics and breeches the typical trainers scope of practice. Its bad when I know details of their product BETTER than they do.

For example, the last sales pitch I received told me that by drinking their special concoction my body would be in near instant ketosis (2).  I asked “How would I know that?”  I was told I could pee on a special urine strip and it would show my level.

FACT: Don’t bring anecdotes to a science fight.

Science problem:  I could take a big dose of  ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) and it would render the same results while my blood panels would remain unchanged.  The urine strip would only show I pee’d out what I drank, as once in ketosis my body would be ketones as fuel, and not peeing them out.

If the trainer is strictly a consumer of the product then I’d have no issue.   That said, I believe it has been historically well-established that those who actually know nutrition and have an ability to interpret actual research tend to avoid from MLM products.  The reasons should be crystal clear.

(1) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4680708/Man-sues-Snap-Fitness-personal-trainer-injury.html

(2) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/180858.php



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.

Control your Marketing

Fall 2012-Late Summer 2013. Location: A popular commercial gym with twenty-two Personal Trainers on staff. Based on memory, I was one of only 5 that was certified.(1)

At its height, my post-rehab (those with joint/muscle related issues) and geriatric clientele (over 60 years old) outnumbered any 8 trainers combined. This lopsided clientele assignment made for some exceptionally challenging days, and nearly caused a loss of skill in working with people without training challenges.


I’m not a Psychiatric Professional, but I am a Psychiatric Amateur and have read more than enough issues of the Fantastic Four to know that professional burnout is a reality that hits people to varying degrees.

1. the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
“good carbon burnout”
2. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
“high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

I believe some trainers would have simply folded from the daily demands and the stress of training people with pain in certain ranges or low training tolerances.

Marketing Failure 101. I was labelled (and seen) as a post-rehab/geriatric specialist guy. A worse way of looking at things, to the salesman I was an amateur hour Physical Therapist that happened to cost a fraction of the price.

How did things get to that point ?  

I believe there were several contributing factors, but for brevities sake I will say that if you show relative (or comparative) talent in something, which in this case was working with elderly or limited capability clients…basically being able to show empathy and be patient along with making logical exercise choices…then to a salesman you just became “The Guy.” (or Gal as the case might be.) (2)

Although I did complete an entry-level course for Corrective Exercise (NASM CES) I was by no means a specialist in it, much less an “expert.” No training I received truly prepared me to work the sedentary elderly. All I had going for me was the ability to think logically, good research skills with considerable resources and an ability to work with interesting problems.

Although it was interesting work that diversified my skills and happened to be financially lucrative, I cannot say it was the ideal fit for a person with over twenty-years experience in strength and conditioning that primarily worked with younger and more athletic populations.

I failed to accurately market myself, and further I allowed misrepresentation to continue to a point where professional burnout could occur.  

I could shift blame to sales staff all I want,the fact is I failed to see a potential issue before it happened and failed to take control.  Failure is an opportunity to grow.

The outcomes since taking ownership have been positive across the board.

Being fair,despite gaining greater education and practical experience, post-rehab and geriatric training still isn’t the best fit for me. That said,I do enjoy having the ability to work with a wide-swath of humanity and post-rehab/pre-hab skills are essential to any population group, and our general population isn’t getting younger or stronger.

I now serve my clients even better than I ever could previously. My process of training post-rehab clients has changed considerably and I’ve continued to expand my knowledge. I greatly enjoy having full control of the clients I work with, or don’t work with.

The questions preceding my screen as part of the health history are very easy to apply and help drive my decisions. (3) 

  1. Is the client over 55yrs old?     If yes, are they an active athlete?
  2. Is the client over 300lbs?         If yes, are they an active athlete?
  3. Is the client in pain?                  If yes, is it chronic or acute?

If the client is over 55, over 300lbs or in pain (and NOT an active athlete) then to the Dr they go for a medical release and any warning orders. If they refuse then I don’t take on the client. I presently only have one client over age 55 and none over 300lbs that are not athletes.

When you do not control your own marketing someone else will. What they market may or may not work best for you or be in the clients best interest, and could eventually lead to professional burnout. Taking control and ownership of ones marketing can change that.


(1) Uncertified Trainers aren’t automatically the worst thing out there. The truth is the common Personal Training certification hasn’t really been around that long and certification, or even a degree by itself does not confer qualification.  Unlike a degree, which does stand the test of time, Certified Personal Trainer certifications must be renewed every 1-4 years (depending on the agency) by completing a minimum number of continuing education hours.  I have personally seen trainers presenting certifications that lapsed years ago and still present themselves as “Certified.”   There is also the fact that a high number of gyms will hire anyone that literally will hire anyone that “looks the part” as a trainer. This drives prices (and quality) down.

(2) I have respect for Physical Therapists and recognize where my scope of practice sits relative theirs. That said the people selling Personal Training packages don’t know, or don’t care.  They especially didn’t like it when I turned clients away when their training needs were well above my capability or scope of practice.

(3) Credit goes to Dan John. I highly recommend any of his books or seminars to any Coach.



The Experience

The word experience in the context of personal training takes on several meanings.  The immediate ones that come to mind are (a) How relatively experienced is the trainer or (b) How relatively experienced is the client.

I’ve decided to head in a different direction and write about the “other” experiences.

The Experience the Gym provides.  This is based on what is contained within the gym walls and surrounding useable areas around the gym.  It is the energy that the gym itself provides based on layout and design.  Gyms exist on an entire spectrum from Dungeon types filled with iron,rust,dust and the smell of sweat and sound heavy things being dropped to family friendly non-threatning commercial properties, to luxury properties to those serving sports performance clients. Some clients, and trainers for that matter, can work within any environment, others cannot.

The lifting of weights can occur in any of the above type gyms, although each has some particular limitations. The gym vibes  will differ.

The Experience of the Exercise.  It has been said by brighter trainers that ANYONE can make an exercise harder. Literally, it takes zero skill.  Can the trainer tailor an exercise to an individual based on the client defined range of motion, relative skill and tolerance level?  Can the trainer communicate the feel of an exercise throughout the range of the movement, including the parts of the body NOT moving?


The Barbell Curl is a basic exercise that almost everyone has a rough idea of how to perform and was likely one of the first few lifts a person ever attempts.  As simple as it appears, it is not initially as simple as “Grab-Curl-Repeat”  Although considered an isolation movement for the biceps, there are 8 muscles directly involved in the movement and others that serve to brace the body, thereby preventing movement in unwanted ways.  Isolation lifting is a full-body effort.  Once skill is developed, you can grab-curl-repeat.

“Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum.”                 Bruce Lee

The Trainer Experience.  Not to be confused with the Experience of the Trainer. This is an industry where someone still in their 20’s could have 8-10 years of practical experience, a person in their 40’s be a year one trainer with limited experience or, interestingly enough, a person holding a Master’s Degree in an Exercise Science and a string of letters behind their name that doesnt have a clue on how to coach a live person.

Using a machine comparison, which in one line of thinking would require less coaching than a comparable free-weight exercise. The machine itself dictates the path and stabilization is removed from the lifting requirements.

There is a difference between a “trainer” that simply counts reps and sets a pin without further regard compared to an actual trainer that sets up the same machine and trains the particular range of motion the client needs with attention to the details in the lift.  The former is easily replaced by YouTube, the latter no so much.


Then there is the Dunning-Kruger effect. I believe there are degrees of the Dunning Kruger Effect where a person believes themselves more competent than they are, but DONT consider themselves better than others, more of on equal footing than anything else.  It pays to know ones strengths and limitations.  That said, there are trainers that load more than they can lift.

But I digress…the Trainer experience can be summed up as  “The feeling the client has when interacting with you based on the vibe that you put out.”  Are you professional in your service? are your personalizing the training for the client, or putting someone through the exercises you like to do?, Do you select the PROPER EXERCISES FOR THE CLIENT based on what they give you to work with?   Do you apply a prudent amount of pressure, or back off when needed? Do you motivate?

The Sine Wave of Strength

Strength training exists on a Sine wave. I believe this to be the case with drug-free lifters beyond the novice stage of training. This is not a major concern for general exercisers,this is something for those that train with the specific purposes of strength,power and hypertrophic adaptations.


According to Mark Rippetoe “a novice lifter is a trainee who is so unadapted to the stress of lifting weights that he can make progress as rapidly as he can stress himself and recover, a process that actually takes no more than 48-72 hours.”

My current program requires 4 days per week and engages four of the five basic barbell exercises found in Coach Rippetoe’s famous Starting Strength program. Unlike Starting Strength, my program focuses only on one core lift with 3-5 assistance exercises per session. The intent of my program is to increase absolute strength (I.E. the most weight I can lift for a single repetition.) therefore my sets and rep schemes differ greatly.

SIDENOTE: In my opinion Starting Strength is one of the books that should be considered mandatory reading for new personal trainers entering the field…unless they plan on skipping the development of strength and focusing more on general exercise.

After three weeks (12 sessions) CNS fatigue symptoms began to manifest. Broken Sleep,Lack of appetite,Although morale seemed good, I often felt flat.Decreased or stalled performance. Sub-maximum loads felt far heavier than they should have.

I would like to note that overtraining is an INDIVIDUAL THING. For me it was three weeks before my Sine Wave altered. Another person might be able to go 6 weeks without issue, another might not be able to finish a week and some wont even be psychologically able to attempt this type of training. You have to know yourself, or your coach needs to be the attentive type.  A number of people likely don’t overtrain (as it takes a fair bit of hard work to reach a level of overtraining) they under-recover,under-eat or under-sleep.

A one week de-load was taken. I maintained my training schedule and continued training the core lifts but using different variations,lowered loads,greater volume and switching the assistance exercises to ones that work the same segment or muscle group. I continued eating the same amount of food as I do on my high-intensity days and worked to get my sleep schedule back on point.

In many exercises during my de-load I worked well into the Hypertrophy(Bodybuilding) range and 100 to 200 reps in an exercise wasn’t uncommon. To another trainer it might appear as if I was doing some form of a “Bro Lifts” program. Personally I viewed it as restorative, both physically and psychologically.

Within my first week back to the high-intensity training (1-3 rep range) I hit personal records in all core lifts including a lifetime record in the military press. I actually broke two Military Press PR’s, one based on volume and the other on absolute load…I broke my self-imposed rule and chased a second PR on a single exercise.

I have two more weeks remaining in this cycle and will decide at that point where the next logical progression should head. I have already created a rough draft of one or could try running another three block on my current program.

Dawn of the Dead(lift)

In the past I’ve written about the differences between training and exercising, and that things that exist in the former that don’t in the latter.

A recreational runner and a competitive runner both run, but view their efforts differently.

A person attending Yoga one day per week is not same as the person that revolves their day around beloved mat time.

A person randomly moving around weights is not the same as a strength athlete, bodybuilder or power lifter.

As I deal primarily in strength I will limit myself to this area. In strength training one works towards a specific physical adaptation. In the Iron game this can be hypertrophy (muscle mass with an eye towards symmetry), strength (how much you can move), power (how explosively you can move an object) or control (such as in gymnastics.)

Inevitably during this process of acquiring strength there will be days where the weights win. Accept now that this day will eventually happen. It is what you do afterwards that is of importance.  Your decisions, or lack thereof, can spell the difference between future success or potential injury.  This is training, unlike exercise there is a goal beyond what happens today.

The other day the weights won.

My current Deadlift training day calls for the following:
1. Deadlift specific mobility warm up.
2. Ascending Deadlift singles-triples. Each rep gets progressively heavier, breaks are fairly short. Focus is on technical quality per rep.
3. Deadlift Back Off set 1×10-15 at 65% 1RM.
4. Axle (Fat Bar) Deadlift 3×3-5.  This is a grip challenge for those with smaller hands. The fat smooth bar has to be crushed in order to be hoisted.
5. Deadlift Rack Pulls (Just at Knee) 1RM+20% 3×3. This is exposing me to loads beyond which I can presently lift full ROM.  Despite the distance these lifts can be extremely taxing.

No straps or belt are used, although I have both in my bag just in case and the double overhand grip is kept until the hook grip becomes a necessity.  Based on the first few week of the cycle I’ve already gained 20lbs/9kg on my previous double overhand grip limit.  I’ve done no other specific grip training during this period.

It was the 5th Single that I failed to even get to the bar to break off the floor. It wasn’t even close to my previous max and only 20lbs/9kg heavier than the 4th single. A second attempt 5 minutes later led to the same failure.

Things felt much heavier than they should have felt. My breath was short and my nose bled. I haven’t failed rep in quite some time as I approach loading (adding weight to bar) sensibly, possibly even on the conservative side.

After my failures I made the sensible, although unpopular decision to call it a day. Despite the abbreviated nature of the session I logged my lifts as I always do.

I want that day to be recorded.

My personal training log entries have a way of eventually making it to other trainers or my athletic clients. They benefit from my successes as well as failures. In the case of my failures, how to avoid them or how to recover and rebuild from them.

SIDEBAR: Just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will (or won’t) work for someone else. The application of training principles is whats being shared and it gives a starting point that can be drawn from.  Reviewing the process I am sometimes able to spot flaws that I didn’t previously see that would apply broadly and not just to myself.  

I’ve reviewed the events that led up to that day and came up with a few possible answers.

A. Not enough sleep the night before.
B. Not enough fuel (food) pre-training.
C. Possibly under-recovered from previous days lifting. The previous sessions all hit new performance levels in load,volume or technical quality.
D. Possibly a bad lift set-up position.
E. Possibly just an off day. This was the first day in several months where I couldn’t complete a lift,set or session.

An “out there” possibility is that my mind, in an effort to protect the body, prevented me from doing something that would cause harm.  Deadlifts by nature are very psychological lifts and the failure of the first attempt led the to failure of the second attempt.

This is training. We don’t do this to just to burn calories or get sweaty. The details, thought process and approach differ.  Regardless of training modality we train to become the Creations of Strength that we were designed to be.