Tag Archives: USPA Powerlifting Coach

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.    








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.

Redefining Progress


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

Blank Chalkboard-horizontal

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


Don’t be that trainer. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Borderline Heretic

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Postures and Ideals

Digest Version: If you’re going to correct a persons technique, make sure you truly know what it is you’re seeing, and how to address the issue. Don’t bring opinions to a science fight.


Me vs a Drawing: My elbows come closer to my body, my grip is narrower, my feet are turned out slightly, my abs are not nearly as well defined but my lats are far bigger….and I’m browner.

One day in a gym not my own….A guy told me that I shouldn’t bench press (with a barbell) or Deadlift (again, with a barbell), and that there are safer ways to build my chest and legs. Barbell Bench Press and Deadlifts weren’t ideal exercises for me. Mind you, this person was a total stranger. Our only previous interaction was my asking him to spot me for an effort.


SIDENOTE: I’ll agree to the fact that there are safer options than Barbell Bench Presses and that Deadlifts can be done with safer things than barbells.

When I asked “Why?” his response was that the Bench Press and Deadlift both create internal rotation of the shoulders…and left it at that. I could understand it if my technique was poor and I had no control of the load, but this wasn’t the case.  Proper technique takes care of that issue pretty well.

Mental notes formed within seconds…        

F7-21 Lim IR_PS Capsule

Internal Shoulder Rotation test.

I have no major history of shoulder injuries and don’t present pain in any given shoulder range. He never asked.

There is a slight structural difference between my left and right shoulder. Although it could stand improvement, my internal shoulder rotation is actually within normal ranges. He never asked or checked.

I typically only Deadlift once per week, and bench twice per week tops. Unless preparing for competition, I may only train maximum effort level 1-2x per month. I also use the ShouldeRok and Indian clubs daily along with a few lift specific mobility drills to keep my shoulders healthy. I don’t just Bench Press and Deadlift. He didn’t ask anything about my current training, he didn’t even ask if he could observe some repeated efforts just to see if it was a case “one off rep” or an actual lift issue.

I’m a competitive powerlifter in the Drug-Free Masters Raw Division. As such, I compete in the Bench Press and may compete in Deadlift as well. For me, Benching and Deadlifting are sport-specific to what I do. He didn’t ask me about my training history, training status or goals.

I left out the fact that the legs are only part of what the Deadlift builds. For all I know he does some squatty type of Deadlift. I bypassed all of those bullets and went straight for the heart.

“Why should internal shoulder rotation be avoided so heavily when it is a naturally occurring action, couldn’t internal rotation be managed during the set up and execution of the lift?” He couldn’t provide an answer.


The guys brain in action after my single question.  I could only imagine how it would have went down had I unloaded on him.

In his head, he had an idealized set of postures and ideal angles. That what he saw for a single repetition and zero knowledge of the person lifting the load was “wrong” and something else was “right”, but he couldn’t explain why he believed them to be wrong.

I can’t back this up, but I have the suspicion the guy may have been a trainer.  I don’t know, I didn’t ask.


Going off the possibility of my suspicion, according to a number of trainer textbooks there seems to be an assumption that there is an idealized posture, with ideal angles of body alignments and that they are identical for everyone. While it is certainly possible to lift something incorrectly, at least according to the intent of the exercise, I believe a few fundamental assumptions are flawed,and aim to challenge that belief.


Despite not having any moving parts, the Kettlebell is quite possibly the most technically butchered piece of equipment in a gym based on the intent of the exercise.

Absolute positions such as “this is wrong” and “this is right “ may only serve to reveal a lack of insight into evaluation and understanding.  I think every discussion regarding ideal body type, posture or alignment has to be prefaced with the question “ideal for what, and for whom?” and “ideal compared to what standard?”

Having an insight into the variety found in a given movement, and being able to transfer observations to another persons needs is key. In short,being able to adapt an exercise to an individual, and knowing the “why” behind the exercise.

Four things that I believe can somewhat be agreed upon…
There isn’t an ideal body type, there are simply human shaped people.
Although there will always be exceptions, certain activities often favor certain body types. This is why we typically don’t see Sumo sized Figure skaters.
The human body is amazingly adaptable. Look how many people lost their asses simply by sitting in comfy chairs all the time.
The human body will adapt to the external requirements it encounters. Adaptation does not need to be forced.

In high-level athletics an Olympic weightlifter has completely different physiological and kinesiological needs compared to a same weight/age/gender Olympic marathon runner. Within those two sports, specific lifters and runners have different requirements compared to other competitors.

In gymnastics, you will see different body types according to the event the athlete is strongest in. For example, Mens Rings specialists, Pommel Horse specialists and Floor specialists all appear slightly different. This doesn’t mean they cannot compete in all the events, just that they are superior in one of them.

Physiques, and postures will accordingly change in response to the demands placed upon it, Different leverage (arm,leg and torso length proportions) will change how an exercise is experienced or viewed. There is an idealized set of angles and ranges per person, and it may not look like the textbooks drawing.

Bro Knowledge

“You are about to witness the strength of Bro knowledge”

“Most personal trainers seem like they’re shady”

“How is it that any monkey can become a trainer? Some of these guy are real fu-king idiots.”  

“You’re one of the few good ones I’ve seen, and I’ve been in a lot of gyms over the years”  

“Based on what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, you’re the only trainer here I would trust to spot me or give solid advice.”

The people making these statements are not beginner lifters.  Among them are two Master class Powerlifters, A national record holder Super Heavyweight and a lightweight former world record holder. One happens to be working towards his Bachelors degree in Kinesiology and hopes to attend Physical Therapy school.  Given their accomplishments and gym reputations, their opinions can carry a lot of weight.

FACT: Bro’s notice things. They will talk about what they notice and more importantly, many of them are very smart. They may not know everything that goes into a being a personal trainer or providing service to a client, but they do know stupid stuff when they see it.

Nearly four years ago I wrote a blog based on some negative things a trainer had stated. I still believe they helped fuel my drive to continually improve. Looking back on things, I can honestly state I’ve learned quite a bit from the worst within the industry,.

The quotes below are his thoughts on personal training. Based on both current and recollected observations they are accurate of his practice.

“Working out isn’t fun” There is a grain of truth to this quote. Some sessions will take it out of you, at some point either physically and mentally you will find yourself humbled. All sessions should not, and realistically cannot be painted with the same brush. If anything, I want my clients to look FORWARD to training.  I want training to be the highlight of their day.

I offer the following considerations…

“Working out” isn’t training. Hard training is a relative thing, and hard isn’t automatically synonymous with necessary,effective,productive or optimal. Challenge however is important.

If you find yourself dreading the next session, or needing pre-workout stimulants just to prepare for things then you need to look at what you’re doing, or being told to do.

Something is wrong. The exercises may be a poor fit for you, are being incorrectly prescribed based on your current level or you are over/under-training.

“You can use the same workouts for everyone.” Digest version: No, you cannot.

There are many methods and tools in training, but the principles are few.
Overload and Progressive Overload
Rest and Recovery
Regularity and Diminishing Returns

For brevities sake I will deal with the first two principles, but all principles apply.

The principle of Individualization states that exercise should be specific to the individual performing the exercise. As people respond differently to exercise, the exercises and training program must be client defined and tailored to the persons unique needs and capabilities.

The principle of specificity states that exercises should be specific to the client’s goals.

“I’m blunt and straight forward with people. I’ll tell them they are fat, unhealthy and out of shape.” The words fat, unhealthy or out of shape themselves are harmless. It’s the context in how they are used.  In this case, they are used as weapons.

What good ever comes of this? Is it to make the less fat, comparatively fitter and healthier trainer feel better about themselves or to make the other individual feel worse?


I suspect that deep down the trainer knows that he is not well suited for the job and feels the need to put down others…or he is just be an ass.

SIDENOTE: I blame the gym for hiring and maintaining him just as much as I blame him for not growing as a trainer.

I don’t think he realizes the words could also be used on a comparative basis, for example it wouldn’t be hard to run down to the local CrossFit box and find someone with lower body fat and broadly superior athletic abilities, then he would be the fat and out of shape guy.  

My personal and professional opinion, I honestly don’t believe the Trainer could even define what fat, out of shape or unhealthy actually mean.

He is still employed at the same minimum wage paying gym and hasn’t grown professionally in the least bit since (at least) 2012.


Meanwhile, I keep moving forward and upwards.  This photo represents my last four months and doesn’t include other educational sources or the books I’m currently reading.  Three of these books had to be read two or three times, and that is not unusual for me.  That said, academics are not enough and one must be capable on the gym floor.

Changes of Opinion

“We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” Zhuangzi

Things I’ve changed my opinions on over the last year (or so)…


Two of the three views taken during an Overhead Squat Assessment (NASM CES)

Assessments. What hasn’t changed: (1) The need to perform an assessment before training the client. (2) That every movement serves as an assessment.

What has changed: Specifically going from a complex and time consuming assessment that could put clients in positions or movement patterns they couldn’t perform to a simplified approach.

The simplified approach can be regressed or progressed if an easier or deeper testing is required. The influences were Martin Rooney of Training for Warriors and The 1,2,3,4 Assessment by Dan John.

Guess what happened after moving to a simplified approach? Clients still got screened and results still came out the same.   I’m still adding new screening tools to my toolbox.


The value of one certification over another..sort of.
NASM,NSCA and ACSM are the top three most recognized Certified Personal Trainer credentials.  My opinion that any of the three can get your foot into nearly any gym, at least within in the United States. None of them guarantee that you will be a passably good trainer, or that you can apply the lessons taught.  You simply passed a proctored test.

What has changed: My recommendation differs if you are working for yourself, or the employer accepts a range of certifications. That range includes NCSF,NFPT,ACE,NESTA,NCCPT and ISSA along with  (too many in my opinion) other alphabet organizations.

My suggestion now is to pick one,don’t let it limit your learning and don’t consider it a lifelong marriage.

“Master Trainer, Certified Personal Trainer, Correctives Specialist, Performance Specialist, Nutrition Specialist, Women’s Fitness Specialist, Golf Fitness, Youth Specialist, MMA Conditioning, Group Training Specialist, Senior Specialist, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Weight Loss Specialist and (even more stuff) Certified.”

Yes, all this followed a persons last name.  Maybe it is me, but two thoughts come to mind: (1) Jack of all trades and (2) Overkill

Trainers with multiple suffixes.
This happened after seeing a person sign their name with FIFTEEN trainer suffixes after their name, and another with the modest self-given title of “National Master Trainer and Celebrity Trainer”

Personally, If I’m impressed by anything it would be the suffixes that are notably difficult to obtain and cannot be self-awarded.

I’m in the process of going the other route and reducing letters after my name. This doesn’t mean I am skipping education or courses that award suffixes.  It simply means I’m electing not to use them on the majority of my marketing material.

In the last few years only one person (which ironically was another trainer) even bothered asking what I have. Reducing the letters after my name hasn’t hurt my earning potential and the acquisition of new letters didn’t automatically increase things.  These days I’m highly selective of where I spend my money.

Enjoy the letters after your name. Take pride in earning them, but keep it real.

Open Book Tests.
I still prefer proctored exams, but an open book test shouldn’t be underestimated.

Yes, there are those by design that are overly easy to pass.  However there are others that are quite difficult and require deep familiarity with multiple textbooks. Rote memorization will disqualify you on the essay format answers.

Open book tests tends to create a false sense of security, but that security is misplaced.  For example, when the testable material comes from SuperTraining (over 500 pages of exceptionally dense information), the Science and Practice of Strength Training (over 200 pages, also quite dense)…and 16 other books, discussions and DVD’s you cannot simply speed read/page flip your way through things.