Tag Archives: Westside Barbell Coach

I before E

I recently did a guest spot at a different local gym. It was totally unlike mine and I believe a change of scenery can sometimes be a good thing for me.  Other than needing to figure out where everything was located and abiding by the gyms rules (no chalk, no bare feet and no bags on the floor), I can still say I had a good training session.

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This is also why I typically prefer smaller gyms to bigger ones.  I once had a momentarily embarrassing situation at an upscale gym when I got lost in mens restroom on what must have been naked senior citizen day.

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My ideal scenario.

That said, my best work both as a lifter and coach have been in gyms that fall more towards the serious lifter side of things.  This includes not only the equipment and general gym vibe, but also the clientele and other trainers I might be working around. I actively scan for gym D-Bags and keep my distance.

SIDENOTE: For now at least, I’m the last man left standing at my current gym.  No other trainer could sustain a clientele.

Many people might consider my gym intimidating, perhaps dated and lacking certain “essentials.”

We don’t offer child care, We don’t offer trendy group exercise classes, We don’t have spa facilities, or even a shower, We don’t have TV screens on every piece of cardio equipment and We don’t have a small army of U̶s̶e̶d̶ ̶c̶a̶r̶ ̶s̶a̶l̶e̶s̶m̶e̶n̶ Personal Trainers.

We don’t even have a Bosu…which is not a negative in this guys world.

I’m not in the gym for these things, but I don’t have any issue with those that are. In truth, available child care and group exercise options alone have probably helped more people than I can count.

I’m there to get better and to help make others better. I’m something of a training minimalist by nature and don’t need very much equipment to get the job done. My workout one day consisted of a single kettle bell, the floor and a horizontal bar. There were other days where all I needed was the floor and a wall. Equipment didn’t matter much, and environment could have been anywhere.

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A large wall looms over the deadlifting platforms. It lists the names of people who have lifted hundreds of pounds over bodyweight just for a place on it. That wall is filled with Intent, and this was the environment where it happened.

I believe that training Intent comes before training Environment. Could I have a solid workout at a regular commercial gym? Yes, I can have anywhere, but that is because I carry intent with me wherever I may roam.  I also believe environment has its effect on people and that a type of selection pressure is at play. The environment, in a sense, helps shape and focus ones intent, which we often equate to being a purely internal thing.

Intent is key.  Why are you there in the first place?  The gym could be any version of “the best gym for you” (an ideal environment), but without intent you could find yourself wasting your time.

 

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“Think about it, if you read only one book, no matter how many times you read it you will only learn so much.” Louie Simmons, Westside Barbell

Sometime ago a young trainer asked veteran coaches for a list of books they considered to be “the bibles of our field.”  It was late and my eyes saw the word “bubbles.”  According to one person who identified himself as a twelve year veteran the bubbles of our field were…

Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training and Essentials of Sports Performance Training.

Fitness professionals may notice the trend, but for those who are not fitness professionals I will inform you that all three books are from the same credentialing agency.

Sidenote: The early editions of the Personal Fitness Training textbook contained a lot of the material found in the present day Corrective Exercise and Sports Performance texts. They were later separated into three courses. 

Unfortunately, these seem to be the only three books this trainer goes by, or at least considers worthy of mentioning. Once again, not bad choices and he could certainly pick worse. But it is a bad thing if they’re the only three books he has read.  You wind up living within a relatively small academic bubble.

There are positive and negative factors at play here. The information presented was meant to mesh together and work along a continuum, but you’re getting a very limited view of things. I speak with a level credibility here as I’ve completed all three courses. I also happen to read daily, and usually read more than one book at a time.

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The fitness world is a much bigger place than the contents of any three books and no singular textbook is perfect. No singular certification has all the answers and no trainer knows it all.

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One of two book stacks I own.  The other stack is composed of my top 30 reference texts and I also own a considerable amount of E-books and some DVD’s as well.  Had I never given away books to others, I imagine the stack would be nearly double this size. I’m told its not considering hoarding as long as it involves books.

Firestarters

Questions I ask myself at 3 a.m, or one that you can ask yourself…

“Can you provide a verifiable list of four personal trainers/strength coaches whose lives you have positively influenced? Someone from whom you’ve ignited a fire?”

If the answer is “Yes, I have their numbers/contact information on my phone” (or some other form of contact) then I would say you’ve moved beyond being a fitness professional, and now join the ranks of fitness influencers.  Whether or not you agree with me, you are no longer just a “Normal Trainer” and you are influencing the next generation of fitness professionals. This carries a set of responsibilities.

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While it may seem that being a “Normal Trainer” is a good thing, I ask that you reconsider the term “Normal”, or at least consider the fact that “Abnormal” isn’t necessarily a negative and that “Normal” in the fitness profession isn’t always a positive.

Would you rather be the trainer that improves year by year, or the one that remains in exactly the same spot year after year? The latter is fairly normal.

My eye-opener towards re-defining normal came from working in a commercial gym and later as a private coach.  What passed for “Normal” among the majority of my co-workers or competitors was something I knew I could be better than, and falling to that level would be unacceptable. My clients and athletes deserve the best from me, and I hope to influence newer trainers to be the coach I wish I HAD.

 

O.P.P

Friend: “Bro, is that your training log?”

Me: “Yeah”

Friend: “Can I see your workouts, I need some training ideas.”

Translation: Somebody wants free stuff.

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Had I let my friend look through my training log without offering any explanations one of several things could have happened:  (1) He would have copied things down perfectly, and not gained the results he was seeking.  (2) He would have modified what he saw, and may or may not have gotten the results he was seeking. (3) He would have injured himself by picking a program well beyond his ability or (4) He would have come away thinking he was reading the entries of a madman.  

Fact: What I do at any given time could be someones warm up or a trip to the hospital for another.

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I suppose I should be slightly flattered that a person would be interested in the programming I’m running on myself. This request however turned into a rather lengthy conversation on O.P,P. (other peoples programs). (Just like most of the times when I’m asked to tweak someones technique.)

Basically, I showed that my programming changes to reflect the goal(s) at the time, and that each features things unique to my needs.  For example, I had a weak spot off my chest in the Bench Press.  My programming during that period was designed to improve my strength in that range, and the %’s were based on a competition maximum ( the heaviest I’ve lifted in a contest.) Furthermore, all the accessory exercises were designed to bring up muscle groups that were comparatively lagging and help drive the bench press off the chest.

This was a program designed for a singular person (me), with my relative strengths and weaknesses, my injury history, physical leverages, personality and tolerances.

My friend has no competition history, completely different leverages and technical skill and a totally different injury history.  His weak spot is currently opposite mine, and would benefit from a different approach.

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Out of personal curiosity I randomly picked four pages out of my log just to see what could have happened.  I can favorably wager my friend would have injured himself if he attempted to copy some of my work.  The “Hyde sections” intensity levels are beyond his ability to recover, and while the “Jekyll sections” generally feature things he can do, they are not ideal for his needs and still feature things he cannot physically perform or recover from.

What about the workouts you find in the popular fitness magazines and online?

I’ll start by saying that they’re not all bad. I’ll further state that even in generic programming some authors know what they’re doing far more than others. Your odds of randomly landing on a program that is perfect for you and your goals based on your current physical standing is astronomically low

Believe me when I say I’ve seen some really bad stuff online and in print, and this is coming from a guy that has sat through the Fantastic Four Re-boot (at least I didn’t pay for it.)

The person (insert famous bodybuilder/fitness model/celebrity) demonstrating the workout may never have done it at all. Even if they did do it, and even if it happened to work for them doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Consider the audience and goal for which the program was written. In some magazine cases, the programs were written for bodybuilders by other bodybuilders, or powerlifters for other powerlifters.  Not for the sedentary 46 year old office worker that wants to lose his love handles and reduce his man-boobs.

You’ll also find generic collections of exercises put together without thought or nuance which follows a number of bootcamp and GroupEx models.  The workouts may be perfect for 1-2 out of every 10 people, and sub-optimal or possibly dangerous for the rest.

FACT: If the article features small dumbbell curls while standing on a BOSU ball then you’ve picked up the wrong magazine or are on the wrong website. The model may look great, but I doubt they got their physique from that exercise, or that it even contributed to a degree, they did however get better at juggling.  

90%

The first training programs I ever wrote was when I was 15yrs old working as an assistant Karate teacher in exchange for free monthly tuition.  I wrote drills and particular exercises to be included in the class and in some cases had people doing bodyweight exercises I’d found in Martial Art books (yes, I still own a decent sized of collection of Martial Art books as well.)

My assignment was to help improve competitors performance in fighting and forms divisions at state, regional and national level competition.  This meant carefully watching them in practice and competition, including in fresh and fatigued states against various opponents (bigger/smaller, aggressive,defensive,countering/opportunistic types, those that favored kicking/punching etc) and in performance multiple forms.

Although I didn’t know it, or at least couldn’t express it, training was athlete defined.  Whatever I did had to translate to improved and measurable athletic performance.

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I couldn’t simply tell the Head Teacher that students were “getting better.”  He needed proof, and competition is the proving ground. In hindsight, I’m positive he knew how things were progressing all along, but as far as 15 year old me was concerned,it was either medals around necks or my body hitting the floor.

Despite my relatively young age I already had 10 years training experience and 5 years competitive history up the international level. I didn’t know I was being put in a developmental position and didn’t recognize the fact that I was the only instructor below the age of 20 until it was pointed out to me. I honestly didn’t want to let the team down, and put my heart into things.

I held my position as an assistant up until I left for the military.

Two years after joining the military I was assigned as a motivator to help others get in better shape.  With advancement in rank this later progressed to a command level position and helping people reach tactical levels of fitness, including preparation for highly demanding and selective programs such as Crash and Salvage, Fire Fighting and Special Operations Candidate testing. I was also fortunate to be employed as a part time Karate instructor during my off-hours and continued training competitors, and interestingly enough became a person that taught the instructors class.  The highlights being an instructor while living in Hawaii and Japan.

All that experience pre-dated my becoming a Personal Trainer.

In 2012 the game changed. I retired from the military and no longer trained exclusively competitive athletes, instructors and alpha-personality youngsters. I now had people coming from zero fitness levels, people with orthopedic/medical issues and some that just wanted to move around and get sweaty.

Everything up to 2012 had a purpose, and we didn’t do things just to them.  I still stand by that no matter who walks in the door, and I always have the ability to say “No” to a client.

SIDENOTE:  For trainers just entering the field, recognize when the time to say “No” is needed.  Too many trainers are afraid to refer out.  Referring out doesn’t make you a bad trainer, if anything it makes you a better professional.

Over the course of the next few months I would over-analyze program design. In my mind it had to be 100% on-point. To create otherwise would be a failure on my part.  It was as if I was designing tactical warfare plans or preparing athletes for International level competition.

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Life became easier when I accepted a few things.    

Being able to accept 90%.  “Passes Muster” is what we are looking for. To reach 90% I believe the following must happen;  Having the ability to explain, and prove where the client was and they presently stand.  Being able to state in simple words why things are being done the way they are and having a logical and realistic plan in place per the individuals current ability.

Especially if you can explain,prove and defend those actions to a coach far smarter and experienced than yourself. 

SIDENOTE:  I’ve recently come to believe two things scare personal trainers.  (1) Being asked to demonstrate techniques under challenging loads in front of others that also know the technique and  (2) Having to explain and defend their programming and exercise choices to other trainers.  Why the fear? If I were to speculate, it is because both can expose weakness.

Everyone is brave and feels competent compared to someone with no experience in the matter.  I can assure you, if you are a coach or trainer, you are a leader.  Since you’re a leader, then EVERYONE is watching what you do, and you never know who is watching.

Every week this point is proved to me. I’m also watched and heavily judged when training with my gym Bro’s, most of whom are state or higher level qualified lifters.

Tips to help reach that 90%….

Know the progressions and regressions per fundamental movement. The basics have stood the test of time for a reason and achieving skill in the basics will only serve as a benefit.

Use the tools that you have available,and know how to use them optimally.  Remember that a saw makes a terrible hammer. (Yes, I know you could use a small axe, but its not as precise as one and somewhat limited with the other.)

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One of these Acromion Types might not like putting loads overhead.

There are positions that individuals can tolerate loading, and positions they can’t. Pick the former.

Reps/Sets/Density and relative intensity. Wield the variables sensibly.

There are infinite number of exercises, but training principles are few. Rather than trying to amass a million first, try mastering the principles first. Once you have a strong grasp of the principles, exercises start becoming easier to learn.  (and yes, YOU STILL NEED TO PUT IN THE WORK LEARNING THEM.)

Opinions and personal philosophies change over time. In the words of Mike Boyle, I make no apologies for changing my opinion in light of new education.

Applied personal practice (AKA DO THE WORK) along with education helps shape you. Oddly, there are trainers that don’t even train themselves, or occasionally hire their own trainer.

No singular textbook is perfect. Read broadly, and don’t be afraid to question things. In my opinion, too many trainers never read.

For a large chunk of the population, programs need not be overly complex. Simple is good, and simple is sustainable.

Cost of being a Professional Coach

“Why are you so expensive?  I have a friend that said they’ll train me for (Low Low Price)”

“I can’t pay you, but I will give you Biggest Loser level commitment and full benefits of advertising my results”

I’m sure you’ve heard similar.You might have even said something similar yourself.

I don’t discount or offer deals. I will not negotiate, and I’m certainly not out to be the lowest priced/quality trainer in town.

My clients will tell you that I provide an exceptional amount of information and service, that I have been known to rent equipment to them cost free and prompt in answering calls or texts. Some of these calls and texts come from deployed military personnel with nobody else to ask.

For every hour (or hour+) I spend with you, an equal amount of of hour time is dedicated to you and your program.

I see a maximum of three clients per day.  I formerly taught upwards of 20 per day, and realized that working with less people made me a better coach per person.

Being Strength Coach and Educator is my Profession. My fee pays for an education addiction.  I’ve completed one course already this year,will attending another at the end of this month simply for the opportunity to learn from a legendary strength coach.

A chunk of my earnings are reinvested back into specialized equipment. I’ve even bought equipment for one specific client, while rarely asking clients to buy equipment for their home use.

I help people move better, get stronger and live life.  I want to believe I make a difference.

If you feel my price is too high, then it is.  There will always be a lower-cost option out there, and typically many will fight tooth and nail in a race to the bottom.

You get what you pay for, or, You get what you given for the price you paid.

Caveat Emptor: As of this writing, a personal trainer certification IS NOT required to train another person within the United States. Literally anyone can call themselves a personal trainer or any other fancy title. The person you’ve hired to train you may not have even a minimum level of knowledge of how the human body works, and will take that lack of information and apply stress to it.

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Cost of an entry level personal trainer certification earned from a legitimate organization*: $300-$700 average. There are numerous certifications available online that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  If the trainer has a degree in Exercise Science or related field their investment, and subsequent student debt, is in or near the five digit range.

Cost of remaining a personal trainer: $100-$1k+ every recertification period. A specified amount of continuing education must be completed every 1-4 years (varies per agency,2 years being the most common) to maintain a certified personal trainer status.

Employment Realities: Commercial gyms have been known to hire people without any formal education. This includes some of the high-end places and not just the high-volume/low price gyms. The ability to sell personal training is valued over skill or education. It is entirely reasonable, and unfortunately common, that a talented or promising trainer with zero sales skills will be passed over for a trainer with sales skill and zero ability to train others.

Specialization. Specialization is considered optional and not all trainers pursue specialization. Costs range broadly from $250-$1k+ each. Some require out of state travel and proof of both physical competency and teaching skill. There are others taken completely online. A number of specializations require a re-certification to maintain them, as information and teaching continually improve. Some trainers hold multiple specializations and other upgrade their specializations as able.  For example, since I’ve obtained my first specialization related to corrective exercise/mobility (in 2013) I’ve already completed more advanced coursework and have another course set for the end of the year.  This is in addition to an uncountable number of hours spent reading about mobility and any tips and advice and given by colleagues with far greater knowledge in the area than I have.

Told you I have an education addition.

Sidebar: If your trainer states a specialization in an area or with particular tools, ask for proof.

Liability Insurance: For Independent contractors this is a $200 average every two years for a standard $1 million policy. Commercial trainers can be covered by their employer, but I urge all commercial trainers to review what their coverage thoroughly.

Other costs…Books, professional journals,equipment,membership sites and tons of little things add up. $0-several thousand per year. Some trainers (even certified ones) don’t read or attend workshops and will only pursue their continuing education when re-certification. looms near.

Lab Coat Talk

“I use a very special exercise technique that:

– incorporates the lateral fascial line with the arm fascial line.
– is highly functional because it not only replicates a common movement everyone does in their daily activities, but also because it involves the lateral oblique subsystem.
– Due to the positioning of the load in this exercise along with the movement pattern involved, the core muscular is forced to activate to create spinal stability through stiffness, and the shoulder is given a small distraction force, which the CNS has to offset by creating joint centration and compression for enhanced shoulder stability.

^ The exercise I just described is a single-arm biceps curl. This ends today’s lesson in how the use of cool industry jargon and sciencey sounding words can be used to “rebrand” basic exercises, add unnecessary complication to simple applications, and therefore make the person who’s communicating in this manner appear to be offering more than they really have provided.”
Nick Tumminello.

I’ve overheard, (and read) similar words from trainers, especially during the rise of the functional training bandwagon and later from Internet Fitness Gurus. Literally, these people sound like they swallowed a Latin Dictionary, a Big Word of the Day calendar and a Physical Therapy student textbook along with committing all the impressive sounding words from the Anatomy Trains text to memory.

The problem? Hardly anyone can understand them. Not your typical client, not a decent percent of trainers (which includes me)and sometimes not even the person making the comment.

Realistically, does a long-winded and overly technical description serve the client/athlete, or yourself?  I would argue, these people are simply trying to sound impressive, and things become interesting when they get called out.

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Never bring anecdotes to a science fight, and don’t assume everyone knows less than you do.

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I’ve manage to catch a few amateur Doctors /Internet Gurus/Local loudmouths off-guard by asking them to simplify their description. It has only been a few since they usually avoid the question entirely or tell me that I’m too limited to understand. They never asked about my background in the subject matter.

At present I have three clients with knowledge of anatomy and physiology. (1) A licensed massage therapist (2) a Military Medic and (3) another Personal Trainer. I also do some advisory work for highly qualified lifters. Even with their education and experience, I typically cue and explain things in the simplest of terms. I’m currently trying to simply instruction even more.  Lab Coat talk is Plan C.