• Exercise Program for Success

  • Educating Trainers Since 2002

  • Motivating Clients Effectively

  • Communication with Clients

  • Coaching Clients to Limits

  • Understanding Consistency


Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I am often asked who I consider to be the toughest client to train. I am usually asked by my students who are made up on exercise enthusiasts that are entering the field and want a leg up on who they may encounter to be a challenge with exercise programming. I am also asked my blog readers that seek similarities in our "war stories" regarding client participation. 

 I think back to the many, many different clients I have trained in over 14 years and 5 different facilities (including my own)...and I never really thought about who stood as a challenge to train until now. Was it the paraplegic who is embedded in a wheelchair? At the time, I wasn't sure why Paul felt that he should join a gym and continue his pre-accident workouts, but he taught me a few lessons. Why don't I consider him a tough client to train? Because he was a motivated fellow and I just needed some creativity on my part. He met his own set of challenges daily and our training together was minuscule compared to what he tackled everyday. So, no..he wasn't tough to train. 

 Was it the narcissistic CEO of Hartford's largest insurance companies? No...it wasn't him either. Although, Mr. Gheema was intimidating in stature and not very talkative, he was a "go-getter" and managed his time through a calendar and executive assistant. His sessions were booked through her and he simply reported to me at lunch time. He did what I told him to do and loved the different challenges I set for him 3x per week. So, no..he wasn't tough to train. 

 Was it the 93-year old blind woman? She was a treat to train. Although Mrs. Johnson was very limited in her capabilities, it was her ambition and fortitude that was limitless. Her style of training was different from others and I approached her with patience, sensitivity and care. She was routine-driven and our time spent training was a growing lesson for me. When she past away, I knew I had lost a good teacher in my life. So, no...she wasn't tough to train. 

 Was it the cancer-striken housewife that came to sessions even after her chemo-therapy treatments? There were plenty of times, I can remember Mary didn't feel up to training but she insisted that we keep going. Even when she knew I was regressing exercises and making them easy, she would scold me and ask me to keep things "as they were". At times, she would adjust her wig in my presence and cough violently, but she was a trooper that only made me work harder to see her get through every session. She lost her battle 2 years later, but I knew--that second to her family--she fought a good fight. So, no...she wasn't tough to train.  
So who was the toughest client to train??? 

In all my years, the toughest client to train has been the regular guy or gal that is lazy, inconsistent and looking for a "quick fix". The client that needs to be entertained to forget they are exercising. The client that needs to be lured into exercises by saying things like, "we'll go slow" or "we'll only do it this one time"...or "just give me 6 reps (instead of the intended 10). This is the client that is has no self-motivation or willingness to empower themselves with the God-given gifts that they already have.

This is the client that becomes his/her own worst enemy. The client that inconsistently trains but consistently eats more than he should. This is the client that doesn't realize that the bigger picture is a life 15-20, 30 years down the road but only focuses on the now. This is the client that is toughest to train.... If you enjoyed this post, please share it and make your comments below telling of your toughest clients to train.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Version 2.0 Interview with Eric Cressey

I interviewed Eric Cressey in 2011. That interview can be found HERE. For those of you that don't know who Eric is, he is probably the smartest guy in the strength & conditioning field that is under the age of 35. I met Eric about a year and a half ago at a seminar, and was blown away with his presentation. Its been 2 years since I last interviewed Eric. At the time he had his first book published and released and has expanded his business. Along with many, many other attributes that he has accomplished in just the last two years, he has also managed to put out some awesome products. To put it bluntly....Eric's puts out some great products that really...I mean, really benefits the fitness professional, exerciser and overall end-user. When I get a chance to ask Eric some questions for an interview, I know its going to be good. I get something out of it and I know you (the reader) will get something out of it. Check it out:

JOHN: Ten years ago, assessments were something not many trainers were conducting. Today, assessments have become the backbone of any exercise program and more trainers are refining their skills with certain assessments. However, can you tell us where you think some trainers can go wrong or trip up in the assessment process? 

ERIC: I think there are three big mistakes I see. 

First, an assessment needs to be specific to the individual. It’s silly to do a VO2max test on a powerlifter, just like it’d be silly (and absurdly dangerous) to do a one-rep max squat assessment on a post-rehab hip replacement client. At the end of the day, people need to realize that an assessment is in place to give you the information you need to write an effective program and learn which coaching cues will work best for that individual. It’s not just in place so that you can say you did an assessment! 

Second, I think many trainers make the mistake of allowing the assessment to last far too long. I’m amazed that there are people who spend in excess of an hour assessing a new client; if it takes you that long, then you need a more efficient assessment approach. Additionally, every minute you spend assessing is a minute that you aren’t training clients and getting them closer to their goals. 

Third, I think some people need to put a different spin on how they use their assessments. It should be something that educates and motivates new clients on how much you’re going to help them, not something that brings them down a peg as you point out everything that is wrong with them. An assessment should not put up a wall between you and a client; it should help to create a bond based on your willingness and ability to help that individual. Of course, there are several other mistakes folks can make, but these are the first three that come to mind. 

JOHN: What may be optimal performance for a baseball player or a football player may not be considered optimal for a general population client. How would you define "optimal performance" for a regular Joe Schmoe that works 9-5 and drives a minivan to and from soccer games every week? 

ERIC: I think it’s very simple: can these people do the things that they want to do on a daily basis – and without pain? It sounds like a very basic answer, but the truth is that most general fitness folks don’t have incredibly lofty performance goals. They want to be able to carry their kids without back pain, or play catch with those same kids without shoulder pain. Maybe they want the stamina to take part in a family hike, or just enough to get through long days without feeling exhausted and beaten-down by 5pm. Still, we can use a ton of the same exercises with these folks that we use with athletic populations, as there are right and wrong ways to move. However, other variations – frequency, duration, intensity, volume – need to be modified to give the general population folks what they need. 

JOHN: Speaking of a personal trainer's career, where do you think the need for empathy is? Should it be a prerequisite early in the career, something developed, or is it over-rated? 

ERIC: I think it’s entirely underrated. If you can’t at least try to walk a mile in people’s shoes, you can’t be successful. As an example, think about strength and conditioning coaches who just yell all the time; guys eventually wind up tuning them out. Conversely, the coaches who really care and get to know their athletes on a personal level are the ones who become trusted long-term resources. That’s what trainers should aspire to become with their clients: lifelong friends. 

JOHN: Speaking of business, can you tell my readers how you have acquired your network of professionals over the years; and what methods can they use to develop a trusting circle of helpful pro's? 

ERIC: I think it’s important to realize that your network has many “arms.” One arm is medical professionals – doctors, massage therapists, physical therapists, athletic trainers – to whom you can refer. This network can be developed by accompanying clients to appointments, asking other professionals in the area who they’d recommend on these fronts, and by attending seminars where these complementary professions are well represented. A second arm is other trainers. You want people off of whom you can bounce ideas on a regular basis. Obviously, seminars are a great option on this front, but the internet has also made it possible for more long-distance communication on this front. And, more and more accomplished professionals are readily accessible online. A third arm is other businesses that can help your company. It might be anything from cleaning services, to equipment manufacturers, to flooring companies. To build this one, you need to ask around – preferably among other trainers you trust. At the end of the day, I just try to be as friendly as I possibly can to everyone I meet. It’s just good manners, but as an added bonus, you never know when one of those people is going to end up being a trusted resource to you down the road. [END]

Eric was kind enough to let me check out his newest product finished before he put it up for sale. I am the proud owner of all his products and can tell you without a sliver of doubt,  that this manual and videos is top-quality stuff. His products are informative and always referred to as a high standard in this digital age. Check out his newest product: The High Performance Handbook

Eric was kind enough to forward me a copy of the finished product last week and I looked it over. As with anything he puts out, it is nothing short of amazing. It comes with a chock full of tutorial videos by Eric and is the perfect tool for structuring an effective program.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Add Some 'Ummph' to Your Plank for Core Stability

The other day I covered a variation of the Dead Bug Drill using tubing or bands to add a bit of resistance to the exercise. Check out that post HERE if you haven't already. Albeit, not an isolated solution to back pain, but rather a tool in the box to combat back pain altogether. Today, I will give you another tool for your box. Again,  this exercise may be somewhat advanced for the sedentary client--I trust that you will regress to a more simpler version of the exercise. With any exercise, how can you make it easier or regress? Here are some tips:

1.) Unload it or use lighter loads (weights)
2.) Decrease amount of reps/sets
3.) Decrease amount of time held for
4.) Shorten the lever arm (working limb) of the exercise
5.) Break down the exercise in steps

To improve core stability, it has to be practiced. Once it is mastered without any movement occurring within the body, we should introduce some movement. In this example, I introduced a "rowing movement". This exercise is basically made up of a statically held plank off a bench or table, with a row suing a dumbbell or kettle-bell or any other piece of equipment. The main point to remember is that core stabilization must be engaged as the reps are completed. Notice in the video the stripe of my shorts never moves?

Intrinsically, the muscles have developed a communication between breathing with external loading and bracing. When you pick up something heavy, the torso should “brace”—tightening up and creating rigidity for the extrinsic muscles to power the load. Again, a constant state of awareness is necessary to maintain optimal back health during exercises. This exercise will place your spine in extreme positions and movements. Try not to “lose yourself” in the lift and keep your “thinking cap” on during execution of these drills.

This exercise is covered in the new product Fix My Back Pain. Packed with a tremendous amount of information for people suffering from back pain,  I've included a special report titled 8 Weeks to an Indestructible Back. The product is discounted at 52%--which is a steal!! Check it out and I hope you like my addition to it!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Easy, Applicable Drill for Improving Low Back Pain and Core Stability

Back pain is a common problem among adults. With the onset of inactivity and obesity,  the extra weight in the gut coupled with poor posture throughout the day, can cause a host of problems for the lower back. These two factors are very common with most people with no accident-related back injuries and is what is becoming more prevalent in younger people. They eat too much and sit too much. Enter back pain. 

During a period of time, changes in the structure of the spine begin to occur at the aforementioned curves. These pronounced curves become exaggerated. Exaggerated in the sense that they alter the way the spine handles the gravitational load and the body’s center of gravity. The alteration in the facet joints creates pain with movement or static posture over a lengthy period of time.  Pain or discomfort can be experienced with simply tasks like bending over to pick up a pencil, playing a sport, sitting or standing for long periods. The curvatures of the spine change due to different muscular involvement during static posture. These changes in the spine structure are mechanically based.

Mechanical back pain is related to the muscular system. The postural muscles of the body, such as the erector spinea, quadratus lumboroum, hamstrings, piriformis and many more, tend to alter in length due to poor posture. Poor static posture promotes tightness or shortness in the tonic muscles (flexor muscles)—located mainly in the front of the body. Conversely, the phasic muscles (extensor muscles)—located mainly in the posterior aspect of the body become weak. 

This version of back pain can be remedied with a properly designed exercise approach. In simplistic terms, muscles that are tight can become lengthened. Muscles that are weak, can become strengthened. The key is to properly assess movement and functionality, and contrast those findings to a medical history evaluation. 

In most adults, low back pain is most often caused by a series of inappropriate movements and de-conditioning over time. 
In the weight-lifting genre of the population, many young, ego-driven exercisers will overly load exercises and use incorrect lifting form. This poor form usually is comprised of a kyphotic lower back (rounding out the natural lordotic curve) and using the back muscles to lift the load. 

Mechanically speaking, the pull of the posterior muscles is altered. Muscles that are designed to initially stabilize now become prime or associated movers. Muscles that are designed to lengthen during certain lifting movements, now contract against a limited range of motion that may promote injury. Performed repetitively, the central nervous system is “programmed” to memorize this movement pattern and translate it to everyday functionality.

This pattern of dysfunction leads to structural damage through a mechanical pathway. Meaning…it can be corrected with proper instruction of lifting technique and muscle usage. Re-learning proper movement patterns through exercise is the most effective remedy for this—but it takes a lengthy amount of time depending on the frequency of exercise

For youths or athletes, a stress fracture in the actual vertebrae may be the culprit to back pain. Abrupt falls, blunt force, or violent hits may cause a sudden altercation between disc and vertebrae, which may lead to disc herniation or tears. Facet joints can also fracture leaving bony fragments within the vertebral space affecting nerve function and spinal health.

Another dysfunction that impedes back health is limited range of motion (ROM) at the hip joint. Restricted hips are due to overly tight tonic muscles, inactive hip extensors, and overly used back muscles. The hip hinging exercise is one of the first movement pattern corrections that are in place for this. 

Core strengthening and stability greatly influence spinal health.
What you have been hearing for over a decade is true. Most of the literature from today’s leading back experts including Shirley Sahrmann and Stuart McGill confirm that core stability is important when it comes to back health. Muscles of the pelvic floor help stabilize the spine and promote healthy posture. Learning proper breathing techniques and core stabilization exercises creates “stiffness” within the core (center of body) which improves pelvic alignment. 

One such easy, applicable exercise that many of your clients can perform is the popular Dead Bug drill. However, I have found that an ordinary Dead Bug was challenging for people to initiate rigidness throughout the core. Remember, in order to move one muscle or muscles optimally, the opposite(s) must stay stiff (rigid)

Enter the Dead Bug with Band Resistance:

To perform: Lie on a mat holding a band or tubing. Place tubing around feet or ankles. Hold handles of band/tubing with your hands and lie back. While holding your body down on mat, hold arms overhead and hips flexed. This is a “deadbug” position. With tension mounting in band, slowly draw 1 arm back and 1 leg down to create an “X” pattern. Try to prevent any hyperextension in the lumbar spine.

Some important coaching cues:

  • Keep your torso tight. 
  • Breathe slowly and with shallow breaths. 
  • Keep your core braced throughout exercise. 
  • Hold elbows tight and extend the arms back as far as possible against the tension. At the bottom position, this is the bands strongest tension. 
  • Repeat on both sides.
  • Try 3 sets of 10 reps on both sides.
I've used this drill with many of my clients and it has really helped them understand the function of the pelvic musculature in relation to core stability. After a few training sessions, back pain was never mentioned again. Note: This exercise is by no means a "beginner" exercise. The client should be able to perfect a un-resisted Dead Bug drill with proper core stability. 

There is a new product that I've contributed to that includes the Dead Bug with Tubing Drill plus a dozen more back specific strengthening exercises. It is the latest product in a series of Fix My Back Pain which has been released this week.

Check out Fix My Back Pain and look for my Special Report!

Make sure you check out my report that can be optionally added to your purchase of the product called 
8 Weeks to an Indestructible Back!

Monday, September 30, 2013

10 Ways to Earn Respect AS a Trainer from People Outside of the Fitness World

Do you want to earn respect as a personal trainer? Every time I attend a dinner, event, or even go to doctor's office, I always cringe when I reveal that I am a personal trainer. Around people that do not understand the profession; to describe what you do can be a laughing matter. Most people think of high school gym class or the PE teacher. Which is not too far off from the profession, but others really assume you should have muscles and wear tight clothing.

When I meet a doctor,  the first thing I think of is "Oh man..this guy is a doctor??!!". Which immediately makes my brain reference the amount of schooling--including residency and research--they have completed to become a professional in a particular field.

Personal trainers can earn respect a few ways, but most don't practice these subtle cues. Most trainers think that heavy deadlifts and tight T-shirts are the paths to respect.  I call these the "book covers" of our profession. To really learn more about the profession and the person, the outsider has to be enticed through other avenues. Therefore, I've compiled a list of how today's personal trainer can earn respect among his peers and outsider [to the profession]:

1.) Practice what you preach.
Yes. You should exercise since you are the purveyor of exercise to people. You should lift weights and understand your body's reactions to certain movements and loads--and translate that to developing methods of coaching others under the same circumstances with anticipation of different reactions.

2.) Don't always talk about fitness and exercise.
If you are a personal trainer, please you do not always have to talk about exercise and being healthy. The majority of people are out-of-shape and do not share your same passion. You are the minority. Understand it and consider that it is not a bad thing. You don't get through to people expounding to others how "fit and healthy" you are. This blurs acceptance because it creates an imaginary "scale" for others to measure one another. Be confident, but don't be so "loud" about it. You have to understand that you can still contact people by using the back door...you don't have to blow up the front one to get into the house.

3.) Don't lecture people on nutrition at events with food.
Don't be that guy or girl that sits at a table at your friend's wedding and starts pin-pointing what others are eating. No one likes a person that likes to be "judgmental" of others when it comes to what they eat. Sure obesity rates are high and food choices are poor. But scrutiny plays no part in having people like you--let alone respect you.

4.) Talk about other hobbies.
Let people know what other interests you have in life. It could be wood-working, cycling, or art--but let others know you are human. Most fitness people sound like robots. Listen to any Crossfitter, and they sound like they belong to a cult. Empathize with your neighbor and try to relate with interests outside of physical culture.

5.) Prioritize your family (don't just talk about it).
This one gets me. There are many fitness pro's that "talk" about putting their families first, but they spend alot of time online tweeting about it. Spending time with your family is what grounds you. It is your reality. It provides balance and escape from the everyday mundane. Having a family is a tremendous responsibility and I cannot see a parent going "half-ass" on it. You are a reflection of the type of parent you become--not the fitness trainer you strive to be. Your commitment to your family is a reflection of your commitment  to your health, passion and hardwork. Tweeting about it doesn't justify the time lost. Be about it.

6.) Look the part (to a degree).
Take it from a chubby trainer...you have to lift weights and look the part. There is a ambiance to people that exercise. An aura that they have when around groups. They stand straighter, they move better,  they project strength and they look healthier. Eating right and exercising daily creates this aura. Along with good hygiene and great communication skills, and you will stand about among the crowd. Sure, big arms are great too.

7.) Be current on what it going on in the world.
This goes along with #2. There is nothing I cannot stand more is talking to trainers that only know 3 topics: Facebook, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian and the latest $110 training shoe. Maybe its my age, but I have more respect for people that are "in the know" on things that affect our country, healthcare, safety, and current news. With the speed of information today,  there is no reason for someone not to check out news app and learn about the events for that day. Society today doesn't read enough and that is a problem. There are too many people reading 144 character posts on Twitter and Facebook updates; and not reading more events on CNN or other news source.

8.) Listen more.
Real simple. Keep your mouth shut and listen. Narcissistic behavior and elitism is getting old. You can still be strong without proving to the world that you are stronger than the next man. There are too many people that try to speak louder in order to be heard. If half of the people listened more, our society would be in a better place.

9.) Empathize with people (doesn't mean you have to save every soul).
Remember, no one knows that you have a big deadlift or you are a big bencher when you are outside the gym. It took me a long time to get this through my head when I was young. Injuries will help it sink in faster. No one cares what you can do in the gym. They only care what you can do for others. When talking about your profession, focus on how you made client X feel...the changes in her attitude and lifestyle that you have a direct impact on. No on cares that you got her to deadlift 155 or high jump a 30" box. Talk about things that show you are empathetic and impact the human spirit. Those are things people "on the outside" can relate to.

10.) Be real on social media.
Transparency is a rare blue diamond. Rare and once it is in your possession, is very powerful. It is rare because it is hard work to be yourself on social media sites. However, if you project that you are a "real" person and "down to earth"; you may very well get respect from people without ever meeting them in person. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

5 Things That Will Kill the Personal Training Industry Within the Next 10Years

I will tell you something very private. Sometimes I want to leave the personal training field altogether.

It is a out-of-control, diseased animal that has not been able to cement its feet into a career choice taken seriously by outsiders. 
But after over 13 years, I still feel obligated to "take care of my backyard". The field I have chosen is the field that I enjoy, but grow increasingly frustrated with on a more frequent basis. Sure, there is the obvious...that the personal training field lacks any type of state licensure and uniform regulations. This is the main culprit to the eventual demise of the personal training field. The 5 things that are going to kill the industry are a result of the "wild, wild west" this profession has become. The fact that the personal training field has no "fixed" path to gaining respect among the storied careers out there, is the very reason that these 5 things will slowly chip away at it. Eventually, it will dissolve into nothing more than a "job"--no different than working at your local fast food restaurant or waiting tables as a summer fling.

1.) Online Universities & Colleges, Secondary College Courses, and Online Certification Companies 
You've seen them...online universities and online college courses that market their incredibly convenient ways to earn a degree that is time efficient and respected. Online education has become very popular over the last decade. Since the boom in technology and internet use, more people are choosing to shell out thousands of dollars for an online education through a warehouse university...ahem...I mean a online university because of the freedom it bestows on the end-user.

Online universities and college courses are for the most part...the lazy man's method to earning a degree from a school no one has ever heard of. Now don't get me wrong...there are some very good online education platforms that graduates have done a very good job of learning from. However, again...it is really up to the end-user: the student. My problem with online education is many of these online universities are nothing more than office-housed small businesses that feed off of career-confused people. Their courses are overly priced webinars and discussion forums with quizzes throw in. Lots of reading.with some access to the instructor. Again, most of this education is taken place in front of the computer monitor and not inside a gym. They are also devoid of any student interaction, networking and practical play.

Secondary colleges are institutes that attract people who are un-decided about choosing a 4-year matriculated course. They provide education on professions like truck engine repair, becoming a medical assistant and medical coding. Over the last 5 years, many have begun offering personal training. I have been teaching a course for a community college since 2002. As an instructor, there have been many times I was pressured by the college administration to "pass the majority of students". Why? Their thought (from what I presumed) is "if students fail the course,  the majority of future students will not enroll in the classes". And that means a loss of dollars for the school. So, from my standpoint I've had a very tough time passing students that I don't believe have adequately learned anything from the classes I teach. Thus, the school does request a different instructor from time to time to get a different perspective than mine. Over the years, I've bumped heads with administrators; however,  they respect my ability to teach very effectively and my tenure has earned me staying power.

2.) Internet Marketing and the"Get Rich Quick" Image
Internet marketing in fitness that is largely targeted to personal trainers has been around for over 14 years. The problem with the industry is that many young, vibrant trainers are entering the field with minimal to no experience and wanting to make $1000 a week. So, marketers see this blood in the water. As sharks they come running and designing marketing products and promotions to entice young trainers into buying a $400 product that delivers ZERO results. NOTE: When I mention a "young" trainer, I am referencing trainers that are "green" or "young" in the field. This is not age-related. 

There is a tendency to enter the field and make tons of money. The truth is--the personal training field really stands on the shoulders of coaches and trainers that have put in the work over the years. The research and the methods that have been tried and true are what we base our programs on. And results come in time. And so does the money. The problem is, many buy into schemes and trickery to make money within the first 6 months of business. And it never works and never sustains for long. 

3.) Trainers with a Lack of Empathy
Today's society has lost a bit of "connectivity" with its neighbor...blame it on technology, TV or bad news. Walk into any restaurant and see friends sitting at tables staring into their cell phones rather than engaging in conversation. Walk into any gym and you see 99% of lifters with headphones on. This lack of communication has spawned our inability to treat others with respect, dignity and courtesy. Many young trainers don't have the properly developed skills of listening and coaching people through an emotional  process like physique alteration. Many don't possess the "been there, done that" characteristic that sets other coaches apart. Today, trainers recite what they've learned in textbooks or what others have said. And the emotional component behind coaching is not there. Empathy for a client will really take you to a path of results and long-lasting friendship. However, today I am fearful to say it is missing.

4.) Commercial Gyms
Commercial gym care about one thing: profit. People do not understand the amount of money it takes to run a large commercial gym up to 24 hours a day. One commercial gym I managed had a monthly electric bill of $26,000. It was a 30K square foot facility with numerous cardio machines, TV, tanning booths, music systems, lights, lights, and more lights. In order to survive, commercial gyms have to fill their facilities up with members. Now, membership will off-set some of the expenses, but to really survive  it must convert members into training clients for profits. This added revenue will ensure longevity and success. Commercial gyms do not pay trainers adequately. They pay minimally. Hence,  the reason why the profit margins are high for personal training departments because a client pays $350 for 10 sessions and the trainer only gets paid $15 for each. That equates to $200 going to the club. Highway robbery. Gyms look for new trainers with no experience and freshly certified. These trainers do not have high payroll expectations and therefore, are hired quickly. They are typically trained "in-house" through software, webinars and sales companies and their exercise/coaching knowledge is minuscule. This really chases away good trainers and polarizes them into building their own small businesses. Commercial gyms have the money and power to create larger programs than the small boutique training studio or the bootcamp class run at the local park---therefore, the good, experienced trainer becomes a victim of globo gym's reign.  

5.) P90X, Insanity and Other DVD Workout Sets
Since the popularity of P90X, there has been an influx of people using those exercises in the gym and in their homes. These DVDs have literally "taught" everyday joe-schmoes how to exercise using just their body-weight and chin-up bars. Once people view these DVDs, they believe that as they become proficient in each exercise; they can teach others how to perform them too. I applaud anyone that makes the commitment to exercise in their home or in the gym and makes a successful change in body composition. But it does not mean if you complete watching these DVD program,  it make the person "eligible" to coach others. This is a multi-million dollar industry and really challenges the personal trainer because the DVDs are cheaper, can be stored, resold, and watched repeatedly. In essence, if we all watched YouTube videos on how to fix a leaky faucet, would we all become plumbers? That is what these DVD sets are manifesting into...people completing these programs...getting results....and feeling that they are qualified to be a coach. This self-teaching is what gave personal trainers a bad rap in the eighties.

So there you have it. I don't have any solutions to these factors. I hope I've created an awareness. Now, you've been warned.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Use Mirrors in My Facility (And Don't Care if Your Guru Doesn't)

Many strength coaches shun the idea of hanging wall mirrors up in their facility. Many of the top strength & conditioning facilities don't install mirrors on their walls. Why? Search me....

I don't train athletes...I am like you...although you probably try to be like them. I train the general population--your mom, dad, neighbor, boss, aunt, doctor, etc, etc.  Most personal trainers train the general population. Very few train "athletes'. I mean, full-fledged athletes.

My assumption is most big, bad strength & conditioning facilities shun mirrors because it makes the place look prissy...like a commercial gym atmosphere. And we know what that environment entails: no deadlifts, cardio bunnies, and dumbbells that end at 60 pounds. Wall mirrors make the place look inviting, friendly and open. Mounted wall mirrors also put the emphasis on aesthetics...which can be a double-edged sword for those that have self-image issues.

I mounted mirrors up for specific reasons. I like mirrors for the general population because I think it is an added tool to my coaching.

1.) Mirrors enable me to observe my clients in action from a "third person" point of view.
When you coach clients through technical lifts or even simple movements, it is important to get constant feedback. Observation of an exercise is the constant feedback a trainer needs to direct the program effectively. This feedback enhances the workout session because you are able to assess the amount of improvement and efficiency in your client's exercise execution.

Checking out a client's form in front of mirror together reinforces team-work. It visualizes coaching. It creates a commitment imagery. At that time, the mirror is a tool and is not a "weapon" of embarrassment. Also, I like to observe my clients as they are in front of me--but also at different angles. I am notorious for keeping an Eagle Eye on my clients as they are training. As they squat, I contort my body so that I can view their body in the mirror at different angles. By the last few reps, I position myself again behind them for assistance and spotting.

I don't like exercise form when it deteriorates and if being able to watch from different angles helps me help my clients--than I am all for it. Today, most coaches video tape exercises and assessments to view later or repeatedly. To me, that is mirroring without a pause and rewind option.

2.) Mirrors force clients to face their struggles.
At first, there is an awkwardness when a non-exerciser begins to strain and push in front of a mirror. They don't like it. It makes them uncomfortable. It may increase their anxiety and draw them away from exercise. But if coached effectively with compassion, fortitude and strength--that same client will begin to face their struggles and visualize their efforts through their progress. 

I truly believe that when people exercise HARD in front of a mirror and make every grunt and strain count, they build a sense of confidence. There has been many times over the years, that I have seen the facial expressions [made by clients] and you can see the level of confidence rise. This is an important facet in personal training. If the client's confidence does not improve over time, their time with you will surely end soon.

3.) Mirrors help teach body awareness.
Athletes understand body awareness. They understand certain movement facilitate certain actions of their sport that will help them excel. The general population does not understand body awareness very well. To a typical non-exerciser, body awareness equates to knowing which remote control buttons to press in the dark. Training with constant body awareness cues can change that. I prefer to point out, talk through, and interact with the client [in front of the mirror] during a certain exercise. On lighter sets,  this is the best time to focus on the deviations that may occur and cue the client to make the changes necessary to clean up the lift. After this is done, constantly reinforcing the same cues helps the client develop that awareness so that it carries over to everyday life. And that is what makes every personal trainer's job easier.

Monday, September 9, 2013

3 Unintended Mistakes of the Plank That Can Destroy (Not Build) Your Core

I'm the type of person that when everyone starts doing the same thing...I want to do the opposite or do something different. It's like when I was younger and a certain rock band became popular. Everyone was wearing the T-shirts and singing the songs. I immediately, looked for another band to take over my radio.

Lately, I have begun to dislike planks. The plank exercise has become a "cure for all" exercise in the fitness industry and continues to be 'butchered' in all aspects of fitness including group exercise classes, bootcamps and rehabilitation. In this post, I'm going to explore--from a personal trainer's point of view--why and how this exercise gets butchered. Planks became popular in the late 1990's as one of the first exercises associated with "working the core".

But does it really work the core for those that abuse it?

I've seen planks performed in bootcamp classes and in small-training groups; and the focus of the exercise always seems to revolve around maintaining the position for an extended period of time. Holding the plank position for an extended period of time has become the goal or pillar of the exercise. In my opinion, focusing on time loses the initiative and purpose of the exercise. Many trainers and coaches are the culprits of this. Many instructors and facilities will hold "contests" with participants to compete against each other to hold the plank position for upwards to 10 minutes! (Sorry to the owner of the video below):

As a trainer that has used and continues to use the plank in many programs, I will be the first to tell you that no one needs to hold the plank for more than 2 minutes. Any longer than that, and its just plain boring.

Why do I say this? Because I understand that once a 2-minute benchmark has been reached, fatigue takes over and allows compensatory patterns to flood the exercise. It's like having a party at your house and inviting someone that you know is kind-of-a-jerk. Once he arrives to the party, he brings four or five of his jerk friends. Next thing you know, your party went from having one jerk to five jerks. Now your party is gonna suck. In the spirit of group training, planks are fun for finishers and "tests" of will. However, the question beckons: Are trainers taking two steps back from three steps taken forward with this exercise?

 Let's explore what typical problems are seen when someone performs a plank:

 1.) The Hip Hiker Plank

 I typically see the hip-hiker in overweight or deconditioned people. The core is a musculature unit that reaches a threshold when it is forced to isometrically contract against a fixed object. In this case, the floor is the fixed object during a plank. When it reaches it's threshold--which is individualistic depending on a person's fitness level--a compensatory effect consummates. In the hip-hiker, the hips rise up to a level that takes stress off the abdominal wall and lower back. With the butt positioned higher than the shoulder girdle, much of the stress is put on the shoulders and arms.

For reference, if hip-hiking is observed, it is advisable to instruct the user to simply stop the exercise and "reset" or "take a break".

 2.) The Upper Body Dominant Plank

I see this alot in people with overly developed chest, deltoids and abdominals. From a quick glance, you would think it is an acceptable plank, but a keen eye will uncover major deviations which takes the focus off of core stability. Clients with strong "anterior chains" (front muscles) will make up for a weak inner unit by allowing the extrinsic muscles to perform the bulk of the work. This is usually seen when the scapulae is abducted so that the lats (upper back) and serratus must hold the position. In this poor position, stability doesn't come from the core, it is provided by the pectorals, lats, and hip flexors.

When one is strong in the upper body, there will be evidence of over-active cervical flexors (front of neck). Thus, this creates the protruding chin and head position once in the plank. What I like to do with clients that exhibit this is focus on a total body flexibility program with some foam rolling. I don't even bother with planks at this point.

 3.) The Sagging Hips Plank

Sagging hips are the opposite of the previously mentioned "hip hiker". This plank position is the best "tell-tale" sign of core weakness and lack of muscle control/coordination. The two strongest points in this lengthened lever position are the ends. The middle equates to a rope bridge found in the jungles of the Amazon.

The lumbar spine receives a brute of the stress in this position, and is counter-productive of the purpose of the exercise. With clients that exhibit this position, I typically begin with teaching them how to "brace the abs" in a standing position. From there, we follow up with a shortened lever position of a plank. The person is instructed to bend the knees and try the plank again. If the hips still begin to sag or the client complains of lower back discomfort, we will use a wall. With the wall plank, I will have the client stand with the feet (facing the wall) further away from the wall than the upper-body. The arms will be in the same position as a floor plank (on the wall), and we will again, try re-educate the "bracing effect". I have had success with both versions.

 At first glance, the plank doesn't seem like an intricate exercise. To an experienced and watchful coach, the plank holds as much complexity as a clean and jerk or deadlift. Most facilities and coaches must stop from pressuring their clients to hold planks for ridiculous amounts of time. The nervous system is very adaptable when it comes to repetitive actions. Good or bad. Some trainers and facilities may be doing more harm than good with this simple drill. Personally, I have seen people that exhibit 2 out of 3...or all three...deviations in the plank.

Being a great fan of Juan Carlos Santana --not the musician, but the fitness professional--I firmly believe that all exercises can serve as assessments. In times when a client cannot execute a great plank; it is best to simply use the drill as an assessment tool. I know what you are thinking....but it's not one of the Functional Movement Screens?? Truth be told, most exercises can be used as assessments. And the plank is no different.  I use three rules:

1.) Use your eyes to assess what deviations are obviously present. 
Put down the score sheet and observe the movement as a whole. Stop wasting your time staring at one piece of the puzzle and look at the exerciser as a whole. Watch what areas effect what.

2.) Respect fatigue as a factor when assessing.
Fatigue is a factor that no one really talks about at length in exercise programming. I think its a piece of programming that has to be respected. Any activity performed in daily life involves fatigue and threshold. Any activity that involves contracting muscles in tension for periods of time and cardio-respiratory threshold will greatly affect performance and injury potential. I discussed this topic at length in one of my videos back in 2007:

3.) Lastly, remember that it doesn't have to look perfect...it just has to look better than the last time it was performed.
It is always about progress....not score sheets. If its ugly, I want to make it look pretty. Unlike your prom date, it will take some time. So practice a little patience and keep your client motivated!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

3 Types of Clients I Tend to Stay Very Far Away From in My Buisness

When you own a business and work for yourself, there are some advantages and disadvantages to choosing the clients that you want to work with. Let's face it, some clients are great to work with and some are not so much. In a gym, you have a boss breathing down your neck; it is kinda difficult to refuse working with certain clients. To a boss,  the bottom line is the most important factor when it comes to accepting  a new client. The boss only cares about adding to monthly revenues.  If you meet a potential client that comes across as a reckless addition to your roster, there can be retribution from your manager for refusing to accept that client. That client is a dollar sign. And if you do not accept that dollar sign into your client roster--the boss, sees it as a dollar sign missing from the much bigger bottom line.

It is a tough situation to be in. Every small business owner needs cash-flow, but wants to work with people that make training fun, energetic, and worthwhile. A true fitness trainer enjoys working with people that are focused on transformation. It makes the process rewarding to the trainer and redefines the coach each time.

Nonetheless, I have discovered three types of clients that I refuse to work with. When I meet these types of clients, red flags go up in my head immediately and I question whether I should accept them into my training schedule. 

1.) Clients that only and constantly ask me about supplements.
I don't mind certain supplements, but I know that they simply help or assist in training and performance. Supplements are the the "sand grains" of training -- not the rocks or boulders of any training program. When I meet a person that wants to train with me and they constantly mention or ask me about a certain supplement, I tend to suspect they are into quick and easy.  Quick and easy are two verbs that are rotting the essence of hard work in this country--let alone the fitness industry. People that solely rely on the compelling cases supplement companies make regarding their effects and results tend to steer clear of hard work and patience. And hard-work and patience are two qualities needed in any program to make it effective. 

If you want to ask me what types of supplements do I even recommend to a client? I will tel you that I only request that a client begins taking these supplements at least 3 months into training. They include a multi-vitamin; protein shake or meal-replacement; and maybe, maybe creatine...if you fit the right profile. 

Anything else warrants hard work and patience as a prescription.

2.) Clients that have had problems with other trainers in the past.
I'm sorry, but if a person talks endlessly about the problems she or he had with trainers in the past; chances are you will have a problem with them too. I once had a woman meet with me that was interested in training with me. Throughout the consultation, she talked about personal problems she had with her last 2 male trainers She spoke about how they wouldn't return messages or voice-mails; and how they kept discussions short with her. She classified it as "bad customer service"; but in my eyes, it seemed that those trainers were being cautious. People that have emotional or mental disturbances, usually have poor communications skills. My assumptions told me that this lady--who happened to be in her late forties and single, was a time-bomb waiting to explode. I took her on as a client for 2 weeks. Within the first 2 weeks, I was bombarded with voice-mails and emails from her asking me every single question. Questions about training that I had covered with her during the session. However, I think she felt a bit lonely and wanted to some human interaction and hence, called me numerous times. After the 9th call, I sent her a email saying that her payments would be refunded and I would no longer take her on as a client. I never heard from her again.

3.) Clients that talk my ears off about politics or religion.
Two topics that I don't expound on you includes my political views and my faith. Whatever your beliefs are on those two sensitive subjects are for you and you only. When you begin to share them with me relentlessly without any concern for my stance on the subject...that's when I draw the line. When clients banter about their political views and religion without taking the careful steps not to offend, insult or ridicule the very beliefs of the person that they share the same room with--its a sure sign that they are selfish, close-minded, and inconsiderate.

Politics and religion  are great conversation starters...much like talking about the weather. But when discussions get the talker stirred and riled up; it is usually a sign that they don't have anyone else to talk to. Their opinions on certain matters fall on deaf ears. And it is my assumption that they fall on deaf ears because of the delivery. Most educated people when talking about sensitive things like politics and religion, usually will preface the conversation with, "I hope this doesn't offend you"...or "is it okay if I talk about religion or God?". A preface usually does the trick and shows consideration. Some talkers usually get it when the conversation is no longer reciprocated and the awkwardness prevails. That is the time to drop the subject.

Me...I typically, keep my mouth shut and hope that they get my hint.If they continue to ramp on and on about a subject that I am not in agreement in or offends me, I will let them know. However, bare in mind, that these types of things will change a relationship. So think about it without losing your cool.