When someone shared this article with me, written by a Oliver Cummings out of the UK, it summed up this experience better than I could, because he lived it. I learnt from reading the article he fitted the description to a T- a post 2000 entrant to the industry, and he got caught up what most if not all post 2000 newbies got caught up in. To his credit it looks like he has begun the long journey back from this, and in his own words, its been a long road back.
A question I have of those who suffered this fate, this post-2000 intake or cohort - can the mind ever be emptied enough recover from the information they absorbed during this decade when they were so malleable?
Here’s the article, and here’s the authors contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Part 1 of 2. After a conversation with some clients this past week about training methods and a younger trainer last week who asked me about some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made during the last 12 years of coaching, I thought I’d share some of these.
1) Becoming a Functional Trainer specialising in movement patterns. After graduating in 2002, I went on and got my fitness qualifications to work in a gym and quickly found out I didn’t know much so I started reading lots of books on the latest wave of training that was hitting the states – functional training. Shit I was doing it all wrong, barbell curls and any form of sit ups were now on the banned list. So off I went to Canada after devouring the previous 12 months study material to get qualified as a Functional Trainer. From squatting on swiss balls, doing single leg work on wobble boards, stability cushions, to lunging in every angle imaginable with a rotational twist always involved, sometimes even blindfolded..yip that was the “advanced stage..”, and performing countless core drills and exercises to activate the transversus abdominis and other core muscles I didn’t know existed, I wore that t-shirt loud and proud. Apparently my clients and myself were using corrective exercise to improve how our body’s functioned in real life. All this twisting and bending was how we were meant to move as human beings. And I was sold the idea that there would be a transfer over to speed and strength due to being able to recruit my stabilisers much more effectively. Result? Strength and power went backwards, and the back pain that some of my clients and myself were suffering from at that time got worse. This was back in 2003-2004. That shit never worked then and doesn’t work now, no matter how much the new governing body selling their certification program try to convince us.
2) The assessment guy. As part of becoming a functional trainer who now specialised in movement patterns, I needed be able to assess and correct. This consisted of a comprehensive assessment of posture, balance, flexibility, and movement assessments. The assessment took 1 -2 hours to complete for one person which bored the life out of clients, myself included if I’m being honest.
The results of the assessments were now showing that most of my clients and myself were dysfunctional in some way or another– from leg length differences to over tight muscle groups, shoulders not being level on either side, too much forward head carriage, to core being weak and a lot more. The results highlighted red flags which now needed priority in programme design and prevented me from giving clients a lot of the traditional lifts in the gym, these big compound lifts could now kill us. Training programmes were now called Corrective Exercise programmes and consisted of 4 phases of development lasting 6-8 weeks each before you were allowed to pick anything heavy up off the floor. By the end of stage 4 you had lost the will to live never mind lift heavy.
What I’ve learned from experience is that every training session is a testing session. Coaching involves observing clients closely – looking at how their body moves while they perform the warm up and during the training session itself. Things can be corrected on the spot with proper coaching cues. For Gaelic players and soccer players, with a sound athletic programme in place that accounts for structural balance there is no need to spend 4-8 weeks focusing primarily on movement prep and core activation work. All these things can be part of the overall programme but not at the expense of getting the real job done in the weights room – developing explosive strength and power.
With all the work going into FMS and core work over the past few years there seems to be little carryover in preventing injuries going by the global epidemic in sports injuries. As an observation after doing a few thousand hours of assessing normal clients and Gaelic players, a lot of the movement tests can be learned in a relatively short period of time. I still assess all new clients but the difference now and back then is that I’m more specific on what I’m testing for whether it’s a sports person looking to improve speed or a new client with a long term injury. Most of the time all I want to see if there is a major difference between left and right, and if pain exists when they move. After that were good to train.
3) Buying into the whole core myth. This ties in with the first two points. Spending an extensive part of your training time strengthening and activating the core muscles means nothing if your ankles, hamstrings, or neck are weak. Where can all this new core strength go? Your ankles are continually breaking down, your hamstrings are tearing every other game and you think training the core will correct these problems. Fantasy land. I used to believe this too until I found much more effective ways of training for both injury prevention and performance.
Here’s another thing, if you’re sucking your core in to activate your transversus when doing any form of athletic or core training you are destabilising the spine and making the core weaker. If you’re being taught to do this by a physio or anyone else like I was years ago in my functional trainer days then you need to direct them to the work of Dr Stuart McGill a professor of spine biomechanics who has done extensive research on patients and elite athletes with back injuries. Ask any boxer to suck in his abs when punching or when being punched to see his response, or a powerlifter at the bottom of a squat or deadlift – that weight won’t be coming back up again. Instead learn to brace the abs. Squeezing a crap activates the abs more than all that “suck your belly button in” nonsense. Train the abs just like any other body part, no need to specialise unless there is a major weakness, and don’t forget to blast the lower back, when it gets stronger the whole mid-section does too.
4) Joining the Anti-Stretching Establishment. At the time of studying for a sports science degree the research was coming out that static stretching did not reduce injuries and it actually decreased power output if performed before a training session. So I basically stopped stretching and focused instead on dynamic warm up movements. Problem was I sitting all day at university, my hips were becoming chronically tighter, and doing 10-15 minutes of dynamic movements only loosened them up for the training session ahead but did not correct the tightness that was restricting movement. And in today’s day and age this is a common theme for people who drive to work and sit all day over an office desk.
As with any type of training there’s a time and place for all types of stretching. If certain muscles are experiencing chronic tightness get them stretched statically and hold the stretch for 2-5 minutes, 15 second holds don’t cut it as most of us have experienced. Other muscles not as tight can be stretched dynamically, with bands or with PNF.
As much as strength training can enhance athleticism and improve a person’s physique, I’ve learned to incorporate a lot more stretching into the programmes over the years as opposed to 100% dynamic based stretching, and as a result seen a reduction in soft tissue injuries, better range of movement at the bottom of squats and other lower limb exercises and an improvement in stride length while sprinting especially with Gaelic players. For clients pressed for time, static stretching for the lower body specifically the hip area can be performed between rest intervals during upper body training sessions to accommodate training economy. And for coaches who overthink about calming the parasympathetic nervous system down too much doing all this static stretching then weigh out the pros and cons. Having banged up hips from years of sports training won’t benefit performance.
5) Training every client for body composition goals and thinking they need to be at an impressively low level of bodyfat to gain recognition as a trainer who knows what I’m doing. I fell into the trap of thinking every client had my goals – which was to be as lean as possible at all times during the year. Problem was I wasn’t listening to what their goals truly were. If you were a male I wanted you at 10-12% or below bodyfat and if you were a female 15-20%. And in the process I don’t want you having a life away from the gym because that means you won’t hit those figures. And we got to get you in there in 12 weeks or less.
What I’ve learned is that not every client wants to walk about lean or ripped. Some clients just want to get healthier, lose weight to look respectable, and be able to train 3-4 times weekly to feel good about themselves. For quite a few this is much better than doing nothing at all to improve their health or fitness. Being satisfied overweight and not getting healthier or improving fitness levels is not what I’m talking about here, going to the extreme of not being able to eat out and enjoy food on the banned list for 3-6 months is. For competitive athletes, and females and males getting ready for figure or bodybuilding competitions who I have dealt with that’s a whole different ball game. And clients who sign up specifically for a transformation challenge obviously the guidelines are a lot stricter.
But for people new to fitness and those already involved who don’t want the extreme approach the key is compliance and to find what is sustainable long term while keeping the client involved in fitness, otherwise we lose them.
As a side note to this, back in my body composition days, I used to keep my subcutaneous bodyfat at no higher than 12% year round, because I needed to be able to do it myself and to gain respect from clients who would see that if I can be relatively lean all year then I must know what I’m doing. My theory was true to a certain extent but over time I’ve found that the reality is 9 times out of 10, clients or potential clients don’t care if a trainer has a six pack or not. Looking like a sack of shit obviously isn’t a good advertisement for business, being in shape is and can help..a bit. BUT the only thing they truly want to know is can we help them achieve what their looking for. If you’re a new trainer on the scene – that means 3 years or less and you think the current trend on social media of showing what you ate for breakfast and displaying how lean your serratus anterior is I’ve got news for you – clients don’t give one shit. That does not inspire or motivate or help get you new clients.
Arriving at Westside Barbell in Columbus Ohio back in 2008 to spend 2 weeks with Louis Simmons, and after spending the previous year or so training Westside style and mixing it with a strict paleo diet which I had been eating anyway since 2004, Louie shook my hand welcomed me into the gym and asked me if I was a tennis player. Thanks Louie. So much for getting lean.
6) The ball buster. I’ll keep this brief. Training should be conducted with proper intensity and positive stress should be applied at a progressive rate over time so as to get an adaptation response. If too much stress is applied overtime and the person struggles to adapt to the new stress then signs and symptoms of over-reaching can start to show up. That’s when it’s time to back off. If every session is the ball buster, harder than last time, longer than last time etc then progress stalls. We eventually set people up for failure. Being the hardest trainer in town delivering the hardest sessions in town is the one of the first mistakes the new trainer makes to create an impression and looking back I did it too. Not that my sessions are any easier now or less intense, the difference is periodisation of intensity and volume over 4-8-12 weeks periods to get the best possible training outcome. When delivering sessions now I’m asking myself, will this help and progress the client or leave them so tired and fatigued they have a hard time recovering from it. Training clients into a state of exhaustion seems to be a current trend in the fitness industry whereby if they are not on their back wiped out at the end of it the session then it wasn’t productive. From a recovery point of view this is called bullshit. My primary role is to provide a safe and effective coaching environment, and to help a client, not exhaust them. Having a team of paramedics land at one of the gyms I was working at before soon taught me a lesson to calm the fuck down with clients. The minimal effective dose to get the best training response is always the best method. Anything beyond that is a waste of time and messes with the whole recovery process - that forgotten piece of the training process where we do nothing but do the most important thing.
7) The more I learn the less I know. Becoming too emotionally attached to one style of training was something that I suffered from years ago. I’ve invested a fair chunk of my income since 2002 on certification programmes, seminars, workshops, and in private internships, not to mention taking time off from work to shadow coaches at the top of their game in NFL, professional boxing, English and Welsh rugby, and functional nutrition/medicine in America, Canada, and Europe. I look back at the early days and realise that with the few strength and conditioning, nutrition and fitness qualifications I had gained, some good others not so good, that I was becoming attached to certain styles of training and nutrition. Why?
It’s all I knew at the time and I had just spent a fair amount of money and time getting qualified in them so I did become emotionally attached to some of them. Plus I went to these courses and internships to learn with an open mind which I still do, but at the beginning I opened my mind up too much to new ideas that my brain nearly fell out. The old saying that a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous is so true in the fitness industry and hands up it applied to me before. I look at some trainers today who have been in the industry less than 3-5 years which is nothing and they fall into the same trap of believing everything they have been taught in the weekend certification programme they attended or the 4 year sport science degree they have recently completed or worse the latest e-book. Now when I attend seminars or complete certification programmes
I’m looking for that 5-10% piece of information that I feel could be valuable and can be integrated into my system of training. I’m not looking to radically change everything come Monday morning when back at work, I’m looking to fit different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together so that I can now offer a better way of getting results with clients or teams. Having interned with some of the best coaches in the world and applied their methods over a 12-13 year period I’ve a bit of an idea of what works now and what doesn’t and in comparison to 10 years ago I’m much better at detecting bullshit when I’m looking at new methods from both certification programmes and coaches. I’m still searching for answers to stuff I haven’t figured out and there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t figured out yet.
8) Gurus are a dime a dozen. This follows on from the last point. If you’re a new trainer then you need to learn fast that nobody has all the answers. I used to believe every word that came out of some coaches mouths but found that when I applied some of the information it didn’t work, sometimes results got worse, and sometimes their advice accelerated results greatly. It all gets back to the famous Bruce Lee quote “absorb what is useful, discard what is not.” Every coach has flaws, every training programme has flaws, nothing perfect exists in the training world no matter what the guru tells us or the latest up and coming coach who has had a bit of success over the last 3 year period. The world of strength and conditioning does not begin and end with any one person’s methods no matter how successful they have become. The key is to learn from different coaches and see what works for yourself in your environment.
How do you pick a coach to learn from? Here’s a few tips. Look at their background. How many years have they been coaching? Anything less than 5-7 and be careful. What is their track record? What coaches at the top did they learn from themselves and how many? Success leaves clues. Pick people who have had success, have been in the industry for a respectable period of time, and have learned a lot from other successful coaches at the top themselves.
Bonus tip – being successful on social media platforms and having a good few thousand raving fans and likes means nothing. As for online coaches who have more online clients than people in real life, that isn’t coaching. That’s cutting and pasting programmes and sending it off to the new online client. The best coaches who I have learned from, you won’t find on social media, ever. They are too busy in the real world coaching some of the best athletes in the world. That’s not to say there aren’t any top coaches on the internet, there’s quite a few using the internet to get their information out there. The problem is there is a lot of bullshitters using social media to make themselves look like experts. If their blogging and answering questions on the internet at peak gym times Monday to Friday then you got to question who the hell their coaching in real life.
9) The business of fitness marketing. During the whole time of interning, and attending seminars and courses the common piece of business advice from a lot of the coaches was that when you start to produce results the clients will soon knock on the door. This is partly true and to this day a fair chunk of my business whether it is individuals or teams still comes from referrals which I am always thankful for. There have been times in the past however when business was really bad. Leaving a gym I had worked at for 6 years in 2009 to start working in another gym resulted in losing quite a few clients due to the new gym being geographically too far away to travel for a lot of clients. After quickly discovering that thinking good thoughts and spreading love and positivity out into the universe didn’t attract new clients it gave me a good kick up the arse to start reading reality books like business and marketing. Something that I felt I didn’t need to know and actually hated the thought of to be honest, but it needed to be done as I was self-employed and running a personal training business meant if I didn’t have clients I didn’t get paid and just like everyone else I had bills to pay.
Fast forward 6 years later and I still haven’t really applied anywhere near the amount of the marketing info that I have learned but have become a lot more clued up on the overall business side of things and now appreciate the value of understanding and knowing my numbers, tracking, and generally keeping account of everything. I have during this time read and followed leading figures in the fitness marketing side of things, and have signed up and paid quite a bit for business mentorship programmes. Having already learnt from my past mistakes on the training side of things, I was now able to make a good decision whether Coach X from sunshine coast in some part of America (who I had never heard of before) and was promising to show the secrets to getting more clients than you can handle and earning a 6 figure annual income was legit or a fraud.
I’ve put 6 figure in as it’s the common trend in their advertisements. Their mystical methods that had them running massively successful gyms and bootcamps yet they decided to sell up and teach their principles to gullible personal trainers because there must be more money in that, or they didn’t actually run a successful business at all. What you will find with a lot of these fitness marketing gurus and companies is that 90% of their information products comes from basic books on business and marketing, with the language slightly changed to suit fitness. If you want to learn more about business do yourself a favour and read anything by Michael E. Gerber or Michael Port before you blow money on some guy who for all we know could be and likely is running an imaginary 6 figure business while sitting with his laptop in the bedroom of his parent’s house.
There are however really good business coaches out there who have and still do run successful gyms and other fitness businesses. Find one stick to his methods and don’t get lost amongst all the rest of the noise.
The key point to understand if you’re new to the industry - learn your trade first then study business but don’t leave it to 8 years down the line like I did. But get a handle of the basic business stuff from day one as it will help. On the other hand if you know more about Instagram and other forms of social media than you do about proper programme design and coaching then your priorities are all wrong.
A really good tip for letting people know you’re a trainer on Facebook is to do the following. Go on a diet that absolutely kills you for 12-16 weeks, knock some strong fat burners and whatever else down the neck during this time, train cardio on an empty stomach 5 mornings weekly and weight train in the afternoon. I’m assuming you’re in your twenties and have no family commitments or anything outside of the gym to distract you – you know like real life stuff. Once you’ve leaned out get the fake tan on and get a photo shoot done.
Once you’ve nailed that now you can start advertising for clients on social media. Here’s the rules. Peter Thomas after your name and designer boxer shorts for the profile pic. Daily motivational quotes will now be the norm from here on in not to mention pictures of your breakfast just for extra inspiration. And remember to hit that beast mode button after every training session just in case we forgot about your AM workout that happened 4 hours beforehand. Now go search for that ideal high end client who will stick to your realistic guidelines for getting in shape. Marketing made simple.
That’s pretty much it, I could go into much more detail on any of the above points and I could share much more but I honestly haven’t got the time. Hopefully the new kids on the block learnt something and the more experienced guys in the industry can associate with some of the points.
To finish off I just want to let any coaches know my internship programme will be starting in January 2016. Level 1 National Trainer will last for one weekend and if you pass all practical and written exams you can proceed to Level 2 International Master Trainer which will take 2 weekends to complete. Once you complete Master Trainer Level 2 after 2 weekends you will have your name put up as an affiliated link on my website. This will help clients in your local area find you. But if you don’t reinvest into the programme and retake exams within a 2 year period I will take your name down off the website because I’ll be teaching completely different material in 2 years, and what you were taught 2 years previous to this won’t work anymore. This is the way a lot of fitness qualifications are done now so my Master Trainer Award will be no different. Get signed up on the link below."