Monday, September 2, 2013

What Is A Modern Trainer Supposed To Do?

Weight and chronic pain

The modern fitness professional is dealing with different issues from years past

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

There is this "old school" mentality in the industry. All people need to do is lift weights and run a lot and they will get in "shape." This isn't just what the general population thinks, this is also what most trainers and fitness professionals think.

"You tried running and you didn't lose weight? Did you try running more?"

"You tried eating less calories and it didn't work, did you try eating even less calories?"

"That hurts when you do that? Well maybe if we lift heavier things, something will get stronger and the pain will go away."

"They don't need help with how they move or their pain, they don't need help with their eating, we are exercise overseers, and they just need to be taught how to use the gym equipment."

This is that "old school" mentality, and they are wrong and they see the amount or work it would take to become experts in these fields and most fitness professionals would rather avoid it if they could, because it's been working for them so far.

But their idea of old school is wrong, people like Jack LaLanne and many others of the old era understood that everything was important. Something about the 80's to today, we kind of lost track as more money started flooding into the industry...

It's no wonder many clients first walk in thinking, "I just need someone to show me a few exercise and I can do the rest all on my own. And I can probably learn all that from training once a week or every two weeks all while getting training with my spouse or best friend."

But the truth is, you do need more. And the trainer needs to provide more.
"Do you do thirty minute sessions? Do you do semi-private or group classes? Can I come once a month? Can I just buy 3 sessions or one at a time?" 
So you barely need any individual attention, you don't need much practice or time spent learning, and you don't need that many sessions. Either you don't need a fitness professional/training program at all, or you have no idea what you need. And you want me to say yes, with one 30 minute session a month with your best friend, you can be fit in 90 days!

On a side note - here's a great article about the brain and poor decision making skills.

It wasn't so long ago that most humans were walking 20,000 steps a day or more. We were built for it. The modern Amish still walk 20,000 steps. The majority of the world still walks nearly 10,000 steps or more. We are trying to catch up with that, and you will hear doctors recommend getting 10,000 steps a day. But in the US the average is closer to 5,000 steps, places like Manhattan are higher, and places like Los Angeles (where I live) much lower.

People are struggling with getting 3-4 thousand steps a day, basically we are voluntarily giving ourselves the health problems of those in wheelchairs or in a coma. But we can fix that with one 30 minute session a month with a friend, with a trainer/exercise overseer. Oh our delightful decision making skills.

This begins to answer why we are so much fatter than other countries. I am using the term fat and not overweight because we aren't all gigantic hulking muscle bound mutants who are heavy because of the nature of our muscles. The problem is being over-fat, and that's not just a diet problem, but a lot of that is due to lack of movement.

In a study done in England (read the actual study: Functional Movement and Obesity), they found that children who moved more dysfunctionally were more likely to be obese. But its really a vicious cycle, if you can't move functionally, you are more likely to be obese. If you become more obese, you are more likely to move dysfunctionally (which makes you want to move less), which makes you more likely to be obese, and so on and so on.

Movement is the umbrella

Whether you do martial arts, aerobics, pilates, gymnastics, dance, weight training, CrossFit, or anything else, its all under the umbrella of movement. We don't just need to move more, we need to move better.

I have to ask my friends who think pilates, yoga, CrossFit, or even martial arts is a blanket answer to any health issue, did you get into that form of movement to become healthy and move better, or to be specialized in that one modality? If your intent was health and movement, then you didn't pursue this far enough, in fact you should never stop and learn as many movements as you can. We were built to move a lot, move well, and in every which way.

But obviously we don't move

And even if we do, we will over do it to try and compensate. And problems with our posture and movements become worse and worse.

Look at babies, they can do push ups, hold a plank, do a pull, a deep squat and they have yet to develop musculature. So what gives? They have also not had a chance to develop any dysfunction, they are a blank state ready for any movement. We are supposed to move better than infants, and many of us do move better. But a lot of us don't. How did they fall through the cracks? Especially when fitness is so popular?

Why does this matter?

If they can't move properly, they can't exercise properly. Period. It's not about the form, it's their inability to do the form. No point in yelling or bugging them that they aren't listening, there isn't something wrong with the driver, there is something wrong with the car. And in this case also something wrong with the mechanic (the trainer).

If a client has pain or they can't run properly, all they are doing is speed limping. The injury rate for running is higher than any other activity. The fitness professional MUST screen the client based on how they move, based on their posture, and address if the client has pain or not. It may not have been your job years ago, but it is now because people now live with more pain than ever. So much pain, they just think its part of life.

A good runner creates 2x their body weight of impact per step, but most runners create more like 3-5x their body weight per step. Are you strong enough to run? Do you know how to run properly?

A 5k on average has 2,500 steps. A 200lb average runner who runs at 3x their body weight of impact per step has accumulated 1,500,000lbs of load.

A lot of guys at the gym like to shadow box in front of the mirror, but that doesn't mean they know how to box. Popularity is not equal to skill set.

Let's say their goal is to lose weight.

No diet will work unless they change their behavior. It's not the lack of knowledge, its about changing habits. It's not about counting calories, its about managing cravings. If you have really strong cravings, its been a hard day, you are under a lot of stress, it doesn't matter what you know about diet, or how much will power you have, it will go out the window.

Now imagine all of that, except now you deal with daily pain, or a sore neck, tight shoulders, low back, stress, you don't want to get up from your desk, exercise just hurts. Then what happens? What happens to your ability to burn off calories? What happens to your calorie count? There's a reason people dealing with pain are often times overweight. And then that weight makes the pain worse, and it becomes a vicious cycle just like with functional movement and obesity. You are in pain, cravings get worse, and you want to move less, and you begin to HATE exercise.

Nearly every overweight client we had, who managed pain, lost weight.

Diet matters

In the past, trainers and other fitness professionals didn't have to talk about diet. I know the attitude has been, let the physical therapists handle the movement issues, let the nutritionist handle diet, and you will... Actually those are the two big issues, and if you can't handle that, the client really doesn't need you. Youtube can show them exercises and how to use gym equipment for free. They can get a coupon to try out some bootcamp or CrossFit or yoga class and learn in a week what you would have taught them anyway. So why do they need you? No one needs a damn exercise overseer, a personal cheerleader, a friend you rent by the hour, a flamboyant drill instructor, a wanabe actor trainer, or a crappy free therapist.

Look there are apps and DVDs that teach people how to exercise (maybe better than you can), why would they go to you if that's all its for? Plus how much time do you think the client has in a week? Go to you 3x a week, then also to a physical therapist or biomechanist, and then also to a nutritionist? You the fitness professional are out of your damn mind.

Your job description is where all of this converges, you are supposed to be the coach who handles all this or if its beyond your scope of practice, know people you can refer out to.

Experience is important but its not everything

Antiquated training ideas
Fitness folks are late adopters, slow to change, lost in the "good old days" syndrome.

The tyranny of old ideas:

"I remember the good old days when we just had to make them strong. What's with these new young kids with their degrees and their certifications and their learning, trying to change things, the client doesn't need all that."

Oh yes they do. And in the good old days they didn't have smart phones or blogs or have the human genome code cracked. Just because you have experience or been training yourself a long time doesn't mean you know what the hell you are talking about. Address the client, figure them out, don't base it off of what worked for you.

Just because you know how to feed yourself doesn't mean you know anything about nutrition. And just because you got yourself looking good doesn't mean you can do it for others. I graduated college, and I have no idea how to get others to graduate college, me doing it and someone else doing it have nothing to do with each other.

I said it before, practice makes permanence. If you've been a poor trainer for a long time, more experience in being a poor trainer just makes things worse. Poor trainer x 10 years of that practice of being poor = even crummier trainer.

Or even worse, you've been one of those creepy trainers who keeps getting creepier.

What do most trainers do when someone is having pain with a movement? They just lower the weight and tell them to fix their form. That doesn't work and it never has and it never will. It's like taking someone with a broken car around a course, telling them to slow it down and work on their steering, instead of fixing the damn car. Which is what they hired you for. Fix the car, and THEN teach them to maintain this car and drive it properly.

If the client doesn't know that's the only way to make this work, explain it and set the expectations. If you are afraid of losing the client because you didn't tell them what they wanted to hear, focus on the clients who do get it. They will attract others. The clients who don't get it will bounce around with their broken car, speed limping (refer above about running) from one thing to another until they grow out of that mindset.

If nothing else learn enough about diet to get them started. If nothing else learn enough about movement and postural assessments to get them to at least functionally do the exercises you prescribe or know when to train and when to refer. You call the client lazy? Who you calling lazy? Learn and be better. Read and take classes!

Don't be a meathead, be smarter than your smartest client

Our job is to coach and educate and that means we have to be exponentially more educated than our clients in this matter. When clients ask how and why I know so much about health and so much more than they do even though they are also interested in fitness, my answer is always simple and direct. I get PAID to read and think about this stuff all day, and I do nothing else. You have a job or something else that takes up a lot of your time, and so it would be quite difficult for you to catch up to my knowledge base on this topic. Ever. That's not me being arrogant, that's how it's supposed to be, that's what the client wants. I don't know more than them in everything, especially in their expertise, I just know more about what I do and my field. You pay me to educate you on health, it would be truly sad if you came in and we spent that time with you educating me on health.

Most of our clients truly and honestly believe they know more than 99% of the fitness professionals out there. That doesn't mean our clients are geniuses, it means they care about their health and they read, it also means this industry has a low barrier to entry. Meaning anyone can get into it, if anyone can get into it, it's not going to be flooded with the most knowledgeable and educated people, in fact this line of work for many was their back up or something they did on the side or for fun. And the most popular are not the most knowledgeable a lot of the times. Popularity is popularity and is not necessarily directly related to skill set.

If you are training people for fun, it isn't that difficult to find people to train who just want to make exercise a form of entertainment. With little being accomplished, and its probably not even that much fun for either parties.


Money and fitness make strange bedfellows. And without it, why would we train people? Our behavior is set by incentives.

I know many people who sold more than $10,000 of training in their first month, this was before they ever got certified as a trainer, even before they cracked open their book. They didn't impress clients with their knowledge, they sold them on dreams, emotions, and charisma. They couldn't say what you wanted to hear, unless there was something you wanted to hear. It's that want to believe in something irrational that allows for these trainers to succeed.

I've made over 10,000 in a month, I've made a lot more. That's when I was in commission driven sales (stock broker), this isn't sales.

If you are a good salesman, go into sales, you'll make a lot more money. This is about helping people, help them move better, feel better, be stronger, more energy, mentally fitter, be leaner, be a better version of themselves.

Many who just became trainers, or barely know anything about movement or exercise science or diet, will often look for ways to make more money.

I've seen old successful trainers struggling to make it now, instead of looking for ways to improve like they should be, they also just look for more ways to make money.

They don't yet see (but they will) how being good = good money. As more tech guys, start up guys (who have more disposable income) look into fitness, they will be able to see through the lack of knowledge and all the "bro" and "hippy" science. Or they will create start ups to eliminate all the inefficient and ineffective in this industry.

You got one chance to get good, and lots of chances to make money. It will be very difficult to be a poor trainer for a while and then all of a sudden try to convince people you are good. It is however easier to be a good trainer, then all of a sudden find more ways to make money.

Two of the current leaders of fitness are Tim Ferriss and Dave Asprey, neither one are trainers or ever were, they were both start up guys who used their tech knowledge to break down health and fitness. A computer engineer just created the fastest growing supplement. How is this happening? It could only happen because there was a lack of overall knowledge and education in the fitness industry, and secondly the industry is completely disconnected to how much regular people have changed.

It's what Apple did with the Iphone. Showed that a phone with one button connected with regular folks more than a phone with lots of buttons. That the phone was more important than the phone carrier. That the regular person knew more and were already using more social media than the stuffy heads of some of these corporations. Like I said, the industry is full of late adopters who love to think about "the good old days."

Trainers love semi-private training and personal training as gifts

Because they earn more money per minute. We don't love it because it's not effective. Imagine going to the doctor or physical therapist for an injury, and bringing your friend a long, and asking the PT, can I do physical therapy with my friend? Do this at the dentist, at the psychiatrist office, at the doctors, it would not make sense because you know it wouldn't work or help either of you. Yet this is how we think about training, it's not rocket science right? They can train two people at once because they don't see the value in training, its just leveled up home DVD work out. I don't know how many emails we've gotten where, someone has asked, "do you deal with XYZ illness? And if so, do you also do group training?" We aren't beings of pure logic.

We've had parents, spouses, assistants of studio execs, caretakers of people with illness, contact us to get training for someone else. If that person can read, has access to the computer, they need to contact us directly, we don't go through middlemen (or middle mom) no matter how sweet and loving they are. We also don't want that person to take your word for it, or come in to our studios not reading or vetting any of the content on our site, because we will just send them home.

We actually had a mom who came in for her son. We sent her home, said he had to do the research and see if he even is interested in our program. Few weeks later, her son emailed us directly after spending a lot of time researching and doing his due diligence. Months later, the mom came back crying, thanking us for the help we gave her son. But the truth is, if we allowed her to set it up, if he didn't feel like he was the one who picked us, did his due diligence, we wouldn't have had the results that we did with him.

Part of why we are so successful is that, we are very selective about who we take on as clients. Its not the typical situation where the trainer will gladly take on anyone willing to pay. We have more say in it than the clients do and turn away typically 8 out of 9 people. We also have limited room for new clients, so we only want to help the people who have the desire, the willingness, and the discipline to be helped. And not everyone buying training have those traits.

Perhaps the person contacting us has those traits, but what if the person they are contacting us for doesn't? We are in it for helping those who desire to be helped, money is the bi-product and the purpose. This should be true for all coaches.

There are 3 factors as far as physical health that needs to be looked at:

1. How conditioned are you?
2. How well do you move?
3. Do you have an optimal body composition?

This is the modern client

The bitter pill/honest truth

The modern sedentary client is going to come in unconditioned, moving poorly and majority of the time has some kind of chronic issue that they are already aware of or unaware of (example: no idea they have wrist pain until they take their hand off the mouse and place it on the floor for a push up), and either be too fat or too skinny and/or have a low muscle mass. Who is sedentary? Looking at the stats (refer above to steps taken per day), nearly every client you will come across. If they weren't they couldn't afford you.

If you don't know how to address this, all you will be able to do with this client is talk and baby sit them. Wait what are most people doing with their trainers and is the number 1 criticism of personal training?

And if you the client doesn't want this addressed, then you will either just be talking about exercising (but it will be so unpleasant you will not want to do it) or you will try one thing after another. Wait, what's the number 1 criticism of people trying to get healthy?

If you the client or gym member or class participant don't accept the bitter truth about yourself and your own physical issues, how can you resolve any of it or expect anyone else to? Leave bias and ego out of it. Address your issues, quantify it, and then resolve/mitigate it and optimize yourself. If you were fit and moving well, you wouldn't be on this blog. You wound't be considering hiring a trainer.

And don't think you can do it in a class, in a short amount of time, or with little commitment or behavioral change. Get that thought out of your head. Time to be an adult and handle this accordingly.

That begins with you finding a good coach who won't bullshit you, and trainers turning into coaches who won't bullshit their clients.

Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletterYou can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.

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