Have I ever told you about my very first paid personal training client? I swear somewhere in the past 80 blogs I must have but it’s worth telling again.
It was my first day at the corporate big box gym, I figured I’d be learning the ins and outs, the paperwork, where all the knickknacks go, who all the staff were and other basic stuff that happens the first day of any job. My boss (coolest guy ever!!), Dennis, who was always quick on his feet with decisions had a client thrown at him that needed a personal trainer ASAP as the one scheduled had to bail. He asked if I would fill in.
Cool! My first client! My first $40 (well, $18 ‘cuz you know the big box gyms rip the trainers off by stealing half or more). “One thing though, he doesn’t speak English. He’s a young dude on vacation from Mexico and just wants a good workout.”
Um, what?!?! No English?
“Yea, he seems pretty smart, he’ll pick it up if you show stuff to him.”
It’s my first day on the job, I can’t say no. But damn, at least take me on a date first before you try to get all the goodies.
That first session was fantastic, was a lot of fun and well, when you don’t have your smarty pants words to back you up, you quickly realize that most of what we’re doing is monkey see, monkey do; a trainer’s job is simply to learn/choose the best monkey exercises for the client’s goals.
6 years later, my girlfriend’s family, all of whom I enjoy training, has an exchange student in from Beijing, China. Pops thought it would be a great experience (and relationship builder) for the student, an avid high school basketball player, to jump in and workout with him. Now, the student speaks okay English, enough to understand what we’re saying and articulate what he feels and clearly animates when something is the right intensity.
We went through the workout I had planned for Pops but along the way I had to stop myself and ask, in the eyes of this boy’s parents (if not himself)…why are we using this exercise? Why are we doing it this way, in this rep scheme and why would I choose this one over say, the bodyweight version or the cable version? Why are we working the chest press pattern when the client’s goals are mainly fat loss and overall fitness?
For a long time I’ve really been questioning the value of the bench press. Unless you’re a dude who’s 5’3″ with T-Rex arms who may actually get his swole-on from such an exercise it’s dawned on me that the bench press blows goats. And not just because I’m not great at it with my orangutan arms (I’ve actually just started getting my groove with it after 10 years of trying various techniques), but anatomy wise it makes no sense to work the chest with fixed shoulder blades glued to a bench. They’re designed to move/glide freely over the rib cage as you flex and extend the arms out in a horizontal pushing pattern. Dual Cable Chest Press is hands down twice the chest builder that bench press ever hoped to be, and at FAR less shoulder injury risk.
So why? Why are we holding onto exercises that are cool, fun, really frickin hard to do, make our clients curse us, whatever…
I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to learning new training styles or exercises or systems, instead I prefer to experiment on myself with the intention of amalgamating the positives into what currently works for me and my clients. Over time I dump what doesn’t work, or is better accomplished with X exercise or rep scheme instead.
But there’s something in my gut that says we’re wrong with how we’re training our clients. I feel it every time I hear Nick Tumminello go off on a rant about the ugly of the industry, or Scott Abel when he tells us about the charlatans of the internet age of coaching or Dave Parise when he pretty much says anything.
There’s only one way to solve this: meet with my mentors, these coaches, ask them what are the most important lessons they’ve learned in their careers (just like a newer person to the industry just asked me), and delve more into the science and anatomy as to why I choose the exercises I do. Mentorship will be the only way for this to work, so when you coaches get an email from me asking for it, I hope you’ll understand the background of the request.
I have this “talent” for watching my clients and seeing that something just doesn’t look natural to them. I formulate the right question to figure out what they’re thinking, feeling, or focusing on that leads me to the clue as to why it doesn’t look right. Every notice how the Clean exercise when performed perfectly looks so damn, well…clean. If you don’t get what I mean watch the first 90 seconds of this video where Reza Zadeh makes 500lbs+ look like a joke in the Olympic Clean & Jerk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7nL8Bg5LDQ
Most often it’s a cue, a visual or a description of intention that really allows the client to turn the movement into something that matters and more importantly, works. And if it still doesn’t, then either it’s not the right time for this exercise progression or quite simply the exercise isn’t great for this specific client.
Every exercise worth a damn seems to follow the same pattern. It works with the body, not the body forcing itself to perform some inventive, cool, hardcore fitness toy based movement for the sake of.
So am I going to swear off the bench press? Well, not just yet, but something in me says in the future I probably will.
When mentoring other trainers coming up and discussing exercise program templates I always say to write them out and then spend double the time it took to write it in trying to tear it apart, poking holes in your theory as to why you chose that exercise over another, why that combo, did you think of this or that, or how the client is going to walk out the door (posturally or energetically speaking).
My epiphany is quite simply that I need to do this on a grander scale. Perhaps you do as well?