As a trainer and coach I tend to read a lot of stuff written by other successful trainers and coaches in order to try to make me better at my job. Throughout the years there has been one main theme I have seen that I thought I’d point out to the rest of you, trainers and potential clients alike.
Newer trainers and coaches tend to think they need to reinvent the wheel in order to make themselves more marketable or stand out among the crowd. They try whatever the latest fad trend is with the hopes that it will cause the client to be impressed. Eventually (with any luck) they realize that a coach is only as good as their results. Doing something showy and flashy in order to create a temporary response is usually a sales tactic – anyone can push someone really hard, as I wrote about previously HERE.
This means whatever the client goal is they need to be working towards it and making constant improvement. For my strength clients, this is being able to generate more force or move more weight. For my running clients it is being able to run greater distances, faster or both. If you coach a sports team, then they should be increasing their skill levels at whatever position they are performing in and also hopefully using that to win games.
So what is the key? Throughout history of successful coaching, it really comes down to one word: fundamentals.
Successful coaches can make people better at things that they should already be doing well. For a strength coach, this can mean the basic lifts like squatting, deadlifting, pulling and pressing. For an athletic coach this can mean things like power, agility and coordination. For my runners, it means being more efficient with every foot strike, which in some cases means starting over again at the beginning.
Throughout the sports world, high level athletes will tell you that they spend hours upon hours practicing fundamentals. Basketball players practice foul shots. Cyclists ride their bikes for hours a day. Swimmers swim lots of laps. Baseball players take batting practice daily for hours. Often this has no major goal beyond building the fundamental mechanics or strength they need in order to improve.
Just two months ago I started working with a post surgery client who had recovered but had shin splints daily. When her basic walking gait was corrected and she started to use the proper muscles again the shin splints disappeared. The same thing tends to happen for back issues when the person learns how to deadlift and squat properly. Some trainers would call this “correcting an imbalance”. I’d rather call re-educating the client (and their tissue) on something they already know how to do.
Your body is a very smart thing. It learns based on the input it is given. As I always say, crappy information IN means that you will generally get crappy information OUT. If you overwhelm your nervous system from the get go it doesn’t have a chance to adapt and make improvement. This means spending weeks (for some people) practicing simple things until they have them down.
So what are the fundamentals? Well, it really depends on the person. For some people, walking properly is hard enough. Throw in a few activities of daily living like sitting down, picking things up and climbing stairs and they might be done. I’ve had to reteach these things to hundreds of people over the years, and more often than not when they are practiced and put into place little painful issues tend to resolve very quickly. Same with high level performers. Often with my athletes they simply need to be coached on how to perform a movement they have forgotten how to do properly. This can be as simple as a squat (for a powerlifter) or as complex as an ankle mobility movement for a soccer or football player.
Most movements can be broken down into basic primal movement patterns, which is echoed by both movement gurus and athletic trainers alike. Deadlifting. Pushing and pulling. Spinal flexion, extension and rotation. This is generally what 95% of my clients start with, even if it is completely de-progressed like a basic box squat within a range of motion their hips, knees and ankles can perform at without deviation.
In fact if you’re a reader of fitness magazines, you can see this plain as day. Any program that tells you how to get a BIG LEGS has a squat in it. BIG CHEST means lots of bench pressing. Not a one armed dumbbell press on a Swiss Ball. Stick to fundamentals and you are guaranteed to see progress. Another of my mantras is that you EARN THE RIGHT TO DO MORE. This means if you can’t do something basic you have no business doing a progressed version of it. Most high level coaches adhere to this.
If you have run into a coach or trainer who tells you that you need to perform some sort of elaborate system in order to improve a simple movement, maybe you should think twice. There’s a time and a place for breaking down movements to isolate weak points, but it should not be the primary focus of any workout. There always needs to be a goal, and in my opinion that goal should be centered around the fundamentals.
So the next time you read about some amazing NEW system that is going to explode your gainz please put down whatever article you’re reading (unless it’s mine) and go deadlift. Or do some pullups. It’s probably what any decent coach would tell you to go and do anyway.
Recently I was asked if sitting on a Swiss Ball at work was a good idea for the average office worker. The theory behind this whole phenomenon is that if you sit on the ball you will be forced to maintain proper posture and it will “strengthen your core”. Let’s explore the history of the Swiss Ball and see if this really holds any water.
In a nutshell, a woman named Joanne Poser-Mayer began to instruct physical therapists in the use of these things for rehabilitation purposes in 1989. From the Canadian Physiotherapy web site:
The power of stability ball training and its importance to core strength cannot be underestimated. Various muscles contract to help produce movement, balance the body, stabilize the spine and hold the body in a safe, neutral position. All of these muscles working together reduce the compression that contributes to disc degeneration.
The words “cannot be underestimated” really fly out at me. I can get into all sorts of discourse about this statement, but the underlying fact I’m illustrating is that Swiss Balls came from physiotherapy modalities. Now thanks to athletic trainers and practitioners they have morphed into this ridiculous following where people claim that doing things on an unstable surface makes it “better” because your body has to work harder to achieve the movement on an unstable surface. Again, from the web site:
Sitting on stability balls both within and outside a fitness environment has been found to be highly effective in engaging the core muscles. And since most of the body’s movements are initiated and supported with the core muscles, good back health is ensured.
Well, that’s a bit of a blanket statement, isn’t it? Good back health is ENSURED.
So here’s a simple statement I’m going to make and hopefully you understand where I’m coming from:
If your body can’t engage muscles properly while it is in a supported state (ie on a solid surface like the floor or a chair) what makes you think it’s going to be able to do it on an unstable one?
Most people when they are at work exhibit poor posture, mostly as a function of what they have to do all day. I’m going to sit (taking tension away from things like hamstrings and glutes), put both hands internally rotated, lean forward slightly and put my head down – all day. This, to be blunt, sucks for your body. We do this for 40 hours a week or more and wonder why at the end of five years our body defaults into being internally rotated, leaning forward and weak in all of the muscles that we don’t use. Then we also wonder why, when we want to do something that is externally rotated, requires firing of your posterior chain and support from your lower back (like a LOT of stuff) the body protests.
Much of what I do especially with office workers is getting their muscles to be stronger to fight against the tug of war that we encourage with our poor work environments. This also includes things like standing desks, moving around more during the day and even changing position entirely. Being aware of how you’re sitting all day is important as well. As is having a proper strength program to work on the muscles that don’t take a lot of load for many hours a week so they don’t become deconditioned.
So what’s the answer? Well, it isn’t sitting on a Swiss Ball at work. If you have poor posture (which is forced and a function of the equipment you need to use) sitting on a surface that has less support isn’t going to make it better, it’s just going to tire out the muscles faster that are already either overworked or weak. Then your poor unsupported body is going to be even more tired and sore from working harder than it needs to.
By the way, this also applies to squatting, bicep curls and shoulder presses. If you are doing this on a BOSU or sitting on a ball, stop wasting your time and learn how to do it well with both feet on the ground please. Too many times I see poor clients being treated like circus animals by trainers who want them to “feel their core”. News flash: most of these trainers don’t even know what a “core” is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate of core strengthening. They’re called deadlifts. Squats. Pullups. Things that require the spine to hold tension under load. Things with spinal rotations, extension, bracing and flexion that involve more than one part of the body moving. I’m willing to bet that if you can become strong enough to pick up your body weight then you’re not going to have a problem with your lower back. And I’ve applied this over and over again. Funny enough, it works.
So as you navigate this fitness world, remember that trends come and go. Trust things that have been proven to work over time. As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to reach out.
This is another success story I’d like to share with my readers and anyone interested in what I do. This case really illustrates the gradual use of resistance to create tension and hold positions for spinal issues and how they can be improved.
Randi came to me through a referral from one of my local MAT practitioners. Often when these people are receiving treatment they require someone who has my skills to help increase their strength once their body is able to fire muscles properly again. Having this combination is a really great way to enhance your gains in strength and allow your body to develop at a much more rapid pace. By the way, I highly recommend MAT to anyone looking to improve their physical self, you can find more about it HERE.
When I first assessed Randi it was a challenge. In a nutshell, everything we tried caused pain in her back, localized mostly around the right SI joint area which was indicated as the main issue. This had been going on for almost eight years and caused her to give up a lot of things she enjoyed doing, like hiking, cycling and even caused her problems while walking her dog. She had trouble with simply standing in proper posture, which put pressure in areas that her back “didn’t like”. This became a frequent gauge of her pain levels during our first few sessions.
Doing what I do, I will at first admit that I miscalculated and didn’t realize how much Randi’s back would react to my initial movement pattern assignment. After our first session she was okay, but after the next couple her back was sore for four days to the point where she couldn’t do normal everyday activities. This is after doing much movements as simple hip flexion, mild bracing, some basic extension (ie hip hinging) and trying to integrate her hips with her shoulder girdle. I was surprised, but glad that Randi (after she recovered) allowed me to try again.
The lesson here for both you and myself, is that you can reduce any level of force to an appropriate one for any person. So what did I reduce to? Randi started out most of her subsequent sessions with postural holds (bracing in a standing position), walking in proper alignment, and then going through various drills and movements unloaded in order to teach her body to facilitate coordination without any load. Loads were added eventually, but using angles of her body and longer ranges of motion, not weights. This Is a very broad description, but it worked. Before long, Randi’s body was to the point where she could endure long car rides, do sustained long activities she enjoyed like cooking and was able to think about buying a bicycle for her main goal.
Randi’s main goal was to be able to bike 26 kilometers for her trip to the Canadian Rockies, something she had wanted to do for a long time. The first step was to get her back on a bike again. She lasted for only 45 seconds the first time we put her on one. Then, through gradual application and increasing of mileage not only did we get her back onto a real bicycle (after finding one her body could tolerate) but we got her to the point where she could bike for over an hour (with breaks) and while her back was tired, she was able to recover quickly and function normally afterwards. Progressions were done weekly and she was also given specific technique rules and ways she could approach what she was doing on the bike to take tension off of her back. With some movements, it is a matter of reteaching the body how to move.
One interesting weekend Randi pushed herself a bit too hard, not realizing that a 15km route (which was prescribed) was actually a 20km route with hills. Her back reacted accordingly, but the great thing was that she recovered fairly quickly. Recovery time is always a great marker for performance improvement. Normally what would have done her in for a week had her sore for a couple of days, which is fairly normal when you’re doing something you haven’t done in eight years.
I’m happy to say that Randi has made incredible progress. Not only did she successfully ride the trail in the Rockies, she is now dead lifting up to 50 pounds, performing movements like lunges and pulldowns and planks, and is able to recover from workouts quickly. Her MAT therapist has seen a significant change in the way her muscles hold onto position. This is all in a period of about six months.
Once of the best parts of my job is helping people like Randi and sharing in the results. Here’s a picture she sent me of her on the bike out in the Rockies accomplishing her goal:
Randi’s goals have moved away from reducing pain and into more typical goals like weight loss and strength gain, which is fantastic. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the great benefit that I tell my clients is that if you can teach your body to tolerate forces, then it will always improve. If you have any specific questions about my work with Randi (or anyone else) feel free to contact me through this site or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always willing to help if I can.
Recently my Facebook feed has been flooded with yet another misleading trend designed by companies and people in order to try to make money off people who don’t know any better. This simple word is one thing: detoxification.
Detoxification doesn’t exist. It’s a garbage term for a garbage industry. And anyone who is trying to sell you on it is trying to make money off of you. Period.
This is nothing new. In past years people from companies like Isagenix, Herbalife, Juice Plus, Visalus, several other MLM companies and many, many over the counter products are always talking about detoxification. It’s a horrible thing that is definitely the cause of your headaches, bowel problems and weight gain. Take these products for 90 days and you will feel better, lose weight and remove all these icky things that have accumulated through your lifetime of bad choices.
Here’s a few simple questions to ask anyone who talks about this stuff and find out if they actually know anything about the word:
What does detoxification actually mean? (It’s a medical term)
What is a toxin? (Toxins are always referred to but never named by these people) – can they actually name any toxin that they are claiming to remove from your body?
What are the places you need to detox most? (If they say it’s the liver or kidneys then they don’t know what these organs actually do).
Can I detox myself without your products? (of course not, my product is the best way and is scientifically proven to work!)
I’ll be blunt. This is total quackery. But for some reason people keep falling for it. I’m not going to bother listing the amount of credible scientific entities that have proven this stuff is completely stupid and a waste of money, but you can easily find them. I have one here. And here. And here. And here. Which is the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the time these products contain two things: laxatives (put under natural names) and diuretics (also naturally based). You pee more and poop more, and suddenly you’re losing weight (imagine that). Plus, some very popular ones have you replace most of your solid food with shakes (that they provide) and suddenly you lose weight. Miracle!
You know how to make yourself feel better? Eat more fibrous vegetables and fruits. Eat less animal protein. Don’t take supplements unless you actually need to. Sleep more. Stop engaging in sympathetic behaviors like computers and cell phones all the time. Exercise regularly and intensely enough to create a positive hormonal change. This is all really easy to do, and it’s free except for a possible change in your grocery bill (and vegetables are cheaper anyway).
In fact, many of these products can create more problems than they solve. Throwing your body suddenly into a state of either caloric deficit or changing your diet radically can create issues like constipation, headaches or even severe reactions. All the things people selling detox would have you think is toxins leaving your body, not something created by the cure they sold you.
Recently a friend of mine who is highly educated (two advanced degrees) actually asked me if she should do a cleanse. You know what my answer is?
You don’t need expensive products. You need a carrot. And probably more water. Let your body cleanse itself, it will do a fine job if you give it the tools to do so.
Oh, and if anyone tries to sell you on this stuff, especially within the fitness or health industry, please walk the other way. They know it’s bullshit. They’re trying to take advantage of you and make money. My latest hat tipper is a former dental hygienist (and IFBB pro of course) who is now an expert on nutrition with no formal education and one year at a holistic nutrition school under her belt. Find me a girl or guy who has recently won a couple of fitness shows and likely within a year or two they will be pushing products like this – or of course, whatever supplement line they are sponsored by. With no credibility behind the products or themselves besides a shiny trophy. Welcome to another day in the fitness industry.
Again people, let’s be smarter than this. Like I always say about fitness, buyer beware. Don’t support an industry that is based on nothing but smoke and mirrors. And please, please, please check whatever educational background your current “detox” guru has. Odds are the only thing they are looking to improve is their bank account.