Archive | November 2015

Know Thyself

Note: I’ve just finished a five-day training course as a pre-requisite for starting as a trainer at Fitness First. All that’s left is to take the exam on Monday (and re-take on Wednesday if I should fail), and boom.

This is yesterday’s reflection.

I don’t like group exercise.

I don’t like having to crowd into a room with people I don’t know while trying to follow shouted instructions that no one can perfectly follow.

I especially dislike classes with music, particularly loud, booming beats that add to the difficulty in listening to the instructor.

But most of all, I dislike group classes because I know from experience that they are at best of limited efficiency in developing high levels of physical capability.

Now this is obviously subjective. I know many people who are perfectly happy with group exercise and the results. Positive is positive, after all. Many are also there not for the exercise, but for the sense of community. They don’t need to watch their numbers improve week after week, or feel their physical capacity growing, so long as they have fun.

These are the points made by my classmates when I said I disliked teaching group classes.

The main difference I see, then, is what kind of trainer you want to be. Or more accurately, what kind of trainer you can be.

I am an introvert by nature. I dislike crowds, am tired by long interactions with people unless I get along with them very well, and am quite happy to be alone at home or in the gym on a Friday night. I don’t look for a sense of belonging from a community when I think about what kind of training or work I want.

When I look at fitness, I think of it as a personal journey of progression. I couldn’t care less how many people are with me, and I won’t be put off by doing the work alone. What I want is not a trainer who gives basic instruction and cursory corrections, but one who will stand over me and fix every little issue. I want a customized plan made by someone whose attention is, at least for that session, entirely on me. I want improvement, not new friends.

I’m not saying people who prefer to teach group classes are necessarily worse than those who prefer conducting personal training sessions. A sharp eye and excellent communication skills are important to both, and certainly either way there will be clients. An excellent point in favor of group classes is that it’s much easier to earn off them; unless you’re Dan John, you’d have to take on five or six clients a day to maintain a decent income stream.

I am, however, a personal trainer. I do my best work in intimate, controlled sessions with people who trust me enough to place their personal development in my hands, just as I did in the summer of 2010. I prefer seeing a single incredible transformation to multiple decent improvements mixed with disappointment. Maybe it’s because I have high expectations, and group classes simply prevent the level of control necessary to meet those. Maybe it’s because I don’t like being in big groups and just don’t get how people can prefer it.

Whatever the reason, it’s useful to know what you’re good at. It’s not a question of skill or even comfort, but one of efficiency and effectiveness. Yes, you can improve by working on your weak points – but if the challenge is contribution, then you meet it best by throwing yourself into situations where your strengths are in play.


30x 4-way Jumping Jacks


5 rounds

5x Pull-up

5x Divebomber Push-up

5x Jump Squat

5x Roll-up


15-1x Burpee

5x Pull-up per rung

Plank Series

30s each / 3s transition

2 total blocks / 2min rest between blocks


Side Plank


Side Plank

Notes: It’s been just over a year since I returned from France. There was a gym in town, but it had weird operating hours and was closed on weekends. Thus, I did a fair bit of training in my room or out and about – a nearby playground had some nice monkey bars. This particular workout was done on a cool Saturday morning when I was feeling twitchy but wanted an excuse to gorge on a kebab platter.


The Weight of Responsibility

Note: I am currently taking a 5-day course as a pre-requisite for starting as a fitness trainer at Fitness First. I wanted a blog entry at the end of each day, but I was staying at a place with terrible Internet access. Now that I’m home with a stable connection, I can throw in yesterday’s reflection. Today’s will just have to wait until tomorrow.

We had another quiz today.

It was the second so far. We’ve been told to expect another one come tomorrow – the final day of the foundation course. Today’s test covered joint movement, flexibility, and mobility. Tomorrow’s will be about cardiorespiratory training.

Neither of the tests so far had a 100% passing rate. I scored high on the first, but just passed the second. Some of the people taking the course with me failed both, and not by a small margin – one of the guys who will be assigned to the same branch as me, scored barely 50% today and just over that last Tuesday.

I’m used to classmates failing quizzes. That’s the reality of the classroom, and I certainly can’t truthfully claim to have passed every test I ever took in school. Heck, we don’t even need to pass – the final exam on Monday will be the sole basis of whether Fitness First certifies us as trainers. Failing these smaller tests is – at least on the surface – of no consequence whatsoever.

The thing is, the stakes are much higher now than they were in Economics 101. The men and women in that room with me will take charge of people’s lives. Someone’s safety and development will become dependent on their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Thus, knowing half the material in a foundation course – a course meant to instil the most basic but essential knowledge – is essentially knowing only half what experienced trainers would consider the bare minimum to do the job properly.

It’s a little scary to me that even one person in my class might only have half the skills he needs. Personally, I guess it’s irrelevant to me even if we wind up in the same branch. Any problems caused by his inadequacies are his to deal with. However, we as trainers – as people to whom others entrust their physical and occasionally mental health – are obligated to be every bit as good as is possible.

As potential trainers, our responsibility is perhaps less intense, but more crucial: are we able to actually do the job?

This is where soul-searching and introspection must come in. While outright failing 40-item quizzes doesn’t necessarily prove inadequacy, it’s worth considering when looking at a job with so much responsibility. Anatomy, biomechanics, and the like are all topics that a competent trainer must know, even if he’ll never have to recite them to his clients. If you cannot grasp them to a reasonable degree, should you really be taking on the position? Shouldn’t you be thinking first and foremost about the ones who might actually suffer the consequences of your failures?

This is, I think, the hardest part of being thrust into a leadership role. You will be forced to contemplate whether you are suited to the task, and if you can handle the consequences of your failures. In fact, you’d be lucky to have to face that question before actually being handed the responsibility.

I’m being magnanimous in my opinion by holding off on saying these people who fail spectacularly – and based on our workouts, aren’t particularly fit either – are not meant to be trainers. It is, however, a possibility, and one I believe should always be strongly considered before heading into such a role.

I know I’m doing it.


30x 4-way Jumping Jacks

Shoulder Tri-Set

3 rounds @ 2x15lbs / 90s rest

10x Front Raise

10x Bent-over Reverse Fly

10x Lateral Raise

More Work

1-5/1-4/1-3/1-2/1x Pull-up

Push Press Interval

2 blocks / 2min rest

Use 2x15lbs

2x30s Push Press / 30s OH Hold

“Big 55”

Looks like 10x Push Press + 10x Ring Row + 10x Diamond Push-up + 2m Rope Climb, etc.

DB Push Press @ 2x35lbs

Ring Row

Diamond Push-up

2m Rope Climb per rung


5 sets

20m Farmer Carry @ 2x28kg

10x Biceps Curl @ 2x25lbs


5min Stretching

Information Overload

Note: I am currently taking a 5-day course as a pre-requisite for starting as a fitness trainer at Fitness First. I was too tired and annoyed at the end of the first day, but I would like to prepare journal entries for each day about my observations of my classmates, the instructors, and the training itself.

The biggest problem with a five-day foundation course is that it essentially means cramming months, if not years, of education into less than a week. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect anyone to learn musculoskeletal anatomy, biomechanics, fascial lines, and joint action over a few hours a day per week. The speed and degree of absorption aren’t huge problems for people with a medical education, and even I – with my limited, largely self-taught learning – am getting by fairly well.

The best and perhaps only way to develop a working knowledge of these topics in such a short amount of time is to sort through everything and figure out the important parts. You don’t need to memorize the name, origin, and insertion point of each muscle that makes up the rotator cuff to understand what it does or why it matters to someone who wants to improve his bench press.

Unfortunately, the ability to sift grain in search of diamonds isn’t innate – at least so far as I can tell. It must be developed, practice, honed. Learning to decide what’s necessary and what’s less so is a very valuable skill – and not just to a coach who needs to earn his client’s trust.

Having gone to one school my entire life, I don’t really know what was so wrong with the educational process in other schools. I don’t know why or where or when I learned how to filter data in search of the main idea, although I figure it has something to do with the numerous books, poems, and essays we had to read and summarize over the course of many years.

Other people, it seemed, never had the opportunity to develop it. So far as I could tell, none of my classmates had any idea how to search for what my English teachers would have called the main idea. All the effort I saw was going into sheer memorization, with little or no understanding of the practical applications even when our instructor was demonstrating.

Communication is a two-way street. Sometimes – as my previous post discussed – the fault in a miscommunication lies with the speaker. Sometimes, though, the problem lies with the recipient. It may be stubbornness, lack of understanding, or a simple unwillingness to hear something new.

I don’t know what I can do to help my classmates, or if I could even help at all. Technically, I don’t have to do anything – I’m the only person whose final grade matters to me, if I’m to be frank. Still, it’s a reminder of the myriad challenges inherent in a profession requiring so much knowledge. The problem is not that there isn’t enough information or access to it, but that there’s almost too much to really grasp.

Again, it’s a communication issue. It’s even similar to yesterday’s post in that there’s no shortage of correct, usable data available – but none of it is of any use if you can’t figure out what to do with it.

You could say that the middle deltoid’s concentric contraction is responsible for abducting the humerus along the coronal plane.

Or you could say that the shoulder raises the arm.


5min Row @ progressive pace

5x10s hard / 50s moderate Row

Bar Warmup

Complete exercises consecutively using an empty 20kg barbell.

10x Bent-over Row

10x Romanian Deadlift

10x High Pull

10x Hang Clean

10x Front Squat

10x Push Press

10x Back Squat

Round Interval

1 round per 30s for 5min (i.e. 10 rounds) @ 35kg

1x High Pull

1x Hang Clean

1x Front Squat

Round Interval

1 round per 30s for 5min (i.e. 10 rounds) @ 45kg

1x Power Clean

1x Hang Clean

Round Interval

1 round per 30s for 5min (i.e. 10 rounds) @ 60kg

1x Power Clean

1x Front Squat

Deadlift Work

3×5 @ 75kg

3×3 @ 90kg

3×3 @ 105kg

3×2 @ 125kg

6×1 @ 145kg


5min Stretching


  • I’ve been looking at ways to put in more barbell work, since I’ve lately only had access to one a maximum of twice a week. This may change soon.
  • My clean has gotten weird, or I managed to boost my power without realizing it. I’m no longer catching the bar perfectly – it’s crashing down onto my delts as I get under it. This means I’m either pulling too high, dropping too low, or simply timing it poorly. 
  • I’m not sure what exactly is causing me so much trouble with deadlifts now. I feel like I’ve been stuck hovering around 145-155kg for months now for no apparent reason. Whether it’s heavy singles or low rep sets to build grip strength, I’ll be forcing more work in this area. I want my double bodyweight score back.

Failure to Communicate

Note: I am currently taking a 5-day course as a pre-requisite for starting as a fitness trainer at Fitness First. I was too tired and annoyed at the end of the first day, but I would like to prepare journal entries for each day about my observations of my classmates, the instructors, and the training itself.

Before this job, I had never had any formal medical training. Everything I know about biomechanics, anatomy, nutrition, and all that, came from books, magazines, the Internet, and my coach’s notes. Thus, I was nervous about going to a class that contains at least four people with medical education. I was not surprised, therefore, when today’s session on muscular and skeletal anatomy involved a Physical Therapy graduate speaking up throughout most of it.

Eventually we were split into groups and told to prepare a short presentation on certain muscle groups. My group included Mr. PT, who energetically took up the challenge of explaining the assigned muscle groups and movements to those in the group who still couldn’t grasp the lesson.

What followed was a strong reminder that knowing something doesn’t mean you can actually explain it.

Communication is a key part of any relationship, and therefore a necessary skill for an educator. Coaches must be able to quickly convey information and instruction to their charges. Movement and postural corrections must be instantaneously absorbed and reacted upon for the sake of safety. Comprehension is necessary to minimize disagreements. The bottom line is that everything you know is worth nothing if you can’t articulate it in a way that your client understands.

I watched for several minutes as Mr. PT recited every muscle and movement related to the shoulder and elbow while my poor classmate stared hopelessly. Mr PT would conclude his spiel with, “Did you understand?” When she shook her head in dismay, he happily – and pointlessly – repeated the entire thing nearly word for word. There was no attempt to rephrase the explanation in anything but the technical terminology he’d memorized. There didn’t even seem to be any realization that he simply wasn’t making anything any clearer with his continuous stream of scientific gibberish.

My old coach once told me that if you really know something, you can explain it in ten seconds. I think that’s a very tight time frame, but I definitely believe that being able to make yourself understood is at least as important as being a repository of information. In a coach-client relationship in particular, it’s a safe assumption that your client’s knowledge, skills, and abilities aren’t approaching yours, and that you will need to bridge the gap as carefully as possible. The ability to do so – to summarize information and simplify it as much as possible – is crucial to a good relationship. It must be honed at every possible opportunity, because there are so many ways to rephrase “You need to do more reps.”

You may sound like a genius if you can recite the name of every bone from the skull to the metatarsals and phalanges, but you will be a completely useless coach if your client doesn’t understand how any of that will help him.

I usually follow a three-step process when I have to answer a client’s question:

  1. Condense: Identify the main idea. Leave out all extra information.
  2. Simplify: If you had to explain this to a three-year old, how would you phrase it? Would it help if you gave a practical demonstration?
  3. Re-Think: If they don’t get it, revisit the first two steps. Did you properly identify the main idea? Is there a simpler way you could phrase it without sacrificing accuracy?

Thus, if an uninitiated person asked you to explain elbow flexion as simply as possible, you wouldn’t say, “Elbow flexion is the result of contraction of the biceps brachii, decreasing the distance between the muscle’s origin and insertion points.” You are 100% correct and just as incapable of helping the poor girl. You’d point to your arm and bend it. (Incidentally, full biceps contraction actually involves lifting the arm a little, since the muscle group’s origin is actually on the scapula). 

My lesson today? Knowing a lot doesn’t mean you know anything useful. That sounds harsh, yes – and I’m sure Mr PT would contest that – but the confused expression on our classmate’s face said all I needed to know about exactly how much all that medical knowledge was worth.


30x 4-way Jumping Jacks

Superset Ladder

2×1-5, alternating exercises




1 round per 2.5min for 12.5min (i.e. 5 rounds)

Rnd 1: 8x Pull-up + 5x Ring Dip

Rnd 2: 6x Chin-up + 4x Ring Dip

Rnd 3: 5x Pull-up + 5x Ring Dip

Rnd 4: 6x Chin-up + 4x Ring Dip

Rnd 5: 2x Wide Pull-up + 3x Ring Dip

“Big 55”

Use 2x35lbs

Close-grip DB Bench Press

Bent-over Row

Push Press


5x Feet-to-Hands per min for 10min (i.e. 10×5)

5min Stretching