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


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