Burning the evidence.
Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

As I am closing in on 10 years as a trainer/coach/whatever there are certain past practices that I now look back at with an awkward awe.

I’ve been thinking about some mistakes I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t call them regrets, but signs of professional growth. And sometimes, ripples in my evolution as the person I am today.

With that out of the way, here are (some of) my coaching “ughs”.

Mistake 1: Strict movement screen for everyone

I used to feel superglue-like level of attachment to this one. Doing a mandatory screen was tied to my self-held identity as the “rehab-trainer”. Or the “movement guy”.

Most people new to exercise know that they suck at it. They don’t need reminders of it. So instead of focusing on what’s not working well, let’s find what they can do well and squeeze it for all it’s worth to make them feel good about themselves.

I still like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) for it’s simplicity. I can get it done in about 10 minutes and it tells me a lot about what’s going on with the person in front of me.

FMS is handy if the individual has significant training background (quite rare with most of my new clients), returning to training after clinical rehab, or has a super-specific movement/strength related goal.

But I find myself modifying the screen heavily for those who just want to “feel and look better”. Especially if they’re a beginner to working out. For them it could be as simple as doing an initial workout, adjusting the exercises as necessary, and seeing where they’re at. Then building a training plan around it.

Mistake 2: It’s all about movement

A bit of back story. I went all-in with nutrition and lifestyle side of health earlier in my career. If you read my blog 2015 it mostly revolved around those two topics. Then once I got my book out in 2018, I shifted to “only movement matters.”

Again, this nicely fit into my self-held professional identity.

Now as I’ve learned more about stress, lifestyle and pain, I’ve circled back around realising that the lifestyle side is at least as important as movement.

We can ease a lot of our movement problems by improving our lifestyle with sleep, stress management, breathing and diet. These have to come first. Most of the time.

Mistake 3: Everyone needs the perfect ranges of motion and control in every single joint

In the past, if you came to me with a specific goal, regardless of what it was, I gave you correctives (sigh…). The goal was to make every joint work close to perfection. Let’s just say that the motivation for clients to follow these correctives at home wasn’t great.

I was giving clients stuff to do that I thought was important. Without listening to what was important for them.

Now I only focus on a specific joint if the person needs that to safely reach their goal. Even then it comes down to having the conversation whether they care about improving that specific are, or whatever.

Or can we get them where they want to go another way. Mainly by bypassing that “problem” area altogether. In these cases I will explain the reasons behind why we do what we do and how it carries over to to their goals.

97% of the time my clients’ goals are not gym specific, but what they want to do outside of the training sessions. Be it kayaking, gardening or getting in and out of the car without engaging in Mission Impossible-level of planning.

Once we’ve had that conversation we can decide whether spending time on specific joint mobility is in their interest. Or do we lateralize* exercises as necessary to get the training effect.

Lateralizing could mean something as simple as elevating heels to squat instead of spending time on ankle mobility. Or landmine pressing instead of spending time on shoulder mobility.

Mistake 4: Being a dic(k)tator with lifestyle habits

This ties with me not listening enough. I was trying to create the perfect algorithm to teach habits. Putting them in a strict order and expecting everyone to follow through.

I’d like to think I am now better at meeting the person where they’re at. Instead of going “this is what you need to do”, it’s more “ok, what do you think would be helpful to work on?”. Then we go from there to whatever direction.

It’s about moving away from dictating and leaning into guiding. Most of the time, the client has better answers than I do in improving their lifestyle. They just need help to get the ideas out and forming them into actionable steps.

Mistake 5: It’s all about strength

I used to be relentless about the need to get stronger and stronger. This is what I valued in my own training. So the answer for everyone, regardless of their goal, was to keep getting stronger.

I still think strength, to a point, is worth cultivating. But it’s only a one part of a system and equally important as cardiovascular fitness, movement, lifestyle, and diet.

Let’s be honest, most people couldn’t give a high flying poop about how heavy they lift in the gym. With some clients we talk about the colours of kettlebells (or plates) instead of how heavy they are. They just don’t care. And I have to respect this.

If the client only cares about ticking off the “I trained today” box, then we focus on making her workouts enjoyable, rewarding, and relatively challenging. It’s only a piece of their active lifestyle puzzle, not something that their life revolves around.

And as I’ve seen over years with these clients, weights do gradually get heavier as the person gets stronger. And with most it’s often them who suggest a move to a heavier weight, not me.

Live, make mistakes, and learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

And one thing’s for sure. If I write another post like this in 10 years’ time I will probably question some things I am doing today. It’s a sign of getting better.

*As per Charlie Weingroff’s Training = Rehab approach.