Thursday, August 25, 2011

5 Simplistic Commonalities Found Training Without the Help of Research

What is research?  According to,  the formal definition is: the diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.

I have found over the years,  that the more you study people engaging in exercise, the more commonalities you uncover and the more people you interact with,  the more you find that those commonalities have reasons behind them. Over the last few years, I have found myself saying "Ah-ha" or "yeah that's it" ALOT! Reason being is that many of the articles or research that I read confirm what I have ALREADY experienced in my training--either my own or with my clients. Its not the other way around. I don't read the research and THEN try it out. This confirmation lays a concrete layer into my belief system and my personal learning process. But I understand,  that some people need to read the research first to"sort it out" within themselves what they should try and what they should not try. Soon enough, you have a conversation like the one in "Good Will Hunting" between researchers and practitioners:

The older I get the more experienced I get working with people. Nothing beats that. Nothing. Its like the old professor that is afraid to practice outside the college classroom for fear of not making it in the "real world". I want to be out there making mistakes and learning from them. I want confirmations from research articles, not the other way around. I know this will not win me votes from my Internet colleagues, but I have never been one to do what is right by someone else, I go with what is right in  my heart. With that being said, here are 5 simple commonalities I've discovered in my applicable experience. Enjoy!

1.) The older a client is, the less muscle elasticity and extensibility that exhibit. Age is a degenerative process on tissue. The next two sentences are very important: Those that start LATE in life [exercise], will have to accept that there are limitations and contradictions to training. Those that have incorporated training into their lives at a younger age without any long cessations, will show lesser signs of immobility and lack of function.

2.) Ask a client to perform a movement that they have never performed before and they will use every muscle but the one you are trying to target. Case in point: Ask a client to perform cable wood-chops in order to utilize rotation under load while stabilizing the hips. What you will get is an arm workout. I talk about that HERE.

3.) Some people are afraid to jump (women especially). There are those that have a fear of actually lifting both feet off the ground for a split second. A couple of things derived from this: A.) There is very low power production or eccentrically loading the posterior chain/lower body. B.) They lack confidence and comfort in performing this action. Address #B first with results specific to their goal and then address #A. Beginning with lower heights and playground movements (i.e. skipping, hop-scotch, etc)

4.) Every exercise is an assessment. Every movement screen you use is a derivative of an exercise or vice-versa.  Once it is loaded, it becomes a weight-bearing exercises intended to make one stronger or increase muscle size. Don't over-complicate this. Remember the Overhead Squat Profile Assessment? I talk about that HERE...guess what exercise that resembles?

5.) Corrective exercise is very beneficial for most clients...but not all. Why? Most  overweight clients with the goal of losing fat will probably exhibit the worst posture and muscular imbalances. However, if you spend the majority of each session with corrective exercise,  they will eventually drop off your radar. This is because corrective exercise can be boring. They are "foo-foo" exercises intended to isolate certain muscles and conversely strengthen or lengthen them.

Overweight clients like to get into the nitty-gritty exercises that they feel are making "changes" throughout their body. Corrective exercises are fully understood by the trainer assigning them. The client, however, doesn't quite fully grasp the necessity of them (unless you have a client that is a student of their body and wants to learn more). Solution? Some corrective exercise is best performed in the beginning of a workout as a warm up preparatory period, and others are best during sets of your "meat and potatoes" exercises.


  1. I have to agree that we can't necessary always wait until research catches up with practice, but ultimately, the problem with trying to determine what "works" from practice alone is that most factors are not controlled so you can't really tell which one caused the outcome.

    For example, you could be doing 10 things that you believe to contribute to body recompostion in your clients, but some of them may be contributing little (if anything) to that goal. Without research it is near impossible to know which variables are most likely to have the greatest effect.

    More importantly though, I know that training is an art as much as it is a science. But you HAVE to have a base understanding of science to determine which methods are worth trying in the first place.

    I was at a conference for personal trainers where Brad Schoenfeld was presenting on hypertrophy last week and he asked for a show of hands to determine if everyone remembered glycolysis and how lactic acid was formed.

    In a room full of trainers, NOT ONE HAND WENT UP and all I saw were blank stares.

    How on earth can you discuss low carbs versus high carbs if you don't understand how they are metabolized?

    How can you improve performance in you don't understand the systems that fuel it??

    Most importantly, how do you decide which programs to put your clients through if you don't understand the science behind them???

    I know you, John, have a grip on this, but most trainers don't. I think that there needs to be a balance between research and practice. Most couldn't read research to save their lives and to them we trust our bodies?

  2. Mark, Thanks for chiming in. I understand where you are coming from. My post really aims at trainers that focus too much of their time reading research and not utilizing any applicable knowledge. Every trainer should have a degree of knowledge going into a session. What I want trainers to understand, is to get in front of clients...don't be afraid of making mistakes. I don't care how much research one reads...or even how great they are at reading it...but when they meet their first client that has a stale personality, poor fitness adherence history, and presents with multiple health issues--alot of that research has to be omitted from the repertoire.
    I am not against research. But some trainers want to wear white lab coats and act like scientists, rather than wear polo shirts and train clients. Experience is the best teacher. I have always stated in many fitness forums over the years--and not afraid to admit--that I have used my first 2 years' worth of clients as guinea pigs (when I first started out).


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