Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview with Craig Ballantyne

Personally, when I think of interval training or high intensity interval training, I think of Craig Ballantyne. Before it was “cool” to say HIIT, or before it became popular to hit some sprints, Craig had a product that redefined how to approach fat loss. Turbulence Training…have you heard of it?
The fact of the matter is there is still an abundance of ignorance that lingers in fitness centers. New facilities open and overstock the floor with treadmill after treadmill or elliptical after elliptical. They accommodate those cardio machines with flat screen TV’s, bottle holders, and fans. Truth is, fat loss does not have to be the long, monotonous and boring task as many gym-goers continue to believe. Craig Ballantyne’s entire business focuses on getting the most out of every workout with maximum effort and minimum time used. The real way to burn fat. 

I had a chance to interview Craig Ballantyne and here are some of his thoughts:

JOHN: Craig, everyone knows you as the guy that developed "Turbulence Training"--your highly popular and effective program for fat loss and optimum conditioning. Before this phenomenal product, can you tell us how did you get involved in the fitness field?

Craig: "Like most folks in the fitness industry, I played a lot of sports when I was younger. That led to weight training. From there, I realized I wanted to be a strength coach in professional sports - specifically the National Hockey League.

So I went to school for Kinesiology, which then led to a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology. Along the way I realized that all top NHL Strength Coaches had Master's Degrees and were Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) so I got those too.

I started training people professionally in 1996 or 97, and was training friends of mine even back in high school when I was more into bodybuilding.

Eventually I finished my Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology in 2000, but I started my first online email newsletter in 1999 - even though I didn't have a website.

At first I was training young athletes, along with men and women for fat loss. Then I started working with Men's Health in 2000. That led to a much greater focus on working with busy people - men and women - who needed results fast, and so I slowly moved away from training young athletes - although I still worked with Canadian national rugby players up until 2005.

JOHN: What crucial mistake do people make when they decide to undergo a program such as yours or any other?

Craig: "No matter what the program, most people make the mistake of not putting enough emphasis on their nutrition. I'll be the first to admit that diet is more important than exercise - and I've even made some goofy youtube videos to demonstrate the point - but too many folks think they can just eat the same way they always have as long as they start some type of exercise program.

Unfortunately, that just doesn't work, as any overweight marathon runner can tell you. And even when folks use Turbulence Training, their results don't skyrocket until they finally take their nutrition seriously."

JOHN: Nutrition is usually the culprit when results are not achieved. In your opinion, how effective is keeping a food diary for clients or is there a more efficient way to control dietary intake?

Craig: "A food diary works. Research reported in Men's Health (don't have exact reference) found that folks who used a food diary lost 3.5 pounds more than folks who didn't.

But while I like the food diary, at the same time I'm all about making the fat loss process as seamless as possible to fit into real life. So expecting someone to use a food diary everyday for months on end is impractical.

So here's what I do...I ask that folks struggling with their nutrition dedicate at least 7 days to the task of using a food diary.

This identifies more than just the basics of calories, protein, etc. It really helps to identify trouble spots, where they "break down" and binge eat, and where they engage in mindless eating (i.e. shoveling in the cookies after work).

Most clients would tell me they were sticking to 90% compliance, but after doing a food diary with them we found out they were only at 80% and they were also eating 2 cookies every day after work or a half bag of chips at night.

A food diary is often an eye-opener, and a lot of clients need that - especially when they are getting started."

JOHN: Let's talk personal training for a second. In your opinion, how much of being a great personal trainer is natural talent in people skills and program dissemination, and how much of it is knowledge acquired through research, schooling, and the certifying process?

Craig: "Well, I suppose the term "great personal trainer" is highly subjective. Personally I think I'm pretty good, but I've been fired by clients because I wouldn't let them talk to me while they were doing an exercise and because I demanded strict form. So those folks probably would say a great personal trainer is someone they can have a conversation with while they do half-reps of every exercise.

But in my opinion, a great personal trainer starts by having a strong formal education - or else has spent years acquiring an equivalent formal education on their own.

I'm biased to the formal education route because my university professors were Drs. Sale, MacDougall, and Tarnopolsky (and a great trainer should recognize those names).

The best "training books" I ever bought were my 2nd year and 4th year university exercise physiology notes. These have been priceless. In my opinion, once you have a strong understanding of anatomy and physiology, you'll never get fooled by fads and gimmicks - unlike the mediocre trainer who jumps from one to the next.

Plus I've traveled to see Dr. Stu McGill in person (his books are mandatory reading if you want to be called a great personal trainer), and I still do hours of scientific reading each week.

That said, you clearly also need a lot of other skills and experiences to be a great trainer - these days, a great trainer needs to be able to work almost on par with rehab professionals - such as chiros and physios. The more you know about rehab, the better a trainer you will be. To be honest, this is my biggest weakness but I'm studying with a few chiros and PTs to get better.

People skills are generally over-rated, unless you're completely off the wall. Just follow the golden rule and understand that everyone's different, everyone has good and bad days, and be flexible enough to adapt to that. The number of trainers with bad training skills outnumber the trainers with bad people skills by 20 to 1 (or more).

More important than people skills is the ability to exercise good judgement and common sense...I mean there were exercises I knew at the uneducated age of 16 to be a waste of time that I still see certified trainers have their clients do today.

Personal training is not rocket science. It's just takes a simple understanding of anatomy, physiology, and psychology to help get clients what they want and need."
JOHN: Today, we see many trainers try their hand at online marketing. It seems the trend is to outwit the consumer by portraying to be an experienced professional capable of putting out quality products-but it is undermined by the "quick cash" adage and quality flies out the window. What is your advice to the fitness professional eager to create a product and sell it online. What steps would you prefer they follow?

Craig: "It's pretty simple. The product should be safe and effective, and the trainer must be able to back up the claims that are made. Similar to in-person training."

JOHN: It seems that trainers nowadays are more concerned about simply "tiring clients" out by creating programs that include basic metabolic drills without proper supervision or cues. Most programs-- especially those performed in groups--lack any assessment or effective coaching of lifts. What are your views on this?

Craig: "I agree, this approach is popular these days. I don't really know what else to say other than a good trainer should simply know that form is always important, and that there is a time and a place for many types of training in a program - it doesn't have to be all hard-core all the time.

Let's go back to what I said at the start of the interview - that most fat loss results come from nutrition. That means we don't have to "kill" the client all the time.

It's also important to look at training for what it is at the simplest level - it's a stimulus put on the body in order to get a desired adaptation.

So each client/bootcamper should be addressed with the most appropriate stimulus that will deliver the maximum amount of positive adaptation.

A good trainer will know how to do that while at the same time providing a peak experience for the client."

JOHN: What is the best exercise that people are NOT doing, and should be?

Craig: a) Split squats - Yes, I know, a staple among good trainers, but I suggest this one because the forward lunge is over-used. Beginners should master the split squat (using a wall for balance while mastering bodyweight) and then move on to reverse lunges, and then finally to forward lunges. It is a bad idea to prescribe forward lunges to an uncoordinated overweight beginner, but I see that every day in the gym. Master the split squat first.

b) Rowing exercises with increased range of motion in scapula retraction - For example, instead of doing seated rows with the V-grip handle, use the rope extension instead and you can get extra range of motion. Alternatively, a chest supported 2-arm dumbbell row on an incline bench will accomplish this.

Those are just two, but for general advice, I suggest everyone take a look at their program and see if they can simplify it, rather than making it more complicated. You can probably cut down on the amount of time you train if you stick to the basics." [END]


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