Monday, December 5, 2011

Why My Weaknesses Are My Strengths

One of my all-time favorite movies is "8 Mile"-- you know the one that Eminem stars in. Supposedly, its a pseudo-biography of his life when he was a youngster growing up in Detroit spending his nights rapping in "rap battles" and trying to make it to the top of the rap (now called hip-hop) world.Trust me, I'm a rock and roll/heavy metal fan--but some old-school rap music can give me goosebumps and fire me up before a workout too. Eminem is one of today's better rap artists and I like this motion picture for a variety of reasons.

If you have seen the movie--which came out in 2002--there is a great message in the plot. I'm the last movie critic you'll find; so I won't go into detail much about the plot. In a nutshell, its about a rapper trying to make it big by participating in these "rap battles". These "rap battles" are impromptu rap songs that pin competitors against each other. Basically, each rapper sounds off on a competitor exploiting their weaknesses and targeting negative comments to defame each competitor's character simply to win the contest. This is all performed in front of a large club audience, that at times, can be very unforgiving.

But there is a great message in one scene. You see, Eminem comes from a poverty stricken home; doesn't work a great job; and loses many of these battles. In a world dominated by black rappers, Eminem is white and not completely accepted as a legitimate rap artist. Obviously, his weakness are lucrative weapons to his competitors. His competitors want to expose his weaknesses and use them against Eminem. But in a turn of events, Eminem exposes his own weaknesses to the audience; baffling his competition and leaving them with little to no rebuttal. Here is the scene: (the rap battle starts at about the 1:21 min. mark)

Okay,  so the movie is not up there with Godfather or Goodfellas, but this scene really inspired me when I first saw it and I believe can be helpful for anyone in the fitness industry. How so?

Today, many fitness professional tend to feel that they need to know everything. They feel they need to have the answer to every question--from yoga, diet, prenatal fitness, and Olympic Lifting. Many trainers put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to know everything. In an act to serve as many people as possible, we tend to spread ourselves out too thin, and ultimately, become useless to many.

We feel that the impression we project of knowing the most, will identify us  as the ultimate information booth. And for some, becoming the "information booth of fitness" seems to be the identity we seek satisfaction from. Truth be told, many trainers are not proficient in every aspect of fitness. You can't be. You cannot be great at everything. You have to specialize in certain areas (plural) and be good at what you do.

Why am I telling you this? Simple. Expose your weaknesses early and you will be respected and maybe gain a few more clients. Let me expose some of mine. For instance, I don't know jack about kettelbells. Nothing. Zip. I never write about kettelbell training and I never incorporate them into my clients' programs. Why? Because I simply don't know enough about them. I didn't receive enough formal training using kettlebells and I don't seem interested enough to start. Understanding my position on that, I am not comfortable using a tool that I am not entirely familiar with in my sessions. When I am approached by prospective clients and they ask me if I use kettlebells, I simply respond with an honest answer: "No, I don't use kettlebells at all".

Now, some trainers would be fearful that a customer would walk out the door if they divulged in their shortcomings. Personally, I've experienced that fear and apprehension. Maybe some customers would walk out the door. But this is an opportunity for you--the trainer--to focus on your strengths and how they can help your client.

TRX Suspension

Here's another example: I seldom use the TRX Suspension Trainer. I use it sometimes for 2 exercises, but I don't make it an integral part of any client's program. It looks cool. It's a hot fitness tool on the market. But, I don't feel that I need to have every client of mine on a suspension trainer because I know that most of them can succeed without it. I admit, I did not receive formal training on the TRX. I probably should--but the basic DVD that accompanies the TRX package was enough for me. However, my ignorance of this tool limits my ability to use it in my programs more often. Does it hurt me? Nope. But can you imagine a trainer feeling the need to be proficient at bodyweight suspension training, even if his clients are all predominately overweight or nearing obese levels? Yes.

Olympic Lifts

Here's another weakness of mine. I've never been technically sound at performing Olympic lifts. I learned very briefly in college how to perform a hang clean--but I sicked at it and it simply looked like a big forearm exercise. Years later, I attempted barbell snatches. Didn't look pretty and almost knocked out some of my teeth. Not good. I probably should have sought out some formal training in Olympic Lifts from a qualified USWA or CSCS coach, but I've realized over the years that the clients I work with don't need that style of training to succeed at their goals--at this time.

So why am I telling you this? Obviously, I have some weaknesses that can and should be addressed. It is evident that the learning process for me never ends--even after 13 years in the business. My weaknesses help me keep things in perspective in this field. They keep me sharp and give me a scale to measure my ability to others. 

So why do many fitness professionals feel the need to know everything? That is an enormous amount of pressure to have simply to fear telling someone that you don't know the answer to a question. Referring clients to specialists is a positive aid to both the client and the trainer because it shows that you care enough about your client to get the proper care from the proper source; and that you are being genuine with them. Being genuine can award you with a ton of respect because it takes a small amount of (--dare I say--) courage to be transparent.

Here are some moments when exploiting your weaknesses can be beneficial for you:

Show that you care BEFORE you show them how much you know. In this industry,  it is filled with numerous experts. Nowadays, with the Internet, everyone is an expert. Naturally, you cannot show people that you care online, you can only show them how much you know. Therefore, we have been saturated with experts online instead of Samaritans.  I will tell you from experience, that coming across as a caring person will be much more effective than reciting the components of the Kreb's Cycle to your client. In person interaction is the strongest tool that can be used to express your intentions. that is why it is easier to show someone you care with a simply hand on the shoulder, light touch on the back, and a subtle head nod in affirmation. When your client feels your genuine care for their well-being and goal attainment; your inexperience with a certain modality will be forgotten.

Be upfront without being confrontational. Most fitness professionals become agitated when they are asked about something they do not have familiarity with. They may become stand-off-ish and defensive. This may be a natural response, but it is a open glass portal to how the professional feels about their own capability. Lack of confidence plays a big role in how we react when we are asked about something we are not proficient. However, it is important to talk about what you can provide to the client through means that you are comfortable with and has worked for you well in the past. For instance, I don't work with many young high-school football players and this past summer I was approached by two teens that wanted my training services. They wanted me to help them with their Olympic Lifts. As I stated earlier in this post, I don't have much experience with Oly Lifts and I wanted to be upfront with the gentlemen that my facility doesn't house platforms and coaching that can help them in that area. I hated to lose the business, but I made sure to focus on what I can provide for them that CAN help and mention a few coaches that can help in the area. They were appreciative of my honesty and within 3 weeks, they had referred two of their relatives to me. Why? It was the impression I left on them. Deceitfulness could have helped me get a few more dollars in for the month; but I chose to direct them to a more appropriate resource that paid me back in the end. To the two teens (receiver); they interpreted my actions as a caring professional looking out for their best interest even if I cannot be the provider of it.

Message here? Don't be afraid to refer out to others; admit you don't know an answer; and feel that you need to be an expert.


  1. Excellent rule to live by. Well dones and nicely stated.

  2. Great post, bro. BTW, I am a rock guy too but I love Eminem.



  3. Great post John.

    It's easy to get caught up in the "Tools", but helping people the tools are only part of the equation, it's the caring that matters.

    Bodyweight, TRX, Kettlebells, they all work, everyone can use them, but it's the method and the coaching behind it that matters..

    Great read.



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