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Decommoditizing the fitness professional

A friend of mine recently posted an article to Facebook titled “The Uncertainty of An Exercise Science Degree”. My degree is in Kinesiology (the “pinky out” way of saying Exercise Science), so I immediately clicked on the link to see what the author had to say.

The gist of the article is summed up by this paragraph:

“…Strength and conditioning jobs are a revolving door and oversaturated with young professionals trying to break in. Personal training jobs tend to be part-time and with lousy pay while companies use your revenue to pay the bills. People are just flat out lazy and don’t want to exercise or already think they know everything about training [my emphasis]. Personal training only requires a simple certification and $500 (making you fairly replaceable). If you get lucky, you might find a private facility and become an independent contractor, but this is hard and usually requires knowing people. You’re also left to bring in clients.”

I agree 100%. Finding a job, let alone a decent paying job, in the health and fitness field is incredibly difficult. Unless your goal is to get your Masters in Exercise Science or go to Physical Therapy School, a degree in Exercise Science is akin to a degree in English [and I can easily argue that an English degree is more useful].

The fact is, the barrier of entry into the fitness profession is so low, the majority of people decide to get into it because they think, “I like working out, I’m pretty fit, and I’ll just tell people to do what I do”. However, these same people are the ones who can’t teach a squat, don’t know the difference between internal and external rotation, and overcompensate for their lack of knowledge by yelling at (“motivating”) people until they are blue in the face.

The point of this post, however, is not to rant about the difficulties of working in the fitness profession. The point of this post is to show how one can surmount the obstacles and stand out in this over-saturated, super competitive field.

How to de-commoditize the fitness professional.

The friend who posted the article on Facebook also posted his small commentary (or “rant”, in his words) with the article:

“Commercial gyms are crap to work for. Contracting out you get raped when it comes down to the actual money you get paid. It’s near impossible to start your own successful gym unless you have some kind of huge following….or if you’re an affiliate/franchise you usually end up getting raped for having a name to attract attention. Working for a team is unstable because you’re just an expendable coach. At the end of the day the pay sucks…or it’s inconsistent.

The bolded emphasis is mine. Those two statements say a lot in terms of overcoming the obstacles faced by people in the fitness profession.

[Side note: In reality, you are a commodity in any entry level position in any profession. That is, until you are not. That’s why people decide to do things like go back to school.]

My friend already identified what makes an individual successful in the fitness and healthy industry: a huge following and/or being indispensable.

So at that point, it’s pretty simple right? Do that! Make yourself indispensable and start attracting a huge following. Well, it’s not necessarily that easy. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes educating yourself (especially in things non-fitness related like marketing, accounting, finance, and behavioral psychology). But it does give the aspiring fitness professional a blueprint for success AND, since the majority of people aren’t doing those things, it makes it easier for you to stand out.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” -Mark Twain

So, how does a fitness professional de-commoditize himself/herself?

  • Start a blog. And write about something interesting and something others want to read about. Unless you are an elite athlete, no one gives a fuck about your workouts logs. The easiest way to do this is to check out what other top fitness blogs are writing about and put your spin on it.
  • Learn about behavioral psychology. Why do people workout? Why do people quit working out? How can you create successful habits in people? These are all questions you need to know the answers to as it will help you obtain/retain clients.
  • Create an identity. What do you stand for? What’s your fitness niche? You can’t please everybody. Do you specialize working with an older population? Are you the movement conscious guy or gal? Do you want to work with athletes (realize, also, this is a very competitive sphere in itself, so in this case you’ll need to niche down even more. For example, you specialize in working with tennis players).
  • Learn how to market. This is huge. If you know how to get the word out and promote yourself, this goes a long way. You can be the best [insert title here] but if no one knows about you, it doesn’t matter. On the flip side though, you need to provide an awesome service because your biggest asset will be word-of-mouth marketing.

The above should get the fitness professional started on the journey to becoming indispensable. Realize, that once you are indispensable, you have options. If you have a loyal following of 20+ personal training clients, you can leverage that into a higher percentage cut of revenue. If you grow an online presence you can sell information products. Once you’ve established your identity, you can seek out individuals in your niche and hold seminars for them.

You’ll have to be willing to put the effort in. You’ll have to be willing to look at yourself as an entrepreneur. But the opportunities are only limited by your imagination.

Final note, I hate the descriptions “fitness instructor” and “personal trainer” because it lumps me in with all these meathead dummies who just tell their clients to perform “3 sets of 12-15 reps” of a bunch of different exercises and go fetch their weights for them. I call these types of fitness professionals “weight caddies”. If this is you, no wonder you are easily replaceable.

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Can you pick that up correctly? Wiley Rein experiment recap

Can you pick an object up off the ground with correct technique (i.e. flat back, vertical shins, weight on your heels)?

This is the challenge Maddie and I posed to the employees of the Wiley Rein Law Office when we participated in their Health Fair/Farmer’s Market last week.

Initially, the idea for the challenge came about as a way for us to engage the Wiley Rein employees, but it quickly turned into an interesting experiment to see the level of kinesthetic awareness had by the general population.

We had 25 people attempt to correctly pick up a 25 pound kettlebell.  Guess how many out of the 25 did it correctly. 20?  Nope.  15?  Try again.

Give up?  The answer is 9.  Nine people out of the 25 were able to pick up the kettlebell in a position that didn’t look like they were going to break their knees or snap their spines in half.  That’s barely a third.  And — if I’m being totally honest — about 3 of those 9 were suspect.  So, that actually means a whooping 24% of people can pick an object up off the ground correctly.

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We told them what “correctly” meant and it still wasn’t even close!

Seriously??

I’m not going to lie, that’s pretty pathetic.  And arguably one of the bigger reasons why 80% of the population has low back pain at some point or another.

So the big question is…WHY?

Why can’t the majority of people pick something up correctly?  And along those same lines, why can’t the majority of people sit down and stand up correctly?  Or stand correctly?  Or walk correctly?  Or run correctly?  Or jump correctly?

Why can’t the majority of people correctly perform “simple”, routine tasks we perform on a daily basis?

Because they’ve never been taught (or they have some sort of joint restriction, but that’s out of the scope of this post).

Argue if you want (you’ll lose), but all these routine tasks involve a level of skill that needs to be learned by everyone [except maybe the most gifted of individuals, and even they can use the eye of an experienced coach to help them refine their movement].

Kelly Starrett — licensed Physical Therapist, owner of San Francisco CrossFit, and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard — advocates that all human beings involve themselves in a “movement practice”.  This could be gymnastics, yoga, CrossFit, olympic lifting, powerlifting, martial arts, etc.  These practices all have one thing in common:  the consistent learning and refining of proper movement and technique.  Movements and techniques that mimic the simple tasks you perform everyday.

Because what is squatting besides just sitting down and standing up properly?  And deadlifting is just the proper way to pick something up off the ground.  And pressing is how you take something from your shoulder and place it overhead.

My hope is that the couple hours Maddie and I were able to spend talking with and correcting the technique of the Wiley Rein employees helped save them from future back pain/discomfort.  Maybe we even opened their eyes and motivated them to find a movement practice (hopefully 202strong, when we open this Fall).

Finally, a couple interesting observations from our Wiley Rein experiment:

1) The three people who could pick up the kettlebell perfectly all had worked with personal trainers and taught how to deadlift.  Not very surprising, but helps reinforce the message above.

2) Only 5 of the 25 participants were men.  We had plenty of men walk by our table, so what gives?  My gut (and past experience) tells me that a lot of men are afraid of failing, especially when it comes to physical tasks, so they’d rather not try at all then potentially look like a fool.

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Common Sense

On this most awesome of holidays, I want to take some time to draw parallels between the independence of our beloved country and the health and fitness movement we are currently a part of.

Just as our founding fathers grew tired of unjust tyranny of Great Britain, a growing section of our population is growing sick– figuratively and literally– of the imposed “norms” of health and fitness imposed on us by so called experts.

-Why do people still blindly follow the calories-in calories-out theory for losing weight?
-If you asked 10 random people on the street what insulin is, how many will know?
-Can you pick-up an object of the ground without rounding your back? No? Well you should.

The system is broken.  Researchers slowly play catch-up on issues clinicians have successfully treated in patients for years.  If you suffer from some form of gastrointestinal distress, does it matter if the gluten or FODMAPS (fermentable, oligo-, di-, mono-sacharrides, and polyls) that comes from wheat is the issue?  The solution is the same — STOP EATING WHEAT!  If you used a lacrosse ball or foam roller to alleviate knee, shoulder, or back pain, does the actual mechanism of relief matter to you?  Fuck no, who cares.  Your chronic pain went away and you get on with living your life.

Is this a radical way of thinking?  Definitely.  Is it irresponsible to treat people without knowing exactly why it works?  Perhaps, but it is no more irresponsible than prescribing the same ineffective solutions time and time again.

A recent paper about arterial disease and wellness points out that despite knowing more about cardiovascular disease (CVD) now than ever before, the current system for treating CVD (treating end-stage arterial disease) will eventually bankrupt western civilization.

“We now have the opportunity to shift to a platform designed to prevent disease, or at minimum treating it before it is evident. We do not need to wait for huge randomized double blind prospective outcome studies to prove such a platform will be superior.  We have no choice. We have proven that the current platform leads to insolvency. It is possible with a personalized, comprehensive, and holistic approach to determine the causes of the arterial disease in each patient.”

And this can be extrapolated to almost any health and fitness issues.  Why should you experience chronic low back pain when a knowledgeable coach or trainer can watch you deadlift and fix the issue before it starts?  Why wait until you’re 20 pounds overweight  before you address your nutrition? You could address it now.  It is a fundamental right for you to take care of yourself (it’s also a fundamental right for you to see your abs, just saying…).  And this means departing from the norm, questioning the status quo, and experimenting to find out what is right for you.  The benefits of thinking and acting this way far outweigh whatever excuse you can think of to avoid addressing your potential issues.

So, just as our Founding Fathers questioned the status quo, introduced a radical way of thinking, and championed change and growth, we too are involved in a similar pattern.  There’s certainly no way to accurately predict how things will pan out, but in order to continue to push forward with the current health and fitness movement, we must continue to question the status quo and evolve the way we view our health and fitness.

Happy Fourth of July!

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right”.
-Thomas Paine, Common Sense

 

Sleep-Deprivation

You Need To Sleep! Use These Simple Hacks To Improve Your Quality

We live in a world where it’s a badge of honor to pull an all-nighter at work.  We brag to our peers how little we sleep.  Hell, I’ve been called lazy on numerous occasions because I value my midday naps so much.

The truth is, we need sleep.  There’s no way around it.  And, not only do we need sleep, but a lack of sleep is keeping you from being a super productive, healthy, fit, sexy, BAMF (bad ass mother f-er, in case you didn’t know).  As paleo diet expert Robb Wolf put it, “If a person sleeps well, you can’t kill them.  If they sleep badly, you can’t keep them alive”. The consequences for missing out on sleep, both long term and short term, physically and mentally, include:

  • increased blood glucose levels to pre-diabetic status
  • increased cortisol levels & decreased testosterone levels, aka holding onto unwanted body fat
  • decreased mental acuity and increased cognitive impairment
  • decreased ability to recover from workouts
  • decreased performance during workouts
  • decreased sexual desire
  • increased risk for cancer

And the list goes on and on.

Listen – cutting short your sleep so you can have more hours in the day may seem like a great idea for getting more accomplished, but are you actually putting out a high level work with those extra hours?

Study after study demonstrates you aren’t.

In order to accomplish more throughout your day, you’d be better served to master certain techniques and principles such as Pareto’s Principle, Parkinson’s Law, leveraging, and delegating (more about these in later posts).

Now that I’ve outlined the importance of sleep, let me give you some hacks you can use to improve your quality (I’ve experimented with many of these.  Some work better than others, and it will vary from person to person.  Experiment and see what works best for you).

  • Eat more animal fat throughout the day.  Besides the other benefits that are outlined here, increasing your fat intake has been shown to drastically improve sleep quality.
  • Consume a few tsp of honey about 15 minutes before going to sleep
  • Sleep in a completely dark room.  No cell phone, alarm clock, TV, or LED lights of any kind before bed
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol (duh)
  • Consume roughly 5,000 IU’s of Vitamin D when you wake up
  • Lift heavy weights and/or sprint
  • Stand for 8 hours a day OR stand on one leg until exhaustion
  • Sleep in a cool room
  • Along similar lines as above, take a 15 minute hot bath before bed for the rapid cooling effect that takes place immediately after

Like I said, experiment with these different hacks and see what works best for you.  Post to the comments below if you’ve used these, or other techniques to improve your sleep quality.

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6 Exercises Lacrosse Players Need To Train During The Offseason

To excel at a sport, an athlete must practice his/her sport.  There’s no question about that.  But, if all an athlete is doing is playing/practicing his sport in the offseason, they’re leaving it up to chance whether they’ll be physically capable of excelling at the next level.  Working hard is important, but working smart is even more important.

That being said, I’ve asked one of my coaches, Andy, to write a piece about the best exercises for lacrosse players to use in their off-season training.  Andy is incredibly passionate about lacrosse, having played all through college, plus he coaches middle school and high school lacrosse.  We are always discussing different ways to train lacrosse players (as well as the other athletes we work with on a regular basis).

No matter what the sport, when we select movements for our athletes, we always focus on movements that, 1) teach athletes how to move properly, and 2) have a very high return on investment for the time spent training.

Take it away Andy…

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The lacrosse season may be over for the spring but that means that the off-season work and improvement is just beginning.  In addition to stick work, wall ball, and playing in summer leagues, the addition of fitness training can help take players of every age to the next level in the coming year. Here are six exercises that you can introduce to your players to help improve their performance over the summer.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.47.49 PMMed Ball Throws: Whether you are an attack man shooting for the top corner, a d-pole throwing a hard slap check, or a goalie making a cross-field clearing pass strong rotational muscles are key. Med ball throws against a wall are a great way to practice bringing your hips and shoulders around as quickly as possible. Paul Rabil’s a fan, you should be too.

http://www.stack.com/video/2127402327001/paul-rabils-step-back-med-ball-rotational-shot-put/

 

Front squats: A strong lacrosse player begins from the legs up. Front squats are a great movement to increase leg strength, knee stability, and a strong athletic posture. Additionally, frScreen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.51.05 PMont squats are great for developing explosive movement, key to a fast first step or a hard cut.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-R-_123Zz8

 

Pull ups: Pull ups might seem like a simple fundamental movement but there is a reason they’ve been done by athletes from every sport for so long…they work. working muscles in the back, arms, and throughout abdominals, Pull ups are a great and easily accessible way for athletes to increase upper body strength.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOTci0SMoxI

Deadlifts: Another great movement regardless of age, skill, or position, is the deadlift. Deadlifts have been a golden standard movement of athletes for years. Lacrosse is no exception. With an emphasis on strong upper back positioning, hamstring flexibility, or driving through the hips with the glutes, a good deadlifting program can help small shooters, acrobatic goalies, and menacing defensemen do their jobs better.

http://vimeo.com/10251600

Hang cleans:  Just as being a good lacrosse player requires strength, speed, and stick skills, the hang clean requires strong explosive legs, good back/core posture and strength, as well as upper body strength and flexibility. The hang clean in an aggressive movement that translates quickly into a player’s physical capabilities on the field.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 12.55.46 PMhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCdhjfg7fv4

 Agility Drills/ Fartleks: Lacrosse is called the fastest game on two feet for a reason; speed kills. Just ask the two Notre Dame defenders tasked with guarding Duke’s Jordan Wolf.  Lacrosse requires a combination of sprinter like quickness and endurance. A good regimen of agility drills with cones or lines plus intermittent sprinting through fartleks (yes, that’s what they’re called) where you sprint 100 meters then jog 100m then sprint again around a track are great for becoming a faster player.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7xJti9m1uw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S204RGCCrOI

 

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“I just want to be a bad bitch”

“I just want to be a bad bitch”.

This was a snippet of a conversation I overheard between a prospective member and one of my fellow coaches, Maddie, during a free introductory session we give at CrossFit DoneRight.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

When a prospective member says something like this it means two things: 1) she is definitely going to sign-up (she did), and more importantly 2) she gets it.

She gets that stepping into a gym like ours isn’t like walking into a regular gym.  She gets that after working out with us she’ll be able to do things she wasn’t able to do before joining.  And she gets that if she trains to be a “bad bitch” in terms of what she can physically do, she’ll also look like a “bad bitch”.

Have you heard the saying “form follows function”?  This means how you train, how you eat, how you sleep, and what you do on a daily basis (function), dictates how you look (form).  The opposite doesn’t work.  Function doesn’t follow form.

And in my opinion, what’s the point of looking good if you can’t do anything?  That’s like buying a house that looks beautiful on the outside but is a POS on the inside.  Or buying a Lamborghini with an engine that runs off electricity (is that an apt analogy? I don’t know, I’m not a car guy).

And, on top of that, training for aesthetics solely almost never yields the results you want to see.  How’s that 45 minutes of cardio at 70% of your heart rate max treating you?  If it’s working, I’ve probably pissed you off (sorry not sorry).  If it’s not, I hate to say I told you so, but….

The point is, we’ve got to evolve the way we think about our fitness, our bodies, and our functionality as human beings.  We try so hard to train for aesthetics and health and fitness and flexibility and strength and balance independently in a vacuum (that’s a metaphor, not an actual vacuum), when in reality it’s impossible to do.

We are complicated, complex human beings and we need to train as such.  The funny thing is, once we start treating ourselves like this, training, eating, and moving the way we as human beings are designed to train and move, the things we care about most (looking good naked – be honest, you care), takes care of itself.

Performance Nutrition For High School Athletes

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I am currently working directly with approximately 75 high school athletes a week and BY FAR the hardest thing is to get them to eat in a way that will optimize their performance and recovery.

I know, I know, eating right in high school is hard.  I’ve been there.  Cereal for breakfast everyday, bacon grilled cheese and french fries at lunch, peanut butter sandwiches for snack, and pasta for dinner.  And you my results?  I was tired all the time, carrying around more body fat than I should have for a high school basketball player, and wasn’t recovering 3 hour long practices 6 days a week like I needed to.

But you know what?  I didn’t know better.  No one ever told me how to eat.  I was just told to eat more if I wanted to gain weight and eat less if I wanted to lose weight.

We’ve got to do a better job of educating our athletes about how to eat for optimal performance and recovery.  High school athletics is just too competitive for an athlete or a team to fail due to lack of information.  If you give people information, they make better decisions.  The players that want to succeed will step up and do what’s necessary to win.  The ones that don’t…well they probably won’t go very far in their sport anyway.

The approach to eating for performance is fairly simple.  Eat quality food, and eat until you’re full.  That’s rule #1.  Quality foods promote muscle growth and aid in recovery, which are the most important factors for any athlete.

Rule #1:  Eat quality food.

Eat with abandon:

Meat, fowl, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, roots, tubers, bulbs, herbs and spices, animal fats, olive, olive oil, avocados, coconut (meat, oil, and flour) and dairy*.

*Dairy is a powerful tool if you are looking to build strength and gain weight.  Any dairy from grass-fed animals is allowed.  Dairy from grain-fed sources has an unfavorable omega 3 profile, which means it will inhibit your recovery.  Heavy cream, butter, and ghee should not be problematic for anybody.  Occasional consumption of fermented dairy such as cheese and yogurt is acceptable.  Experiment with whole milk, but eliminate it if it becomes problematic.

Limit to roughly once or twice a week:

Nuts, seeds, and fruit.

Avoid as best you can:

All varieties of cereal grains (wheat, rye, barely, oats, corn, millet, etc) , soy, legumes, and vegetable/seed oils.

I know the above might seem a little drastic to some of you.  But, if you want to build muscle, control your inflammation (recover faster), and control your body fat levels, there is no better way.

Rule #2: Eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight.

For example: a 200 pound football player needs to eat at least 200 grams of protein a day.  And the majority of this needs to come from an animal protein source.

Rule #3: Drink a minimum of half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.

So, back to the example above, a 200 pound male needs to drink at least 100 grams of water per day to stay hydrated.

Rule #4: Sleep.  As much as you possibly can.

All of the good stuff in terms of recovery and growth happens while you sleep.  Eight hours should be the absolute minimum you sleep every night.  The more sleep, the better you’ll perform.  And don’t be afraid of taking short naps throughout the day.

….

I’ve purposefully left certain things out of this post, such as how much to eat and supplements to take.  Those are secondary concerns to the four rules listed above.  Focus on improving the quality of your food, the amount of protein you eat, the amount of water you drink, and your sleep and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

Optimal performance and recovery rules recap:

  1. Eat quality food until you’re full.
  2. Eat a MINIMUM of 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight per day.
  3. Drink a MINIMUM of half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.
  4. Sleep a MINIMUM of 8 hours every night.

Out of the four rules above, what’s the hardest one to follow?  What other nutrition related questions do you have that you’d like me to cover? Post to the comments below.