Industry Sanctioned Laziness

I had a consultation with a 40 something lady yesterday. She was interested in personal training because she has found that her weight loss is very slow since she joined the gym about three months ago in spite of her coming in and working out 4-5 times per week.

I took my normal approach with her – which is to assume she is missing one or two critical pieces of information that are preventing her from being successful – and didn’t try to sell her. This approach is effective for me because a lot of people don’t need or want training, they just need a little wisdom or a slight change in behaviour. This lady was no exception.

The first 45 minutes focused on nutrition. Hers is fairly good. The only real issue is that she is eating a considerable amount of carbs with the mistaken belief that just because they were organic they would help her improve her body composition. I let her know that the body doesn’t know or care where the food comes from – it’s going to treat organic carbs in basically the same way it will treat conventional carbs – as one or two steps away from being sugar.

The final 15 minutes focused on her exercise routine. She is making a number of mistakes here but two that are dramatically impacting her performance. The first is that she doesn’t record the weights she is using and as a consequence has only added about 10 lbs to any of the lifts she is performing. 10 lbs in 3 months is fine if you are dead lifting or squatting 400 lbs but when your numbers are 80 lbs on leg press and you have no injuries, 10 lbs in 3 months doesn’t cut it – particularly for a beginner. So I told her to keep a record of the weights she is using to make sure they are progressing upwards.

The other mistake she is making is a lack of intensity on the cardio movements. When she started, she would work until she was out of breath, sweating and tired. But early on, someone showed her how to use the machines “correctly” for weight loss and she started working in the fat burning zone (I’ve written about this bs before). This basically means you try to keep your heart rate around 60-65% of its max. So, for the last 2 months she has been avoiding working hard because of the mistaken notion that the fat burning zone is the way to go for fat loss. I corrected her on this notion and encouraged her to work as hard as she can or as hard as she did initially and to consider some high intensity intervals. She was pissed off that she had wasted the last few months just coasting along doing effectively nothing because she was more than willing to work hard – in fact, she was working hard until someone showed her the “right” way to do it.

Why this “fat burning zone” stuff continues in the fitness industry doesn’t make any sense. Anyone who spends a few minutes doing some research will quickly learn that what matters is the amount of energy you burn and not where that energy comes from. All things being equal, working harder is better for the fat loss and conditioning than working with a lower intensity. If you can work at 80% you should work at 80%. The fact that fewer of the calories will be coming from fat isn’t all that important as the body will use stored fat to help replace any deficit in energy that results from the high intensity movement.

Intensity Won’t Kill You, a Lack Of It Might

One of my clients has started wearing a heart rate monitor during his workouts recently to make sure he is working as hard as he needs to – his goal is fat loss and to recapture some of the health lost during the last 20 years of smoking. What is more interesting than the information the monitor reveals are the views of the client.

After a particularly grueling super set the monitor revealed a heart rate of 170 BPM. He was gasping for air, pouring sweat and looked extremely tired. Resting before starting the next set, he said “a month ago I thought that I would have died if I ever got my heart rate higher than 150 BPM”. I laughed because I thought he was kidding but he wasn’t. He had never in his life worked with that kind of intensity and really did think that he was an ideal candidate for a heart attack if he pushed himself that hard.

He didn’t die. In fact, 170 is tough for him, but he’s able to work that hard fairly consistently – we’ll get his heart rate up to 170 5 or 6 times during the high intensity intervals we’re doing. His body fat is dropping, his energy is increasing and his posture and muscle mass are improving.

The irony of the entire thing is that his lack of intensity was shortening his life. Because he didn’t get his heart rate up, he had gained a lot of body fat, had very poor cardiovascular health and had basically given up doing anything that was unpleasant. He was well on his way to an early grave and, as a husband and father of two, setting his family up for unnecessary hardships when his life ended prematurely.

If you need to reduce your body fat and get your life back, get medical clearance, go to the gym and work with as much intensity as you can handle, and then push a little further.

Essential Characteristics Of New Strength Coaches

Over the last 3 years I have interviewed a lot of people who were interested in becoming strength coaches as well has having worked with a large number of actual coaches. Below is a list of 5 essential characteristics individuals must hold in order to be successful in the industry.

Passion for working with people. Passion is contagious. If a coach is passionate when they engage their athletes, there’s a very good chance that they will be able to boost the performance of the athletes and help to create better training experiences, results and compliance to the demands of year round training. The inverse is absolutely true – a coach who lacks passion will lower the performance of their athletes. Passion may not be enough to reach all of the people you train but it is absolutely critical for reaching those people who can be reached.

Seeing gaining knowledge and experiences as valuable uses of your time. Unless you are really good, very experienced or own the training centre, there’s a good chance that the money you earn will be kind of low. For this reason, you need to be able to see the value that time with the athletes, creating programs and running the centre. These experiences are what will make you a better coach and allow you to demand more money in the future. You will not learn everything you need to know at school and don’t really have a choice but to gain years of experience before you can consider yourself a professional. If you don’t hold your professional development in a high regard, this industry isn’t the right one for you.

The ability to accept that other people know more than you. Given that you are there to learn and gain experience, you need to be open to just how little you know about particular things. Part of this is regarding others as experts or as more expert than you are.

The ability to listen and hear what other people are saying. This applies to other strength coaches, skills coaches, parents, bosses, clients and athletes. Everyone has an agenda and great strength coaches are able to uncover the critical needs of all the individuals involved and create a plan that helps address all of their main objectives. Talking to the athletes is the only way you are going to be able to uncover injuries and gauge subjective progress. Your ability to hear what is being said is critical in creating a plan that addresses the actual needs of your clients vs. your perceived needs. For example, you may believe that all athletes should be lean but there are a few conditions that would require that some hold more body fat than others. Unless you listen and hear what everyone is saying, you could end up creating a lesser athlete based on your own belief of what is needed.

A willingness to try new things and follow the advice you give to other people. This is critical because other people can see you walking the walk and if you don’t, they are less inclined to listen to what you say. You are also going to be more convincing if you have done what you are asking your athlete to do. This doesn’t mean that you need to play football or have played football in order for you to coach a football player in the gym, but it does mean you should have tried the nutrition plan you are giving your athletes, tried the training method you are prescribing or have a good level of efficiency in the movements you are coaching. Sitting at the front desk eating chocolate eggs while telling people to reduce their refined sugar intake doesn’t cut it if you want people to eat less sugar. Deadlifting with a rounded back while coaching someone to keep their hips low doesn’t cut it. Telling someone how to power clean based on what you read in a book or saw on YouTube isn’t the best way to coach their movements.

The job of strength coach is a fun and rewarding one. Just make sure you have what it takes before you enter this field because if you don’t, you’re not going to last.

Takes Time To Turn On Fat Burning

I’m back to working as a personal trainer in a commercial gym. Most of my clients are interested in fat loss changes vs. strength or pure hypertrophy so one of the questions I get most frequently is “how long with it take to lower my body fat by X percent?” It’s a good question that anyone who is interested in getting a trainers should ask, but the decision to buy training should be influenced by the answer the trainer gives.

In my opinion, the only answer that a trainer or coach should give is “it depends” because if they give a hard time frame they are making a huge leap of faith and assuming that a large number of variables at NEED to be controlled CAN be controlled. Controlling these variables can be extremely difficult; particularly for the individual who is new to training.

For example, burning fat is a skill and if you don’t have the skill you will need to learn it. If comes down to proper nutrition and intense movement and it is fairly safe to assume that if someone has fat to lose they do NOT have these skills (if they did, chances are they would be doing what was required and not asking for help).

Learning proper nutrition is fairly simple because a good trainer or coach will be able to offer sufficient guidance to their clients to allow them to move forward quickly – the truth is that you only need to eat correctly, you do not need to understand why you need eat a particular way.

Learning how to move with the intensity that is required to shift your body away from being a fat storing machine to a fat burning machine is more challenging because it requires a trainee to push themselves harder than they ever have before and for longer durations than what they are comfortable with. Working out for fat loss is TOUGH physically and mentally and the decision to stop early or before the intensity has been reached is too easy. Frankly, if you don’t know how to do it, there is a very good chance you will not learn it on your own because you may think that you are going to die – you will feel pain in your muscles and lungs that is so completely out of the ordinary that you will likely believe that it is an indication of injury or impending death. But, in most cases, if you are healthy, NOT working this hard will lead you to an earlier grave than doing what is needed to shed the fat.

How longs does it take to turn your body into a fat burning machine? Well, in most cases it’s going to be about 2-3 months before you see any significant fat loss that is associated with intense movement vs. nutritional changes. If your trainer says that it is going to happen in a few weeks they may not be telling you the truth or they may be making the assumption that you already know how to do it. If you have never done it before, it’s going to take you a while because fat loss is a skill.

A Calorie Is Not A Calorie

When it comes to weight loss, there seems to be a common belief that if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. Part of this notion is that a calorie is a calorie so if you eat 200 calories of fat or 200 calories of carbs, the consequence on the body is the same. Over time I have found this to be false – a calorie of fat will have different consequence on the body than a calorie of carbs or a calorie of protein. Further more, not all carbs are the same – watch the link.

People need to stop saying that changing body composition is about energy in and energy out because it isn’t the case. It is about the amount of specific energy in. For example, low carb, high protein and fat diets are more efficient at reducing body fat when compared to low fat diets even when calories and activity level are the same.

Fat loss is possible but only if you eat the right foods in the right amounts for a sustained period of time. With the exception of high intensity athletes, most people will get better fat loss if they limit their sugar intake (of ALL types of sugar and particularly fructose and man-made sugars like high fructose corn syrup).