A Little Sage Advice

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Q: Hey Tony, I have a silly question about personal training. I am an independent trainer in New York City- I’ve been training for three years- only 6 months of which have been independent. Now, I try my best to read every day – your blogs, Boyle’s blogs, Eric’s blogs, Cosgrove and many more. I just can’t help but be amazed when you answer some people’s questions on your blog. It seems as if you have information wrapped around your finger ready to spit each time. I guess I’m asking how can I continue to learn and gain the ability to actually know complex answers to complex questions on the spot? I noticed that at CP you guys really zone in on shoulders. I have an asymptomatic labral tear in my right hip joint, and it’s been there for a while, which has led me to continuously study the hip. Is it better to know a little about everything, or is it better to really know one area of the body? Silly questions I suppose; your blogs amaze me at times.

A: First off, you’re way a head of the game compared to most personal trainers out there if you’re making an effort to read everyday. What’s more, you’re reading the right people – Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Alywn Cosgrove, etc. Give yourself some credit. Secondly, I’d go so far as to say that even the aforementioned people you listed are still learning – ALL. THE. TIME. Eric is one of my best friends, and I know for a fact that he’s a machine when it comes to continuing education. It just comes down to repetition and repeated exposures to the same material. He didn’t become the “shoulder guy” overnight.

Likewise, look at someone like Bill Hartman (who, along with Mike Robertson, co-owns IFAST). The man is, for all intents a purposes, brilliant. I remember a few months ago when he was in Boston for a speaking engagement, I drove into the city to pick him up and take him out to our facility to hang out for the day. On the drive out, we started talking about various things training related. At some point he started talking about, I don’t know, how the medulla oblongata affects tibial translation, which in turn, sends a sensory impulse to the rotator cuff to shut down, and as a result would explain why someone has medial knee pain when they squat (or something like that). Now, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable, but when Bill asked me what my thoughts were, I couldn’t help but feel like the character Lennie from Of Mice and Men

(Crickets chirping)

(Awkward silence)

(Deer in headlights)

Tell me about dem rabbits, again!

The point I’m trying to make is that, even us so-called “experts” don’t know everything about anything. This isn’t to say that I don’t find value in mastering a niche market, however. You noted that we tend to hone in on shoulders at Cressey Performance. This, makes sense. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but I’d guess that roughly 75% of out clientele are athletes. Of those, 80-90% are baseball players. The shoulders kind of play a significant role in that sport, and would help explain why Eric (and to a smaller degree, myself) talk a lot on that topic.

Concurrently, I tend to handle a larger load of the female and fat-loss clientele that we have at the facility. As such, I tend to spend a lot of my time reading up on programming ideas, fat loss protocols, postural stuff, and corrective strategies for when I have to program around injuries, boo-boo’s and what not.

Similarly, as our resident massage therapist/coach, Chris Howard tends to focus the majority of his time reading up on massage therapy techniques and anatomy. Combined, all three of us are studying various other topics that make us a little more well-rounded, too (functional anatomy, nutrition, assessment strategies, Jamie Eason pictures, you know the important stuff).

I guess, in the end, my best answer would be to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. As you noted, you’ve been training people for three years. If you’re going to be making this a career, you have plenty of time to get better and master your craft. Moreover, be cognizant of who your clientele are. I mean, while it’s not wrong, it wouldn’t make much sense to spend the bulk of your time reading up on how to train MMA fighters when you typically train 45 year old housewives. Conversely, if something interests you, then read about it. No one ever got dumber from reading and studying things that interest them.

To summarize: the only way you’re going to get better is by actually doing it. We all know of someone who’s been talking about going to the gym for months (if not years), and they’ve never stepped foot in one. Also, have some perspective. A few of those names you noted above (Boyle, Cosgrove) have been in the industry for a loooooooong time. As well, while people like you and I look up to them and think we’ll never reach their status, I find solace in the fact that even they, to some degree, are still trying to get better. That’s saying something!

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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