How to Get Better

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Q: Tony, love the blog and all that jazz, so on and so forth. Long story short, I recently was hired as a Master Trainer at a pretty successful gym after I graduated with my masters degree in Exercise Physiology. Although I believe I make sound programs and am knowledgeable about the body, I still worry that I am “that trainer”. That being said, what would your advice be to make sure I am doing the right progressions with my specific clientele. I am a CSCS through NSCA and understand the need to write individual programs, and not templates. I really just want to better myself, but I want to better myself as efficiently as possible. The last thing I want to do is write programs through the “trial by fire” method.

I don’t have too much experience, or any mentors or trainers near me that have meaningful advice. Can you tell me how you first got started and how you made your training better and how to sift through all the BS that every trainer puts on their blog? Not you. Just clarifying. Thanks a lot. (Fist Pump)

A: I know it’s going to come across as a little disappointing, but there really is no magical answer here. Much like if you want to get better at singing, you sing; or if you want to get better at tennis, you play tennis; or if you want to get better at having your girlfriend make you meatloaf, you take out the garbage, clean the dishes, put the toilet seat down, don’t leave dirty underwear on the floor, and never, ever, under any circumstances, forget to put the cap back on the toothpaste. Kiss of death, dude. You won’t get laid for a week, let alone get meatloaf anytime soon.

Anyways, the same can be said about writing effective programs – you need to write programs. A lot. Unfortunately, like with anything in life, it takes a while to get good at it. Anyone who’s read Malcolm Gladwell’s phenomenal book, Outliers, will know that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of repetitive exposure to any skill in order to master it.

Eric and I were discussing this a few weeks ago when someone asked “how many programs do you guys write per week, 5? 10?” After I stopped laughing, I said , “yeah, in a day maybe.” Who’s to say what the exact number is? Suffice it to say, between all the athletes and eclectic variety of clientele at CP (as well as all my distance coaching clients), it’s significant. And, to throw another monkey wrench into the mix, the number will fluctuate depending on the time of year. As an example, now that all the pro-baseball guys are back, and given that everyone gets an individualized program customized for them (all arms aren’t created equal) lets just say that doesn’t leave a whole lot of free time to watch Dancing with the Stars.

Incidentally, I couldn’t help but notice how you mentioned that you don’t want to learn by “trial by fire.” Honestly, that’s probably one of the best ways to learn. I mean, your clients are your guinea pigs (so-to-speak), and trying new exercises and programs on them is the only way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Granted you have to be cognizant of their ability level, injury history, goals/needs, etc, but all in all, there have been a handful of times where I’ve read something, tried it out on a client (or two), only to say to myself, “well, that blew.” Conversely, there have been plenty of times where I tried something new and loved it. Reading scripture to orphaned kittens, for example.

All I can really add is this, when I first started in this industry I thought I knew all there was to know. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized that that couldn’t have been further from the truth. What they teach you in school pales in comparison to what you’ll actually need to know in the real world. Lets just say my world was rocked the day I learned that there was no such thing as a trapzoid muscle.

As it was, I just made it a point to expose myself to a wide variety of “stuff” as it pertained to fitness. Internet forums, websites, books, magazines, DVDs, you name it, I tried to read it. Soon thereafter I started to gravitate towards those people whom I felt I shared the same beliefs and standards in. Likewise, that’s exactly what you need to do. The more you read and follow the right people (myself, Eric, Mike Robertson, Nick Tumminello, Alwyn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle, Bret Contreras, Nia Shanks, Jonathan Fass, Leigh Peele, Mark Young, Gray Cook, just look on my blogroll ), the better you’ll get.

Trust me, I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way in the same universe as the aforementioned people, but I’ve made it a point to surround myself (or rather, immerse myself) around people who share the same beliefs as me with regards to training people. The only way you’re going to get better is by doing it. Give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Moreover, I have to say it’s really refreshing to see that you don’t have this overwhelming sense of entitlement that many upcoming trainers seemingly have. The fact that you’re reaching out and trying to better yourself and better serve your clients speaks volumes for your passion. Good luck! (fist pump back)

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