The Words We Use Matter

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A few weeks ago, while in LA presenting, I was asked a simple question by one of the attendees:

What’s the one thing you’ve adopted or changed the most as a coach in the past 2-3 years?

A simple inquiry to be sure. However, it required a bit of heft to answer.

I mean it’s not like they asked my thoughts on Linear Periodization1, kipping pull-ups2, or, I don’t know, the atomic mass of Manganese,3all of which can be answered with witty footnotes.

My response was likely a bit of a curveball. While I could have easily gone into the nuances of assessment, program design, and the importance of positional breathing and what philosophical pivots I’ve made on each in recent years – or waxed poetic on why “textbook technique” doesn’t exist – I didn’t choose to go that route.

Instead, I brought up the words we use as coaches, and how they can have a profound influence on our clients and athletes.

Words Matter

Lets start with an inane example.

A word.

A word we use all the time in the fitness industry and one that serves as a cornerstone for what we do as a profession:


For us (coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, athletic trainers) the word induces or implies a start. We use an amalgamation of our expertise in anatomy, program design, bodily movement, and exercise technique/prescription (amongst other thing) and apply all of it to best fit the needs, goals, and ability level of the person sitting in front of us.

In other words: We attempt to find the most efficient, safe, and straightest line possible between Point B (where the client wants to go/goals) and Point A (where they are presently).

Alternatively, for them (clients/athletes/pirates), the word “assessment” can mean a plethora of things:

  • An evaluation
  • A screen
  • A test

Above all, though, I think most people feel an assessment is nothing more than 45-60 minutes of a complete stranger judging the shit out of them:

  • Your shoulders are internally rotated and rounded.
  • You have anterior pelvic tilt.
  • You’re core is weak.4
  • Your glutes don’t fire.
  • Your left eye is lower than your right. That’s weird.

In short: It’s a window of time where some douchy trainer takes every opportunity possible to showcase how much of a walking ball of fail someone is.


I’ve personally taken steps to try to omit the word “assessment” from my vocabulary. I just feel the connotation breeds a negative tone out of the gate and is something I’d rather avoid.

I ain’t got time for that.

Instead I’ve opted to steal a page from my colleagues Ryan Ketchum and Doug Spurling who, in an effort to make things more palatable, have resorted to using the term SUCCESS SESSION in lieu of assessment.

It just feels less judgy, doesn’t it?

The Power of ‘Of Coursing’

I have many friends in the fitness industry and it’s not uncommon for us to commiserate with one another about asinine things we read on the internet or maybe share a frustrating story regarding a client.

Here’s a recent back and forth I had with a friend:

“I have to share this with you…

Yesterday a lady who was given a gift certificate to take my women’s strength training class approached me after class to tell me she would have to take a month or two off from my class so she could “get some of this weight off…”

While I tried to control the stream coming out of my ears I said to her…

Well that’s kinda counterintuitive

She says:

I’m gonna start taking spin again! It really helped me lose weight…

Me: still trying to control the rage monster…

Well, have you done anything to change your eating over the last month? No. When you were taking spin, what did your diet look like? Well, I was tracking my calories and writing everything down that I ate.

So, you think the spinning helped you lose the weight?


I burned 800 calories in spinning…. And I forgot to mention she sleeps horribly due to triplets (age 4 😳🙄) and she’s a DIETICIAN!

So I went on to explain what I thought she needed to do and how three days of spinning would be equivalent to pouring gasoline on the hormonal shit storm her body currently lies in…

Just ugh…”

Admittedly, after reading his description of events, I too had to resist the urge to jump in front of a bus. Why are people so adamant on repeating the same thing(s) over and over and over again to the tune of the same inconsistent results?

Five years ago Tony would have handled things the same way my friend did.

Present day Tony had this to say:

“Next time something like that happens do this:

Say, Of course.

Of course, you’d want to go back to spin class again. You enjoy it and it seemingly helped you lose weight.

However I do feel there’s a more efficient way for you to attain your goal(s) and to MAKE THEM STICK.

Give me 60 days. Let me take the reigns for 60 days. Do what I say, learn, try something different. If you don’t feel better after 60 days and feel as if you haven’t made progress, I’ll buy your next spin package.”

This is a tactic I stole from my wife, Dr. Lisa Lewis, and it works like a charm.

Instead of berating or guilting a client who’s trying to lose fat for eating a bowl of Golden Grahams before bed – “you’re weak,” or “I guess you don’t want it bad enough,” or “I’m not mad, just disappointed” –  I’ll opt to “of course” him or her to death.

Of course you want to eat Golden Grahams before bed. They’re fucking delicious. However, lets see if we can come up with some healthier alternatives together that may be a better fit for your goals.”

Or what about the client who misses a few workouts?

Of course you’d rather go to a Norah Jones concert rather than deadlift. She’s a delight and a national treasure. I have all her albums myself. That being said, no matter how many times you listen to “Don’t Know Why” it’s not going to help you hit your goal. Lets see what we can do to prioritize your sessions more?”

Or what about the client who wants to give keto a try?

Of course you want to try the ketogenic diet. It’s all the rage right now and everyone is doing it. If it’s sustainable and matches your lifestyle I see no reason why you shouldn’t give it a go. Just know that if you’re ornery because you haven’t had a carb in two weeks that that’s no reason to stab someone in the throat.”

Kidding of course.5

But do you see the general theme here?

By leaning in and recognizing why someone would choose to do what they do – and not being an uppity curmudgeon about it (in addition to offering a solution) – you open up the doors for change to actually happen.

Try it.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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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.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. There’s an inverse relationship between training volume & intensity. As volume goes up, intensity goes down, and vice versa. There’s no need to make things more complicated than they have to be. Linear periodization, while the most “vanilla” approach, still works, and is likely the best fit for most people anyway.

  2. I’d rather throw my face into an ax than program these into client’s programs

  3. Google it…;o)

  4. Yes, I know I used the improper use of “your” in this sentence. I just wanted to see who was going to be that a-hole who attempts to call me out on it.

  5. Or am I?

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