The Words We Use Matter

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NOTE: In concert with the release of Dr. Lisa Lewis’s new resource Psych Skills for Fitness Pros this week (and because I’m currently in Paris getting ready to crush some cheese and don’t have time to write anything new) I wanted to repurpose some old content which 1) You may have missed the first time around and 2) Which also highlights some of the psychological skills I’ve picked up via approximation/co-habitation with Dr. Lewis.

(HINT: She’s my wife and has greatly influenced my approach to coaching the last decade. You should listen to her).

(HINT II: Be sure to pick it up PSFP between now and March 18th at $100 off the regular price).

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.

Instead, I brought up the “words” we use as coaches.

Words Matter

Let’s 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:

Assessment

For us (coaches, personal trainers, physical therapists, athletic trainers) the word infers 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.
  • Your core is weak.
  • 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.

via GIPHY

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.

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?

Crickets

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. And, of course you want to go back to the same classes as before because they’re familiar and comfortable and not so intimidating.

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 few years ago and is a keen example of the plethora of tactics she covers in Pscyh Skills for Fitness Pros.

Instead of berating or guilting a fat-loss client who ate 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’d opt to “of course” him or her to death.

Of course you want to eat Golden Grahams before bed. They’re fucking delicious. However, let’s 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 come to the gym to 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. Let’s 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. However, if after two weeks of not having carbs your response to your office mate saying “hey, good morning,” is to stab them in the throat with a stapler, we’ll likely need to have a talk.”

By leaning in and recognizing why someone would choose to do what they do – and not being an uppity curmudgeon about it (and more importantly…offering a solution or alternative) – 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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  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. Also, vanilla is delicious.

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

  3. Google it…;o)

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