The Words We Use Matter. Again.
It’s been a minute since I’ve written anything on this site.
In fact, this is the longest I have gone without writing anything…like, at all.
For those unaware, about two and a half weeks ago I ruptured the Achilles tendon in my right lower leg
fighting ninjas sprinting. I’m okay. My ego took a bit of a bruising, but I’m okay. I did it while down in Florida, ended up flying back up to Boston to have it looked at by the ortho, who confirmed it (full rupture), and I was in surgery on June 1st.
It’s been a little over a week since my surgery and things are progressing as best they can. It’s been a struggle to adapt to an injury – it’s my first significant one in my entire life. However, I am trying to see the silver linings in things as best I can:
- I’m catching up on Better Call Saul.
- I guess this means I’ll be focusing on my bench (and biceps) for the next few months.
- That’s about it.
I’ve been mired in nothing but a foul mood since the injury happened, but I received a message the other day that lifted my spirits and also reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago titled The Words We Use Matter.
The Words We Use Matter (again)
In it I discuss the often negative connotation the words we use – most notably as fitness professionals – have on the psyche of our athletes/clients.
The best example is the initial assessment/evaluation.
Instead of using it as an opportunity to empower someone and to demonstrate to them what they CAN do, we’ll often use the assessment as an invitation to chop them down a peg or two and hone in on their faults thinking, mistakingly, that by doing so we’ll “woo” them into submission; that the only way they can be “fixed” is by purchasing a 24-pack of sessions.
And we need to do better.
You can read the original post HERE.
To expound on this topic a bit further I wanted to share a recent exchange I had with a woman I had met only briefly last year, and to showcase the stark contrast of messaging she received between myself and another coach.
The quick backstory is that I was invited to Colorado Springs last year to record a webinar at NSCA Headquarters for their 2019 Virtual Personal Trainers Conference.
My presentation was on Hip Assessment and how fitness professionals should lean more into the idea of asymmetry (brief take: it won’t kill you) and that it behooves us to take time to better individualize one’s squat and deadlift set-up & execution.
I.e., little tweaks here in there with regards to foot position, stance, or even the variation can go a long ways in helping a lift not only feel better, but feel more stable and powerful too.
Part of my presentation involved taking someone in the audience through a real-time assessment in addition to technique audit.
Here’s visual proof of the interaction:
That’s Jenny, a personal trainer located in Colorado Spring.
If I recall correctly, Jenny volunteered her deadlift because, according to her, “it had never felt great.” So I spent a solid 20-30 minutes taking Jenny through some shenanigans.
She had always performed her deadlifts with a conventional stance (feet closer together, hands just outside the knees) but it had always bothered her back.
So I widened her stance to a modified Sumo stance (pictured above) which allowed her to maintain a more upright torso and placed less shearing on her spine. I then got her to have a better appreciation of what it really feels like to ramp up full-body tension:
- Finding her hamstrings by experimenting with hip position (up, down, back, forth, BAM, okay, right there).
- Finding her lats: “squeeze an orange in your armpits.”
- Having her put more force INTO the ground by PUSHING away from the floor rather than pulling.
- Connecting the bar to the inner circle of the plates – “taking slack out of the bar.”
All these things helped her stay better engaged and helped her to maintain a neutral spine throughout each rep (no more back rounding).
Was she perfect?
In reality, though, all I was after was “better.”
I kept things positive, focused on the “big rocks,” and tried my best to cement the things that were clicking with her at the moment.
In all, at the end of the live session, her deadlift felt and looked better, which was a win in my book.
Unbeknownst to me (at the time), during one of the breaks in filming, another male trainer in the audience approached Jenny to make some small talk. He asked her in passing if she had ever deadlifted before?
She said yes, but that she hadn’t a ton of experience.
“Yeah, those looked pretty shitty.”
What profound feedback!
It was weeks later, when Jenny sent me a message thanking me for the coaching cues I gave her, that she told me about her interaction with the other trainer in attendance.
We had a chuckle about it, and shared a few eye rolls…but it made me wonder about this guy’s coaching style. Obviously I have no way of knowing for sure, but if he had such callous and insensitive commentary towards a complete stranger, wasn’t it safe to assume it was more of the same with his own clients?
More to the point: I’ll admit some people may respond well to such feedback. In my experience, however, most would crumble.
The words we use matter.
I mean, what if I had the same approach? Let’s say we had a time machine and went back to my first interaction with Jenny and my initial feedback mirrored his.
Except, we’ll make it a bit more dramatic:
“OH MY GOD. MY EYES. MY EYES. THEY’RE BLEEDING. MAKE IT STOP. MAKE IT STOOOOOOOOOOOP.
Wow, those looked really shitty. Also, your dog is ugly.”
Chances are I would have turned her off completely and she never would have pursued training with deadlifts ever again.
Instead, this is what happened.
This is a message I received from Jenny last week:
I’m the girl from the NSCA with the “shitty deadlift.” I wanted to tell you that my ugly deadlift is now 335 pounds and I have entered my first powerlifting competition and may even grab a state record next year.
The time you spent with me that day last year sparked something and it may sound ridiculous, but I don’t know where I would be today without the magical creature called the deadlift. For some reason I felt compelled to share this with you today. What may have seemed ordinary and mundane to you completely changed my life.
Again, probably sounds over-dramatic but I truly mean it. You’re a gem. Keep doing what you do.”
The words we use matter.