Why my Client’s Train for Strength

There are tons of different philosophies out there regarding fitness and exercise. I have heard other respectable trainers say “don’t make your own personal fitness goals your client’s goals.”  I do agree with that in many ways. I have seen trainers that are more of the runner type have their clients running inappropriate amounts of volume on unstable hips. And more of the aerobic type that just do way to much elliptical prescription for my taste. I too have been guilty of this. Early in my training career I had a very limited amount of tools. I knew how to do bench presses, bicep curls, leg extensions, leg presses and so on… I trained strait out of muscle head magazines to get get big guns and ripped abs. Guess what. whether you were Jenny, Bob, or Dave You did the same weight lifting routines. Monday was Legs, Wednesdays was Chest and Tris, and Friday was Back, Bi’s and shoulders. If I really wanted to mix it up I would throw in superset or a burnout set at the end. Then I would have them jump on the elliptical for 45 minutes. Oh,  I forgot to mention that I kept many of my clients at 12-15 repetitions because I was afraid of bulking them up. Sometimes I ventured to the land of 8 repetitions. I rarely tracked the weight they used and based just about everything on their or my level of perceived exertion.  Ok so maybe you get it, inexperience without proper guidance isn’t a recipe for success. Amazingly though I managed to be relatively successful as a trainer.

Fast forward over a decade later. I no longer use machines, train specific body parts or isolation movements, and definitely don’t make 12-15 repetitions a staple for my clients. So what has changed? About a decade of experience, tons of continuing education courses, hundreds of clients to practice with (yes I said practice, and if I didn’t I would be lying), and a fundamental understanding of human movement physiology. After all of this I have to admit I am still guilty of training my client’s based on my biases and leanings. Now, let me clarify. My goals today are based on keeping the body mobile especially through the hips and T-Spine. The other big focus for my clients is that of strength. Yes I am talking about low repetition strength. People that say they are training strength in the 12-15 repetition range know little of what they are taking about unless they are doing heavy singles. Unfortunately people buy into the philosophy of “if becoming strong isn’t your goal, it’s ok we can just work on toning with high repetitions and lots of cardio, and as long as you are active then that is better than just sitting at home doing nothing.” There is also the philosophy of “Fitness should be fun, as long as you are sweating and have your heart rate up you are doing great!!!” Now let me be clear I am not going to bash on those that focus primarily on Aerobic based and high repetition fitness, but I need to clarify that those two examples couldn’t be further from the philosophy that I follow and train my clients by. And if it is just better than doing nothing then do something else.

A group of women came in to my facility to want to form a “private group training” the other day.  The ages ranged from late 2o’s to early 60′s. They all had enthusiasm walking in the door and were excited to get started!!! Guess what,  20 minutes later they walked out without a training package being sold. Now some of it could have been cost, but the biggest thing that happened is that there is a disconnect from what people are programmed by watching foo-foo fitness shows and Dr. Oz. First off these ladies come to me for help because guess why… They need help getting fit and CAN”T do it by themselves. But when in front of me I have one lady saying well I don’t like lifting weights and I don’t want to do strength training, can we do something else? My answer “absolutely not. We will work with many different tools, bodyweight, kettlebells, barbells, suspension training , but we will also work on becoming stronger.” I don’t know if she liked the answer, but since it is my gym I am not going to break out a zumba class or Kickboxing class for them just because they are paying me, hell they can go to Gold’s gym for $20 per month and get that stuff. I asked any of the ladies if they needed help lifting 5 pounds of weight? they said “no.” Then why should I train you to lift weight you can already easily lift? The thing is they may never get it and they may just keep dreaming that one day the fantasy of getting in shape will happen on a late night infomercial. My goal wasn’t to turn these women in to powerlifters but in the same breath I am a trainer that focuses on movement, strength, and conditioning. If you want aerobics go to LA Fitness, they are cheaper than I am anyway and the trainer there will tell you anything you want to get a sale.

The truth is lifting weights appropriately makes a big difference with body composition,strength, and bone density, that you don’t see with aerobic based fitness alone. Yes that means cardio attack classes don’t improve those things. Maybe Oprah didn’t tell them that, but it is true. I was overhearing a client of mine that has seen significant weight loss, talking with a group of people the other day and the I heard something that I had never heard before…… Are you ready for this… She was mentioning that people really started noticing her significant changes in her body when we started deadlifting heavy weight. Who would have thought, the deadlift… not the elliptical, the Zumba Classes, or the 5 pound weights. Nope. It was the deadlift. Nothing could have made me smile more. Strength is the secret. Lifting heavier weights(safely and with good form), is the secret. I have an 80 year old client. Heavy for her is 8-10 pounds for upper body movements, but even she is deadlifting the 44pound kettlebell for reps now, and for her that is truly a feat of strength(she may weigh 100pounds). I could list story after story of how real strength training has made the changes that people think they will get from the cardio theater full of elliptical machines. Deadlifting, squatting, and Kettlebell complexes in my opinion are the solution. Unfortunately, I think the gym equipment companies demonized these lifts to make people think they would get hurt doing them so that there would be a false sense of safety on machines. If you don’t know how to safely do these moves then hire a qualified person to teach you. And if the qualified person tells you that the leg press machine is safer than a squat then walk away(or Run). I can only speak on this matter because I did things wrong for so many years which finally lead me to the truth.

My dream is that one day strength will be “in” .  Unfortunately skinny jeans and skinny fat are still more desirable for manorexic sissies and women that idolize sickly models.

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2 Responses to Why my Client’s Train for Strength

  1. Sean Liston says:

    Danny,

    Very nicely written blog post…not that you need my approval or anything! You definitely attract more flies with honey than vinegar!

  2. I sometimes impose my goals on my clients because my goals will lead to their goals. I always knew strength would help with fat loss but it was even more useful then I initially thought when I went through Kettlebell Burn. What I realized from observing my clients is that even if fat loss is their main goal the attaining strength is something they didn’t realize they wanted until they got it.

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