You shouldn’t explain the program to your client

In this previous post about being succesful as a personal trainer, I showed that most trainers probably don’t need to know more about training. At least not as a first priority. To become a better personal trainer, you must build the full skill set it requires and not just one specific skill.

See nobody really cares about how you put together their program. Nobody really cares why this week is lighter but has more volume. Nobody really cares why you’ve switched front squats with hack squats. Nobody but you. If you’re going on about this, you’re demonstrating your knowledge. Teaching is not about demonstrating knowledge – teaching is about what the student needs.

The researcher Lee Ross once did a study where he presented a peace treaty made by the Palestinians and Israelis to the two groups. He told the people he studied that the Israeli suggestion was made by the Palestinians and vice versa. Not surprisingly, they all preferred the suggestion they thought came from their own side.

What this study shows is that relations trump facts and arguments. Tons of similar studies have shown the same. We believe that we’re rational beings, but we’re actually not.

This (combined with a couple of other things) explains why “bad” personal trainers can be hugely successful and why very competent trainers sometimes struggle to make ends meet. Simply put – it’s more important to be nice to people and build a good relation than it is to provide them with competent coaching.

You only see your clients for a couple of hours a week tops, make sure you’re not polishing your own ego, but actively building relations.

Final note: you can still be a competent trainer but put more focus into building relations – it’s not an either/or.

Have a hard time finding time to train?

Most of us have been through stretches where we’re pressed for time. The first thing to go is often training, then a decent diet and finally sleep. In this post I’ll give you a small handful tips that’ll make it easier not to get that snowball-effect going. As soon as we manage to stick to our training, it becomes easier to eat well and rest, simply because of the synergy.

1. Write down your training plan

A simple but effective tip, this subconsciously works as a written contract between you and you. It also makes it easier to go once you have the time because you already know what you’re gonna do.

2. Put your training in your calendar

Another contract with yourself that also reminds you every time you look at the calendar. It’s also a way of telling whoever has access to your calendar to expect you to be at the gym at that time.

3. Have your bag packed

Pre-packing your bag is another way to make it easier to get out the door. While it doesn’t take very long to do, every bit counts. The more obstacles you have to cross to get to the gym, the harder it’s gonna be. Make it easy on yourself.

4. Train on specific days/times

Another way of bypassing the whole “motivation” thing. If you decide to train every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon you don’t have to decide if you want to go train on a specific day or not. This also allows you to plan around your training and thus prioritize it.

5. Train with somebody

Having a friend or a personal trainer makes it easier to show up. Again you’ve made a “contract” but this time with another person. In addition to this, if you agree on training at a specific time each week, you’d actively have to cancel if you can’t go. We’re lazy and if we have to do something actively to stay home from training, we’ve just made it harder for ourselves to skip training and thus easier to get it done. Another simple psychological trick.


All of these five points deal with the psychology of getting out the door and to the gym and that’s just one set of tools. If you’re going through a long stressful period, you should probably modify your training so that you can blast through it quickly. You’re not gonna make huge gains anyways during a stressed period, so planning a few weeks of easier training will take away from the stress and just give you a place to relax.

You could also add in a weekly run or two as it’s an extremely time efficient way to train for most people.

What’s so great about the five points detailed in this post is that they work for everybody. It’s an easy way to hack your brain and keep it from keeping you from training.

Yay. 🙂


Active recovery – what it is and what it isn’t

With Crossfit, blogs and the never-ending search for that something extra you can do to be better than the burpee-boi next to you the term “active recovery” is getting a lot of attention lately.

First of all, let me make one thing clear – the best way to get better than the next guy is 1) to stop comparing yourself to others and 2) to have a great training foundation – not to look for the “next big thing”.

That said – active recovery techniques have been used for a very long time to good effect. They obviously have their merit

I don’t usually do this, but I decided to throw up a couple of links to some studies:

Cold water baths not better than placebo. I’m not really sure how you can immerse people into water that they think is cold but isn’t. But! The study shows that neutral temperature water doesn’t work but cold and placebo works.

Positive effect of specific low-frequency electrical stimulation during short-term recovery.

So some of the common techniques do work and others don’t. Great.

The main problem with active recovery is not actually active recovery – it’s really not that much of a stretch to recommend walking, very light calisthenics or similar for recovery. The problem is a very common one – in the CF community in particular, it’s becoming increasingly popular to do “active recovery”. Only problem is – most CFers are already doing so much they don’t need “active” recovery, they need full recovery.

I regularly say that for most CFers the best training session they can add to their program is a nap. What most do though is take an idea that’s good on paper (active recovery) and use it as an excuse to train more.

Active recovery is NOT training. Active recovery should barely make you sweat.

As with anything it’s important to analyse your programming and look at what you’re trying to accomplish with a given element of the program. What are you trying to accomplish with a 2K swim? A 10k run?

A recovery day should put back points on your recovery “account” – not take away from it.

In direct response to a question on FB from Lasse about where to draw the line between active recovery and training, I’ll throw out a couple of guidelines:

  • If you have to go to the gym to do it – it’s probably training, not recovery.
  • Anything more than a light sweat and you’re probably training.
  • Unless you’re a semi-pro athlete, there’s probably no real reason to do AR (and even if you are, complete rest might be better).
  • If you’re not sure if it’s AR or training, it’s DEFINITELY training. 🙂

To sum up: you probably don’t need “active recovery” physically, but some people feel they need it mentally. Do as little as possible – a nap is probably better than pseudo-training for an hour.

Have a great (rest) day. 🙂

Why you’re wasting time doing “mobility”

About five or six years ago I ran into “dynamic stretching”. Actually I already knew what it was, since it’s a stable in many sports to do some “swinging”, but that’s a different story.

Over the years it went from being something that would make people stop and stare at the gym, to a completely ordinary thing. Along the way came specific mobility training and Kelly Starrett who started his mobility project about four years ago.

While there’s no doubt in my mind that some form of mobility work can be beneficial to most people, it’s gotten downright ridiculous. I regularly see very weak people, who can squat down, knees to armpits spend half an hour doing “mobility” before they go on to squat 60kg.

Without strength in the end positions, all the mobility in the world will do next to nothing. Similar to cardio – without a certain amount of strength, extreme mobility isn’t really that impressive.



Obviously, you need *enough* mobility to get into good positions, but that’s it. Excess mobility will not translate into better performance. Excess strength will.

As with anything in training, it’s important to know your goals and prioritize accordingly. Unless you have very specific (major) issues, spending more than 10-15% of your total training time on mobility is probably a waste of time – unless you want to be a contortionist that is.

Try out this for an eye-opener:

  • Time the amount of mobility work you do over a week
  • Time the amount of strength training you do over a week
  • Time the amount of cardio you do over a week

Compare the three numbers and adjust accordingly.


I really dislike this exercise with all of my heart

And yet here I am suggesting that you do it.

But why would I recommend an exercise that:

  • Probably doesn’t really build strength or muscle
  • Isn’t “fun” or “sexy” to do
  • Requires quite a bit of space
  • Would gather a crowd at any commercial gym

The answer to that question is really quite simple. This exercise helps put me in a position where I’m able to get stronger and build muscle – while remaining injury-free. And no – it’s not an annoying mobility drill.

The exercise I’m thinking about is the turkish get-up. It’s annoying because it’s slow, requires more balance than brute strength and doesn’t give you a great pump.

What it does really well though is teach you how to move as a whole, teaches stability and it makes me feel good.


What really bothers me is that I can’t even make a short list of bullet points to sell the exercise to you. Because that’s not really what it does for me. It’s beyond and above exercises, muscle groups, progressions and mobility.

It works well as the last part of a warmup right before you hit your main exercise – 3-5 sets of 1 pr side is plenty. If you want to spice it up a bit, combine it with a waiter walk so you get up, walk 5-10m and get back down. This will fire up your entire system and provide some extra stability work for the midsection and shoulders.

Do it a couple of times a week for a small handful of sets. I promise you it’ll be a good thing.

Are you holding yourself back?

I’m currently reading Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt. It’s a short and easy to read book on some general marketing principles. The book is very easy to read, so I suggest you get it if you have any interest in marketing. Here’s a quote from the description:

What usually gets emphasised is selling, not marketing. This is a mistake, because selling focuses on the needs of the seller, whereas marketing concentrates on the needs of the buyer.

That made me think about dogmatic training principles. Are you stuck in your training? Do you keep hammering away at an exercise that you may enjoy or be really good at, but that’ll get you no closer to your goals?

I ran into a friend today at the gym and he told me he’d started doing floor presses and had great progress with them. We talked for a bit about making sure the exercise in question would make him good at his goals and not just good at the exercise.

I regularly see people doing weird little exercises that in essence does nothing except impact recovery negatively. This is particularly true for Crossfitters because they see a powerlifting, weightlifter or strength athlete promote an exercise and they want to do it. What they fail to realize is that it’s a very specialized exercise for someone specializing in a given sport.

The serious crossfittian should always aim to do as little as possible to get the desired effect. Simply because they’re already doing so many things.

What that means is that for a crossfitter doing a snatch balance probably isn’t the best way to spend your time – you’re probably better off practicing the full movement, working on whatever weakpoint you have, getting stronger or just straight up resting.

Take a step back and make sure you’re not married to any particular exercise or training dogma. Kill your darlings!

You’re taking it too far

I recently started working with a young and very passionate man. He’s already doing a nutrition program online with a popular internet guru and is doing really well diet-wise. He wanted to transition from mostly a fitness-type of machine-based workout to a strength-centered barbell routine.

Now this approach is something I can obviously relate to, and I also think it’s a very good idea to get some help with the lifts initially. What we’re gonna do together is establish a solid technical foundation for him to work on by himself and then follow-up regularly to see how it goes. The goal is for him to be able to train by himself as quickly and safely as possible.

So far so good.

Now he wants to do squats, bench press and deadlifts as that’s what he’s been told by the nutrition guy is the most efficient. But this is where it gets a bit funky. See the other day he told me he’d asked his (nutrition) coach if he should add in some pullups because he really wants a nice set of pipes. The reply he got was simply “no.”.

Now first of all, I understand the approach and how the internet works – if you tell the people you coach that “a couple of sets of curls” is ok, all of a sudden they’re doing Massive Arm Blast 6000 and telling the world it’s your program. I also understand that during a cut you’re not gonna get much (if any) growth and that your energy is best spent preserving the muscle you’ve got with compound exercises.

But (and this is a couple of big but(t)s)!!!

First of all: while the “big three” lifts are great, they’re not set in stone. Variation is a good thing for most people. Also completely avoiding pulling exercises (vertical or horizontal) is not something I’d recommend.

And (and this is probably the most important point): if your goal is big arms – you have to train your arms. While the fundamental compound exercises are great for developing overall strength and muscle, I’m a live example of what happens if you don’t train your arms directly. I’m currently 184cm and 100kg (6″1, 220) with ~40cm (15 3/4″) guns. While it’s not pathetic in any way, it far from stellar. I very rarely train my pipes.

So while I agree that simplicity is definitely the way to go, I would almost always include six different types of exercises in a program (variations of: horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, squat and deadlift).

And, the most important point of this post? If you want to be good at something – you gotta train it. You wont grow huge pipes without specific arm work unless you’re a mutant.