What is Impact?

There is a marked difference in influencing someone and truly impacting them.

You can encourage, motivate, command, or even manipulate someone to act or behave differently.


You can educate, edify, and inspire someone to be different.

No matter how good your instruction may be, communication and consistency determines its value and beneficial effect on others.

The bottom-line difference in influence and impact is the later is lasting while the former is but a temporary effect.

Communication and consistency are the deciding factors of making impact or not.

When you communicate, you connect; and consistency in communication develops respect, trust, and relationship. No matter how good your instruction may be, communication and consistency determines its value and beneficial effect on others.

•Does the way you address an athlete embrace them into positive action or only push them in hopes something different will happen? 

When you correct, or discipline, an athlete, is there follow-through and consistency with the importance and urgency of the message?

• Do you just motivate someone to move,
or inspire them to make the decision to move?

• Do you just get someone to change their behavior, or communicate to the degree  that they exchange behaviors?

The above answers reveal if the influence you have on an athlete has them just wanting to avoid unwanted consequences, or impacts them to make constructive decisions in their life that lead to what is wanted.



Protecting Respect

As a coach, you don’t have to be liked to be respected. Matter of fact, a coach who compromises authority to try to “make everyone happy” will lose what they think they are protecting: Their Influence. You can communicate in way that brings charisma, but you cannot depend on charisma to communicate.

You can communicate in way that brings charisma, but you cannot depend on charisma to communicate.

It’s not a coach’s job to be an athlete’s “friend”, but a trusted, reliable source of consistent guidance in their life. And, respect will develop from this.

An athlete needs to respect a coach to unconditionally listen to instruction, and trust their counsel and guidance in the way of producing positive outcomes. An athlete may hear authority, but only listens to (and with) respect. The primary difference in authority and respect is empathy. Empathy must not be confused with the counterproductivity of sympathy. Empathy says “I’m in it with you” rather than comforting with patronization.

In relationships, patronization is the opposite side of same coin as condemnation.

Coaching includes confrontation, yet not in the way most assume. The true purpose of a coach is not in pointing out problems, but in finding solutions. An effective coach confronts issues in a proactive, empathetic, way. The confrontation does not attack the athlete’s self worth, but reinforces it via solution-oriented communication.

As idealistic as it may sound, the art of coaching is using an individual’s “strengths” to eliminate “weaknesses”. A coach who is skilled in making accurate assessments of situations, on and off the field, and is consistent with their principles, will be in the best position to find and implement solutions.

Productive coaching leads athletes– individually and as a team– to see through the self-limits of inferiority, doubt, and fear, and into the process of uncovering and realizing their true potential. Again, it’s empathy and respect that brings clarity and trust to a coach’s voice.

The true purpose of a coach is not in pointing out problems, but in finding solutions.

Fear of failure and fear of success are simply bookends of counter-productivity. Once we, as coaches, realize that, we can be a stronger part of the solution by getting to the root of destructive patterns.

All disciplinary issues with athletes– such as disrespect, rebellion, indifference, to name a few– have their origin in fear. As well, there are performance issues that are also founded in the spirit of fear. Consistent communication leads the path through these challenges

Productive coaches inspire confidence without complacency; pride without conceit. They continue to “raise the bar” just enough to sustain confidence in the perpetual process of fulfilling potential. They do this by being consistent in their expectations, values, and standards.

Coaching: The Perpetual Influence

Over the years, I’ve found it irrelevant to write or talk about “my impact” on others. There’s a difference in having an athlete perform well on the field or in the weightroom, and instilling quality principles that impact a young man or woman’s lives.

I believe that we, as coaches, are not qualified to assess the degree of actual impact we have on our athletes. This reality will be revealed via the lives of those young men and women for an extended period of time, and the life they lead long after our time with them, rather than weight room numbers or a weekly stat sheet.

Yes, there are always checks and balances in our work to keep us on the right track, but we must not waste time worrying about what’s not in our control, and this includes our “popularity” with colleagues, social media, or our athletes. What we do control are our values and principles, and how consistent we are in expecting and enforcing those.

I believe coaches have the most practical opportunity to have amongst the greatest constructive impact on young men and women’s futures. Yes, that’s a strong statement, but one that has plenty of examples to support it.

In effective coaching, every moment is a potential teaching moment.

I state this purely to express the infinite impact coaching can have on a life, and it can be even more relevant in this current generation by fully understanding our potential influence in a young man or woman’s  life. In effective coaching, every moment is a potential “teaching moment”.

From the weightroom to the classroom to the field to the home, we can play a key role in being part of solutions for each young man and woman we work with.

There is no such thing as “neutral” influence as a coach; ineffective , yes. But neutral, no. We are either a constructive presence or it’s opposite. We are either part of the solution, or part of a problem.

In my experience, I can recall “defining moments” with certain coaches that I had in my early years that have stayed with me throughout my life, and positively impacted how I coach athletes, and the principles I choose to live by.

Some of these experiences were positive, and some were not. But, they were each constructive in the outcome of their occurrence.  Later in this article, I will share one personal example that stands out.



I believe that a coach’s primary purpose is to be a constructive presence to each athlete in their circle of influence. That known, it must clarified that there is a difference in being  just a “positive” influence and being a constructive presence.  

While constructive coaching is about positive outcomes, we, as coaches, are not to be a form of cheerleader that tolerates counterproductive attitudes and behaviors.

There will be times that reprimand, critical input, and unpopular decisions will be necessary to sustain the primary objective, both for a team and the individual athlete. While constructive coaching is about positive outcomes, we, as coaches, are not to be a form of cheerleader that tolerates counterproductive attitudes and behaviors.

Throughout a coaching career there will be personality clashes, misunderstandings, and other aspects out of our control that affect whether we connect with a particular athlete or not, but we must not allow those situations to change our values and the expectation of being part of solutions in athletes’ lives. 

Yes, we are to learn and progress in the ways we empathize and communicate with our athletes, yet when there are issues beyond our control, we must not permit personal feelings or emotions to justify indifference or compromise of our intentions, principles, or primary objectives.

Foundation of Success

When I was a young coach just starting out, I was more identified with an athlete’s performance– as this served to confirm that I was succeeding in my work– however, I no longer allow this to determine the benefit I have to an athlete. 

Winning and in-sport success will never become truly insignificant, however as we mature as coaches, there will be the realization that our true success is based on how we influence the young man or woman as a human being more than it is with any specific outstanding performance.

The irony here is that when we take this perspective, we actually lead these individuals to fulfill their potential in all aspects of their lives, which includes athletic performance.

We are to use the perpetual path of pursuit of athletic excellence as a medium of teaching, and implanting, the life principles of commitment, consistency, and confidence. This is the unfailing path manifesting from the impact of constructive coaching.

Teaching principles of excellence leads to a life that exemplifies and produces those qualities in all areas of life.

When we teach our athletes to prepare in the expectation to be their best, and to set new standards, we instill character values and principles, and develop work ethic qualities that are applicable to any and all areas of life beyond athletics. Teaching principles of excellence leads to a life that exemplifies and produces those qualities in all areas of life.

By teaching our athletes to take accountability it leads to refusing intimidation. When a young man or woman embraces responsibility and accountability they also connect with empowerment, which repels being intimidated by any opponent, condition, or circumstance.

It’s About Balance

Rather than getting fixated on isolated situations, it’s infinitely more constructive focusing on the day-to-day process of the coaching relationship. And, there’s plenty of modern-day challenges to that daily operation.

In our present era, it’s a different challenge than in generations past. Each generation has its innate trials, thus it’s not better or worse today than it was 25 years ago; it’s just different.

We earn an athlete’s trust by unconditionally sustaining our principles. General rules can be taken into a case-by-case consideration, but principles must remain intact regardless of circumstances.

Kids are exposed to more off-the-field distractions, near non-stop stimuli, external input, and clutter than in former times. And, we are more effective coaches by understanding, yet not succumbing to, this reality. Empathy with discipline is a powerful combination to inspire constructive actions.

Where in eras past, a coach could simply show up and bark commands with an air of supremacy, and athletes would comply with a sense of reverential fear, today it’s essential to connect with the athletes through a balance of discipline and communication– along with consistency of principles–  to build trust and respect. Constant reinforcement that success is a never-ending process is a major part of having athletes buy-in to your program, and to coaching success.

We earn an athlete’s trust by unconditionally sustaining our principles. General rules can be taken into a case-by-case consideration, but principles must remain intact regardless of circumstances. 

Principles and boundaries are not the end itself, but a means of expectation and direction that leads to a desired result.

We must not compromise those values with modern-day-tolerance that is so prevalent today, but use effective ways of enforcing those standards in an understanding, yet still firm, way.

As any parent can attest, most young men and women don’t like “rules” and the discipline that is associated with them. However, they each internally desire and need the stability it provides. In this “era of entitlement”, which is destructive, we can be the key part of the solution.

Discipline is not a reaction to athletes’ lack of it, but a reliable, guiding quality to insure the primary objective is sustained. Effective discipline is proactive, not reactive.

Principles and boundaries are not the end itself, but a means of expectation and direction that leads to a desired result. Our job is to communicate this truth, and that only occurs with consistency of expectations.

Coaching is a balancing process that includes factors outside the limited time we have with our athletes. Our job is to clarify our expectations and boundaries to such a degree that our athletes fully understand the lines that are not to be crossed. 

By doing this, we are impacting these young men and women with self-worth to the degree where they eventually discipline themselves rather than needing the threat of a penalty to guide their decisions.

Our ability to get our athletes to understand that the present moment is the only time that they have true control of, will be the most important aspect of getting them on track to moving in a productive direction. Matter of fact, that may be “the secret of success” to life in general.

Not Our Concern

In truth, our success as coaches, teachers, and leaders is not the number of “followers” we have, but the individuals we constructively impact. Our impact through the quality of our work will always be more relevant than just our popularity through the quantity of contacts.

All coaches may be heard, but constructive coaching is listened to.

As coaches, our primary objective is in leading an athlete to find, follow, and fulfill their potential. I see the preparation for the sport as a microcosm of life.  Integrity and consistency are the substance of those worthy to follow, not charisma, intelligence, marketing skills, or P.R. savvy. All coaches may be heard, but constructive coaching is listened to.


The overwhelming majority of our athletes will not earn their living playing a sport. They will go on to other career paths, including coaching, and we want the principles we infuse in them to be universally applicable to their lives regardless of its specific path.

Again, when we as coaches, truly realize that sport is nothing more, or less, than a great teaching opportunity for life, the principles we impart, expect, and reinforce can also have great impact on athletic performance and success as a very exciting benefit.


Built-in Discipline

Making impact as a coach is about illuminating the ‘path of the process’. It’s not just getting athletes to do what they are “supposed to do” but having them buy-in to the greater reality in that process; the why of what they are doing. Getting athletes to understand the why is the foundation of buy-in to the what and when. Again, this is impact.

The most successful coaches in the world of Strength and Conditioning are the ones that inspire the highest degree of personal accountability rather than those who just yell motivational mantras, have drill sergeant persona, design the most technically-savvy programs, or wear the _____ out of the athletes. 

It’s common to preach that team sports are “not about I“, however we must convey the truth that there is an “I component” that requires each individual to be accountable to. While it may sound humble to say “I don’t matter“, it’s discounting that there is no “we” without personal responsibility. 

The best teams are made up of the highest percentage of accountable individuals. Our job as coaches is to clarify that truth in an constructive way.


Excellence Expected is Excellence Expressed

We are to teach our athletes to take command of what they do control 100% of the time, and this will provide them better command of what they do not have control of.

When we clarify expectations we are clearing the path-of-process, and impacting our athletes. Nothing destroys potential as assuredly as indifference. Nothing engages potential as reliably as clarity of purpose does.

Indifference comes from confusion of what is expected in the immediate. When there’s no clarity in what’s expected now, there’s confusion of what to expect ahead.

Simply stated, consistency of expectation in the present paves the path of excellence in the future. We are best to teach our athletes to take command of what they do control 100% of the time, and this will minimize any adverse effect of what they do not have control of. The badge of leadership is “being a thermostat, not a thermometer” in your present environment.

Accountability is constructively contagious, and teaches athletes to impact their teammates in the way that goes beyond a random winning season and into becoming a winning program. There’s an undeniable spiritual law: Excellence expected leads to excellence expressed.

Leadership is being a thermostat, not a thermometer.

For one a prime example many will be familiar with, the University of Alabama football program has sustained a high level of excellence over an extended period of time. 
While this success can be attributed to aspects such as Head Coach Nick Saban, recruiting, and on-field coaching, in actuality the most vital component is due in large part to the work of Strength Coach Scott Cochran.

Having relationships with several highly-respected collegiate strength coaches, I consider them “the heartbeat” of their respective programs, and Scott Cochran is one who exemplifies this with his unrelenting influence, impacting young men to become men who positively impact their entire environment.

I’ve observed Coach Cochran’s work over the last 10 years and also worked with many athletes who’ve also been under his guidance at some point. All you have to do is ask any of those men if there’s any substantial carryover from their time in Coach Cochran’s program to their daily lives today, and the unanimous affirmative answer reveals the true significance of a coach’s impact.

Winning programs refuse complacency by building accountability from the inside out, and Scott Cochran has mastered communicating this principle year after year.

Consistency of optimal performance, and its lasting effect into life after one’s playing days is the product of commitment, a quality that comes from a proficient coach’s impact.


Coaching is

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

The reality is that there will be some athletes that we have invested the most in, who will choose to take a counterproductive path and and we will not be able to understand why we did not have the impact we intended.

 As well, there will be those we may have thought we did not connect with, who we will find out later,  the significant impact we had on their lives. We must refuse to allow our present perception to change our passion, purpose, and responsibility of expecting to be a positive impact on each athlete’s life.

A successful coach will be secure in their values and principles while also secure enough to continuously assess the methods of implementing and enforcing them without being attached to them in a counter-productive way. Just as we expect from our athletes, effective coaching is forever a process that knows no complacency.

Simply stated, impacting athletes is not about any particular training method or playbook, but about how we use those tools to communicate life principles with our athletes. Successful coaching uses our systems to impact athletes rather than just trying to use athletes to validate our system.

On the field and off, I’ve witnessed coaches use the most simple principles imaginable to generate huge impact, and I’ve observed some of the most intelligent, yet “pre-packaged”, systems fail miserably.

Remember, the key is in consistent constructive communication. Even the most critical input can, and must, connect with an athlete to inspire positive action and output.

When there’s a situation that calls for us to use a stronger, louder, reprimand to get the attention of an athlete (and there will be), we must follow it with input to bring solution moving forward.

In other words, there’s no benefit in leaving someone “in the problem”. No one has ever made positive progress while identified with the problem. Once it’s acknowledged, teach taking ownership, and then using that powerful position to move forward.

We must keep in mind that our vigilance in reprimanding an athlete isn’t us just showing our disapproval in the isolated situation, or thinking we can make an athlete “feel bad enough” to make the correction, but it’s bringing light to an issue that needs correction for the greater good moving forward.

Condemnation has never led anyone to constructive change.


Who’s Impacted My Life

When it comes to others impacting my life and career, like most coaches, I consider the key mentors I’ve had in the athletic preparation and fitness fields over the span of my 30+ year career as playing vital roles in setting examples, confirming my path, instilling the values of the continuous process of learning, integrity, genuine humility, and communication that are essential for both success and longevity in coaching.

The first mentor I had in my career is Clarence Bass. Many will know of Clarence as a highly successful bodybuilder and author of books on physique training and living a healthy lifestyle. What many may not be aware of is that he has been a practicing attorney through all the years of his training, writing, and exemplifying the strength-based healthy lifestyle.

Clarence’s ground-breaking RIPPED book series has never been surpassed in its practical content, and his monthly columns in Muscle & Fitness magazine were way ahead of their time. Clarence has entered his 9th decade and continues to live his life’s message of strength, physique, and health.

I first connected with Clarence back in 1983, and he has been a consistent source of encouragement, edification, and accountability nearly 35 years. 

Clarence has sustained a level of consistency in our relationship that has impacted me in unspeakable ways. This is the take-home from Clarence’s impact on my life, it’s often the subtle consistent principles you live that lead to the most powerful impact.

Even though my career has taken a path more towards athletic preparation rather than emphasizing bodybuilding, the principles I learned from Clarence have applied to every aspect of my work, and will continue to. 

Probably the most important principle I learned from Clarence is to rely on intelligence and healthy skepticism, instead of physical capabilities and traditional practices, to make the best training and nutritional decisions.  That’s the power of impact.

I am beyond appreciative of, and honored by, Clarence’s generosity, and blessed by the fact he recognized that I had chosen the right path for my life even when successful careers in the fitness field were about as rare as a solar eclipse.


The Coach’s Coach

The list of others who’ve impacted my life also has its roots in the coaching world. I started playing multiple organized sports at a very early age and was fortunate to have many great coaching influences in my life.

I was into everything from Skeet Shooting to Baseball to Swimming to Track & Field to Soccer to Basketball to Martial Arts to Football to Tennis. I was fortunate to have parents who exposed me to a large variety of sports. It certainly set the path I am on to this day.

One coach in particular, Coach Ralph Pierotti, stands out among all of the coaches I’ve had over the years. There were numerous moments in my time with Coach Pierotti, that I vividly recall to this day, that have positively affected my career, and my life.

To create a better visual, you could put Coach Pierotti in the lead role of any good inspirational movie involving a coach and just tell him “be yourself” and you’d have an Academy Award winner.

Many of you can relate to this one particular “life lesson” I’ll share. It’s relevance to this article is in the example of how even one relatively simple coaching moment can provide the positive impact of a lifetime.

Before my 7th grade year my family had just moved from the city and school where I’d lived since I was 4 years of age. It was literally like starting over, and during that transitional time in a young man’s life where I was still a kid but beginning to think more as a “young man” in terms of the ego, self identity, and dealing with authority outside the home.

Playing sports was probably second only to breathing in importance at that time in my life. Along with that, I had difficulty tolerating anything less than near perfection from myself and that carried over to what I expected from my teammates. I loved to win but my distaste with losing was even stronger. I’m not saying this with any sort pride or satisfaction but to set up what was one of those most impactful moments for me as that naive 7th grader.

My new school was playing my former school (where I had gone since Kindergarten) in basketball and on their court. Considering I was only a few months removed, my friendships with the opponent were still quite close. I wanted more than anything to beat my old school in front of my former teammates and their parents. However, what started with great hopes quickly went in another direction.

We got behind early, and the cocky, embarrassed, and immature kid in me began to let the frustration escalate. My mindset was “just get me the ball, so I can score“. I had no interest in encouraging my teammates in a way that would positively affect the team. I only wanted save face by being the one who stood out. I did eventually “stand out”, but not for the reason I wanted.

As the game continued to go in the opposite direction, on one of the trips down the floor, a teammate did not see me open and again failed to pass me the ball. He threw the ball away and one of my best friends, on the other team, scored another easy basket. This happened time and again, and in an obvious show of frustration, I looked to our bench, emphatically put my palms up, shook my head at Coach Pierotti as if to say “someone needs to fix this”.

On the very next in-bounds, I passed to a teammate who had just entered the game; he took the ball under our basket, picked up his dribble, was immediately covered, and shot the ball into our basket, scoring two more points for the opposition. I looked at Coach Pierotti and again threw my arms in the air with that look of “can you believe I’m having to go through this?”

Coach Pierotti immediately called a time out, motioned for me to come to him, grabbed the front of my jersey, quickly assisted me to a seat on the bench, looked me straight in the eyes, and firmly stated “if you ever do that again, you will never play another second for me“. Now I got to “be the star”. I thought I was already embarrassed, but this took things to a whole new stratosphere. Everyone in that gym was looking not at my teammates, but at me. 

It went from me thinking I was being embarrassed to me being truly humiliated, and justifiably so.  This moment of strong critical input from Coach Pierotti was a time of constructive coaching that was actually one of the most impactful lessons in my life that I can recall.

Coach Pierotti had given me several opportunities get rid of my frustration on my own by not outwardly confronting me until that point. However, my body language only got more counterproductive to the team. He finally stepped in and clarified his expectations for me. 

This became one of those “life moments” that has impacted my life, taught me the reality of leadership, and influences how I coach young athletes nearly 39 years later, and counting.

Coach Pierotti

Coach Pierotti and Vince, 40 years later

Other key lessons that I learned from Coach Pierotti that has impacted my coaching career is the fact he coached every soccer team in that school, from 1st grade through the 12th. This means he had to manage every level of physical, psychological, and emotional development in those age ranges. He masterfully met each kid at their level and communicated his expectations without fail.

Considering I’ve worked with kids as early as 8 years of age all the way through pro athletes, I fully appreciate the unique challenge that is. I refer to my time with Coach Pierotti quite often to best handle it, to say the least.

Another foundational principle I learned from Coach Pierotti is the expectancy of excellence through preparedness. He taught his athletes to respect every opponent, and be intimidated by no one. He had us so prepared, physically, tactically, and psychologically to compete for our best rather than against some opponent.

He had us strive for perfection while not depending on it playing out that way to substantiate its effectiveness. We were winners before the game started. He was way ahead of his time as a leader, having us consistently believing in our selves individually and as a team united.

We consistently won championships throughout my time with Coach Pierotti. But, this is not what led to Coach’s values; it was the product of them. I can honestly say, I never went into a single game (the aforementioned basketball game withstanding) with Coach Pierotti without believing I was ready to compete, prepared to win, and confident enough to respond to failure or adversity without being defeated.


Successful coaching is about understanding how to lead people more than it is a sport or training methods. Coach Pierotti exemplifies a coach’s coach, in that he’s the type coach who could take a team in a sport he has no direct experience with, and coach them into winners.

This experience has continued to impact my daily life, nearly 40 years later. And I’m fortunate enough to personally share those impactful experiences with others and thank Coach Pierotti for the foundational impact he’s had on me, and through me on all of the athletes I have the opportunity to work with and coach.

What is the take-home impact from the influence of Coach Pierotti?

• We are always leading in some way or another

• Our presence affects everyone around us, and we choose that effect;
are you a thermostat or thermometer?

• Our body language is as significant as our words in communication to everyone around us

• Clarity of expectations leads to clarity of preparation;
Decide on desired outcome and prepare with that as reality

• Preparing to win every time leads to its greatest frequency 




Authentic leadership is forever based on the quality of the positive impact you have on others rather than the quantity on your bandwagon.

Is there an overriding objective to your mission to “be a leader” beyond being admired enough to have followers? 

Is the primary reason for your ‘being followed’ based on beneficial substance , or almost entirely on the quantity of your followers?


▪️Leadership, in its accurate perspective, actually takes no account of “followeeship“.

▪️Authentic leaders are free from the trap of building and defending a reputation. They are revealed in their immovable spirit of integrity and accountability, no matter how imperfectly judged it may be. Productivity is the objective in leadership, not the myth of perfection.

▪️Leadership’s effectiveness is determined by the degree of ‘accountability’ it inspires in others. A leader has a single-minded focus on the primary objective at hand, while at the same time having the understanding that the mission is only as good as the overall constructive (and frequently confrontational) impact it has on those around him/her.

▪️Leaders refuse to use the past as something to defend, excuse, or justify the present. Constructive intent, accountability, and action moving ‘forward’ is the solution-oriented lifeblood of leadership.

▪️Authentic leadership is not politically correct, nor is it purposely “anti-PC”. The principles of leadership transcend political ideology and labels, and without apology.

🔺Irony Alert: True leaders understand their primary purpose is ‘living’ the values which lead those “following” them to see through the need to be dependent on someone to follow.

🔺True leadership has a definable objective rather than the mentality of “herd gathering”.  And, leaders are independent of the ‘need’ to continuously explain themselves or to be confirmed by others’ approval or praise, and is ‘willing’ to stand alone to sustain integrity, trust, and reliability. Their ‘life process’ is their message rather than their “approval rating”.

🔺If you sense a leader as someone more than a “bridge” to being accountable as a leader ‘in the process’ yourself, take a new assessment of your self worth and identity. One of the greatest hindrances to fulfilling potential is being attracted to the charming charisma of co-dependency. Bridges are an effective part of the process of any journey, but not one you want to reside on.

🔺Yes, authentic leaders have those who follow them. The difference is asking “am I  more impressed with them, or the process?”  Every great, and constructive, leader has been a follower at some point. The key point is that they progressed beyond the “follower” stage even though the actual process is never-ending.

🔺However, those who want “to lead” just to have followers are simply revealing chronic self-absorbed codependency that is actually the antithesis of leadership.


As both a ‘personal trainer’ and strength & conditioning (S&C) coach into my 4th decade of work, my view of the profession is broader than what any “soundbite” or general observation can provide.

A recent article from USA Today (from August 19, 2015) highlighted a common aversion that sport team coaches, especially in football, have regarding their players training with personal coaches to improve their individual performance and potential. I am going to present a balanced, counterpoint to the “case” made in that piece.

Editor’s note: You may need register to load this archived article

I’ve addressed the role of a personal S&C coach on podcasts, in articles, and even recorded an audio product a few years back about the ‘state of the union’ in today’s fitness and S&C fields and the benefits of a qualified private coach.

Editor’s note: For sake of this article, coach and trainer can be used interchangeably although there can certainly be a discernible difference in the two. As well, it is known that there are both  men and women as qualified coaches.

Though we’ve made undeniable progress in the field of athletic preparation, in regards to attaining scientific validation of many of our chosen training methods, and in ‘program design’ for greater work/recovery efficiency, there’s also a most evident downside that has “progressed” as well—

The dilution of a field, once consisting of a streamlined group of coaches in it for the primary purpose of developing a healthier and better performing athlete.

As with most any vocation that involves personal service, ulterior motives such as image, ego, and financial gain will be the attraction for those who are purely self-serve-driven. For more than half a century, the world of competitive sports has attracted plenty of “characters” into an athlete’s entourage so this is certainly nothing new or surprising. The place where the line is crossed is when any professional outside the structure of an organized team or individual sport is thrown into the same category as a posse of opportunists.

Make no mistake, one of the incentives of a personal S&C coach is ‘to be in business’ to make money, to handle their personal, family, and business financial responsibilities, and that’s certainly not a problem. The problematic issue arises when a coach is using an athlete, or athletes, to create an “image of relevance” and build a career that would not be there otherwise. When this is the case, there is a certain conflict-of-interest that occurs as the personal coach becomes a “pimp” of sorts and a subsequent divisive component in the athlete’s development and relationship with his/her team.

Fortunately, this scenario is not the rule but the exception, yet it is becoming increasingly more common. And, when it does occur it gives credence to team coaches for being suspicious, and often times downright antagonistic, to any coach in private practice.

As with most career choices, when quantity substantially increases, quality substantially decreases. In my assessment, nowhere is this more evident than in the S&C industry. And, reality is that it’s an industry where someone can learn just enough technical jibberish and apply a heavy dose of charisma and marketing to deceive a large percentage of young athletes and their parents into thinking they are the answer to fulfilling their dreams.

Considering that “trainer certifications” can be obtained literally in a matter of hours at a weekend workshop, and considering anyone who “benches and squats a lot”, does 50-inch box jumps on YouTube, has a few tattoos along with the Mr. Clean hair style,  and a social media account can call themselves an “expert”, it’s easy to understand why we are headed on a clear path of compromise in an ever-increasing, watered-down genre of performance coaching.

As I’ve sincerely stated many times, I can teach a 5 year-old how to just wear someone out.

I realize that bringing up this issue will necessitate a “well, what’s the solution?” response. The answer lies in awareness and accountability. It’s the responsibility of each authentic S&C professional to uphold personal standards of commitment, integrity, humility, respect for colleagues, and the insatiable desire to be a better coach with continuing education. And, this continued education has little to do with letters after your name and everything about understanding that you never stop learning.

Adhering to the above principles will insure that we keep industry standards where they need be, and that itself can go a long way in warding off those with less than the respect, dedication, servility, and diligence essential for true success and longevity in the field of athletic preparation.

As well, the coaching circle must tighten-up. Coaches are better when viewing each other as associates, a part of the progressive process, where each of us brings unique qualities and assets to the coaching continuum. The childish criticism, biases, jealously, and back-biting often seen tends to manifest when there’s a gap of insecurity in the coaching circle.

Social media and marketing has plenty of positives, yet can also lead to an atmosphere of who can throw around the most technical, yet confusing and inapplicable, terms, “recruit” the most followers, bash the most competitors, and pander to people’s sense of ambition through their feelings of insufficiency and inferiority. As tempting or justified as you may deem it, success in the S&C field is never about impressing people with what you think you know or trashing other coaches or their methods, but about minding your work with a spirit of humility, clarity, and confidence.


As cliché as it may sound, coaching is best when it’s a brotherhood. It’s a mature coach who understands that we train the person first, then the athlete.  This coach will have trusted go-to colleagues to call on to help produce a more complete product, a better result, and be quick to return the favor when called upon.

Every training principle in existence has been around long enough that only a fool would believe otherwise. Thus, egos can take a rest when someone thinks they’ve originated anything along the lines of training methods and techniques. The individuality is purely in the realm of application of these principles.

Individual coaches may have developed certain “systems” and programming that are more proficient or efficient than another, and each coach has areas they are more skilled in as well as those aspects of the athletic preparation spectrum they need more assistance in. The tighter the circle, the stronger the circle. This can obviously lead into an entire topic of its own for a future article. Suffice to say, confidence is needed in coaching though it’s value is entirely dependent on humility and mutual respect for colleagues.


Exhibit A: There are people in ‘any’ personal service profession that are in it for self-serving reasons and the S&C industry is not immune to that.  It may sound self-righteous to point out there are those in “training business” purely  for the incentives of making money and making-a-name. Notice I did not say these reasons are “wrong”, as for those individuals it may in fact be their best rationale. That’s reality…and simply put,  ‘client/athlete’ beware.

Exhibit B: There are people in a specialized personal service business with the primary incentive being to serve the specific needs of others. There are potentially major performance-enhancing, injury-preventive, and yes, psychological advantages and benefits in hiring, and working consistently with, a qualified personal performance coach. There’s no arguing that a sport like football is a team sport, however, the best teams are made up of individuals that are at their best for the team by taking accountability to be at their best.

Even the best ‘in-team’ training programs– at the most elite high schools and colleges– are limited in what they can address for the individual in regards to optimizing their fullest potential. Qualified personal coaches can assess and address specific attributes of the athlete in a way far beyond the scope of a team setting. Key areas like mobility, speed and agility mechanics, and even lifting technique get little to no attention in the team environment due to logistics or fact that even the best football coaches are not necessarily qualified S&C coaches and lack the skills to teach these techniques.


That said, the value of ‘in-team’ workouts at school need not ever lose their significance. It’s not an “either or” issue. I prefer to call the training an individual athlete does “on their own” as beyond the team responsibilities as opposed to “outside” of it. Consider it in the same perspective of an athlete staying after practice for extra work while his teammates may have hit the showers. It should not be a divisive measure, but observed as one that inspires teammates and positively impacts the team.

It’s understandable that a team’s head coach, and other members of the coaching staff, will be hesitant to jump on board with someone “on the outside” influencing their kids. This is especially true in football as the in-team weight room and conditioning workouts are used, to a large extent, as a place to galvanize, discipline, and even punish the kids.

Over the years, I’ve had a relatively small group of head coaches who take the time to actually investigate the benefits of a non-staff S&C coach. Much of this hesitancy comes from failure to differentiate between a team’s performance and discipline. It’s similar to how any parent would feel if someone ‘outside the home’ came in to discipline their kids. It’s an understandable misperception, yet with a solution better than ignorance and settling for sub-optimal performance.

A qualified personal coach will understand the necessity of designing the athlete’s work done beyond the team in a way that complements the in-team workouts and never compromises the authority of the team’s coaching staff or the unity of the team. I personally communicate with each of my athletes that they are not to standout in any fashion that alienates teammates, but to take accountability as a leader to a whole new level.

The personal coach can be a significant asset to not only individual players but also the team in general with a greater presence of leadership. As well, the coaching staff can benefit by focusing more on what their speciality is, the actual sport. Again, it’s not an ‘either or’ dilemma but a healthy integrated approach, with communication that eliminates the unnecessary confusion and conflict. And, this all begins with the maturity of the personal S&C coach and willingness of team coaches to become better educated. When this understanding is in place, the bottom line is:  a better prepared individual will not only be helping their future but also be a stronger component for the team.


Commitment or Contradiction?

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

Over the years I’ve witnessed a significant percentage of men and women try to destroy themselves in their workouts all with the intent of either attaining a high level of fitness or feeling like they’ve done enough to have earned the ambiguous “rite of passage” to compare themselves to others by.

It’s not just ironic, that this same group has an ever-enlarging incidence of chronic injuries, burnout, or at best, lack of progress/result for their efforts. With the advent of YouTube and other social avenues to training practices, this issue is well on its way to becoming epidemic.

Tempting as is, I’m not going to take the easy path here and start slamming certain training methods or organizations. The reality is, all training systems can work to your benefit when applied with regulated progressions and the secret ingredient of…common sense. It’s the people involved that “fail” training systems with their flawed instruction and/or application.

Very frequently I’m asked, “What’s the most important thing in getting leaner, more fit, less pain-riden, stronger, greater endurance, more mobile, etc, etc.” They expect some coded, underground, scientifically-inspired gibberish that will take an interpreter to understand…But, the answer is so simple it’s typically discounted and ignored. Write this down, store it in your smart phone…


Going to extremes in exercise will certainly provide immediate feedback in regards to whether something is “working”… but that’s really not all that impressive when you consider a 10-year old could be taught– literally in minutes– how to “coach” a group of adults into exhaustion via certain elementary exercises done to quite severe levels.

“Wow, that was a killer workout!” is the most overrated endorsement of a fitness trainer I can think of.

Consistency in applying sound principles on a regular basis, with deliberate and modest progressions, is the most valuable characteristic of an individual committed to a lifetime of fitness.


Now, let me clarify that if you are a competitive athlete and your chosen “sport” happens to be a form of what the majority think of as “a fitness routine” (i.e. PowerLifting, Bodybuilding, Olympic Weightlifting, and yes, CrossFit), this article is not as relevant to you as it is the overwhelming majority of general population. No matter your chosen competitive sport, there will always be some level of extremity involved in training.

However, even then, you are best to understand the value of biofeedback and workload regulation. This is especially true when your training program is outside the practice of the actual sport. For instance, few sports require more off-field preparation than football. The work in the weight room is important but still must not become more so than the on-field product. Thus, football athletes must be coached in the weight room to challenge their current strength and conditioning levels to make progress but never to the point where the carry-over to the football field suffers. 

Now, when your chosen sport is the training itself (i.e. CrossFit), it’s more about achieving  “peak performance” rather than a life of ‘optimal performance’. This isn’t to say you can’t use some of the principles of a dedicated sport to build an overall functional training program. The key is to consciously select these methods, in scaled-back fashion, and fit them in as part of the program as opposed to the program.

When your competitive result literally takes conscious valid precedence over other stuff in daily life such as a job, career, family, or being able to fully function as your chronological years compile, then have at it. No argument here that achieving your greatest potential physically must sometimes entail pushing the boundaries beyond what makes for a mostly-sane individual. But, for the vast majority, I digress…

The actual functional view of training understands you are only as “good” as your NEXT workout. Whereas the “dysfunctional” view believes you are identified with your previous session(s).

To be truly “committed to” the fitness lifestyle, and to experience the full benefits of training for strength, conditioning, and mobility there are two prerequisite understandings:

#1 You expect to train for a lifetime.

#2 You view each workout as a vital investment that sets the stage for your next workout. You’re only as good as your next workout.

In reality, it takes more discipline to train deliberately this side of the proverbial cliff of “extremes” and to be consistent day after day, week to week, month after month, and year by year than to always just pin your ears back and “go for it”.  For argument’s sake, even if you could take the flight of stairs in one leap, is the risk worth the reward especially when the small margin-for-error can leave you in condition not even being able to take a single step? Unless you’re a competitive “flight-of-stairs racer”, it’s likely best to consistently take it one step at a time.

Commitment is demonstrated by your having a plan, making minor adjustments as needed, being technically sound, and remaining consistent in training accuracy which includes  leaving “something in the tank” to build on workout to workout, knowing those specific times to take it nearer the “redline”, and to pull back just enough to live to train another day with purpose and passion.

To repeat, 

Consistency in applying sound principles on a regular basis, with deliberate and modest progressions, is the most valuable characteristic of an individual committed to a lifetime of fitness.

“Go heavy or go home!”
“If you’re not adding another plate, you’re wasting your time.”
“If your numbers are not increasing,  you’re workouts are useless.”
“You can’t build muscle without moving more weight.”

“You gotta do “fill-in-blank”  if you want to build your ________.
“If you don’t__________, you won’t develop your________”
“You______, if you don’t______with at least______, you are a worthless _____”

Alright, these are just a few of the common statements parroted in our wonderful expert-filled fraternity of resistance training…and as if absolute, irrefutable laws in the world of fitness/bodybuilding/strength & conditioning. If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard a few of them, said a few of them, and may even still believe a few of them. Far be it for me, or anyone else, to try and convince you otherwise.

As with all of my writings and teachings, my objective is to contribute in a manner that  helps you with the next step no matter where you currently are as opposed my trying to appear smart, be argumentative, authoritative, or condescending. All of my work is based soundly on, ‘there’s science in what we do but the application is not a science’. Take from it what you can use, and set aside or discard the other. There’s more than enough confusion in our industry and my hope is to help eliminate some of it and shine light on a path free of fitness legalism.

This article is for those who have hit a proverbial roadblock (or desire avoiding one) in their training for whatever reason, no matter if injury, chronological age, or simply personal inaptitude regarding certain exercises.  As well, it’s for those who want to minimize wasted time and make their training, and/or their clients’, more efficient. As with any productive read, if you get even one good idea to implement, in my estimation, it was well worth your time investment.

To illustrate the few (but key!) points of this article, I’m going to use my 30-year career working with competitive athletes and general clientele, as well as my own experience in actual dedicated training over the past 36 years, and counting. If doing the math, that’s no typo, I started training at the mature age of 12, and began working with actual clients at 18.

My clientele has ranged from 6 years of age to those into their 90’s. Currently, the range is 7 to 86 years of age. Obviously most of my work is between those bookends, and personally, that’s about where I am currently as I’m now closer to 50 than 45. This particular article is geared towards those in the “over-35” demographic but the principles can certainly apply across the board regardless of the number after the comma after your name.

The majority of my work with clients who are non-competitive-athletes  is beyond the designed program and whiteboard. It’s the session-by-session feedback and subsequent tweaks that are as much a part of a client’s success as them showing up to work. And in my own training, it’s the biofeedback aspect that is, in my opinion, the most valuable skill one can possess and sharpen, and that is developed only through years upon years of applied training, study, experience, and some admitted trial and error. It’s one of those things in life that takes you experiencing it… to know it. It’s a 6th sense that truly becomes a “new kind of intensity”.  I call it Kinesthetic Sense.

Your discipline at earlier stages might have been to push yourself to the obligatory “cliff’s edge”, or to be determined to add another plate as if your self-worth depended on. But, now, that discipline has matured (if not yet, it will), and you realize that you don’t want your “training life” to flat line at the not-so-ancient age of 30. You now understand you are only as good, or fit, as your next workout. Trust me, no one cares if you “benched 315 back in the day” or “squatted 8 wheels in college”. Guess what? There’s always someone with a better, uh, heavier, story. By the way, the ones who are impressed…..oh, I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say, how you feel, function, and look speaks louder than any jacked-up stat sheet covered in dust.

Back to the skill of that 6th…Kinesthetic…Sense

No,… so sorry,…there’s no shortcut, …no matter weekend certification, business seminar, or lobotomy that will circumvent that reality.

Moving on…

My background in training covers many different modalities as part of performance enhancement for various sports. Over my 3 1/2 decades of training, I’ve worked through periods of dedicated powerlifting (to clarify, for those inquiring any lightweight bias, no 315 bench but did squat 545), olympic lifting, and gymnastics.

I’ve put some serious time in with most training implements common today including kettlebells, clubbells, suspension trainers, resistance bands, tubing, sandbags, various “odd objects” seen in Strongman competitions. The point to this point? They all “work” and can serve an individual in realizing their particular goals. However, none of the aforementioned methods, systems, or tools are essential to an individual unless the goals of that individual include high-level proficiency with that specific implement or sport. Aside from that specialty, these tools are all just potential players in helping you realize your bigger-picture objectives.

There are plenty of men and women who’ve gotten great results, according to their fitness objectives, without doing a single olympic lift variation, heavy single in the bench press, squat, or deadlift, and having never used, or heard of, many of the “tools of the trade” that have become rhetorically standard in the last 5-10 years. Hence, there’s science in what we do, but it’s application is not a science.

We must always first ask, “what is my primary objective?”. Then, “what do I need to do to realize that?”,  “what are my options to progress towards that objective?”. And, “what is the most efficient, and practical, way(s) of getting the job done?”. Many times, it’ll simply be that you connect with a certain piece of equipment or a system and that personal preference absolutely works for you in actualizing your larger vision in an unrelated sport. For instance, you may find that you have a natural aptitude for olympic lifting, competitive kettlebell sport, or powerlifting. Consciously check your true priorities  (and ego) at that gym door, and then proceed with confidence.

Now that we touched on the relevance, or lack thereof, of the particular equipment or exercises you choose to use, what you do with these weapons is the real matter of importance in you striking the target of your goals.

I’m going to touch on a few points that should be obvious but are typically ignored. I will dig into each of these points in upcoming blog posts, as to attempt that here would cause much to be missed or overlooked due to length of an informative-purposed article:

  • The resistance used on an exercise is only one vital component contributing to workload of an exercise
  • The amount of dead weight only contributes to the actual resistance experienced by targeted muscles or movement pattern. Quantification of poundage is only part of actual tension muscles experience. Numbers can lie in this instance
  • For muscle hypertrophy, workload (or density: amount of work within certain time) is the most important factor. Not absolute strength or 1RM
  • The volume of reps and sets of an exercise is a vital component of workload
  • The amount of rest between sets is a contributing factor in total workload
  • The manner of performance of a set, repetition by repetition, is a contributing factor in total workload. No, this this is not just “using strict, robotic form”
  • The frequency a muscle group is trained is a contributing factor in overall workload
  • When basic exercises, with most bang-for-buck (i.e. squats, deadlift), are avoided by  individuals physically capable of performing the exercise, it’s typically for 1, 2, 3, or all-the-above reasons: 1) not knowing how to perform the exercise with optimal mechanics, 2) It’s darn demanding, 3) being identified with how much weight you think you should be lifting in order to “qualify” to do the exercise.
  • There’s a point where the actual amount of weight lifted does not need to increase in order to make progress in your goals
  • The more proficient you get in performing an exercise correctly (not same as just moving A to B in  easiest path), the more you get out of each rep with a given poundage
  • There are certain applications of certain exercises that are contraindicated for certain people but this does not mean goals and objectives can’t be attained by variations of those exercises
  • There’s no magical duration a workout must last in order to contribute to your goals and objectives. It’s all cumulative.
  • Mobility, stabilization, and activation drills are important precursors to “the main course” of workouts and certain ones should be part of your daily checklist like…brushing your teeth
  • The more proficient (and consistent) you are in mobilizing, stabilizing, and activating targeted muscles and movement patterns, the less time you need spend on that aspect pre-training
  • The older you get in training age, the more important it is to emphasize strength training, and sustaining fat-burning muscle tissue to keep metabolic integrity at optimal levels. Muscle-wasting activities and nutritional practices are best avoided. In other words, contrary to “the older you get, the more you need focus on CARRR-DIO”, IF you are determined to include it, perform just enough of specific cardiorespiratory, or endurance, exercise to get job done (a lot less duration than you probably think)
  • Dual or multiple brief workouts in a day can be more effective than longer single session even for non-competitive athletes. Again, it’s all cumulative
  • Outside of sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, or CrossFit (yes, I see it as a sport –and demanding one–and NOT a form of general fitness or preparation for other sports), you can look and perform significantly better by using sub-maximal loading and doing less total work (sub-submaximal) on a consistent basis.

In Parts 2 and beyond, I’ll begin to expand on each of these points and suggest a few ways of efficient application of these principles to help lead you to a lifetime of productive training according to your current primary goals and objectives.

As a professional in the fitness and athletic prep fields for 3 decades and counting, I’ve witnessed enough fitness trends and fads to build a pretty good sitcom on. Working with both competitive athletes and general clientele offers me plenty of perspective across the demographic scale.

And, YES, now that I have your attention with this article’s title…I personally love kettlebells and have used them in my own training for over 12 years as well as with probably 95% of my programs with all clients. I believe them to be a key part of any strength and condition and fitness program.

Back to topic …

Working with a college athlete compared to a mother of 3 has it obvious differences but there are plenty of common denominators especially when it comes to progressing in strength. Where a program tends to veer off the parallel is in the area of ‘fat-loss’ or “metabolic” training. With competitive athletes, the program design is driven by performance enhancement objectives whereas with a businessman our goals are nearly always about body composition/ appearance of physique, or what we used to refer to as “bodybuilding” before people started saying that term was “too hardcore” and they wanted nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.

Now to the specifics of this month’s article…

With the constant influx of “THE Best” metabolic (re “cardio”) or mobility exercises or systems (re “products”) it makes one wonder if it’s a never-ending matter of who speaks most recent gets most attention, and subsequently the “most validity”. The “fitness fads” used to revolve around certain pieces of equipment that you’d have to find out about well after Letterman or Leno had called it a night. Then it was the “anti-machine” but armed  “special forces” tools and “underground tricks” to use your bodyweight. Now it’s the “anti-equipment” trend that is basically  80’s aerobics with Flashdance, tights, and leg warmers replaced with drill sergeant chants, Eminem, and a 4-pack of Red Bull.

No apologies here, but to clarify, I am NOT an opponent of capitalism or entrepreneurialism in any way. However, the simple reality when it comes to ‘metabolic training’, ‘mobility’, or any aspect of fitness is that it’s a simple set of  scientifically-sound *principles* put into action on a regular basis throughout the next 365 days. Rinse, and repeat.

When marketing “geniuses” (again, no disrespect in itself here) are able to get your attention with headlines of exaggerated hyperbole, they have accomplished what “Marketing 101” has taught them: a potential customer is just that… until you influence their next thought. If you’re selling something, and you do your job, you’ll either offend or recruit them with your ad copy.

Either way, you’ve gotten their attention and the next step is your appealing to a sense of lack, dissatisfaction, or at least a  curiosity within the range of what you are promoting. Make sure you throw in some “research data” (incomplete, biased, or what have you) and just a few technical words (you know, stuff your physical therapist might say that you Googled-up) and you’re set. Remember, go right to the edge with technical jargon but do not make them feel confused, condescended, or God-forbid, ‘more’ indecisive or they won’t bite. Speak in absolutes because generalities and gray area have common sense and probably will not get their credit card out.

Again, nothing in itself criminal or unethical  with that agenda no matter if selling a flat screen TV, a sports car, or a training program. Where things start to venture into the shady, seedy region is when a fact that has some truth in it is turned into “THE truth”. Reality is that even the biggest lie has some truthful fact(s) in it.

However, when armed with actual ‘truths’ you can then make wise decisions based on facts that will not leave you feeling like a kid who just missed winning the stuffed elephant at the county fair.

Bridges are wonderful  in times of need but not best place to take residence

Truth #1: There are no “magic” exercises, equipment, combinations, frequencies, intensities, etc. All of “THE Best” are omitted by at least ‘many’ who’ve experienced immaculate results in regards to their fitness goals with out that “must do” component. A new product of programmed exercises, combinations, and frequencies for “metabolic burn” is limited only by the professional’s basic understanding of physiology and creativity.

Truth #2: The aforementioned *principles* will only work for those who put them into deliberate action on a regular basis. And, IF a certain “product” that coordinates these principles appeals to you in the way these principles are applied then it may well be worth ten times its value.

Truth #3: Understand that ANY product has “fine print” and/or complementary components that must be applied to get the best result out of the product. For instance, no  “Tabata Combo” to finish a workout will erase crappy daily nutrition.

Truth #4: You are only as good as your NEXT workout. Any program that gets you on the road must also help you navigate the path of the continued journey. Regardless how “killer” a 6-12 weeks you had, you gotta wake up to Week 13– and beyond– to sustain what you value so highly. Yes, my experience has shown that it is easier to remain on course once you have gotten there than it is to get there in the first place. But “getting there” is more a matter of being consistent over the big picture than it is any ‘one’ workout. Unless you are a competitive athlete in a short-term peak phase, train with a telescope rather than a microscope.

Truth #5: Any ‘packaged program’, no matter how effective in the initial phase, is simply– at best– a “bridge” to get you going, or keep you progressing, in a productive manner relative to your specific goals, and more importantly, general objectives and overall lifestyle. Bridges are wonderful in times of need but not best place to take residence.

Truth #6 Biases effect “what works” for each of us. I personally detest running (as in jogging) as a means to get leaner. By contrast, I love sprinting. It’s easy for me to recommend against depending on jogging to produce your desired result of a leaner body, and to advise for implementing sprint intervals. As well, my personal and professional experience has observed countless failed attempts of “hard working” men and women who hit the running trails for hours every week for years with hopes of a leaner physique.

Also, my personal observation shows that athletes in sports that require running speed, quickness, and agility in brief bursts (football, tennis, basketball) actually have a tougher time improving those specific skills when steady-state running (or any version of slow-steady paced cardio) is a regular part of their regimen. In addition, the frequency of injuries incurred by dedicated runners is relatively high. As you can see, that’s plenty of “evidence” for me to be anti-running and be an advocate of other means of improving fitness, speed/agility performance, and one’s physique. There’s plenty of “science in” my observations and experiences. But, is that enough to make my evidence a scientific truth?

What if these same men and women applied optimal strength training, sound nutritional practices, less workload, and recovery into their running program? Could their experience have been different? Or was it purely the fact that they ran regularly that caused their lack of desired result?

There’s two schools of thought regarding there being “bad” and “good” exercises. Yes there are some unwise exercise choices and/or combinations. And, there are times that a “good” exercise for most may be “bad” for you. However, there’s no benefit in universally villain-izing certain exercises or systems based on correlation to the experience or appearance of a certain profile of individuals. There are way too many variables in motion (or lack thereof) to make a substantiated fact out of pure observation or personal experience. As saying goes, correlation does not equal causation.

In coming weeks, I will address the various “best” ways of getting stronger, building muscle, and becoming leaner according to your level, age, or aspirations in a way that can free you from unnecessary ‘Strength Conditioning Legalism’.


Priming the System

Finally…our blog is back! And, each week our purpose to to shine light on key topics, and hopefully give you insight that contributes to solutions on your behalf in your athletics preparation and fitness endeavors.

And, it all starts RIGHT NOW!

As a competitive athlete, or just someone wanting the most out of your workouts, your potential is only as good as your ability to tap-into it. An area frequently misunderstood, or outright ignored, is the role of the neural aspect (central nervous system) to your muscles’ contraction and performance.

Accurate quality trumps defective quantity

You don’t have to make major changes in your current program in order to take advantage of this training principle. It’s as simple easy as the addition of a few specific NSD drills (NSD-Nervous System Development) towards the end of your dynamic warmup can get the job done with huge benefits to your overall progress and results. As is our standard at McConnell Athletics, accurate quality trumps defective quantity.

Simply put, proficiency of your neural development reveals the degree of signal from your brain to your muscles to fire and contract. Regardless of your training goals, your nervous system is a key player in the realization of your desired results.

For information on this application, please go to:

Through faith–in strength & health,

Coach Vince

Note: Please feel free to share this blog, and your feedback is welcome

Link  —  Posted: March 30, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Training or “Entertaining”?

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

As a fitness professional working with a clientele that crosses numerous different genres– from relative beginner adult to the “hey, I’m  also a trainer, already know everything, but need something new”, from dedicated working women and moms to driven-to-succeed businessmen, from youth to pro athlete, and all the way to seniors well into their 80’s–I am confronted with some interesting challenges when it comes to program design. This not to mention the typical physical impairments many of these clients deal with on a daily basis as well.

When you’ve trained individuals and small groups for nearly 3 decades, no matter how much you truly love what you do there is the tendency to become a bit bored (not complacent, mind you!) with the basics. However, reality is that these foundational (albeit mundane) components are essential to true progress and desired results. And, unless human physiology gets altered…that isn’t changing.

In years, and decades past, if was a much more efficient task keeping a client or group motivated by making progress in the basics on a regular-and-consistent basis. The results spoke for themselves, and these individuals were healthier, moved and performed more efficiently, AND even looked better.

However, with the over-reliance on “fit media” (you got a smart phone?…you’re a potential fitness expert), the over-saturation of weekend or online “personal trainer certifications”, and self-appointed gurus with all of their training tenants, rites-of-passage, and cult-like disciples, the task of keeping clients attentive, interested, on track, and accountable to the PRINCIPLES THAT MATTER has become as challenging as keeping a first grade class focused on mastering addition and subtraction with clowns in the room.

Admittedly, in the past, I, too, have taken the plunge into the ‘attention deficit’ ocean (fortunately I was able to swim to shore) and thought I had to come up with something different on a very regular basis to keep the interest of the client(s). The self-inflicted stress of “out-thinking” an already successful program was both exhausting and humiliating. It was one of those situations where I was torn between giving a client “what they wanted” while still getting the true job (re progress) done. This reminded me of getting our kids to eat healthy foods while also giving them  a little of what they wanted to eat while making sure the overall objective of nourishment was satisfied.

It would get to a point where when a client or group had been with us for a certain length of time, I could get-a-sense a few of those individuals were growing stale with just ‘making progress” (why that can be boring is beyond me!). Yes, as backwards as that sounds, some people would truly rather be “pushed to the brink” so they’d leave with immediate gratification feeling as though they’d paid their dues no matter what subsequent result. Still others simply wanted to be entertained with some “new stuff” that fulfilled their inability to simply get better at the basics. Or as Charles Staley so astutely says, “If it hurts (sucks) it’s gotta be working”.

What I found is that many clients cared less about getting stronger and actually making positive, and lasting, changes in their body as long as they were doing what they were assured of was going to give them what they wanted about of the session: the feeling they were doing something that “sucked” while providing some sense of “entertainment”.

Now, I am definitely an innovative trainer/coach, and have been since I got my start training athletes back in 1983 with drills and methods that were then observed as bizarre and outright silly-looking. These same drills are now commonplace such as lifting odd objects, kickboxing and grappling drills, sled pushes, gymnastics drills, sandbags, bands, medicine balls, resisted sprints, and dedicated mobility and activation drills. I used these methods with everyone from housewives to professional tennis players to businessmen to golfers to football, baseball, soccer, and basketball players and beyond.

There are plenty of advantages to the plethora of good training resources out there today. I’m the first to say I LOVE talking training with colleagues and people in general. The fact that there are ways not yet uncovered to make our work even more efficient is one of the inspirations in my starting each day with great expectation. However, beyond that, it is absolutely imperative that we refuse to allow that mission of becoming more ‘proficient in efficiency’ to compromise the proven, time and again, benefits of sound training principles of progressive mechanical overload (intensity) in combination with regulated technical workload (volume).

Whether you choose to lean towards the “it’s a science with some art in it” or “it’s an art with some science in it”, is not a life-and-death issue. As in centuries before us, the study, innovation, experimentation, and application of physical training and human performance is one of the most basic, yet exciting, endeavors on this planet.


Injuries: Beyond the Obvious

Posted: September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

When it comes to athletics, especially team sports, it’s hard to disagree that the sport of football brings about the highest degree of emotion in players, coaches, and fans. To be a truly successful football team, physical and mental toughness, accountability, and unity are standard requirements that surpass that of other sports.

Beginning early on in a youngster’s playing days, football, more than any other sport, has a way of being somewhat of a testing ground to reveal a young man’s willingness and ability to work with teammates in a way that not only brings about their best performance but also positively impacts their teammates and coaches.

With all of the aforementioned great things about football comes the least-desired aspect that is way more challenging than a tough loss in overtime. Injuries.

Unfortunately, injuries are a common occurrence in football, as they can be in any sport. The type of injuries seen in football tends to run the gamut from minor ‘bumps and bruises’ to those extreme enough that they can adversely affect a player’s life from there on. Fortunately, the later is the exception rather than rule although any injury to an athlete that causes limitation in performance or takes the player off the field for extended periods of time brings with it mental, emotional, and physical pain. I firmly believe that, at the collegiate and professional level, the physical pain pales in comparison to what is going on inside the athlete’s psyche.

When an athlete who has invested years of his life (no matter how relatively young he may be at the time) and spent countless hours of off-field training, film study, meetings, and on-field practice and competition, to have that, brought to an abrupt halt, if not a total end, it is an intimidating reality. This is especially true when you add in the longer term personal goals, aspirations, and dreams of a young athlete. There is no warning and no direct preparation to handle this as the proverbial rug is yanked out from under you.

Just the physical challenge of going through hour upon hour of lonely, humbling rehabilitation is significant. However, it’s the emotional confrontation an athlete faces that tests character to an extremely high level. Thoughts of “what if I don’t make it back?”, “what if I’m not as fast?”, “what if my teammates lose confidence in me?”, “what if I don’t fulfill my dreams?”, “what if?”, “what if?”, WHAT IF?”, …

With all due respect to the people who face challenges every day that are much more serious than those related to a sport and an athletic career, when a competitive athlete has the medium they use to express themselves and “make something of themselves”, taken away  from them, their life seems to flash before them. Another reality that hits home quickly is that you find out who your true friends are. People who were only interested in you when you were on the field are quickly exposed.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, many times the better the  competitor you are the more significant your positive impact on your team even when you are not able to hit the field.

When an athlete is not able to get on the field and contribute to the team in the way they are accustomed, much is revealed about the type of teammate, and person, they have been up to that point. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, many times the better the  competitor you are the more significant your positive impact on your team even when you are not able to hit the field. One of the best examples I have personally witnessed in my career happened in the last week.

On Saturday September 8, an athlete I have worked with since he was in high school, Jalston “Nudie” Fowler, who plays for one of the top college football programs in the country, was injured late in the game on what could be called a “freak occurrence”. Though knee injuries are commonplace in football, manner this injury occurred is rare. It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the exact diagnosis but suffice to say that it’s not one of those you want to watch more than once (if at all). The immense physical pain alone from this type of injury would make most men cry but the pain seen on Nudie’s face was the deeper discomfort coming from his realization that his season was probably over.

Jalston is one of the most humble young men I’ve ever known and he’d certainly not ask that I write an article or shine light on him in any manner. However, what happened immediately following the injury reveals much about the teammate and human being this young man is to not only his teammates, coaches, family, and close friends but also his coaches’ families, fans of the program, opposing players and coaches, and simply people who may have had the opportunity to meet him on occasion.

In my nearing 30 years of work as a fitness professional and strength coach to athletes from many different sports, I’ve never observed the show of concern and love for an athlete as I have for Nudie. This was not about people “feeling sorry” for him but an honoring of the way the young man influences the circle around him.

Leaders lead 24/7

I say this not so much to give Nudie the attention and appreciation he deserves but to make it clear to other athletes that what you dohow you do it, and who you become in doing it all influence those around you one way or the other. You are either impacting others’ lives for the better or you aren’t. There’s no in-between. Leaders lead 24/7, and the fact that the soft-spoken Nudie sets such a strong example to his teammates, coaches, and all of those who know him  means that even when he is not on the field he is a positive, constructive force that is beyond his powerful 250lb frame.

I confidently expect Nudie to make a full recovery and bounce back better than he was simply due to the character, and more importantly the faith, that resides within him. Though his knee was injured and he’s  removed from being ‘on the field’ to contribute to his team’s performance this season, his determination, will, and leadership were only “shaken up” a bit.

True leaders lead not just by their performance but simply by their presence. Genuine leaders don’t just get up after being knocked down and try to get back to status quo. They look fear in the eye, capture any thought of defeat, and replace it with a resolve to move forward in expectation of a better product than before the roadblock. They realize their mission is more than about themselves, and are fueled by the ‘inner knowing’ that they are simply taking another unchartered step, and claiming new ground, in leading others to overcome any challenge they may face.

The constructive influence Nudie will continue to have on the overall program will go a long way in positively impacting his success in rehabilitation and return as a better version of one of the best, albeit underrated, football players in the country. You’ve heard the term “player’s coach”. Nudie exemplifies “coach’s player”. There are many athletes I’ve worked with that I’d be proud to call my own son. There is not one that I am more proud of than Jalston “Nudie” Fowler.


Good or bad, reality is there is more information on training in these times than has ever been imagined in years and decades gone past. Considering that I trained my initial clients back in 1983, I have seen quite a lot of trends and fads come and go. With every new “best” system or method comes the obligatory b.s. to go along with some good, sound, and usable information. ‘Half-truths’ are the primary lure to get people’s attention but these are still fallacies, and this is where the unnecessary arguments start and the confusion begins.

The ever-increasing amount of blog pros, infomercial icons, YouTube experts, and Internet trainers over-saturating our field (with some pretty ridiculous, yet entertaining, stuff) has only served to add to the confusion with information overload. Like the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”, it’s at point now where ‘you can’t see the principles for the systems’

“you can’t see the (training) principles for the systems”

Due to the constant demands of work with clients and athletes, I have taken a nearly-10-year hiatus from writing. This time away has allowed me to do a significant amount of reading and observe the direction our field is going in. While there have been some marked advancements in a few key areas such as assessments, soft tissue and joint health, and nutrition, for the most part, the subject of program design and application has taken a few leaps backwards. The root of this regression is the focus on catchy, hyped systems and the ignorance of foundational principles.

The Unique Perpetual Process of Learning as a Fitness Professional

Without a doubt, I am a dedicated advocate of continued education and learning, and having been in the world of professional performance and physique training for nearly 30 years I’ve come to realize that, especially at this stage in my career, much of this “learning” is not so much an issue of acquiring more information but a matter of sifting through the clutter and dusting off some tried and true gems from the proverbial storage bins. Being that my clientele includes both competitive athletes and general population, the topics of the “stored” information crosses many paths.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past several years I’ve seen what is referred to as some “new, functional, cutting edge, real-world, you-fill-in-the-blank” drill, technique, or method become highlighted as some intelligent, ground-breaking training solution when in reality it’s nothing more than an ignored component that got lost in the tidal wave of our field’s high percentage of attention-deficiency. In essence, the old becomes new again through a new coat of paint , and the forgotten becomes the new-found star via a sexy marketing campaign.

When student is ready…teacher re-appears

From the start of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have some honorable mentors. Many of these men are now well into their 70’s and have exemplified the longevity that every dedicated professional should aspire to. As well, all of these extremely knowledgable and accomplished men, without exception,  are still learning.

With one of these mentors, the not-close-to-70-yet Charles Staley, being in town at McConnell Athletics last week for a seminar and videotaping, it was an opportune time for me to do some reflection and ‘professional housecleaning’. Charles is well known for his “visionary”-like , if not controversial, teachings. If there’s a better way to describe Charles than saying he is a proponent of “the common sense approach to training” I can’t think of it. He has a way of getting you to not only question what is “generally accepted as fact”, but also has answers that fill in the void when a “false fact” has been exposed.

It’s really all quite amusing to Charles that he is considered one of the authorities in our field. He’s quick to humbly say, “I fear the day when people get this all figured out… because I’ll be out of a job”. The fact that Charles is a master at keeping the simple things…well…simple, in no way implies that he is not capable of throwing some heavy science at you as well.

Matter of fact, its science that is the very foundation of what Charles’ “simplicity” is based on. This brings me to the topic of this article: principles are all that really matter. And, coincidentally or not, one of Charles’ best contributions to the field of strength/conditioning and fitness, Escalating Density Training (EDT), is the ideal symbolic tool to use to address what I believe is the most important (read: ignored) lesson to be learned in our line of work, and can serve as a microcosm of sorts to life in general.

For those not familiar with EDT, it’s basically a “system” of progressive workload based on high-quality reps and fatigue management. In reality, EDT epitomizes what effective training is all about. The parameters (re: reps, sets, time) used in EDT are simply in place to make the best use of the principles the system is founded on. More on this in a moment.

‘If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, your growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.’

To make clear, it’s an understatement to say Charles and I don’t fully agree on everything related to training. Matter of fact, there are several issues we appear to be on opposite sides. Ironically, it’s this fact that enhances the overall learning and growth process. It should never be a goal to be in total agreement with other coaches or trainers in order to  learn from them, or vice versa. If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.

A few examples of Charles’ and my personal training-application views will reveal how our seeming disagreements are actually a means for each of us progressing in our work: Charles sees little need for the regular presence “warm up”, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or single-leg training.

At McConnell Athletics our “warmup” sometimes looks like the actual workout, stretching is a regular part of most clients’ program, you’ll find kettlebell drills in most every program, and it’s rare you’ll see a workout sans single-leg training. However, I don’t implement mobility/activation drills, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or unilateral exercises for their own sake. They are simply “tools in the box” that I deliberately choose to use to best utilize basic training principles with my eyes on progress. The key point here is NOT the “disagreements”… as, obviously, there actually isn’t one!

The relevant issue is that our principles are congruent no matter the individual manner we are applying them. I fully understand why Charles has the position he does on what he does as does he with my work. For example, Charles sees no need for dedicated stretching due to him, and/or clients, not experiencing limitations in range-of motion for the particular tasks they perform. I apply stretching drills where they are needed but not for sake of some legalistic, pseudo-standardized law that says stretching is a must in every program. Charles and I are going in the same direction no matter the different “vehicles” or “mapped route” we may be using.

Before commencing a process of training, here’s two  ‘should-be-obvious-but-is-ignored’ facts: 1) Properly defining your general objectives and specific goals in training is necessary to the success of your efforts, 2) Designing an effective and efficient course of action to accomplish your objectives and goals is necessary

Once you’ve arrived at a general training objective, and some specific goals, your next duty is deciding on the aforementioned program or ‘course-of-action’. This program is best to be built on a “system” where you can regulate the needed workload and assess both your short-term and long-term progress. This all sounds relatively simple and rhetorical. However, ironically, this is typically where the problems begin.

Systems are excellent servants but horrible “masters”

When it comes to an effective training program, there are certain components that must exist in order for the program to produce the desired results. Each workout is performed as nothing more, or less, than a stimulus to cause a response for muscular, and systemic, progress. A ‘system’ of training can be highly effective at coordinating each workout as well as subsequent workouts. Systems have tremendous benefits in giving your training direction, clarity, organization, and compliance.

However, if a particular system is deficient of sound principles, it’s efficacy is benign and the only actual “benefit” to you would be helping you be consistent, and boosting your psyche into feeling as though you could be accomplishing something.

That being understood, the hidden common problem is when the system becomes the objective in itself. That’s like when one becomes “identified” with a particular diet without understanding the principles the diet is based on. The diet is then doomed to eventually fail.

Stop Out-Thinking  Your Progress

With Staley’s EDT, the apparent simplicity brings with it the potential for an abundance of unnecessary confusion. This system exemplifies sound principles and, appropriately, leaves plenty of room for individual application.  I’m certainly not saying that EDT is the best way for everyone to train each and every workout (though you would do well to keep all of its principles intact). I’m simply using the ‘down-to-basics’ Escalating Density Training as a microcosm of  our “state of the union” tendency to “out-think” our progress.

‘The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system.’

EDT, like other proven systems, is based purely on sound, effective, proven principles. That’s ALL the system promises. The manner in which one applies these principles is a unique issue to each individual. The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system. By over-analyzing the system, you’re paralyzing the principles.

Training, in any system, is the exact same way. As long as you keep the goal…the goal, and do not allow the system parameters to overtake the system principles, you will experience progress, and success, with the system you are using. Principles are all that truly matter. The manner in which they are applied, as proven for well over a century, are unique to the individual.


Be sure to check out my audio lecture,  ‘The Role of a Personal Strength & Conditioning Coach’, at movementlectures.com

For more information on McConnell Athletics, go to McConnell Athletics

For more information on Charles Staley, go to his website at  Charles Staley