20 Things I’ve Learned This Year

It’s been a hectic year for me, to say the least. Between internships, studying for the personal training certification, client evaluations, and training clients, it’s safe to say that I’ve kept busy. With constant development of my theories and education, my knowledge towards the mind, body, and overall quality of life has grown exponentially. There are too many people to thank that have helped me develop my personal training beliefs and theories. So, it just feels fitting to discuss 20 things that I’ve learned this past year to celebrate my 20th birthday! Let’s get it started…

1) Somatics has remodeled all my prior beliefs on what individuals should do for a warm-up. Consisting of several ground-based movements, Somatics does what others do not. It’s ability to connect the mind to the body is the main reason as to why it’s the self-centered part of my warm-ups. Somatics teaches tender, tight, painful muscles how to relax on their own through slow, controlled movements.

2) Are “healthy” whole grains really that healthy for us? I recently began reading Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD and my eyes have been glued to it since. You would never think something deemed healthy on virtually every single food product’s label we see could actually be bad for you. Davis’ research makes you second-guess this however. After starting my own “wheat-free” experiment last week, I feel more energized already. Whether it is a placebo effect or not, time will be the judge in determining how my personal study works.

3) Day in and day out, I see people throughout the gym performing exercises with God-awful form. It’s quite possibly the most frustrating thing to me personally. My next lesson learned this past year is, building strength on top of dysfunction is a recipe for disaster. Gray Cook, MSPT is a big advocate on this practice. Correcting dysfunction is an important aspect to me in the gym because it prevents pain and aggrevating setbacks. Figure out what’s wrong, correct it, and build stronger from there!

4) Not everybody is the same, specialization is key. I’m not going to train a 65 year old grandmother with nagging joints the same way I train a 19 year old baseball player. Prior injuries, strength levels, postural alignment and experience are a few of the factors I use to develop my programs.

5) Ground-based exercises should be mastered by beginners before anything else, in my opinion. Glute bridges, Cook hip lifts, deadbugs, planks, bird dogs, and kettlebell pullovers are a handful of the various exercises I prescribe to my novice clients. I’m a big fan of this because developing a baseline strength level while preventing injury is my man objective with new gym-goers.

6) The right regression is the best progression. I believe it’s Tony Gentilcore who brought this phrase to my attention, but don’t quote me on that! Sometimes, exercises are plain and simply too difficult to execute with good form. When this is the case, dialing down the difficulty a notch is important, while keeping it intense for the client. Once they establish good form and strength gains with the regression, slow progressions may occur.

7) From my personal experiences, kettlebell conditioning gives you the best bang for your buck when under time constraints. If I have a client for an hour session, I’m not going to waste 15 minutes of that hour having them run on a treadmill. Try performing either a kettlebell swing or snatch for 5 minutes. If you aren’t gassed after that, something’s wrong.

8) Mastering your breath is the key to maximal strength. Developing abdominal pressure through diaphragm breathing is optimal to lower back health. The tighter we could get, the more tension we create, the stronger we will be.

9) Nutrition is a major role in developing our overall health. As of late, fitness enthusiasts and nutrition junkies have been more aware about the quality of food rather than the quantity. Organic, grass-fed, and gluten free labels are popping up on what feels like every food product down every aisle of the grocery store. I don’t care what you say, I’d rather someone eat tons of fruits and vegetables than smaller portions of gluten free waffles, cakes, etc. Just because it has a label like that doesn’t mean it’s healthier! Brian St. Pierre, CISSN believes that if you couldn’t hunt, fish, pluck, grow, or ferment/culture the food, you probably shouldn’t be putting it into your body.

10) Developing relationships with your clients is important to keeping my job fun. I’ve seen it time and time again where personal trainers just stand there and count reps, or even stare blankly into their phones. These people spend their hard earned money to have the opportunity to work with me, so my goal is to make their time worthwhile. Are you going to be best friends with every single one of your clients? No, but it doesn’t hurt to communicate and be supportive of their goals both inside and out of the gym.

11) Proper posture alignment is important for optimal lower back health. From past experience, because I lived in extension, my lower back would always be an issue to my weight room success. I could never figure out why, was it my hamstrings? My back flexibility? My massive, non-existent biceps? No, it was the way I stood all day! My anterior pelvic tilt (“Donald Duck” posture) forced my lumbar erectors (lower back muscles) into constant contraction. Muscle contraction leads to fatigue, leading to soreness, chronic fatigue, and eventually pain. So next time you look in a mirror, stand sideways and be the judge of your spine alignment yourself.

12) The issue with caring for pain in today’s world is, most people tend to look at a piece of the puzzle, rather than the actual puzzle itself. What this means is, painful areas are looked at in isolation rather than their movement patterns. An example of this could be seen through Gray Cook and Brett Jones describing the hip joint being a bad “neighbor,” to the knee and back. Through this, they elaborate on most pain occurring in these joints is due to dysfunction in hip movements. The key is to figure out what you’re struggling with and get batter at it!

13) Regardless of how much my theories on fitness evolve in the future, there will always be one thing that remains concrete. Reading is the most powerful tool one can own, in my opinion. I can honestly say that due to the surplus of resources out there for fitness news and research, I am the personal trainer I am today. The greatest thing about reading is, new material is developed virtually every single day, allowing me to keep my mind thinking and expand my horizon.

14) Fancy equipment isn’t necessary for a good workout. Does it look nice? Sure. Is it effective? For the most part. Is it a necessity? Nope. There’s no need to have clients squatting on BOSU balls if they can’t squat their own bodyweight the proper way. Remember, start from scratch. Build the ground floor and work your way up.

15) The best pre-workout is black coffee, unsweetened. All these pre-workouts today are loaded with chemicals that may not affect your well being now, but could down the road. My general rule of thumb is, if you cannot read the ingredients on the label, you probably shouldn’t be putting them in your body. Coffee, without all the sweeteners and whatnot, gives you the kick you need naturally.

16) Everybody has a theory, you have to figure out what works best for you. A Division I strength coach isn’t going to have the same philosophies as a Bally’s Yoga instructor. Some of their beliefs might be similar, but their result orientation differs. Personally, I am a big fan of kettlebells. Is every exercise I have my clients perform done with a kettlebell? No, but I believe their usage is an extremely effective way to achieve our goals. Figure out what works best for you!

17) Developing total body tension should be learned before heavy compound movements. Tightness throughout the body is important to strength gains as well as performing pain-free exercises. Imagine this continuum. There is a sack of bricks and a sack of feathers. When squatting, which one would you rather be? We want to develop tension hard like the bag of bricks. Otherwise, we cannot control to weight and this is when injuries and other issues arise. Learn how to activate your muscles

18) CrossFit, in my opinion, is an amazing concept. I really do like it a lot. However, there are a few flaws that prevent me from being a “CrossFitter” myself. One of the huge problems that most people have with CrossFit is the lack of proper form in certain facilities. Of course, not every single gym is guilty of this, but the culprits are responsible for giving CrossFit the bad rep. Another issue is the high-rep work of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk). These are such complex and difficult movements to master where they shouldn’t be performed for tons of volume. Eventually, form breaks down and things head down south from there. Overall however, it’s a great way to get friends and family off the couch and creates unity and companionship through exercise. Doesn’t get much better than that!

19) Similarly to the regressions I spoke about before, the proper cue could clean up best form. Considering how every individual is unique, not every single cue will be digested the same way. It is my job to experiment with the cues I give in order to get my clients into the proper position or movement pattern.

20) To the general population, both internal and external strength development is a marathon rather than a sprint. Unlike an athlete, where there’s deadlines due to in-season/off-season schedules, there’s no need to rush a client through phases. I don’t progress my clients until they’ve mastered the task at hand, which prevents setbacks with tweaks and straights during poorly executed exercises. Strength is a lifelong road where being content with the person you are should never occur. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, the list goes on. There is, and always will be, a way to better develop all the aspects of your life. Having an open mind and a strong work ethic are two traits that tag along this path.

So, these are the twenty things that popped into my head first. I’ve learned so many different things this year through so many different people, it was hard to even know where to start. My goal for each and every day I wake up, is to expand my education further than it was the prior day. Whether it’s fitness, nutrition, psychology, philosophy, or any other subject, find out what your interest is and fall in love with it. There’s my advice for the day, now go out and become a stronger person today!

(P.S. There will be a 21 things I’ve learned this year next year!)

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