7 Ways Fitness Professionals Are Bass Ackwards

I became a fitness educator because there are many things in the professional fitness training field that I’d like to change. These are things I strongly feel are completely backwards from how they should be.

The following are 7 common things going on in the professional fitness training field that I feel are bass ackwards, along with the simple ways to set these things straight.

1. Many fitness professionals are getting most of their (continuing) education from people who don’t work in their same environment.

  More than ever it seems that fitness professionals are gravitating towards strength coaches who work in the collegiate and professional setting and toward rehabilitation specialists. Although we all can benefit from learning from other practitioners in the each of the various allied health fields, we must do so while maintaining the perspective of our own field of practice: the professional fitness training field.

With this reality in mind, it important that fitness professionals focus their education on the techniques and applications that have been developed and utilized by other fitness professionals to be used in the personal training setting. When fitness professionals do engage in educational ventures taught by people in other allied health professions (like physical therapists and strength coaches), which they certainly should; we must understand that some of the techniques, concepts, thought processes and communication strategies might not apply directly to the personal training setting. And the things that do apply to the fitness field may need to be heavily modified in order to fit the personal training setting.

2. Many fitness professionals are more interested in learning about training concepts and techniques that are aligned with their own training goals than they are about learning better and more effective ways to help paying clients achieve their goals.

  As fitness professionals, clients pay us their hard-earned money, along with giving us their valuable time and trust, to provide them the safest and most effective training direction to achieve their goals. So, as a fitness professional, the objective is not for us to spend most of our educational time and money learning about the training concepts and techniques that are aligned with our own training goals. The number one priority when pursuing fitness education is to learn better and more effective ways to our help clients achieve their goals.

In other words, it’s the fitness professional’s responsibility and duty to make sure the fitness education investment they’re prioritizing is actually something that will benefit their clients and help them achieve their goals. And, once that duty is fulfilled, to spend the money and time remaining to pursue the educational ventures in which they are personally interested.

3. Many fitness professionals provide lessons in their favorite exercise method, not a personalized program of the best training direction for the client’s goal.

  With what was just discussed above in mind, it’s no surprise that so many trainers give advice based on their chosen training philosophy (i.e. bias) instead of delivering a true “personalized” workout program. In other words, many trainers just end up giving their clients private lessons on what that particular trainer likes to do instead of using the best modalities for their client’s goal. This is bass ackwards because the job of the fitness professional is to provide their clients with the best training direction to take, based on their goals and needs. Not based on the trainer’s specialty or bias.

The simple fix for this epidemic is to stop fanaticizing about certain training styles or approaches, and embrace the reality that many forms of exercise have their unique set of benefits and limitations.

In other words, come to the realization that certain training modalities are best for certain goals, and no single training modality is best for all goals. Not to mention, many individuals have a multifaceted goal, like gaining muscle and strength while improving athletic movement, which is the subject matter of my next book to be published by human kinetics.

Put simply, if you’ve got a multifaceted training goal, then you need to train with a multifaceted training approach that incorporates several training modalities.

4. Many fitness Professionals mistake the tools for their job for the job itself.

  When fitness professionals take several different courses and integrate many different training modalities in their exercise programming they’re often warned not to be “a jack of all trades” because they’ll just be a “master of none.”

There’s much industry pressure put on the fitness professional to choose specific training modalities to become proficient at, and to focus on “mastering” those modalities, which is a glaring example of the confusion the fitness field, as a whole, has over what the job of the fitness professional is.

Put simply, fitness professionals are like carpenters. And, no one ever calls a carpenter a “jack of all trades, master of none” because they use all kinds of tools on each job they do. The fact is that all of the tools they use are just a part of their trade. They are not the trade itself. Their trade is to build stuff and improve stuff. And, what determines a good carpenter is his or her ability to successfully assess each job (i.e., each client), and then figure out what tools (i.e., exercise methods and modalities) are the best fit to accomplish the job (i.e., achieve the client’s goals), and understand how to use those tools in a safe and effective manner (i.e., get the client the results they’re after without hurting them).

As I said in Jonathan Goodman’s new, revised, updated and expanded version of his book: Ignite the Fire, which is an awesome resource I highly recommend, “the successful fitness professional understands that their job is to serve as an exercise expert, not as a specialist in using only one training modality.”

Put simply, continually improving health, fitness, and performance in a wide variety of individuals requires several different components, and no single piece of equipment or training method will be ever able to fully address all its complex demands.

5. Many fitness professionals are trying to fit different individuals to certain exercise movements instead of fitting the exercise movements to the individual.

  As I said in my book Strength Training for Fat Loss, “one of the biggest mistakes in training, which trainers and coaches often make, is attempting to fit the individual to the exercises instead of fitting the exercises to the individual. “


For example, when it comes to using an exercise like deadlifts, many attempt to fit everyone to deadlifts performed in the traditional style using a barbell. Although well intentioned, it’s very misguided for personal trainers (and strength coaches) to lead people to believe that just because some individuals posses the ability to perform traditional style barbell deadlift means that everyone should have the ability to perform that same movement in the same manner. Taking a one size fits all approach to human movement, like saying “everyone should be able to squat like a baby,” and to exercise prescription and execution, is not only potentially dangerous, it is also ignorant of the obvious physiological differences between humans.

You see, all of us are the same species: human. Just like all different makes and models of cars, trucks and vans are the same species: automobiles. But just like automobiles, humans come in all shapes and sizes. Your size and shape is determines by your structure, and structure determines function.

Although both a mini-cooper and a mini-van are made up of the same basic parts (e.g., 4-wheels, two axels, etc.) and can perform the same basic driving functions (e.g., go forward and reverse, turn right and left, stop and start) you’d never expect a brand-new mini-cooper to drive and handle the same as a brand-new mini-van because of the different ways their same basic parts are put together. This is exactly why it’s unrealistic to expect a guy who’s built like a football running back to move the same as a guy built like a lineman. In that, although both the running back and lineman can change levels, run, push, pull, twist and so on, they’ll likely perform the movements in slightly different ways based on their structure.

In other words, there isn’t any exact exercise that matches the movement of everyone because there are individual variations in the way humans move. Therefore, the fitness professional must choose the particular exercise variations that best fit how each individual moves. And, it’s important to note that depending on individual ability, some people may be able to use several different variations and styles of a given exercise (like a deadlift or squat) while others may be more limited in the types of stances, styles and load placement they can safely use.

The entire reason why the DVDs and books I produce provide such a multitude of exercise variations isn’t just to add variety to training, but because there are variations of normal in the way humans move. And, some exercises just don’t fit well for the way certain people move.

Not only do we all move a bit differently based on our size and shape, which is dictated by our own unique skeletal framework and body proportions, but past injury, loss of cartilage, or natural joint degenerative processes such as arthritis can influence how we move. This is why attempting to fit every person to the same exercise movement is potentially dangerous. Doing so could cause a problem or further exacerbate an existing problem as it may go against one’s movement capability.

6. Many fitness professionals are providing sessions that are closer to physical therapy than fitness training.

  The current emphasis being placed on the use of formalized orthopedic (i.e., postural and/or movement) testing procedures in the professional fitness training field is nothing new. Back in the days when I was an up and coming trainer (in the late 90s), much was being made of these concepts then, as it is now. That said, the use of these rehabilitation-based orthopedic testing procedures has caused many trainers (and coaches) to lose their way. In that, after learning about these concepts, many confused fitness professionals end up making their training process more about trying to play the “corrective therapy” game, and not nearly enough actual strength & conditioning gets done in order to create the type of training effect needed to achieve the fitness, physique or performance goals of their client(s).

It’s easy to lose your way in this manner when you don’t have a solid understanding of the differences between the role of the physical therapist and the role of the personal trainer. To help fitness professionals gain a solid understanding in this regard, I co-authored an article with Justin Kompf and Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, entitled The Scope Of Practice For Personal Trainers, which was recently published in the NSCA Personal Training Quarterly: Volume1, Issue #4.

 As we stated in our article: Training consists of assessing what they currently have and using general exercise to improve on what they currently have while working around what is broken or severely injured. On the other hand, treatment, which is in the realm of the physical therapist and/or orthopedic specialist, is the diagnosing of what is broken and using specific corrective measures to fix it in order to bring the clients back to what they previously had.“

7. Leaders in physical therapy education are encouraging well-designed fitness training, while many fitness trainers are more interested in giving corrective therapy.

  Since the mid 2000’s I’ve averaged attending two physical therapy workshops and conferences per year. Most of these events are held by my great friends at North East Seminars. In fact, I’ll be attending one of their events in a few weeks, taught by Kevin Wilk, in West Palm Beach, FL on April 18-19th.

It’s important to note that I attend these workshops, not because I’m trying to be a mini-physical therapist, but because I’m always looking to increase my awareness of the current evidence on potential injury mechanisms and treatments, which helps me to better understand how to optimize my training programs, and to have a clearer understanding of my scope of practice as a fitness professional.

Over the years, in being a part of a wide variety of fitness conferences, as well as attending many physical therapy conferences, I’ve noticed this: As many fitness professionals are focusing their education and sessions more and more on “corrective therapy” concepts while undervaluing the power of general fitness practices, many of the leading educators in the actual rehabilitation arena were encouraging physical therapists to do the exact opposite.

A great example of this reality is what Jim Porterfield PT, co-author of Mechanical Low Back Pain and Mechanical Neck Pain, said (I’m paraphrasing here) during his lecture at the 2010 Northeast Seminars Spine Symposium: “Nothing is guaranteed in physical therapy. But a good strength training program, designed around one’s current successful movement capabilities, can have drastic physical (and mental) improvements in 6-weeks.”

Additionally, in his 2011 article, The Successful Management of Injury and Illness: Learn to Live Life to Its Fullest, Porterfield said this:

 “These YMCA statistics describe what happens to most of us. The average American gains one pound per year after the age of 25, and loses ½ pound of lean body mass per year after the age of 25.  Consequently, the average 55 year old has gained 25–30 pounds and lost 10–12 pounds of those tissues required to counteract the weight gain. The increased weight gain overloads the skeleton, causing injury and pain (arthritis). And, the average female looses 1/3 of her skeleton in a lifetime. The key to living life to its fullest is to strengthen your body with the appropriate exercise, increase muscle mass and decrease body fat.  The home run: Get Lean and Stay Lean…Learn to Exercise and Become a Student of Nutrition.”

Isn’t it interesting, and a bit concerning, that highly experienced leaders in the world of physical therapy, like Jim Porterfield and his co-author Carl DeRosa, are saying that many common rehabilitation and orthopedic practices are “iffy” at best, while also emphasizing that fact that everyone can benefit from improved exercise and nutrition. Yet, we have groups of fitness professionals who are (supposed to be) the experts at helping people learn to “strengthen their body with the appropriate exercise, increase muscle mass, decrease body fat and to become a student of nutrition,” and they’re far more interested in trying to play the corrective (exercise) therapy game.

More to come!

 As you can see there are easy solutions to setting these bass ackwards issues so common to the fitness field straight. And, I hope you’re with me in trying to be a part of that solution.

Finally, there are more ways that I feel many fitness professionals are bass ackwards, but I’ve covered enough for now. So, keep your eyes open for a follow up to this one down the road.

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