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The rise of boutique fitness classes and gym culture.

As a CSCS I am good at what I do which is prepare athletes for their sports. I know what progressions need to happen for youth athletes and I know what programs need to be implemented for older athletes.   That doesn’t mean that I am not still learning and implemented new principles as situations arise. It also doesn’t mean that I am not open to new ideas and suggestions. As a fitness enthusiast I have run several marathons, half marathons, obstacle races, and the like. I have done kickboxing, yoga, and boot camp classes. I currently do CrossFit and enjoy it quite a bit. I love the fact that there are so many classes for fitness enthusiasts such as myself to choose from.  However, as a strength and conditioning specialist all of these specialty classes that keep popping up create mixed messages for athletes.   Sometimes the messages come from YouTube and social media where everybody is an expert. Sometimes the athlete’s parents go to a class and love it so they influence their children to attend. We happen to live in an area where there are lots of high process fitness optons. Things like Barre Mathod, Bari, Soul Cycle, CrossFit, SLT, OrangeTherory, Pilates, PowerFlow Yoga,, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying these are not great classes for general fitness. I am saying that they are not for athletes. Athletes need to train for a purpose with a specific goal in mind. Most often that goal is a combination of strength and/ or speed. Strength and Speed are the two most important factors in determining overall athleticism. At Inception not only will they get the program in place to help them reach their goals they will also get a program that reduces injuries. If an athlete is not on the field then nothing else matters and with the rise of year round sports injures happen at a higher and higher rate among youth athletes.   There are things that can be implemented to help reduce that risk. I incorporate ACL tear reduction drills as part of my warm up for all my athletes.   When baseball players come in I always work on arm care. The shoulder is such a complicated joint that you need to give it specific attention in order to reduce the chances of an injury. The one thing that the entire specialty classes have in common is they are group classes. When you have a group setting you automatically will not get the attention you need because everyone in the class is doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you are a baseball player, a soccer player, or someone coming off an injury. If you are an athlete it is in your best interest to find a qualified CSCS to work with to get better for your sport and not just rely on general fitness classes or personal trainers.

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Strength Coaches vs. Personal Trainers

I have been in both industries.  I have worked with clients whose goals were to look good, lose weight, drop body fat and I have also worked with athletes looking for performance on the field.  I can honestly say that I feel like strength coaches can venture into the personal training world a lot easier than personal trainers can work as strength coaches.  I feel like it is a totally different work environment.  Strength coaches have a lot more to focus on.  They have to make sure they periodize properly as well as provide adequate recovery.  They also have to think about which exercise that particular athlete should not do based on his or her sport or body type.  They also have to think about what position the athlete plays within a sport.  A Football lineman is going to train a lot differently than a wide receiver.  So experience, education, and science play a large part in what a strength coach does.  While being a personal trainer has it’s own unique set of demands as well.  I have worked with a lot of clients with mobility issues.  These issues force you to be part physical therapist before you can begin a weight loss or a fat loss program. When you get someone who is not in very good shape the reality is anything they do will work in the beginning.  It is after that initial plate where the hard stuff begins.  Each field does have it’s own unique set of demands however, I feel that if you can train athletes you can also train general fitness.  In fact, I often used athletic protocols with my general fitness people and they saw great results.

In the past I have written about the dirty little secret of the fitness industry.  https://jerseystrong.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/why-certifications-matter/   There are so many different “certifications” out there.  Some are take home that you can send in and as long as you pay the money you are a certified personal trainer.  The industry is filled with personal trainers who don’t know and don’t use one shred of scientific evidence in their programming.   Another thing to be aware of is trainers who are more focused on being celebrity trainers than trainers who are celebrities.  Obviously we have to be market ourselves and drive business but as Martin Rooney said when I met him last year.  “The moment my career changed was when I realized that I was training athletes and that I wasn’t the athlete.”  If your trainer is more focused on his or her own success than yours you should get a new trainer.

As a strength coach I read everything and anything on the subject.  I attend conferences and clinics.  Not only do I read what my colleagues put on Twitter and their own personal blogs but as a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association I read the journals every month.  Yes people there are scientific published journals from actual research that we as strength coaches are supposed to use in our programming.  Now, some of what we do is art and not science and some is based on things like the athlete’s training age and even the space and equipment available.  That being said, if your trainer is not keeping up with up educating themselves then they are doing you a disservice.

Another difference between a personal trainer and a strength coach is the ideal body that the client is after.  As a personal trainer everyone who stepped in my door said the same things.  I want to lose weight.  I want to drop body fat.  I want to get ripped.  Or for the ladies I want to get toned and not be too big.  (More on how much I hate that later)  There is no such thing as toned ladies.  For the athlete the body ideal is often very different.  For one it depends on what sport and what position your play.  To go back to the same example I gave before a Lineman in football will have a very different body type than a wide receiver.  A lineman might aspire to become as strong as possible and not care about storing body fat as long as he can still move quickly.  The wide receiver on the other hand will need to focus on top speed, acceleration, and the ability to jump to get a ball at its highest point.  I have never once talked to my athletes about defined abs or quad separation.  If you as an athlete go to a trainer who is focused on any of those things walk away immediately.  Athletes are not bodybuilders.  An athlete should never aspire to be shredded.  Instead, the programing should be focused on performance only.  Often with this approach the athlete will get the body he or she wants or more importantly needs for their sport.

Of course I am a little biased but I believe that the National Strength and Conditioning Association is the cream of the crop when it comes to strength and conditioning and personal training.  The CSCS is the certification standard in the NCAA.  You will not find a college strength and conditioning coach without one.  Also, there is the NSCA-CPT for general fitness population which is also a great choice. Go to NSCA.com to find a qualified coach in your area.

How to pick the right gym for you. (The athlete)

In order to be athletic you have to train athletic. Training at or near your 1RM all the time doesn’t develop explosiveness or athleticism.   While maximal strength is important and is a prerequisite for power as an athlete I would not stay in that phase for too long. Instead spend a good amount of time around 60-80 % of your 1RM and think about exploding out of the amortization phase of a lift into the concentric phase. I would also choose exercises that allow you to display athleticism in a coordinated manner. Things like cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, box jumps, plyometrics, agility work, and clapping pushups allow you to be fast while using your body in an efficient and coordinated way. These exercise because they are fast and explosive also require a great deal of core stability, which translates into on-field movements.

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As an athlete I would look for the following things when choosing a gym.

  1. Open Space: The more cluttered the gym is with fixed range of motion machines the less likely it is to produce any sort of athleticism. You are not in physical therapy. You are training for sport performance. Agility work is a skill that can be taught and developed and you need space to work on it.
  1. Qualified coaches: CSCS is the top of the line when it comes to programming and exercise selection. Pick up any magazine or read any article on sports performance and the writer is most likely to have the CSCS credentials after his name.
  1. Bumper plates: In order to attempt cleans and snatches you have to be willing to fail at an attempt. If you are always worried about dropping the weights you will never get out of your comfort zone and never grow.
  1. Kettlebells: The Kettlebell is one of my favorite pieces of equipment. Give me a kettlebell and I can give you a total body workout that will have you out of breath and lying in a pool of your own sweat.
  1. Energy: If the gym feels like a place where people are miserable you don’t want to be there. The gym should be fun. People should be pushing themselves and each other. There should be music and there should be a palpable energy inside the walls.

Why certifications matter

There are a lot of options out there for people who want to bring their fitness to the next level.  There are personal trainers, strength coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, and even speed coaches.  One of the things about all of these options that a lot of people don’t know is there are literally hundreds of certifications that will give these coaches their license to train you.  Most of these certifications require you to do nothing more than pay a fee and they will send you a take home test with the text book.  Once you pass the easiest test in the world you are a certified personal trainer.  I would say that most personal trainers at one time had a certification.  However, most of them are not current.  They expire from year to year so if a trainer doesn’t want renew by taking continuing education credits then the certification will expire.  Why does that matter to you?  Well the fitness industry is always changing.  There is new science and research all the time which should change the way a trainer approaches his or her clients.  If a trainer is not staying current with their certification then they are probably using out of date procedures and potentially putting your health at risk.  Or at the very least putting your progress at risk.

The first thing you should do when you sign up with a trainer is to ask the gym do they require their trainers to be certified.  A little known dirty little secret in the fitness world is most “trainers” have no such type of current certification.  A gym who employs trainers should pay for their continuing education credits or at the very least check annually.  It is kind of don’t ask don’t tell because the gym owners don’t want to pay the extra money and neither do a lot of trainers.  The general public has no idea what the “good” personal trainer certifications are versus the “bad” ones.  So in most trainers’ eyes why should they be certified.  I wouldn’t even take the trainer’s word for it.  I would actually ask to see the sheet of paper that says they are certified.  If you are paying good money you want every reassurance that your money is being spent on a quality professional who is dedicated to the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and the exercise sciences.

Now that you know about the dirty little secret that is rampant in the fitness industry you should be aware of which certifications to look for.  These certifications are strenuous in nature and the exams are taken across the country at independent sites without the use of any study aids.  Some of them have a prerequisite of a Bachelor or Science in a health science related field.  Basically you need four years of undergraduate education to even take the test.

1.  NSCA  The National Strength and Conditioning Association has two distinctions.  CSCS for training  athletes and the NSCA – CPT for training the general population.

2.  ACE  American Council on Exercise.

3.  ACSM.  American Academy of Sports Medicine.

4.  NASM.  National Academy of Sports Medicine.

5.  CI  Cooper Institute.

Keep in mind even if your trainer says that they are certified in one of these categories, don’t hesitate to ask them to see the certification card.  While it is impressive that they at one point passed these test and became certified they still should be staying up to date with their research.

Major League baseball recently mandated that all of their minor league strength coaches be certified CSCS and RSCC.  No doubt this is to attempt to eliminate some of the shady characters who lurked around their clubhouses during the “steroid era.”  Most of the Universities have full time strength and conditioning coaches for their athletic programs.  The CSCS distinction is one of the largest governing bodies to certify these coaches.  If a coach has two years working with and designing programs for athletic teams then he or she can earn the distinction of RSCC.  There are also separate distinctions for ten years of staying current in that distinction and twenty.  The trickle down effect has brought strength and conditioning to the High School level.  During these years it is probably even more important to have a quality certified trainer working with these kids.  Unfortunately, many High Schools just have a weight room supervisor or a member of the coaching staff supervising.  If you suspect this is the case then you might be better off finding a facility near you that specializes in athletic performance.  These facilities have popped up all throughout the country.  Just make sure you ask to see that certification before signing up.

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