A Lion in Iron: Always Ask Questions

TAGS: ask questions, training knowledge, training athletes, Alexander Cortes, dan john

“I'm sorry that I have so many questions.”

Recently, I was working with a new rookie trainer on staff. She stated this after we had been talking for about an hour, the majority of which was taken up with her asking me questions. I've had clients say this to me as well when they first begin training, and I always find this extremely odd. Why are we discouraged from asking questions? That’s a subject for another time.

Regardless, I encouraged her, as I do all my clients, to always ask me questions. If you aren’t questioning, you aren't learning anything. This got me thinking about how far I've come since I started training five years ago and how many different stages of learning/questioning I've gone through. I've actually kept fairly precise records of how many hours I've spent working, training, and studying, and it is hovering around the 10,000-hour mark. I'm not saying that to brag at all. It's simply that I've devoted most of my downtime and energy to getting better at this. I can honestly say that all that’s really changed is that I'm now more aware of all the things that I don't know than when I first started. I've gone from shit to suck to mostly OK or maybe good. I have gotten much better at asking the right questions though.

When I first got started, I didn’t know how to distinguish between information and knowledge, and I didn’t have the experience to inform my decision-making. I listened to a lot of bullshit information, and I assumed that because it was coming from a supposed authority that it must be true.

Here's the thing though—true working knowledge doesn’t come from nodding your head in agreement. It comes from personal evaluation and experience and using that perspective to understand the information you're told. I can say without a doubt that being exposed to elitefts™ made an enormous difference in my development as a professional, as it allowed me to learn from people who had working knowledge, working experience, and the perspective of years spent coaching and training. It turned me away from the many acclaimed training authorities and got me learning from the people who were actually training and coaching.

One thing I recognized right away is that the best coaches all had particular beliefs and philosophies about training. These weren't hard and fast rules that they followed but rather principles that guided their training and coaching. These coaches and lifters weren't dogmatic preachers, but rather they espoused sound principles and they had real answers when questioned about their methods, systems, and training. I think too many rookies in this industry get caught up in trying to find “right” information. While education is hugely important, another part of learning is the ability to ask effective questions.

Over time, I developed a “criteria of progression.” This comprises four basic programming principles that I saw across all proven training methods, and it also equates with four basic questions that I feel any trainer or coach worth his salt should be able to answer in regards to his training. It was particularly inspired by Dan John, who utilizes four quadrants when evaluating physical activities and skills. Always give credit where credit is due.

The four principles and questions are as follows:

  1. Effective: Is it effective within the context of the goal that we're trying to achieve? Is this exercise effective relative to the goal? Is the person who is programming this experienced in regards to achieving the results we want?
  2. Reasonable: Is it reasonable within the context of the client's/athlete's current physical abilities and/or/as well as in regards to the demands of the sport? Is this program reasonable for the athlete to undertake? Is this workout going to kill the person? Is this exercise or drill reasonable based on current ability?
  3. Teachable: Is it understandable? Do you, the coach/trainer, understand this program thoroughly? If you don't understand it, you can't teach it. This third step is extremely important. I've seen certain guru coaches release systems that they claim are the absolute cutting edge of training and that will deliver incredible results, but no one understands the program and the coach can't give a clear answer.
  4. Progression: Is this program designed for long-term progress? What comes next? If this program doesn’t work, is there a regression in place? Can it be modified? What is the next progression? Is the coach/trainer prepared to modify if need be? Does he know how to appropriately modify it?

I'll again point out something that I feel is very important—these are all questions. I’ve gotten better at my job not by knowing more information but by asking better questions.

Now, these criteria, these questions (and there are many you can ask), aren't anything extraordinary, but they provide an objective basis for looking at a method, an exercise, or a workout or even examining an individual's credentials and making an honest judgment on whether that method, exercise, or person is worth trying or listening to (or implementing in a program). This doesn’t mean that the judgment will be the right one necessarily, but at the very least, I feel that you will have made somewhat of an informed decision and will have a better understanding if something goes wrong or right.

Real knowledge, real credentials, real and truly effective training—it will withstand questioning. It will have answers. It will answer your questions by teaching you something. It won't shut you down for asking.

Information isn’t knowledge. The merits of what you know are decided upon what you effectively understand and can teach by making understandable. The merits of your training will be decided upon whether effective progress was made and will continue to be made.

Don’t ever discourage questions and always be prepared to answer them. Whether you're a lifter, trainer, coach, or anyone in the position of educating others, always appreciate that people want to learn. In addition, learn for yourself in such a way that you can provide them with real teaching, real training, and real results. Live it, learn it, and pass it on always.

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