Dump Out Your Toolbox

TAGS: toolbox, breathing, fitness industry, assessment, Alexander Cortes, trainer

Since I started my career as a trainer, there have been a few industry analogies that I have heard in nearly every webinar, seminar, and conference that I have attended. Most of them have a good foundational idea but become clichéd quickly. By far, the most popular phrase I have heard is, "the more tools you have in your toolbox..." Usually this phrase is ended with "the better equipped you will be as a trainer," or "the better you can make your clients." What I'm concerned with is the first part of the phrase: the more tools you have in your toolbox.

Now, when I first started as a trainer, I largely agreed with this sentiment. It makes sense from a certain perspective. The more you “know,” the more capable you will be as a trainer, right?

Over time, I have realized this is not accurate. One of the first times I can recall questioning this was when I one of the trainers at my first gym had recently become certified in a particular movement assessment. I remember watching him because I too, was interested in this assessment. I thought it would be a good learning opportunity.

But as I watched him take all of his clients through the assessment throughout the week, I realized he really didn’t understand what he was doing. He constantly referred back to the chart and literature he had received, trying to figure out what each particular observation meant. Hearing him explain this to his clients was painful as well, as he kept mistaking what each particular assessment indicated, and his lack of confidence was obvious.

movement squat casey williams alexander cortes toolbox 060214

Was the assessment the problem? No, it was not, but it was a tool that he didn’t understand how to use.

Since that time, movement assessments have become exceedingly popular — but the vast majority of trainers I've worked with still have no real understanding of what they are assessing. Without the text book or literature, they are utterly lost as to explaining what they are really assessing. They inherently lack comprehension of movement, and they base everything on what a chart tells them. That’s not an assessment; that is uninformed and partial observation.

This is not just with assessment, though. I've seen it with everything imaginable.

  • Trainer A has learned 100 new ways to improve someone’s hip mobility. However, they still can't teach them how to squat with a barbell correctly.
  • Trainer B falls in love with primal/functional/natural movement. All of his clients are now crawling on the floor doing semi break-dance exercises. Weeks go by and I still don’t know how he is assessing progress in anyone while they are doing some kind of animal walk. His clients also still suck at actually moving weight of any kind or doing anything upright from a normal athletic position.
  • Trainer C has recently discovered the use of bands and the conjugate method. Subsequently, all of his clients are now doing banded bench press, banded deadlifts, and banded everything. He ignores the fact that none of these people can even move their bodyweight in the big three, though.
  • Trainer D has gotten kettlebell and suspension trainer certified. All of his clients are now engaging in a god awful hybrid of these two training tools, which he claims are the “ultimate” form of training.

The above are obviously the more extreme examples, but I've seen this pattern repeated with every training idea imaginable. I've seen it with exercises, I've seen it with diets, I've seen it with foods, and I've even seen it with trainers telling clients that they are breathing and standing incorrectly.

movement toolbox zane geeting alexander 060214

The point is, there is a mistaken obsession with acquiring new “tools.” Unfortunately, no one really learns most of the tools they are exposed to. They want to use them, though, so they get abused.

It is said often that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In response to that, I ask, what if a hammer and nail is all you actually need? What if I can train someone effectively with just a barbell and some bodyweight movements? What if an effective diet doesn’t require all kinds of hacks, but just balanced macros and a controlled deficit? What if an assessment doesn’t have to take an hour, and working on mobility doesn’t require a workout unto itself, and maybe some static stretching works pretty good for keeping joints supple?

Maybe the fact that the barbell has been proven as an effective training tool for over a century should be taken as evidence that it works and that learning how to use it and teach it should be considered paramount for the building of strength and muscle. I could ask a thousand more questions like this, but I don’t want this to become entirely redundant. As I have seen it and said before, this industry as a whole does not have a problem with lack of quality information, but instead is plagued by a dearth of experienced knowledge.

We buy into trends, fads, and catch-all solutions that never pan out. We look for magic bullets that don’t really exist. We obsess over mundane details and tools that we barely know how to use and spend thousands of dollars getting letters after our names.

But ask someone to build a doghouse out of some 2x4s and nails, and they are at a complete loss. They have no idea where to start, but they assume they will need an impact drill and laser guided buzz saw. They can't line up two pieces of wood together, though, and that doghouse goes nowhere. This happens because they spend 12 weeks on the master blueprint of how they think it's supposed to go together instead of actually building.

So, until you can build the doghouse with a hammer and nails or get someone to passably squat a bar, I don’t particularly care about how much my breathing is destroying my life while I'm incorrectly standing in line at Starbucks.

To say it all simply and to the point, “never trust a man who claims to be craftsman, but whose tools appear to never have been used.”

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