A new client came into my gym to train with me the other day. He couldn’t wait to tell me that he’d just flown back from New York, where he’d gone to have his hip examined by the same surgeon who’d worked on Alex Rodriguez. The wheels in my head started spinning.

“What does A-Rod know about surgery?” I asked.

“Nothing,” the guy responded.

“Then why is he qualified to judge whether this doctor is good or not? Why is he better at that than you? Why the f**k would you go see a surgeon because A-Rod told you to?”

Think about cars and car commercials for a minute. If Jeff Gordon comes on TV and tells you a car is great, it gets your attention because he’s a professional driver. It’s his job to know which cars are good and which ones suck. If he tells you a car handles well, and it looks awesome under the hood, you’ll listen, right?

Now, if Tiger Woods comes on and says the same thing, does it mean anything? What does Tiger Woods know about cars? If he wanted to tell me about a golf ball, or a type of driver, then I’d listen. But cars? He’s full of s**t, and I couldn’t care less what he says.

Where’s Your Bulls**t Detector?

Consider both of these examples in the context of everything involved with the strength and conditioning world—and here, I’m also referring to personal trainers, “gurus,” and even physicians. After talking to my client about A-Rod’s hip surgeon, I started wondering why people are capable of differentiating what’s good and bad about product endorsements—which ones make sense, and which ones don’t—while, at the same time, they’re incapable of doing it with services like coaching, training, and medical care.

Buying a car because Jeff Gordon tells you it’s good is a far more logical decision than buying one because Tiger Woods tells you so, yet people will make this mistake time and time again. Here’s why:

This is an emotional decision. When Tiger Woods talks about why he likes a car, nothing he says means anything, because he’s really only telling you one thing. He’s telling you he likes that car. That’s all he’s saying. Everything else he says about why this car would or wouldn’t be good for you is irrelevant, because he doesn’t have the foundation of knowledge to make that judgment call. Most people know this, and they’ll take any technical comments he makes about cars with a grain of salt—but they’ll still buy the car, because they like Tiger Woods, and it makes them feel good to buy the car Tiger Woods told them to buy.

Everybody’s a Layman

People who aren’t in a particular field don’t have the ability to judge who’s good and bad in that field on more than the most superficial of levels. When people see a strength coach who works for a professional team, they automatically think the guy’s great. When you look at the programs he’s giving his players, however, they’re completely awful.

So, how’d he get the job? Well, if you dig a little deeper—and if you’re in the inside, you know how to do this—you find out the strength coach was actually a car salesman whose buddy was hired as the GM of the team. That GM was hiring his staff—again, with no clue about what makes for a good strength coach—and said, “Hey, you used to lift weights. Why don’t you come be our strength coach?”

This is a fictitious example, but, as we all know, life imitates art—and you’ll find stories like this all over professional and big time college sports. When people get jobs or recognition, it’s not always because they’re good, or because they get results. It’s simply because the person recommending them likes them.

Have You Changed Anyone?

Think about LeBron James. LeBron can walk into any gym in Cleveland, with any random shooting coach, and in an instant, that guy is automatically the best shooting coach on the planet. Did he do anything for LeBron? No, God made LeBron great. It doesn’t matter who he works with or what he does. He’s going to be awesome regardless. My grandmother could train him with two packs of cigarettes and a pint of whiskey a day, and he’d still be the best player in the NBA. Still, the guy tagging along with LeBron is suddenly the worldwide authority on shooting a basketball because somebody’s Twitter says so.

The other day, someone suggested doing something a certain way in our gym because this method was how an NFL team did thing. I said, “Lawrence Taylor was the best defensive player in the history of football, who basically redefined the linebacker position, and he snorted a bag of coke before every game.”

Should your players do coke before every game?

The mistake most people make here comes when they take one tiny little sliver of information and run with it, failing to either realize or acknowledge that God has already done most of the work for the elite athlete. Administrators, head coaches, and athletes generally have no more knowledge about this process than the average person on the street—so why would you listen to them when they recommend a strength coach? They like that strength coach on an emotional level. This tells us nothing else.

What they have no clue about is whether he’s any good or not. They’re making value decisions that are totally emotional, and devoid of logic—and that influences others to make that same decision. Meanwhile, you don’t know this coach, you don’t have any idea what he’s like in person, and you’re making an illogical decision to recommend someone based on the positive emotions they elicit, rather than the results they’re getting—which you don’t even know about either way.

Changing the Thought Process

What we need to do, when considering the merits of strength coaches, trainers, “gurus,” surgeons, and everyone else in this process, is take emotional factors out of the decision. Here are three questions you need to ask when you’re trying to decide whether someone is worth a s**t or not:

1. WHO DID HE LEARN FROM? This is a big one that a lot of people overlook, but it’s important. After college, I had a choice. I could either become an assistant strength coach at another school, or I could go train at Westside Barbell. I chose Westside, and I can assure you, I wouldn’t have nearly the foundation of knowledge I have now if I’d gone another route. What’s your strength coach’s base?

2. WHO HAVE THEY MADE BETTER? This is a hard one for people to judge, because there’s no real qualitative measure for this if you’re not an insider—and because people fudge numbers all the time in this business. Instead of just claiming someone is good because he’s the strength coach for an NBA team, you need to say (or hear), “So and so is good because he’s the strength coach for an NBA team, and he consistently makes his athletes better.”

3. DO OTHER PEOPLE IN THE FIELD PROMOTE THIS COACH? If you’re a strength coach, and everyone else in your field is saying you’re good, then you’re probably good. There are lots of guys out there that I disagree with, but I still respect them, even though I don’t agree with their philosophies or the conclusions they come to. This is because they think about what they’re doing. If your peers respect you even when they disagree with you, that’s one of the best professional compliments you can get, i.e., “I’d let that guy coach my athletes.”

That’s huge, but even here, we have to differentiate between “liking” something and actually knowing whether it’s any good. I mean, I love my wife, but I’m not about to let her fix the brakes on my car.

The Final Piece

The real criteria I use to figure out whether someone is worth a s**t in this field is to find out what that person has done in the strength field. If a strength coach doesn’t train, everything they say is worthless. I’m not saying every strength coach has to be world champion, but they need to be in the gym every week trying to get better.

When parents ask me why they should send their athletes to us, I always tell them the same thing. I explain that coaches at every facility are going to drop names of athletes they’ve worked with, but that all that namedropping means nothing. Then I’ll take them out and show them our staff record board. I have several guys on my staff who’ve deadlifted 600 pounds or more, and I’ve done over 800 myself.

I’m not saying this to brag about myself or my facility. I’m mentioning it because this is the way it should be everywhere. Strength coaches shouldn’t be sitting on their asses talking about what they’ve learned from reading studies and books. It’s important to do your research, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to get in the weight room and strain against heavy weight in order to find out what makes you stronger and what doesn’t.

If a strength coach doesn’t train, I don’t want to listen to a word he has to say. It’s like taking financial advice from a financial planner who just filed for bankruptcy. He’ll tell you, “I know how to get you a lot of money, but me? I just had some bad luck, but I’ll turn that around. Don’t worry about what I have. Just listen to what I say.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a financial planner who’s living in a ten million dollar house and driving a Ferrari, because that guy knows how to get some cash. The same concept applies to strength coaches.

“Go deadlift 800 pounds,” I’ll say.

“I can’t.”

“Then shut the f**k up about how to deadlift. Don’t tell me how to activate my glutes. Pick up 800 pounds. S**t changes when you have 800 pounds in your hands.”

The Informed Decision

Don’t accept anecdotal evidence for anything, because you don’t know where it’s coming from, and you don’t know what people’s motivations are for offering it. If you want to know the truth about what you’re hearing, you need to go deeper and start asking some serious questions.

Does an athlete recommend a coach because he’s gotten results? Does he even know why these results took place? Or does he just like training with this coach for purely emotional reasons?

If you don’t believe Tiger Woods is qualified to sell you on the engine in a car, you shouldn’t take his word for it regarding his strength coach, either.