Monday, August 27, 2012

Top Ten Things Online Strength Coaches & Trainers Should Stop Doing Right Now

The internet has transformed the fitness industry. When I first started in this industry in 1997 there were very few sources of information. There were certification courses provided by a handful of companies, then we had magazines like Muscular Development, unless a coach appeared in one of these magazines they were off the radar; and if you were really serious there was the Human Kinetics catalogue, where you could buy a book and hope it was worth the outlay of cash.

Now there is information overload. There are websites, blogs, ebooks, pubmed. This has democratised the flow of information. Anyone remember the days when journals were only available in university libraries and you had to spend hours flicking through abstracts or down in the nether world of the 'stack' looking for a paper? (yes, I'm that old, in case you don't know what the stack is, its like the garbage crusher in Star Wars episode 4, and if you don't know what that reference is I can't help you).

Even though information doesn't now have to be filtered through official magazines, a couple of things have occurred. Firstly, most information regarding fitness is still really in the hands of a few coaches and websites (maybe less than 10). Secondly, there is an explosion of people providing information on the interwebz (yes, I'm writing this on a blog, the irony is not lost on me). This has resulted in many people regurgitating the same stuff, or resulting in certain trends, the same phrases which once seemed fresh are now old hat because they have been copied so much. It has also given rise to the internet coach, a person who has made a name for themselves purely based on their internet presence - which in many cases is not a bad thing. But in many cases, they have jumped the shark.

So without further ado, here is my rant.

1. 'bang for your buck exercises'. 

This phrase is trite and worn out. When the first person used it, it was a good way of explaining the exercise. But now a week doesn't pass without someone using this in an article or blog post. Yes, we get it, this exercise achieves multiple things, just find another way of saying it. Also when an American writes this it kind of fits with their language, British people saying it sound like try hards stranded somewhere in the mid atlantic. Note to some of the big online magazine/websites, if you get an article with this phrase in, edit it out. Lastly, they can't all be 'bang for your buck' exercises.

2. 'heck' and 'hell'.

Another phrase that is over used. For example, 'I've got nothing against isolation work, heck, I even do the occasional bicep curl' and 'hell, I've even been known to do some steady stated cardio'.

Its attempt to seem friendly, and folksy with the reader. Heck, I'm just like you. Again, if you're American this phrase might be something you use in every day life, if you're from anywhere else in the world, probably not. There isn't anything wrong with the phrase per se, it's just become tired from over use. Hell, we all have words we use too much, maybe I use the word maybe too much, I don't know but maybe. There's nothing wrong with trying to develop your own writing style, just don't copy everyone else. Great coaches aren't necessarily great writers.

3. Producing crap ebooks.

(Firstly, thanks to William Wayland at for suggesting this via a twitter conversation a while back)

I've bought quite a few ebooks and products over the years. Some have been excellent, some a rip off.
An example, of a good product is Evan Osars book Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction, basically an entire text book for $9.99, bargain.

Others have not been such good value, you pay $29.99 and when you get the book it's a 10 page double spaced pdf with no pictures or video links, re-hashing the same old information and 5 pages are blank exercise templates for you to fill in. You've been ripped off.

One time, I felt so ripped off by the ebook that I had purchased from a well known online strength coach I emailed to complain, and gave him several examples of other ebooks that I had bought for the same price or less which were superior and excellent value. At first, I got an email back from one of his back-room staff, saying I should be grateful that I had this secret information from such a world class coach and it was worth much more than I paid. I then emailed back, pointing out all the spelling mistakes, they hadn't even proof read it, and that even the exercise pairings A1, A2 etc had been printed wrong. To be fair, at this point, they apologised and sent me several other products for free. Note, this is the only time I've complained, and I've probably bought over $1000 of  fitness products over the years on the internet.

Take home message (another overused phrase) - if you produce a product, make sure its worth what you are selling it for, it should be professional and not be a re-hash.

Real books too

This doesn't only apply to ebooks, there is one company famous for producing some very slim books with a ton of ad copy in the back pages for an exorbitant price. This made sense 10 years ago, when it was a small company, and no one was buying books on kettlebells (back when I first bought a book about it, there were no kettlebell videos to watch on youtube). But now, nearly all online coaches go on about this company's certification program and everyones got a kettlebell. So the book that cost me £30 plus back in the day, should really retail for £5 now.

BONUS: Sick of 10 pages of ad copy when you try to buy a product, me too. Just tell me about the product and let me buy it, I dont' need sentences highlighted yellow. Pages, repeating the same information over and over again. Apparently, this marketing approach works. Not anymore, telling me a product is worth over $450 and then selling it to me at $77 doesn't work, I know its never going to retail at $450 because its not worth it. And there is a good chance its not worth $77 either. Several times, I was going to buy a product but gave up because of the ad copy, and then when you press the buy button, suddenly you get offered some extra special bonuses. I don't want them! Stop selling fitness products like a Viagra internet scam.

4. Making me pay for stuff then giving it away for free.

So I've invested $75 in your DVD, and then as the months pass I see content from the video being posted for free. I'm not talking about people doing their own youtube videos of your exercises or illegal bit torrent. I'm talking about the actual coach or trainer who owns the video.

I always like to pay for the products I buy. Most strength coaches and trainers put effort and time into their products, and deserve to get paid for their intellectual property, they're not multi-billion companies.

But then don't give away the product for free that I have already paid for. Now this could be because the coach wants to sell more of the product, so puts out more clips and extracts to entice customers, until there is nothing left to know. Others might not have any new ideas, if they put their best idea or program in a paid for product what else have they got to drive traffic to their website or blog? Then others might suddenly get an opportunity to write for a big online magazine or print magazine, bingo, time to bring out their best program which you just paid for.

5. Taking videos of everything.

Now, there is nothing wrong with producing instructional videos on how to do a new exercise. I watch these all the time. 'Heck', I've even produced a few in my time as well. But some trainers seemed to be engaged in their own personal Truman Show. You don't need to film every workout, every lift, every client. And I don't need you to take a photo of every burger or steak you cook, I know how to use a grill thanks.

6. 'I am experimenting with...'

The finish to this sentence changes depending whats in fashion, at the moment it goes 'I am experimenting with intermittent fasting'. No you're not, your just trying it out. N=1.

This is a phrase that coaches and trainer use to sound more scientific than they are. Intermittent fasting is the classic example, for years, it was all about eating 4 to 6 small meals a day and if you missed breakfast you'd probably fall into a diabetic coma. But then intermittent fasting became the diet de jour. If you've built a reputation on doing the opposite, then what to do? Easy, you don't say you were wrong, and you sure as 'hell' can't just rip off  the people who have been doing it for years like Brad Pilon and Martin Berkhan. So what you do is start experimenting with yourself and your clients and you start getting great results from this new approach. And before you know it, they've written their own ebook on the subject. There is only so many ways you can say 'don't eat', but somehow they've managed it.

Now. I've tried intermittent fasting, I've tried 36 hours while only eating casein hydrolysate, and 2 days only eating vegetables. Note, I was just trying something out, I didn't realise I was experimenting, and at the end of it I didn't suddenly feel like I was an expert and could write an ebook on the subject. Personally, I felt terrible, but that's not the point.

Of course, some coaches have a measured approach and deal with the subject in the right way, see the way Neghar Fonooni and Nia Shanks write about intermittent fasting. Or if you live in the UK, watch the Horizon program about intermittent fasting, its going to tell you more than most ebooks.

Note, this is about intermittent fasting, its about coaches who 'experiment' with Olympic lifting, kettlebells, diaphragmatic breathing etc and then suddenly become an expert after a week.

7. Thinking who they train is normal or the same as everyone else.

A few years ago, a famous strength coach intimated that if you couldn't get a female client to do 12 pull ups with a few weeks of training you had failed as a coach. Of course, this was laughable, but it raised an important issue, the online coach might have a client base that is completely different from yours.

If they have always trained elite athletes or college athletes their idea of normal may not apply to you or your clients.

If you've only got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

A few years ago, training like a powerlifter was the way to go, then it couldn't just be powerlifter training, it had to be westside with bands and chains, and conditioning all had to be sprints and prowler pushes, then it got replaced with Olympic lifting. Many Olympic lifting coaches could not comprehend that certain people weren't suited to the lifts.

And if you happened to use a resistance machine, god help you, you would be a pariah for failing to keep true to the path. But what if you're client was a type 2 diabetic, morbidly obese, never been in a gym in their life, just had a stroke, had chronic back pain, was 2 months out from a hip replacement, or was just plain afraid of going into the freeweight area by themselves. Suddenly, the college athlete model doesn't work.

Yes, eventually some people might end up incorporating some of the techniques of powerlifting and so on, but don't be afraid to say that you know your own needs and your clients better than someone else.

Don't be dogmatic.

8. Driving traffic to your website with pictures of hot women.

without the internet I would never have found this picture of Pauline Nordin. The internet surely is a wonderful thing!
Of course, I'm hoping this strategy actually works, and it means I can justify the above picture.

9. Making top 10 lists.

Stop making top 10 lists, as well as top 5, 20 and 50. Its a lazy format. But then again I read they are some of the most popular posts on the internet. If you can't beat em...

Addendum : honourable mentions:

  • sending me constant emails advertising your friends products. Some coaches send links to newsletters, blog posts & content, others just want to flog you stuff constantly. Stop trying to smash a nut with a sledgehammer. 
  • Coaches who go up river like Colonel Kurtz. One minute you're telling me some relatively useful things, next minute you're telling me you can workout my hormone profile by doing a fat caliper test on my chin. Or literally telling me if I take the 'blue pill' the nutrients in my body will re-partition themselves. Snake Oil is the new placebo.
  • And you are not in the trenches, you are in an air-conditioned gym.

So there it is. Without the internet I wouldn't be doing half the stuff I do now with coaching and training people, and the amount of free information available is astounding. This is a bit of a tongue in cheek rant, but like anything its always good to try and raise our game.


  1. I have had to remove certain people from facebook and twitter due to irritating "lifestyle posts" and one particular trainer who keeps posting "athletic fitness tips" that are more for attention and likes than actually being constructive. Brilliant post as always Steven.

    1. Cheers William, thanks for the positive feedback. Just thought of another one to add, coaches who constantly email you links to products them or their friends are selling at special discount rates; but they don't produce any other content, no newsletter, no blog posts to link to in the email, not even a motivational quote in the email, just a constant sales pitch