Posted June 11, 2012

For Better or Worse

I’m currently on a sweet vacation in the middle of British Columbia with Lindsay, visiting family, hitting various golf balls, and essentially loving life, so I’m not going to be pumping out the blogginess for a few days, but that’s alright seeing as how today I have a guest post from Kasey Esser, right on the heels of his very first ever article being published on T-Nation this past Friday!! Way to go Kasey!! Check it out by clicking HERE.

And now for Kasey’s first foray into writing for my site:

It’s human nature.

We tend to view things, especially those things we have strong support for, in a black and white fashion.  Let’s look at a few examples.

“I can’t believe you are on Team Jacob, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.”


“Do you really think Harry Potter can hold a candle to Lord of the Rings?  You’re crazy!”

Debates like these can get pretty fierce, mainly due to the fact that we believe there has to be a right and wrong.  We forgo the middle ground in favor of our passion and enthusiasm for our view and our way of thinking.

You are probably thinking, “Did this guy really just make a Twilight reference in a strength and conditioning article?  The answer is yes I did, and no I have not devoted one second to reading or watching the books/movies.

Now that’s cleared up, I want to say that the “debates” mentioned above have little implication on the advancement of society as a whole.  However, there are obviously fields where the right or wrong philosophy can have an impact, none more so than in the fitness industry!

Think about it for a second.  What other industry has so many forums of information and innovation on a daily basis?

Some may say the technology industry, but even they have set ways of doing some things.  In fitness, you can walk into every single gym in America and come away with something different from each one depending on how they were training, how they were being coached, the equipment they used, etc.  You take that same epic sample size, and quickly realize that not just one gym is getting results.  In fact, a lot of them are doing well.

But this can’t be possible?  One of the gyms didn’t even have a TRX!  A few didn’t use the FMS in their assessment process!  How in the heck are they getting people stronger and losing fat?

These questions bring me to my main point:

There is no best or worst in the fitness industry, only better and worse.

Best is not something that exists in fitness, at least not in a global perspective. Still, people want to take “sides” when it comes to certain training methodologies and dismiss/negatively frame anything that doesn’t support that side.

If we take the approach of I’m right and you’re wrong though, are we missing the bigger picture?  Are we doing the industry that we work so hard to build a disservice?

What if we instead accepted virtually everything, and categorized it in the mindset of better and worse (e.g. interval training may be better for most for fat loss, but aerobic training is not wrong, it has its place)?

And I want to emphasize that some people may very well do this (props to you), but it doesn’t hurt to step back and heed a reminder every once and a while and see for yourself whether or not you are following this practice when it comes to your own philosophies.

What’s Your Position Mr. Congressman?

There are a lot of guys in the field these days.

And I am not talking about dudes; I am referring to the temptation to label oneself as a, “(insert training method here) guy”

For those young professionals and trainees just entering the industry, they are faced with an overwhelming amount of decisions about where they should stand on certain issues.

“Oh my gosh, what is my position on crunches? On the leg press? On intermittent fasting?  Should I be a kettlebell or a CrossFit guy?

Well, what is it, what is your position??

As I mentioned in the first line of the article, it is human nature to want to align yourself with something.  It makes you feel special and gives you a sense of pride.  And there is obviously nothing wrong with having a niche   However, the temptation to be blind to any assertions to that niche, and not giving yourself the opportunity to learn other niches, is what can lead you astray.

Coaches usually cringe when they kids specializing in a specific sport at a very young age.  Their argument is that they need to start broad and after having experimented with several different sports, they can begin to zero in on one as they get older.  This allows for a wide range of motor learning and development.  The practice of fitness should be no different.  If you have been in the field for less than 5-7 years, how can you possibly have experimented with enough training methods and had the opportunity to test them out on clients and get results to establish a steadfast position on, well…anything?  There are some instances where you don’t need to experiment to know something will not work out well (cough, cough squatting on a bosu with 70lb. dumbbells), but you get the idea.

If you are a “curls in the squat rack” guy (just roll with it), and either research or a few coaches come out and say, “Hey, that actually is driving everyone nuts, please stop doing that”, it will be common tendency to get on the defensive.

“I have been curling in the squat rack and preventing people from building their lower bodies for years, how dare you question its efficacy!”

This response of course will lead to more arguing and the accomplishment of nothing.

However, what if the curls in the squat rack guy had taken a more open-minded approach from the beginning?  What if he didn’t have a “position”?

“Well, this gym is bigger than the squat rack, I could take the bar and curl…somewhere else.  I might even get the same type of burn.”

And voila, controversy solved.  He gets the same results without pissing off everyone around him, all because he chose not to subscribe himself to a certain practice, but instead to logic.  If he had held fast to the squat rack, he may have never seen what was beyond.

And herein lies the biggest danger in completely subscribing yourself to a position/philosophy and believing it to be the “best” or the “right” way…you may miss a bunch of gems elsewhere that could be bringing your clients or yourself better results.

Lesson: Don’t feel pressured to take a position early in your training career, whether you are a professional or trainee, embrace the opportunity to learn and develop through a lens of open-mindedness.

The Superiority Complex

It’s funny that when we do get into the mindset that our way is best and everything else is beneath us, we can get a little snooty, even if we don’t act like it knowingly.

For instance, I shadowed recently at one of the top gyms in America and witnessed one of the trainers spotting a client doing a dumbbell row.  The client was rotating his upper back as he pulled the dumbbell up.  I was taken aback.

“You are supposed to keep the upper back completely flat on those as you retract the shoulder,” I thought to myself.

Understanding that there had to have been a reason for it, considering I was at a great facility with great trainers, I asked them why.

Long story short, because the client had some different structural issues, the rotation that he was doing was the only thing that could drive the retraction of his shoulder.

Interesting, I thought, as I wrote on my notepad.  And off I went on my merry way with a new piece of knowledge.  But what if I hadn’t been so open-minded?

I may have just thought to myself, “Wow, what terrible form, because I believe that the flat upper back position is the best way to do a row, I am a better trainer.”  And I more than likely, in my stubborn state, would not have asked.  And I would have gone on my merry way with less knowledge and more of an ingrained douchebag mindset.  The amount of rotation that client was doing is probably not the best thing for everyone to do, but it was better for him.  It wasn’t wrong.

Furthermore, take the recently heated debates revolving around crunches.  By this point, most people have sided over with the, “Crunches are Satan’s exercise of choice!”

I used to be one of those guys.  I would walk into a gym, see someone doing crunches, and feel compelled to want to go over and tell them how they were accomplishing nothing and what to do instead.

Not my proudest moments by any means, and I am not saying I am in full support of crunches now.  I am simply saying that I no longer think they are the worst thing you can possibly do in a gym.  There are other exercises that would probably serve most populations better, but it depends.

In Dean’s article about the leg press on T-Nation, most trainers and serious trainees probably gasped when they saw the title.

Is he out of his mind?  It is the most un-functional thing you can do!

As the article pointed out, in fact, in certain situations and for certain goals, the leg press can have a place.  What implications will this have on the industry as a whole?  I am not sure.  What I do know is that we are better off for it, because it opened us up to something that most of us had probably written off long ago.

I am not going to delve further into crunches and leg presses specifically, I just wanted to point out the process of looking at things through the lens of better and worse.

Lesson: It’s easy to look down on something when you have ingrained in your mind that it is the “wrong” thing to do.  Lose that way of thinking and instead ask, “Huh, that’s interesting, let’s see why they might be doing that.”

The Big Picture

I could go specifically into several different issues that surround the industry, but there is not much of a point, because I think you get the idea.  Instead of looking at different methods of training and issues through the lens of your own bias, practice trying to look at everything objectively, no matter how skeptical it may look or sound like.  Give yourself enough time to grow and experiment and you may just come across something that could take your training to the next level.  You will at least take our industry a step forward.

Oh, and by the way, I’m a Lord of the Rings guy.

Kasey Esser is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) through the NSCA. He is a personal trainer at Personally Fit in Dayton, OH. For more information and writings from Kasey, check out his blog at