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I Was The Problem…

December 29, 2011 04:30 PM

DanJohn article iwastheproblem
It turns out that I was the problem. Yes, this is true: I had great ideas, excellent programming and some nice technical tidbits that worked for everyone. For the squat, I had progressions that I humbly think changed the world of lifting forever. Well, at least, I thought they were working. I discovered a disconnect: I was saying "this" and people were hearing "that." I thought I was making a point, but my people were hearing another point. This reminded me of math class, by far my weakest subject:
"The shortest distance between two points is a straight line."
Euclid…or, at least, what I can remember from Geometry
If you asked me to summarize "all of this," this entire system of what I today call "Easy Strength," a few years ago, I would have been at a loss. Seriously, I think I had the whole thing locked down years and years ago, but there was disconnect, perhaps more of a gulf or ocean, between what I thought I was saying and what people were hearing.
Honestly, the answer literally came to me just the other day which is months after the DVD and book came out and after I have presented this program to elite athletes, the top tier of coaches and amazing people who somehow "know" that this is the future of the strength, conditioning and fitness world.
You see, this program is all about getting people to their goals. Now, as the cliché goes, "if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there!" I also need to add the old Irish joke: "I need to get to Dublin. Can you show me the way?" "Well, I wouldn’t start from here!"
This was the disconnect: I was expecting people to know where they were going and, at least with my serious people, they knew exactly where they wanted to go: Olympics, Super Bowl or 10 percent body fat. So, yes, many people knew EXACTLY where they wanted to go. And, I got full of myself and convinced this was the norm. Many, as I soon learned, had no concept of where they were heading, so my advice was just "another road."
With the group that knew exactly where they were headed, I still think that success is a straight line. I am sure you understand this: The fastest way from Point A, where you are, to Point B, where you want to get, is a straight line. My athletes always seem to know where they wanted to go: Point B!!!
And, here was the issue: they knew about Point B. Point A, where they are right now, was a deep mystery.
Welcome to my approach to coaching those with clear goals: My vision is to simply identify where you are right now. It’s almost laughable to think about this as most people would say: "Um, isn’t that obvious, I’m right here!"
Then, I laugh back. Really? After sitting with one of America’s most elite service members and walking him through the process, he leaned back and smiled and asked: "What was I thinking? I am in a "Red Light" situation (he needed shrapnel pulled out of his back and leg, something I consider more important than competing in a fitness contest with no apparent rules) and I’m adding more crazy stress FOR NO REASON AT ALL!" Yes, he shouted at me as if it were my fault! I have had people realize that their short-term goal needed so many new skills that they simply didn’t have enough time in the day to learn all of this stuff.
So, the first problem was simply this: people were asking for my advice, and I should say "my expensive advice," and having no idea about what they wanted to get from this conversation. So, and this is still true, I couldn’t really help them. I’m sorry, but if you are going to listen to every voice in the wind, I don’t think I can be one of them. One can easily find a new diet and weight loss idea every day of the week in magazines and on the Internet. As I often note: I didn’t get enough food on this new diet, so now I am on two diets. If you don’t know your goal, following two diets at once is probably just as good as anything else I can encourage you to try. This "Easy Strength" system is not for this person yet. Oh, it will be, it will be (where is Yoda?). Once you know where you are going, your goal or your Point B, I can walk you through this system.
The approach, my friends, is all about discovering "where are you?" Now, since this is also the first question that God asks Adam in Genesis, I have to be a little careful on treading on copyright violations. This is the key, though, to success: Yes, it is important to have a goal so you can draw that straight line to it. But, before we draw the line, we need to find out where to put the pencil in the first place.
So, for my elite athletes and trainees, we spend the bulk of our time discovering "where they are:" do they have the tools necessary for the goal? Do they have the skills, like a solid squat? Do they have the corrective movements mapped out and know what needs to be corrected? Once we mapped out "Point A," we discovered a straight line. Now, it might seem to be longer than the time allotted for the original goal, but at least we can honestly begin walking down the path to success.
And that is all good and fine. Elites aren’t the problem; it’s honestly everyone else. When I have worked with some wonderful ladies, they have the exact opposite issue and the honesty brings them to tears:
"I am just so heavy…so fat."
"I can’t control this thing…and (shaking an upper arm) what is this?"
"My husband won’t touch me."
It is hard to hear, to be honest. But, this clarity about where they are, Point A, is stunning. They know that they need to exercise, for example, but it hurts to run as fast as they can for several hours. Welcome to the disconnect here: most people know Point A (I’m fat, need to exercise, and need to eat better) but Point B is the issue. These fine ladies see the photo-shopped images on fitness magazines and think that this is Point B. Recently, a young singer released a before and after photo where her legs got longer, her waist came in and her boobs got bigger…all in the artist’s studio.
Folks, Point B is the issue for most of us. We are living in this odd time where fitness industry photos are dominated by hyperfit females with both genetic gifts and serious augmentation for the missing blanks, and frankly, this is Point Z for most people, not Point B!
I applaud the work of Josh Hillis, among others, that have been using realistic body fat pictures to help clients find their goals. As Josh tells me, 19% body fat per cent for a woman is "rock star" hot, but 25% looks fantastic, to be honest, too. Sadly, our industry uses Photoshop, vomiting and surgery to achieve the illusion of health and fitness. We need to take Josh’s advice and show some reasonableness.
So, here is our triple-edged sword that must be addressed:
  • For whatever reason, some people, often athletes, see the goal clearly.
  • Some people know exactly where they are physically but need help seeing a realistic goal.
  • There are others, of course, that are far from reality on either Point A and/or Point B, so we need to work both ends with them.
My whole career has been muddled by missing this point. This is why we need to do assessments early and often like the FMS, Before Pictures (so you can "after"), basic strength tests and a few others. This is why we need to have food journals and some kind of proactive calendar work to let our clients know that things ARE coming up that will impede progress or training and some other things are easing up so we can accelerate to our goals. We need to know "where are you?"
When Pavel first introduced the concept of Easy Strength to me, the program freed up a lot of time, energy and intensity so I could work on the other qualities that were demanded of me as a thrower. I realized that I had the weight room "locked down," but needed more correctives (I’m Mr. Asymmetrical, Novice Class, Open Division) and some technical throwing issues. When I work with almost everyone else, the poor squat technique and total lack of Loaded Carries "instantly in two weeks" makes a difference in their bodies and ability to train. So, for some, like me, Easy Strength…or EVEN Easier Strength…answers the question about how to get to Point B easier. But, you need to assess! For others, one will need focused time in the weight room literally retooling and re-schooling the issues, then, we can get back to the issues of technique, tactics and all the other tools.
With our friend who has no vision of where to go besides those celebrity diets that invade the checkout line at the store, we need to show them a reasonable path to success. To steal blindly from Josh Hillis:
"I have been getting A LOT of questions from Personal Trainers about using the program (Josh’s System Six) with their clients, so I thought I'd post about it:
Ok, so here is how a session really goes:
1.) Working on food strategies for 10-20 minutes (as long as necessary)
2.) Warmup 5-10 minutes (more in the winter, less in the summer)
3.) Strength training 20 minutes,
4.) Swings (cardio) OR recapping and re-committing them to the food strategies.
Clients do the hardest workout that week with me,
and they do the other two easier workouts on their own.
We'll talk about the Six Keys to Easy Fat Loss during their rest periods on their strength training. I take really good notes each session, and I make sure every week that they get a couple more reps on something. When they get all the reps, we move up the weight or go to a harder variation of a bodyweight exercise.
It all comes from one overlying principle: The workouts are necessary but not sufficient. If I have to spend 45 minutes of a 50 minute session with my client working on their food planning grid, going through every meal and talking about what is going on in their life each day and what is realistic and how to plan and when to shop etc., I'll do it.
If, as personal trainers, we know food is #1, then why do we spend an hour working out? Why not spend the lion's share of the time working on strategies to have our clients eat in line with their goals?
Another question I get from personal trainers: Is it really enough for clients to only change one or two meals per week?
When they go from 27 free meals per week to 25, and then the next week they go to 23 free meals per week, and then to 21 free meals per week, things change.
And most importantly - YOU HAVE TIME TO WORK ON THE NINJA FOOD SKILLS. People totally suck at the SKILL of eating well. They don't know how to shop, they don't know how to prepare or cook or portion food out.
By changing only a couple meals per week, we have time to learn how to prepare. It's ALL the ninja food skills.
I would add simply add that we also include realistic photos and goals and a timeline for the journey. The genius of Josh’s insights here are simple as he is drawing the line for his client each and every week between Point A and Point B.
So, here you go:
If someone knows the goal, assess where they are now and connect the dots.
If someone knows where they are now, but either are begging for a miracle or clueless about the next step, show them the next step and connect the dots.
And, finally, for everyone you coach or mentor, take Josh’s advice and focus constantly on the process and on the keys to success.
I’m going to try NOT to be the problem anymore.

Dan John, Senior RKC, is the Strength Coach and Head Track and Field Coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, Utah and a full-time on-line religious studies instructor for Columbia College of Missouri and contributing writer to "Men's Health." Originally from South San Francisco, Dan came to Utah to throw the discus for Utah State University and never left. Dan has Masters degrees in history and in religious education, as well as intensive work at the American University in Cairo, University of Haifa, and Cornell. Dan has written articles for "Catechetical Update" and "Utah Historical Quarterly," as well as being a columnist for the Intermountain Catholic. In addition, Dan writes articles for a variety of strength magazines and publishes a little newsletter called "Get Up" which registers up to a quarter of a million hits a month. Dan has been teaching for over twenty-nine years.
At home, he is humbled by his lovely wife, Tiffini, whose middle name is not "long suffering" no matter how often it is repeated and his two daughters, Kelly and Lindsay. At home, Dan wins arguments with the dog.
Currently, Dan is the reigning 50+ Master Pleasanton Highland Games champ, holds the American Record in the Weight Pent and holds numerous National Championships in weightlifting and throwing and maintains a full-time free Internet coaching site.