Towards A Better Way To Train Beginners
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems
For reasons that still elude me after several years of considering this issue, most personal trainers still insist on treating their novice/out of shape/deconditioned clients in the most disinterested, condescending, and punitive manner possible.
Typically, “beginners” get their first taste of the fitness World through their experiences with elastic tubing, selectorized weight machines, stretching, and treadmills. The most commonly prescribed exercises are devoid of both challenge and fun: low-skill, single-joint, low-coordination, high-rep, mindless, and boring.
These initial experiences confirm what the novice client already expected: exercise sucks the big one. No wonder the dropout rate in fitness centers is as high as it is.
But what if we broke a few rules? In fact, what if we violated every dearly-held principle and practice in this wonderful fitness industry of ours and allowed— even better— encouraged— our novice clients to have a little fun?
And by “fun” I’m not referring to the all-too-common paternalistic, condescending fake enthusiasm conjured up by your local Johnny McTrainer at the Planet Fitness near your house. Actually, I’m talking about stuff we would find fun: stuff like power cleans, ball throws for distance, deadlifts, tire flipping, car-pushing, dumbbell snatches, farmer’s walks, and creative ab drills.
My rationale for the above choices stems from the reality that simple, easy drills are inherently boring, while more challenging skills are inherently interesting and fun. The big mistake most trainers make is that by removing the difficulty… by eliminating the challenge, you also strip the activity of any real worth or value. And I believe clients realize this, even from day one.
At Bed & Barbell (my facility in Gilbert, Arizona), we specialize in introducing everyday folks to the three essential resistance-training disciplines: weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. While most trainers consider these disciplines the “last bastion” of the fitness frontier, we consider them the first (and only) choice for anyone looking to get the best possible results from their workouts, while having a blast at the same time.
The reason most of tend to “miss the forest for the trees” is that we don’t realize that nearly all “hard core” drills are in fact scalable to almost any level of ability. For example, you can perform a farmer’s walk with a pair of 10-pound dumbbells right? It doesn’t have to be with 250 pounds in each hand. Similarly, Olympic lifts can be initially taught with an empty bar, or even a lightweight 25-pound aluminum bar in cases where it’s warranted. And if you aren’t strong enough to push or pull a big truck, why not start with a subcompact?
If you’re not having fun with your training and/or if you’re not getting the results you think you should, it’s time to go hardcore, not softcore. If you’re a trainer, consider distinguishing yourself by being the guy who starts off their beginning clients with strongman events and Olympic lifts rather than pink dumbbells and rubber bands. Your clients will have more fun, they’ll get better results, and guess what? You’ll have more fun too.
And after all, if you’re not having fun, why are you doing this stuff anyway?