It was a pairing of two exercises. Wide grip seated rows with a neutral handle and Fat Gripz, and a Half Kneeling Cook Bar Chop. It was a relatively easy training day, and I was playing around with a slower tempo on the row, using it for some variety from the typical marathon of TRX Rows I like to use.
Next to me, a fellow gym goer was also doing seated rows while practicing his twerking technique. Let’s just say that he was using some body English. As I finish my second set of chops, he walked over and asked the simple question, “Hey man, what does that do?”
My brain turned on. In a millisecond, I thought, “It addresses pelvis and thoracic cage position, develops eccentric anti rotation, anti lateral flexion, and anti extension strength, engages the deep core muscles through the integration of breath, decreases spinal extensor tone…I could go on…”
It’s a good thing that these were all thoughts.
After a second I responded, “Well, it sort of does everything, but I’m thinking about my obliques when I finish it.” He nodded and asked, “Oh cool….does it hit [your lats]?”
“Yea, sure, it can totally get that…” I said, and thought, “Come on, what is wrong with you, it’s so much more than that.” Again, it’s a good thing that these were thoughts. “Do you want to give it a try?” “Yea, sure man!”
Half-Kneeling Cable Chops were done that day. In fact, they may have changed this guys life. I’m pretty sure that he hasn’t been in a state of posterior pelvic tilt since he was in the fetal position. I’m also pretty sure that he doesn’t care about that in the least. He hit his …lats. He wanted to hit his lats. This is a demo of how I cued him to do his chops:
Did his chops look like that? Hell no. In fact, at first, they looked nothing close. He figured it out during the set, and I think I saw the light bulb click. At least, I hope so. See, this was one of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a coach in a while, and it was all of 45 seconds at a commercial gym.
As a coach, sometimes it’s nice to go to a commercial gym and not be a trainer, a fitness professional, just to lay low and be alone…in a space with 100 strangers. It’s often where I learn the most about exercise, seeing how They do it. They, being the general population, the normal exercising that most people do, that seems to confound and infuriate anyone in the world of exercise science, physical therapy, or corrective exercise.
Every trainer should have that experience.
As I reflected on that moment through the rest of the day, I realized that this is an experience that all trainers should have. I’m immersed in a training community that prides themselves on learning the most advanced corrective exercise strategies in the world, and in our collective brilliance, I see the largest limiting factor being successfully integrating corrective exercise in an empowering manner. Our boutique studios or strength and conditioning facilities allow us to take detours as we please to integrate these fancy new correctives, and sometimes our desire to share our knowledge blinds our ability to empathize with our clients. When you remove that level of professional expertise and the person you’re “training” isn’t your client at all, that equality allows you to experience the power of coaching.
Cueing athletes or clients is not the time to teach them everything you know about a specific exercise or movement. Save that for between sets, between sessions, and most importantly: Save it for when they ask about it. Sometimes this will be every few moments, while others may never ask. Guess what? That’s okay.
Consider the brain as analogous to a computer. (In reality, they’re not, but let’s pretend.) We exercise science nerds love to learn about what is inside our computers (anatomy), how they work (physiology), and what happens when they’re in action (kinesiology). Whether we want to impress our clients with this knowledge, or impress upon them the importance of certain considerations, we try to share it all with them. Cut that shit out.
Consider the current king of computers: Apple. When you go to the Apple store, anyone working there can explain to you how to run simple tasks on the computers. You’re able to navigate your device and enjoy what you’re doing. Consider this exercise. If you’re using a specific program and would like some extra help, you can go to to the Genius Bar. They’ll take the time to really run through the specifics and trouble shoot any problems that you’re having. Consider this corrective exercise. While certain Apple Geniuses may indeed have the skill set or knowledge base to discuss software development and programming, their entire system is set up to simply user interface and help you get going as fast as possible.
Do this with your coaching.
If you want to learn about programming, the Apple Store isn’t the place to do it. Further, if your clients want to learn exercise science, feel empowered to teach them, but do it on their terms. Wait for them to ask, and even if they do, ask permission so that they’re in control of their own learning experience. This is important for engaging them in that learning opportunity, but also for ensuring that you’re a working together as a team.
If you’ve grown accustomed to the good life of private training, have yourself a sonder away from that utopia. Head into the biggest big box gym you can find, where people swipe cards, where there are rows of treadmills, machines, and mats, and go be a bro. Workout with the people, off of the high horse of corrective exercise, as a normal person. Perhaps you observe what others are doing, perhaps you take a personal moment, but take that moment to understand context for yourself and those around you.
Context is key. Context is king. It’s a beautiful experience to reinvest some time in the reality that most people experience in the gym, a reality that too often the most educated trainers leave behind. The commercial gym, with everything that is scoffed at during training summits and conferences, can be an incredible place for us all to learn.
Trainers, that is where you need to be.
I honestly believe that the young man I taught to do cable chops enjoyed them. If he does them again, I have no way of knowing. If I see him, I’ll ask. More powerful than what I may have taught him about a single exercise was his reminder that making exercise empowering is everything for someone to learn. Context and relevance is key, and we may forget if we never take time to just be one of the people. Go be a bro. There’s a lot we can learn.