Steward of Strength: How I Believe We Should Coach

This past Monday I celebrate two different one year anniversaries.  The obvious one to anyone that I ran into was that after a year of growing a beard, or a yeard, I shaved.  The subtle and more significant one was celebrating my first year at Mark Fisher Fitness.

I met Mark and fitness managers Kyle Langworthy and Brian Patrick Murphy at the 2013 Perform Better Summit in Providence, and it was love at first sight.  At first I thought they were “douchebags from the internet” because of their light-hearted, theatrical take on fitness, and what I saw in their 7 Habits of Highly Sexy Mother F*ckers video:

After some conversations in person, it was love at first discussion of the Brettzel, and so much love that when they started searching for more trainers, Billy Rom from Prospect Sports told me to get on it! I transitioned to the MFF team and since September have been riding the Unicorns to Glory.

The culture at MFF is incredibly important, and is obviously different than what you see elsewhere.  As an example, I said that I’m “riding the Unicorns to Glory” rather than, “I’m teaching people to swing or deadlift 5 days per week.”  Sure, I’m coaching like crazy, but it’s not immediately about that.  The tagline oft heard around the Clubhouse is “Ridiculous Humans. Serious Fitness.”

MFF Doors

Rather than fall into the training monotony, each trainer at MFF picks their own official nickname to use on e-mails, business cards, pick-up lines, and to confuse the hell out of corporate America.  This is perfect because in an industry where we argue about the difference between being a “trainer” or a “strength coach” we need more ways to confuse people. (<- That’s a joke, Mr. I-Just-Got-My-CSCS.)

After several weeks of thought when I was first asked about my nickname, I came to Steward of Strength.  It’s not casual, it’s not lighthearted, and I take it seriously.  Steward of Strength is reflective of how I personally strive to coach exercise, how I believe most fitness professionals should coach exercise, and how I’m working to effect systemic change in the fitness industry.

That makes a Lord of the Rings reference sound a lot more pretentious, right?!

The Steward of Strength is an illusion to the Lord of the Rings, but it’s not that simple.  If you’re a die-hard, by-the-book fan, continue through some small liberties.

In LoTR, Gondor is a kingdom that’s run by a Steward who maintains the kingdom until an heir to the throne becomes King.  Aragorn is Isildur’s rightful heir, but his fear of repeating Isildur’s mistakes, a life of service as a Ranger, and generally not being a gold-hungry dick make him somewhat reluctant to waltz into the throne room and yelling at people.

We see this when it’s first unveiled that he’s “no mere ranger” at the Council Meeting:

I love to take Boromir’s spiteful words out of context and use them as words of empowerment.  Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.

Considering that “perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it,” (Dumbledore) this makes Aragorn the perfect person to be in power.  Also, he’s the heir, and these guys still respect bloodlines like that.  Through out the trilogy, we see Aragorn as a people-first leader, always leading from the front as a guide, a sherpa, a steward; ironic, considering what happens.

We see this at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, when he encourages King Théoden to stand up to Sauron’s armies:  Aragorn: “Ride out and meet them.” Théoden: “For death and glory?” Aragorn: “For Rohan. For your people.”

Aragorn is a people-first, experience-guiding leader through-and-through, and that’s why while Gotham Gondor doesn’t need a king, he’s the one that they deserve.


Understanding all of these Lord of the Rings intricacies is important for two reasons.  Initially, it’s because I like people who hardstyle swings are used to show us the meaning of the word haste.  More importantly, it’s because I believe that each and every fitness professional should emulate Aragorn as their role model.

The fitness landscape is pretty close to that of Middle Earth; We have our casual runners in the Shire, our yogis in Rivendell, CrossFitters taking a stand in Gondor, and the latest big-box Cross Training system masquerading as a kingdom in Rohan.  (Damn it, corporate Grima Wormtongue.)  Unfortunately, our many lectures about the benefits of vegetables, exercise, and not being a complete man if you’re not having sex  four times per day often miss the make-your-life-better mark, and we just come across like this eye guy:


When we lead as Stewards of Strength, we’re not seeking fame, glory, riches, or getting 6-pack abs and sleeping with your ex’s best friend.  Maybe they’re on the Goals list, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they’re just planned segments on a longer unexpected journey.

We have the power with any single person that we train, coach, or mentor, to instill the belief in them that they’re wholly in control of their own thoughts and their own destiny.  For every time that someone didn’t feel prepared with the knowledge or skill set to act and own their Journey, we can remind them:

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

There’s a fixed-mindset trap that we get in fitness land where we fervently avoid the things that we haven’t been naturally drawn to, and quickly count it as a “natural gift.” This is insecurity masquerading as preference.  People with natural gifts are being paid for their performances, and for the rest of us, “It’s our choices that make us who we are far more than our abilities.”  (Thanks, Dumbledore.)

This peasant or prince approach leaves little room for mental progress and if we focus on the long-term process of continued growth, we have the power to do whatever we damn please.  If we’re coaching or Stewarding others to feel empowered and confident in their own journey, then “It is not about the strength of the body, but the strength of the spirit.”

At the end of a set, a training session, or a program, it’s important to give feedback.  It’s also important to frame that feedback in a way that begets future success, ultimately preparing people to do what they do with you anywhere in the world.  Stewarding strength is about building the competency and confidence so that we can take care of ourselves anywhere we go on our Journey.

Life is an ongoing process.  It never stops, and the game only ends once.  “First you have to know, not fear, know that one day you are going to die.” (Fight Club!)  After that, we must simply realize that each decision that we make is simply part of our larger schema for living the best life possible.  I believe that it’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of all fitness professionals, to guide our teams towards realizing this long-term, big picture goal while we celebrate our day-to-day successes.

We can all strive to be our best self, and to inspire it in others.  Appreciate that any single decision we make is relatively insignificant, but that the collective of these choices is what makes us all Stewards of Strength.



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