How About REALLY Starting With “Why”

Consider your formal education.  How much of the information that you learned in class do you use on a regular basis?  I bet it’s a fair amount if you’re working in that same field, but I bet that we can do it even better.

I was fortunate enough to find loopholes in my formal education while still in school, and I’ve been continuing that education since I saw those weaknesses.  Resources like the Strength Coach Podcast have great interviews, and I find interesting articles in my Twitter feed.

As luck would have it, yesterday I spotted a tweet which reminded me of “Start With Why,” a fabulous book about communication.

Coach Donskov’s tweets piqued my interest, and I began to think more about it.  You see, he outlined what I’d consider the “traditional” education model.  It’s the one that almost every coach or trainer, including myself, has gone through.  The shape outlines where we spend most of our time and energy while we’re learning.

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This is the classical model.  You spend 4-6 years in degree programs, or months studying for a certification exam.  Most of that material is hard sciences:  Anatomy, kinesiology, physiology.  There’s a portion spent on designing exercise programs, and maybe a class or two on making athletes better.  It’s the prototype for all education, and while there may be problems, it’s the standard.

Naturally I was curious as to what Anthony meant, and I couldn’t help but think of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.  The Golden Circle outlines what may be the most effective way to communicate.  If we start with someone’s Why, their underlying reason for doing something, we can connect more effectively, and more quickly, than starting with the How or the What.


I shared this Golden Circle with Anthony, and he summed it up pretty damn nicely:

Starting with Why is something that I missed  in school and when I entered the field, and I have a hunch that even my brightest peers in fitness miss out on that genuine human connection.  I don’t have a study to produce for you, but something tells me that trainers are often more concerned than their clients about “fixing” the things that we assess.

Good trainers have the technical knowledge of their assessment systems, and strategies to figure out why their client is in front of them.  They can effectively communicate how these assessments drive program design, and why those factors matter.  The build an inverted output below the classical model:

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In practice, this is absolutely starting with Why.  This is identifying pain points, building a program to support underlying goals, and moving efficiently to reach those goals.  This is Training 101.

We can do better.

In Training 201, the best trainers have solved a problem that so many of us spend too much time on.  They solve the passion problem.  Trainers are passionate about fitness, about function, about reaching goals.  If we’re too focused on our side of things, we might miss out on creating a resonant experience.

It may sound facetious, but I ask you to find me the person who’s more worried about their single leg stability or their Wingate test results than their trainer.  It’s rare.  You probably wouldn’t have the best time if your accountant talked you through every step of his process, so why are fitness professionals doing this?

I love knowing that my accountant gets excited about his job, or that my physical therapist is also a musician.  I found this out by connecting with them as people.  As trainers, we can create better experiences for our athletes or clients by being emotional leaders more than we’re technical experts. I’ve found there to be two buckets for fitness professionals relying on “expertise” in their work:

Inspiration and Insecurity

If you come alive with raw passion from your work, keep it.  People crave passion.  We want to know that our relationships are with passionate people, those who wake up early and stay up late to get better.  However, if you’re relying on technical teachings because it makes you a necessity to their success, move on.  Move on to a better you, move on to a better teaching system.

Training 201 is more than teaching fitness, it’s about empowering people.  This has become a central tenant of my training philosophy, and it’s approach that I believe best serves everybody.  You’re the best leader possible by guiding others to success, not by taking the position of decision maker or scientist.  Remember, nobody comes into the gym to score a 21 on the FMS.

To support this people-first mindset I’ve created a new pyramid that inverts the old one.  It’s an update on the well-intended, less-successful adaptation of the Golden Circle. It’s one that I believe some of the best leaders in fitness do on a daily basis:

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Starting with Why actually means starting with why.  It means connecting with a person’s purpose, and understanding the emotions behind their training goals.  Understanding the exercise selection and program design has become a requisite for fitness professionals, and it’s time that we expand our knowledge and take a vested interest in the ‘soft’ sciences.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”  This quote is from the leader of post-schooling learners, Albert Einstein.  It’s a cool reminder that we have so much more to learn, and that if simply compare our priorities to our clients priorities, we can do an even better job of serving them.

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