Saturday, March 22, 2014

Self-Reflection

This is about as provocative as I get.
I am a personal trainer and a weightlifting coach. I'm also a mom with three kids. Being a woman in this industry often means that when I tell people what I do, they expect me to bust out the leg warmers and lead a dance class or show them pictures of myself with a fake tan and a six-pack. Lately, with there being more of a focus on strong women in this industry, I'm expected to be post pictures of myself in "sexy beast mode," maybe showing off a picture of my ass while talking about the glories of squatting for the female posterior. In other words, people expect me to be the half-naked, vapid, overly enthusiastic, two-dimensional caricature of a female fitness professional.

I'm not a fitness model, an aerobics instructor, or a gym bunny. I'm a trainer, a coach, and sometimes I'm a competitor. I'm not big and I'm not strong in the Grand spectrum of strength competitors, but I'm smart, I work hard at what I do and I'm always willing to learn more. More importantly, I know how to observe, assess, teach, and program for my athletes in a way that they continually see good results and avoid injury. I'm proud of the work I do.

As a coach, I have a few things working for me that I think have set me apart in this world:

  1. I am analytical to a fault. I am a biochemist and the ability to objectively analyze things was drilled into me for years as I completed my studies and worked as a medical researcher. I accept nothing at face value. I continually question my plans and methods. This means I continually analyze and question pretty much everything I come across. 
  2. I see myself as a teacher. I have always believed in treating my clients and athletes as students. I want them to be aware of what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong and how to keep moving towards "more right". 
  3. I have good observation skills. I trained horses and taught riding lessons for a number of years. I have a good sense of body language and subtle shifts in position, effort, and center of gravity. This takes a lot of time just watching and analyzing movement.
So, in a nutshell, my trainees and I think I'm good at what I do. So do my fellow coaches. However, being a female who does not resemble the stereotypical sexy gym beast, I feel I have to constantly prove myself in this industry. Being largely involved in weightlifting, powerlifting, and highland games, its men I have to prove myself to. I am not given the benefit of the doubt. I'm left having to demonstrate in some way that I know something about training. I'm often given the old, "oh, isn't she cute with her tiny little arms and talk about bench pressing".  

Its about the lifters guys, not us.
At the American Open this year, I had to fight my way through a crowd of goatee-ed alpha males all pushing each other around and clamoring to adjust their lifters' attempts, none of whom had the decency to allow me to approach the judges' table to check on my lifter. Luckily, I'm small and was able to slip between the barrel chests and armpits to adjust my lifter's attempts. In fact, during a few sessions, I had to remind a few male coaches that the answer to "can we share your warm-up platform?" is "YES". Well, except for Zygmunt Smalcerz, he was a true gentleman and not only let me share his lifter's platform, he helped me change the weights on the bar.

As a local USAW judge and referee, I got into a full-blown altercation with a coach who felt that he had the right to let his lifters damage the meet equipment by slamming bars after they made their lifts. After asking him politely not to do it, he tried to intimidate me by addressing the audience and create an uproar. Would he have done that if I was a 300 lb man? I think not. (Slamming bars in a meet is now a red light offense so I won't have to deal with that problem anymore.)

My main point is that the world of strength and conditioning, weightlifting, and powerlifting, this is still very much a man's world. and they don't know what to make of me. I routinely meet male coaches who very obviously do not take me seriously. Then there are those who act like they are taking me seriously but slip in the casual innuendos and their real intentions become apparent. This has happened in this field more times than I care to count. Guys, don't take my politeness for deference. I'm damn good at what I do and if you bother to engage me, you might learn something.

Just do good work.  It shows in a lot of ways.
 Happy clients is one of many.
There are exceptions. At my first national weightlifting meet as a coach, I got quite a few stares. It was clear that the other coaches were wondering what the heck I was doing in the warm-up area. Until my lifter began warming up. And then I got some appreciative looks, some compliments for my lifter, and even a "Nice work Coach!"

This industry is about a lot of things: Egos, sex appeal, money, popularity, celebrity, and all that other nonsense. Here's what I think it should be about: Teaching people to be better physically and mentally. That takes an intelligent, patient, and insightful approach. It doesn't take six-packs, money, sexy clothes, fake tans, silicon, reality tv shows, or podcasts. It takes people who are willing to put their time and thought into the well-being of others. It’s important, especially if you care about the people you train. That's why I'm willing to keep pushing ahead in this industry even when it’s unpleasant. I'd like to think that there are a lot more trainers out there willing to do the same.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Play the Ball As It Lies: The Art and Science of Teaching Strength

Well, we've finally done it.  The seminar textbook for the Practical Strength project is now available as an ebook.  If you are a trainer or train yourself, its worth a read.  The fitness industry relies too much on confusing information, celebrity personalities, and a lot of nonsense.  It really can be very simple.  Not easy, but simple.

Purchase the Book