In 2009 I sat in the parking lot of the Casey tower dorm at SUNY Cortland. I had just received a letter from a personal training organization that I had taken a weekend workshop and certification test through.

I eagerly opened the letter and voila, I was officially a certified personal trainer. After a month of waiting I was pretty excited to see these results. It was time to go out there and start training.

For the next three years I trained clients at SUNY Cortland and also at Aspen Athletic Club in Syracuse. Eventually I went on to educate trainers as an instructor at SUNY Cortland, a position I held from 2012 to 2017.

In more or less words, one common concern I heard from potential trainers went like this:

“I’m worried that I won’t be perfect!”

“What if mess up?”

To which I would respond “you won’t be perfect and you will mess up.”

Learning doesn’t happen when you’re perfect and nobody is perfect. As a matter of fact, more than a handful of things I initially taught were (1) somewhat wrong, (2) useless, or (3) completely wrong- sorry classes of 2012-2013, I was learning too.

That being said, there is one thing that I learned when I was in school; the three avenues for learning that constitute best practice. They include:

  1. An understanding of research – this helps you develop critical thinking and can help you come up with ideas for implementation
  2. Professional practice- actually doing what you learn
  3. Collaboration- talking to other professionals and “stealing” their ideas

You’re never going to be perfect, but you’re also going to be selling yourself short if you neglect any of these components. Through neglect, you are limiting your ability to improve.

As you continue reading don’t mistake flashy headlines for overt criticism or arrogance; I’m certainly still making errors. I’m simply preaching critical thinking, practice, and collaboration. Reliance on just one or two methods isn’t sufficient.

If you see limitations in your practice based on what I write don’t take it personally, just get better because the world needs you to do just that.

Don’t get Mad but…Lots of Research is Useless

In seminar class during grad school we would read a paper and then evaluate it. One question I always asked was this:

“How would we use this paper?”

I’m big into implementation. Perhaps this is why I’m not completely into physiology (i.e. how does knowledge of the action of a hormone change MY practice?).

The same thing goes with large scale health behavior change interventions. What is the next step to implementation or will we just let the idea die with publication. Is it sufficient to just say, “hey this worked”?

I don’t think so. One of my goals as a future researcher and instructor is to give life and application to ideas. Unfortunately, a professional might have to read 10 papers to get 1 that can help you improve your craft (*this isn’t to say that the other 9 won’t help someone else who does something different)

Despite 90% (this is my best estimate) of papers lacking direction (for you) for implementation there is one HUGE upside to reading. It develops your critical thinking skills.

Perhaps too much, for me it’s to the point where I’m skeptical of any grand claim. I’m sure this is annoying.

Critical thinking skills can help you suss out the facts from the fiction and in the long run will save you time and money.

Don’t get Mad but… Most Non-Research Based Information is Wrong, Somewhat Wrong, or Just Noise

One of the greatest things I have ever heard came from a discussion with a coach of over 20 years of experience.

We were chatting in the office about what to do with clients and athletes and he said something that stuck:

“I honestly can’t think of anything that works better than broccoli, sprints, and trap bar deadlifts”

We get so caught up in trying to be creative and innovative or just trying to sound relevant that we forget a simple fact; people get better by eating healthy and exercising.

Trainers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in specialized workshops and seminars to help their clients but diet and exercise are going to be the biggest limiting factors.

Free information: most of your clients don’t need specialized training protocols. They need to eat healthy when you’re not with them and they need to exercise most days of the week.

On your end you should spend time:

  • Learning the most effective ways to coach exercises (i.e. your clients should have great technique)
  • Learn how to help clients work around limitations. You should have a repertoire of alternative exercises bases on what clients can do within their comfort and control (you shouldn’t hurt your clients)
  • Learning the basics of how to form a long-term program utilizing progressive overload (help clients reach their goals).
  • Improve your ability to form supportive relationships with clients (give a crap)

Once you’ve got the basics down feel free to niche yourself out. That’s what will separate you. For example, I spend an excessive amount of time reading behavioral science papers and books and spend too much of my free time working on implementation.

But hey, that’s my jam and it’s what makes me happy.

What Happens When You are Lacking

In conclusion and in structured formatting:

Heavy reliance on only research ·         Live in a bubble (i.e. forget the real world and non-research subjects exist)

·         Protected by intellect or ego depending on how you look at it (i.e. I know everything)

·         Might be right about things, but that doesn’t matter if it can’t be implemented (i.e. information can be correct but useless)


Heavy reliance on experience ·         You could be completely and utterly wrong about everything

·         Your “innovation” could be useless or straight up stupid <-this is so bad

·         Protected by ignorance (how can you know you’re wrong or not doing a good job if you don’t critically evaluate?

·         You also live in a bubble (I’m ahead of science…you’re probably not)

Heavy reliance on collaboration ·         Collaboration is great and often where training ideas and innovations can come from. Most of what I do has been stolen from people smarter than me

·         Caveat is that if you fail to think critically you can pick up on and use bad ideas.

·         Hey you don’t live in bubble!