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Being ok at everything means being good at nothing

I want laser eye surgery.

I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I really do…to repair some corneal scarring from original lasik done 12 years ago. When I do get it (one of these days), I won’t be going to a heart surgeon.

And if I had a heart condition, I definitely wouldn’t schedule a visit with an eye surgeon.

Why? Well, duh. Doctors are specialist.

They know their area of medicine (hopefully) really well, but as far as medicine outside of their scope? Not so much if at all.

Another thing I’m not embarrassed to admit…personal trainers are the same way.

Sure, we know a lot about exercise science (hopefully). But that foundational knowledge is a far cry from becoming an expert in every type of exercise out there. With so many forms of exercise and exercise specialties, it’s really hard to have a great grasp on them all. And that’s not even considering the ever increasing, get rich quick gadgets and fads out there. Being personally good at something does not give you a blanket license to teach it to others.

I know what I am good at. I happen to be trained in it and it’s how I earn my living. But come to me for Olympic lifting and you’ll be disappointed. Yes I know what it is. Yes I’ve trained myself. Yes I’ve read articles and watched videos. But I will candidly tell you that there are better instructors with specialized knowledge out there. That’s who I would go see. The same goes for running, advanced Yoga or spinning.

They are just not my things.

What is my thing is being honest and ethical. Knowing where to draw the line between having enough knowledge for my own use and fulfilling the higher standard of care needed to train others. Not the same thing in my book.

I don’t admire trainers who blatantly try to pull the “oh I’m a fitness trainer, and therefore, know everything there is to know about exercise” card. They will happily take your money and can give you programs that make you FEEL that you are progressing without getting anywhere at all. The semblance of work does not equal moving towards goals. Any stupid trainer can make you sweat and/or sore.

I regularly check out local parks and gyms to investigate what is being taught and how. Luckily in Dubai, there are some really good trainers. But unfortunately, they are far outweighed by the hordes of uninterested, stagnant or arrogant ones. Guys and girls wearing PERSONAL TRAINER or INSTRUCTOR Tshirts standing idle while their clients execute unsafe movements and/or unsafe speeds and/or bad form. Worse, when the trainer is guilty of “designing” (or copying from the internet) the crap exercise in the first place. These people give professional, experienced and ethical personal trainers a bad name and dilute the critical role we could play in the greater wellness continuum.

No wonder many health care professionals think we are idiots.

But what’s even scarier is that some of these trainers don’t even know that they don’t know. They’ve not invested time improving their skills other than perhaps to collect some random certificates, and often, only because their original certifications required them to do so. Twenty years of experience? Really? Or is it the same 1 year of experience 20 times over. And that results in them training many clients outside of their scope of expertise. I hate to lift the lid off the industry’s dirty little secrets but much of the reading, studying, researching and learning that you’d expect your trainer to keep up with just does not get done. And no, reading Oxygen, Shape or Men’s Fitness does not count as a continuing education.

It happens a lot more than you think. And it’s quite irritating. For you and for me.

For students, they aren’t going to receive the training that they deserve. They will learn improper movements, create bad habits and even risk injury. They may get turned off of exercise forever.

For trainers, it’s being full of BS. It’s also increasing the chances that your clients will get injured during a session (which I HATE) and it’s creating wrong movement patterns in clients that will have to be corrected by other trainers in the future, if we ever get the chance! What ever happened to people saying “I don’t know” or “I’m interested in that too. Let me find an expert.”

“This is how I learned it”

Now I’ve had all sorts of students come through my door looking to get fit with kettlebell training. On one side of the spectrum we have the complete newbies. On the other are individuals who trained with other SFG/RKC instructors across the globe. And then we have the middle…those familiar with kettlebells but having followed different learning paths—learning other styles or applications of kettlebell lifting, attending bootcamp sessions, training with their own personal trainer, attending YouTube University, reading a book or watching celebrity DVDs.

While I am grateful for all catalysts that inspired them to try kettlebell training in the first place—they are an amazingly efficient and effective tool for improving fitness at any age and for most every goal, I do get my knickers in a twist when someone enters my space and proceeds to ignore my cues and coaching, while arguing that “this is how I do it,” “how I have always done it,” “how so and so taught me how to do it.”

Trust me when I say that I’ve seen my share of these:

Bad kettlebell swing

As an experienced kettlebell specialist and coach, I have two choices. First vocalizing the thoughts in my head “That’s not a kettlebell swing. It’s trying to kiss your own butt and likely slamming your face in the ground on the way down.” Followed by “Now if you want to continue training with kettlebells your way, have at it. Why come to me?” Second, and the one that I often need to calmly count to at least 5 before I talk, is “I get that you learned a different way. But in my studio, these are the principles we teach, the techniques we practice, and attitude we foster to keep you safe and get you results. Let me show you.”

This is a perfect example of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Find a better trainer

The moral of the story?

If you’re interested in Olympic weight lifting, find someone that has studied weight lifting and can spot you safely and confidently.

If you’re interested in running, find a running coach that can evaluate your gait, screen your for compensatory movement patterns before you start pounding the pavement reinforcing them, thereby increasing your chances of injury. Do you just want to run for a few months or make it a lifestyle activity?

If you’re interested in the results kettlebells deliver, seek out a kettlebell certified trainer with experience and a track record. Check that their certification came from a reputable school, with rigorous technique and teaching standards. Ideally, talk to existing students. Remember that looking hot or being nice aren’t actual qualifications.

Ask questions, share your thoughts and goals, be honest about what you expect, do the work and hold both you and your trainer accountable. It is after all a two way relationship.

Oh, and if you are looking for personalized or group training using kettlebells and bodyweight movements, I know just the trainer for you!

Happy New Year!


  • By the way, I can’t leave you with just one sample of a less than safe swing so stay tuned for next week when I review some common things I see from newbies and those in the “middle”.  I’ll add a link here to Common Swing Faults when I post it.