Chris: Thanks for sharing your knowledge in this interview, Isaac. What client goals do you come across most? What do your clients ask you to help them achieve and what areas of research do you look at to help achieve these client goals?
Isaac: Hey Chris, thank you so much for the opportunity in this interview. I love the stuff you guys are doing and I think it’s been a missing piece for a lot of fitness professionals out there.
We have grown and developed at Relentless into a varied-goal facility. We program for each client individually, which has allowed us to handle different client goals within our basic system and structure. For example, a little while ago I had a training group that consisted of a high school football player looking for speed and size, a 50 year-old male executive rehabbing post-knee surgery and trying to lose the belly, three adult strength enthusiasts, and a 75 year-old who was preparing for a trans-USA bicycle ride. Since they are all programmed individually (we don’t use cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all programming) they can be training and sharing camaraderie at the same time while pursuing different client goals.
My areas of research towards the achievement of client goals are constantly shifting and expanding as I develop personally and interact with more clients and other professionals. Earlier in my career. I spent a lot of time on biomechanics and nutrition. Then I moved on to programming/adaptation. After that it was rehabilitation and soft-tissue methods.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been spending a lot of time in motivational psychology, addiction study, and the science of coaching and education. I’ve learned that all the great programming and nutrition in the world doesn’t matter if your clients don’t follow through! I’ve also been doing a lot of research into business systems, team management, and leadership as my business continues to grow and thus my team is getting bigger and bigger and I have to wear more hats.
I certainly still read and keep up with all of the other areas (and your research review helps immensely) but my emphasis shifts as my needs shift. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time watching videos or sticking my nose in a book and chasing down new ideas!
Chris: What are the biggest misconceptions that clients come to you with regarding how they should go about achieving their goals?
Isaac: There’s a lot of misconceptions about pretty much everything in the fitness world, so it’s hard to pick one. I guess the biggest issue I see initially is that most clients don’t even really have a clear view of what their goals are. We often spend a lot of our early consultation time just getting to the meat and motivation of exactly what they want to accomplish.
If someone has a clear (and hopefully quantifiable) view of exactly they want to accomplish then not only is it much easier to create a plan to hit it but also it’s much easier for them to stay on track, or even to know if they’re on track in the first place!
For example, if a client comes in and says “I want to lose some fat and feel better” or another says “I want to get bigger and stronger for football” then those are going to be a really vague and subjective goals. However, if we can nail it down to “I want to drop 20 lbs of fat so I can come off my high blood pressure medication” and “I want to gain 20 lbs of lean mass and squat 335lbs because that’s the average for All-Conference players at my position” then based from where they are now and their history we can apply the science and experience we know to those programs.
Chris: What outstanding research question would change what you do with clients, if it were solved?
Isaac: Oh, wow. That’s an amazing question right there. I’d love to have an analysis of our current culture, which is clearly trending towards weakness, obesity, hormonal illnesses, immune and developmental disorders, and cultures of both past (including our own even 100 years ago) and present that looked at all the various factors: nutrition, food quality, environmental changes, and lifestyle. It’d be interesting to see if we were degrading because of a handful of major issues/changes (which we could then rectify) or if it was a “death by 1000 papercuts” thing.
I have some hypotheses, as do lots of other people, but I haven’t seen a lot of real data. Of course, I know that much of that data would be impossible to get. A large study investigating that question, though, could give us some great insights into both health and performance.
Chris: What do you see as the main differences between an evidence-based coach (like yourself and your coaches) and one who doesn’t put the research-reading time in? Where do you see the biggest improvements in practice?
I think that an evidence-based coach has the leg up for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, they are working with some real data. As long as you understand the flaws that can happen in science and take everything in with a critical eye it gives you some stuff to build your own theories and experiments on where the rubber meets the road: In the gym with clients.
Secondly, if a coach is “evidence-based” in that they regularly read research and look for things to apply within it then that means that they’re actively trying to get better. Unfortunately, in the fitness business it isn’t a given that a “fitness pro” (said somewhat tongue-in-cheek) is going to be focused on improving and developing as a professional. Clients of trainers who don’t regularly seek to improve through research and testing are at best subject to the same old system, which may or may not work, and at worst are subject to whatever new exercise their trainer might have picked up off YouTube that weekend.
There’s nothing worse than going into a place and seeing every single client doing the same weird fad exercise that day. You know that there was no thought to a program and instead the focus with that trainer is on “cool” and not being bored. That’s a disservice to the clients that trust them.
As for the biggest improvements I see in practice, the biggest improvement is simply looking at everything with a critical eye. Research and other people’s anecdotal evidence gives you a jumping off point and ideas to follow with your clients. However, it’s then up to the professional to make constant adjustments and evaluations of how things are developing. For example, I might see a fascinating study with some really interesting results based on 15 college-aged, trained males. I can then try something similar with one of my groups of 40 year-old, untrained women. The results may or may not replicate, but either way I now have some more evidence to work with moving forward.
Chris: That’s great insight into how to help achieve client goals, thanks Isaac. We appreciate your time.
Isaac: Thank you so much for reaching out to me, Chris. Again, I appreciate everything you guys are doing!
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