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The Trainer vs. Trainee Agenda


My friend Jeff loves Pigs in a Blanket. I’ve heard him wax poetic about the irresistible pull of the flaky pastry wrapped around the tiny salty hot dog. He can go on and on about them, they bring him such joy.

Jeff looks forward to holiday parties where he knows they’re going to be served. His friend Kim, without fail serves them at her annual Christmas party. She makes them herself, rolling out the dough, putting lots of effort into cooking for her guests. Her Pigs in a Blanket are really good.

There’s only one problem. Kim serves them with “fancy” mustard, the seedy, almost crunchy gourmet stuff. She insists on it.

Kim claims the “fancy” mustard, brings out the flavors of the tiny hot dog and adds a touch of class to this very basic hors d’oeuvre.

Jeff doesn’t like “fancy” mustard.

He tried. The first year, he wanted the PIBs so much he ate the crunchy mustard. It wasn’t the experience he’d been looking forward to all season. It really diminished his joy. Jeff likes “plain ol’ yellow” mustard. He made a request, “Next year could we have “plain ol’ yellow” mustard, as well?”

Problem solved.

Except when next year rolled around, Kim stuck to her guns about “fancy” and “plain ol’ yellow” was nowhere in sight. Jeff was really disappointed again. He still managed to eat the PIBs (they really are good), but it seemed like such a silly thing for Kim to get hung up on.

The next year, Jeff brought his own mustard.

Kim shook her head, started to chastise him, but let it go. A compromise.

Problem really solved.

(I don’t have social proof of this, but I imagine him carrying around the bottle all night, not sharing and squirting it as needed. Again, I don’t have proof of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised).

trainer vs. trainee

I’ll Do Whatever You Suggest…

Client: “ I’m goin’ to the beach, I gotta get that “V”, baby…nothing else matters, I’ll do anything you say…let’s do whatever we gotta do…

Me: “What about health and wellness?”

Client: “That is definitely #2.”

A lot of work goes into putting together programs for our clients. We take their history, both medical and previous training experience. We ask about their goals, long and short term. We ask them about their schedules and for a realistic idea of the amount of time they have for training. We ask how much sleep they’re getting (“not enough”) and how much water they’re drinking (“I could do better”). Then we do a series of assessments. We gather a ton of critical info.

Then we put together a masterful training program that will help them reach their goals in the shortest amount of time possible, with the least amount of injury and win praise both for our training skill and the training experience (It’s the best part of their day, they’d rather be here with you than anywhere else). And all of it built around their training availability. It’s better than the most amazing Pig in a Blanket.

Several years ago a client approached me with a very specific agenda. He wanted to be V-Shaped for his vacation to Bondi Beach. He said he was in a different headspace, really wanted to change how he’d been working out and was dedicated to learning the “big lifts”. Could I put together a strength program (including cardio) that would buff him up?

Music to my ears! For so long I’d been watching this guy workout and knew that if I could get him moving better and lifting heavier he’d see some astounding results! It’s exciting when someone has such specific goals and seems so willing to train for them.

I served up a “Perfect Program”, including deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, push-ups and heavy rows. Some short interval cardio, but mostly lifting and recovering. We had time to make some real physique change before the vacation as long as eating was dialed in and we stuck to the program. V-Shape here we come!

There was only one problem. He didn’t like it.

I’d covered it in the wrong mustard.

“Where are the crunches and bicep curls? What about the off days? Shouldn’t there be more cardio? I really don’t like deadlifts, can’t we do something else? There needs to me more arm stuff!”

When he said he would do whatever I suggested, he meant he would do whatever I suggested as long as it fit into what he was comfortable doing, or his particular flavor of getting buff.

I pushed back explaining why my program was such a perfect recipe based on how quickly it would meet his goals and insisted that he at least give it a try. He reluctantly agreed and we launched into my “Perfect Program”.

In my dreams, he’d come around, crush the program and achieve greater feats of mobility and movement competence than ever before (Doesn’t that sound sexy?)!

In reality, he wasn’t making progress, and was actually going in the wrong direction. He was often tired during our sessions and struggling with coordinating the “big lifts”. Every hour seemed more about teaching/coaching a movement than working out. He was disappointed. A couple of weeks in I found out that all along he’d been bringing his own mustard. All the pieces he felt he’d been missing he’d been adding on his own. He was coming back to the gym later in the day to do hour-long cardio sessions and extra arm and ab work. He was still trying to follow my “Perfect Program” and also do the things he felt he needed to really get buff. He was overworking. And it was my fault.


There are two primary rules when designing truly awesome exercise programs:

  1. Keep Your Clients Healthy: Reduce Injury, Relieve Negative Stress, Improve Baselines
  2. Keep Your Clients Progressing: Set Goals, Hit Milestones, Celebrate Results

This was a wake-up for me.

I realized by being so stuck on my agenda (Fancy), I was neglecting a cardinal rule: Keep Your Clients Progressing!

If I hadn’t caught it and the overwork continued I’d have been neglecting the most important rule: Keep Your Clients Healthy!

I could initially sense his reluctance but was sure he’d change his mind and get more enthused as he saw results. I discovered that had I started by adding more of what he felt he needed (Plain Ol’) we could’ve gotten further faster. If I’d been mixing the pieces he was adding into my programming, I would’ve cut out the over work and seen better progress.


What’s better: A “Perfect Program” that never gets followed or a “Pretty Good Program” that’s followed with the burning passion of a thousand hot suns?

I scrapped the “Perfect Program” and put together a much better one. A program he would actually enjoy. Plain Ol’ and Fancy! A compromise.

Did he reach his perfect V-Shape for the beach?

Not quite, but he did make some very noticeable physique change.

Did he feel better about himself and massively accomplished in a now tighter around the arms t-shirt?


He was happy. That’s what really matters

Problem solved.

Questions about progress or programming? Hit us up at or drop us a line at 212-355-0445. Or learn everything we know at our next Essential Movement Method certification September 15-16th, 2018.