When we are strung together, we should say these three words with our tails between our legs and a strong flicker to our confidence. I'm not going to get on my high horse and go through a Pinterest list of virtuous bullet points of how personal growth begins here and how courage is found in those moments, blah blah blah.
My reason for writing this is that I was wrong a lot.
I know what it feels like to be a young coach who has one of those epic moments when the thought of "Ohhh shit, I think I screwed it up" rushes down your back like a fire station alarm.
And it is in that moment that you see your career, approach, and entire belief structure flash before your eyes.
It's a gut blow for sure, but one that has a ton of benefits.
I hope you can put your ego aside and admit that some of your trusted may hold you and your clientele back.
My career began in the spring of 1999. According to the dictionary definition of the word, I was a map-wearing meathead.
I loved the weight room, started my college career in strength and conditioning, and couldn't have been happier. I thought it was great to start work at 4 a.m. Less sleep meant I could be in the gym longer. When I stopped training at 7 or 8 p.m. it was perfect.
I didn't want a relationship or family anyway. I was that guy.
One of the coaching cues we've used for years was toe up! Toes in our squats or deadlifts, basically any closed chain exercise.
The intent was good in that we were trying to get the lifts to shift their weight back. We knew much of the rear chain would appear online when the heels are buried.
It was the day and age that all problems were attributed to rear chain problems.
"Do you have chronic migraines?"
"It's because your back chain is weak."
"Break up with your wife?"
"There are problems with the rear chain."
"Do you have erectile dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic nosebleeds, sleepwalking, or severe acne?"
"A regular diet of RDL should fix everything." – Yes, so we preached.
And we preached it. And then something funny happened. We had a lot of lower back problems, especially when squatting. These complaints were also in recent years when political correctness was not an issue.
We have attributed every injury or chronic problem to the child's lack of toughness or softness.
Then, seven years after my career, I heard a friend of mine give a lecture at a kettlebell class I took on the big toe and how he has a direct neurological relationship with the glutes:
- The big toe
- Grab it
- Glutes come up
The glutes are part of the rear chain, but it's like the rearmost of the rear chain.
Oh shit, I think I screwed this up.
After experiencing this myself, my mind raced through the kids I had trained up to this point, including the soft-ass kids with lower back problems. Have I been holding back my athletes (by the thousands at this point)?
Could I have been the reason all of these kids had lower back problems? The cold hard truth is very likely yes.
I've told this story before on this website, but it needs to be repeated. While this keeps popping up, I really wanted to become the second coming of my mentor Mike Kent.
Coach Kent is a national coaching treasure. There is no one like him and every athlete he has ever met has loved him. I was one of them and I really wanted to be just like him.
The problem is, I couldn't see how adaptable he was to different groups.
I went to the soccer version because I played soccer for Coach Kent and I thought that version was the silver bullet to get any athlete to work.
Was i right? I was golden in football:
- They loved the way I trained them.
- I was tough but playful when the time was right.
- I pushed her and didn't want to listen to anyone or complain for a second.
- I challenged them as men and asked them to reach outside of themselves during each training session.
In retrospect, I was kind of a tyrant and they ate it up.
Insert our women soccer team. You can imagine what's coming – the same recipe. I trained hard, made no excuses, refused to let her complain, and pushed her harder than ever.
And I lost every one of them. When I say lost, I mean I earned the nickname The Weight Room Nazi.
You hated me.
They hated getting into the weight room, and I got to the point where my skin would crawl knowing they were up for the day.
Instead of inspiring them or showing them how to dig deep, they continued to descend into disinterest and carelessness. It was the worst.
That was the reason::
- You were a bunch of spoiled rich kids?
- You had some poor coaches in front of me who let the athletes run over them and now you finally had someone who demanded hard work?
- Have I met young women who were relatively new to weight training?
- They didn't believe that blood makes the grass grow. And maybe the ladies thought if you say such a thing you sound like an idiot.
- Most of all, these 25 young women weren't soccer players, and my approach was what failed?
Oh shit, I think I screwed this up. I will let you decide.
Death of the ego
There is right, and then the insecure, desperate, and manic need has to be right. Most of us live somewhere in the middle.
And the whole reason for writing this article is to challenge you to a soul search.
I didn't promise Pinterest moments, but I've been in the game for nearly 22 years and I salute the whoops-a-daisy moments. I've learned enough and seen so much that sometimes I feel like I've seen it all.
And then I realize that I don't know everything.
Our ego works for a number of reasons. Some are productive, but most are toxic. And as coach or trainer, we have chosen an important decision-making profession. We are the last word, the long arm of the law.
Most of us have a lot of education (degrees and certificates) and are confident in our thinking. Because of the physical nature of our actions and the incredible adaptability of the nervous system, the body adapts and gives us recognition when we don't deserve it.
I dont know
Dr. Susan Puhl (may she rest in peace) was my lecturer in advanced movement physiology and my thesis chair during my thesis. She was as smart as she came and was a blast in the classroom.
I love telling this story about my first group presentation in her class.
We took up the subject of height and its effects on the human body. The instructor divided us into small groups and we spent an entire evening presenting our sections.
Each group had 3-5 people and we were responsible for each section individually for a few minutes. We were all a bit nervous and then the first student gets up and starts her serving.
Within the first few minutes, Dr. Puhl her a question. At that moment the lady gave an answer that she believed could pass.
Dr. Puhl commented: "Wrong – try again. "
The young lady made one more attempt to work her way through the answer.
All we heard from the back of the room was, "No, the wrong answer, please try again. "
The student's share should be a few minutes. But the exchange lasted 20 minutes as she sobbed in front of 18 strangers.
They went round and round. The more this girl tried to shit, the more Dr. Don't pull them off the hook.
In the middle of this debacle, I began to sink into my seat because I was up next, feeling the fate that might come my way.
Another guy in my group named Victor was already scared of the presentation, so I'm pretty sure he was sitting there in a puddle of his urine.
Just before this poor girl's soul was about to leave her body for good, Dr. Peel the dogs off.
Dr. Puhl said, "Do you know why I don't stop?" And the wet mess of someone in front of us said, "No, why?"
Your answer was straightforward.
"It's because you clearly don't know, but you refuse to admit you don't know. So you'd rather think of answers than admit you don't know. I would have liked to have accepted that and let you move on, but instead, I wanted to see how long you would shrug off guesswork than swallow your pride and let us all know that you have no answer. In the future, the answer is simple; the answer is, I don't know. "
– Dr. Susan Puhl
From that moment on, things changed for all of us. As you may have thought, while getting up and answering questions, I stumbled upon myself to give the reliable and bulletproof answer, I don't know.
I appreciate the need to be right. I understand the image we're trying to maintain and we don't want to look unprepared. But do you know when to stop talking in circles and try to pull an answer out of nowhere.
And never bullshit. Let them know you don't know, but you will find out and get back to them with a response as soon as possible.
What we've always done
- Do you know how many studies were in the very first issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research? Four.
- Do you know how many studies were featured in the last issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research? Nineteen.
What the hell does all of this have to do with this article??
When I was on my way, I nerd out my evenings and weekends at the library in Eastern Kentucky reading all the research I could get my hands on. I've read every word of the first five volumes (34 currently) of this publication.
Because of this journal and related scientific journals, the profession has accelerated discoveries and improved old ones.
When I started, the profession was in diapers. I mean, the evolution of strength science is like a rocket ship. We are developing at breathtaking speed.
The reason I'm bringing this to you is because I was guilty of myself, maybe more than anyone.
The phrase "What we've always done." rolls right off your tongue.
It's also the greatest answer of all. It tells us that you are lazy. It gives me all the information I will ever need about you.
I experience this as we speak, a professional night of the soul. I'm on the last nine of my careers and what we've always done doesn't make a lot of sense.
Yes, there are mainstays in my system, these exercises or groupings that would be the hill on which I would die. But many of the things I have been preaching for two decades are losing their luster. Why? Because I tinker with other things.
I hear fresh voices and watch some brilliant people do unconventional things that are downright better at getting the results they want. This openness is in contrast to what I've always done.
To give you some insight, a lot of the traditional exercises like squats and dead and how we performed them don't work.
I'm a big procrastinator. When we do this in the weight room, we do it in the field. And to be honest, I am struggling to lie to myself that the transmission is how I need it or how I envisioned it. Was it all a lie? In real time I'm telling you, oh shit, I think I screwed this up.
I stand on the top of a mountain of epic proportions in the world to admit that I was wrong. I question the structure of my system.
Not because I was wrong all along, but because there are better options now.
You can't be wrong if it's the best choice available, but when a better alternative has shown its face it's a real crossroads.
I'm not exactly sure where I'll be in a year. Stay tuned and find out.
Look, we all have to face the music at some point. The day will come when you discover that something you prescribe to your clientele is not working. And that's okay. It's pretty liberating to be honest.
I'm too old to waste any more time.
My reputation has never really been my thing and I'm certainly not afraid to tarnish it now. It's easy for me to admit when I'm wrong and say "I don't know" (great love for you, Dr. Puhl). It gives me room for something better.
I want to be excellent and don't have time to throw away.
Embrace being wrong. It happens. Do what is asked of you, and then move on. You will do better.