How to Replace Your Trainer with These 5 Questions

    Replace Your Trainer with These 5 Questions

    The internet is exploding with information. There are more fitness sites than you can comfortably surf in the span of 40 days. You watched videos, read articles, downloaded reports, maybe you bought a program or got some sessions with a trainer, started working out and it’s not what you thought it would be.

    Often times you look at yourself and think, “Why aren’t I getting it?” or “Something doesn’t feel quite right.” Imagine playing a Nintendo all of your life and someone gives you an Xbox. You understand video games, understand what a controller does, and know how to move the character left, right, up, and down.

    But could you play an Xbox immediately, like you do a Nintendo? No. The concept is there, the understanding is there – but the mechanics of the controller are not. All of sudden you’re trying to move in a 3D environment and you’ve got a lot more buttons.

    Equipment that’s new to you compared to dumbells and barbells, like kettlebells and steel clubs will be to you like what the Xbox is to someone who’s only played the original Nintendo. You may have done something similar in the past, but you don’t have all the mechanics you need…even if you try to emulate what you’ve done previously with dumbells and barbells.

    There is a disconnect between mental understanding and mechanical ability to do, and describing it in a way you think they would understand can actually be bad for them. But, why is this? You’ve got a sound squat. You can shoulder press for days. But complex movements are getting the better of you. Snatch, Windmills, Turkish Get ups. You’re on the ground, broken, and you can’t get up. How do you fix it?

    Start with Conceptualization

    Start with Conceptualization

    My good friend Sarah Jamieson often speaks of parts and patterns. We often become obsessed with the parts and begin to forget the patterns the parts make up. For a moment, think about a time your car didn’t start. You can tell someone ‘the car won’t start’, and you may try a few things to start it that you have experience with, like checking the battery.

    You’re drawing on that previous experience, right? You are taking what worked previously, something that you understand, and thinking you understand why your car won’t work now! But, when the few things you know don’t work, you call a mechanic.

    A mechanic sees the entire vehicle as a machine – the pattern made up of parts. The mechanic sees the parts like a motor, electrical system, radiator, brakes and how they interact to create the pattern that is the vehicle.

    You go to the mechanic to solve what you cannot solve because the mechanic has the training to understand the concept of the vehicle, how the systems work together, and how those systems work with other systems…not the problem that is the vehicle not cranking. You want to change your life, your physique, or your strength but you’re stuck. How do you get unstuck?

    In many ways, there are two stages of learning. We gather pieces of information we are told, and then we put those pieces together to create a pattern of what someone is teaching us. This is why you train the hydraulics in your lower body and back first, then the arm lift, then you put them together. Once we have gathered the necessary information and put the pieces together, how do you apply it?

    1. Ask Different Questions

    Imagine for a moment you ordered a heart rate monitor from Amazon. It arrives, you tear it open, you go to turn on your new heart rate monitor…and it doesn’t work! So, you do everything you can to make it work. You put in batteries from your old one, then buy new batteries, then go online and search for answers.

    Eventually, in passing, you look at the box it came in and see there is a hole in it, plus the bottom of the box was wet. You got a heart rate monitor that was wet from a hole in the box. It was never the device. It was the box that caused the problems this whole time.

    And now you just spent all that money on batteries! In many ways you’re like the box – complete with hole or not. Many people spend so much time looking at the pieces in the proverbial box delivered to them, they don’t ask how the box got there in the first place.

    Is the box full of holes or dents? What is the box built from? Who built the box? These are conceptual questions.

    You should ask yourself these questions before you decide to perform a movement. First questions you must ask are who you learned from previously and analyze what you know based on the past… Figure out why you’re doing something wrong before you try to fix it. In other words, look at the box first, not what’s in the box.

    2. Have a Base Line You Know Like the Back of Your Hand

    2. Have a Base Line You Know Like the Back of Your Hand
    You need a baseline of what the concept of an exercise is and how it is done properly. This is what teachers exist for. Find a trainer you trust, ask the questions, understand the concept, the movement pattern, and the parts that make it up from someone you want to emulate.

    Or, check out Onnit’s exercise section for descriptions and videos about how to properly perform various exercises. This creates a standard of movement, description, refined understanding through questions answered.

    3. Learn the Concept Before You Learn the Parts and Patterns

    If I gave you a destination on a map, a car, and money for gas, but you had no idea how to drive, or you were physically incapable of driving…what’s the purpose of giving you everything else?

    Understand the purpose, the concept, of what the exercise you are doing is. When you understand the concept of the exercise, you can work backwards.

    The pattern accomplishes the concept, the parts accomplish the pattern. You can always go back to the concept. If you want to lose weight instead of develop power, the concept is molded around this.

    Then, the pattern creates that concept, and the parts are adjustable to the pattern. If you start at the pattern, you’ll never get to where you want to go because you have only the parts to adjust.

    4. Ask the Right Questions to Develop the Concept

    Ask the Right Questions to Develop the Concept

    How many times have you thought, “Well my last trainer couldn’t get me to my goals”? Is this because the trainer was bad, because you didn’t verbalize your goals, or because the trainer didn’t get an understanding of the concept? In the end, it’s up to you to ask the right questions. You’ve got to become your own mechanic if you’re forgoing a trainer.

    5. Don’t Forget the Parts

    I just spent an article saying concept first, so why would I say remember the parts? Look at the parts as patterns and figure out what isn’t working and how it should be working. You might not be reaching your goals because of a simple issue. For example, your range of mobility may be preventing your exercise to be done well and not because the exercise plan was wrong.

    It could have been psychological, like you were told you were fat their whole life and you feel that nothing will ever get you to the promised land of being fit. Or you may be physically able, but psychologically unwilling. If you don’t look critically at yourself, and remember the unseen parts, you won’t be able to get the results you’re so desperately seeking..

    There are all kinds of parts to a car. But you’ve got to understand the concept of travel. The driving, following a map, pumping gas, oil changes…Remember, you are the mechanic.

    The more you know, the more you understand, the better questions you can ask. Luckily, in today’s world, the internet, forums, texts and phone calls allow us to find answers on a water break. So, go forth, become a mechanic, and see how your body reacts when you focus on your travel and not your wheels.

    Replace Your Trainer with These 5 Questions


    Matt Powell

    Matt Powell Matt Powell is the creator of and MSF Systems (Mission Specific Fitness). Teaching publicly since 2001 throughout the world and tactical community in the US, Matt’s mission is to apply practical sciences to the martial arts, combatives, tactical training, and fitness. Publishing four books on training methodology, two dozen instructional videos on science, fitness, and combatives, Matt lives in Atlanta running Pramek, his pitbulls, and the popular PramekRadio podcast.

    • Lorenzo McCoy

      Great article.

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