You Aren’t Who You Used to Be
Dana Smith remembers the first time. It was late summer, 2009. “The arthritis in my knees was getting so bad my doctor was ready to put me on constant pain meds,” she told me recently. “I told him I’d think about it and get back to him.”
Thinking about it meant research. Research convinced her that it was time to take action. Specifically, to strengthen her muscles with a serious training program. That led her to The New Rules of Lifting for Women, a book my coauthors and I had published the year before. We wrote it for a simple reason: Readers asked us for it. They asked because the guidance women received from the media, from their peers, and even from fitness professionals in health clubs was the opposite of what we provided for men.
This was despite the fact there was no reason to give different advice to men and women. Exercise science had concluded long before that the muscles of men and women are exactly the same. Your muscles and my muscles perform the same actions and produce the same movements. Pound for pound, they generate the same amount of force. When trained, they respond equally well. But here’s the worst part: This wasn’t secret information. Everyone who wrote about strength training, or trained female athletes, or worked with female clients, either knew, or should have known.
The exercises in NROL for Women weren’t the ones readers like Dana were used to seeing in books and magazines. She’d never done a push-up before, or a deadlift, or a squat with a barbell on her back. And the advice to focus on strength and muscle development, rather than “toning” and “shaping,” was a paradigm shift for women who’d developed an irrational fear of “bulking up” if they lifted anything bigger than their forearms or heavier than a purse.
So on September 9, 2009, Dana tried it. Arthritic joints and all. She could barely bend her knees on the squat, and had to do her push-ups against a kitchen counter. But by the end of the program, she could do eight push-ups. Traditional push-ups, with her hands and toes on the floor. She could lift a 135-pound barbell off the ground, and squat with a hundred pounds on her back. And those pain meds her doctor was about to prescribe? Turns out, she didn’t need them. She just needed to get strong.
“Anyone who actually finishes the program comes out a changed person,” she told me. “Most of us never knew how strong we could be. It opened doors we didn’t even know were there.”
Our greatest mistake
Here’s the irony of Dana’s transformation: We never thought readers like her would pick up the book. The original title, Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess, signaled our goal of reaching women who were already working out, but not getting the results they wanted. I saw countless women like that in the gym. They were healthy and appeared able and willing to work hard toward their goals, but did so with workouts that were unlikely to help them accomplish anything useful. Those are the readers who contacted Alwyn and me and when we published The New Rules of Lifting, our first book together, in 2006.
To our delight, NROL for Women (the title we very wisely switched to after the book was already written and photographed) reached that target audience. We heard from readers who’d lost fat, improved their physiques in noticeable ways, and found they enjoyed doing the type of workouts we provided for guys in the original NROL.
But we also heard from readers like Dana, who was so excited by her progress that she started a Facebook group for her fellow lifters. Beyond their gender and the fact they love lifting heavy things, they have little in common. In fact, these days I rarely hear from anyone who fits my original concept. Our universe of lifters includes women from their twenties to their seventies. From competitive athletes to complete beginners. From underweight to severely obese. From healthy to anything but.
You’d think it would be the ultimate ego trip for an author. Who doesn’t want to see his book take on a life of its own, with readers he never thought would be interested in the topic he writes about? And on a good day, sure, it’s flattering. More often, the readers I hear from remind me of all the things I could’ve done better. (I won’t bother listing them here, but if you’re curious, you can check out our online reviews.) The success of NROL for Women allowed us to expand the series to five books, each one reflecting the evolution of Alwyn’s training strategy and workout design, developed with his wife, Rachel, and their staff at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. When their philosophy shifted to include more mobility and core training, we wrote NROL for Abs. When readers asked us for programs targeted to older, heavier, or otherwise nontraditional lifters, we wrote NROL for Life. And then we put together Alwyn’s entire system—including ten total-body programs—for our fifth book, Supercharged.
With each book, the breadth of our readership expanded in every direction. We hear from beginners who have more challenges to overcome than typical newbies. We hear from serious athletes who need to get stronger for their sport. And more and more, we hear from readers of our previous books who ask the toughest question of all: “Now that I’m no longer what I used to be, what’s my next step?”
Why is it so tough to answer? Because it’s one Alwyn and I struggle with every single day.
The people we used to be
I’ve been writing about exercise, nutrition, and health since 1992, when I started at Men’s Fitness magazine in Los Angeles. After six years at MF I moved across the country with my pregnant wife and two-year-old son to take a job at Men’s Health. Six years (and two daughters) later, I went out on my own, writing the NROL series with Alwyn and contributing to a long list of magazines and websites.
Writing about strength training was a lucky break, a rare chance to merge my skills and interests. I started working out when I was 13, when I was usually the skinniest, weakest, and slowest kid who was actually interested in playing sports and chasing girls (most of whom could outrun me). I loved lifting almost from the start, but I was never especially good at it. Even at my strongest I was never actually strong. Not by meathead standards, anyway. In my youth I struggled to get bigger, and in middle age I fought to stay lean. Now, in my fifties, it feels like a war on three fronts, with body fat on the attack and strength and muscle mass in full retreat.
But that’s nothing compared to what Alwyn has been through. Unlike me, Alwyn was an elite competitive athlete during his formative years in Scotland. He was a seven-time British champion in tae kwon do, and won two bronze medals as the U.K.’s representative in the European championships. He moved to the U.S., built a reputation as a personal trainer, and opened Results Fitness with Rachel. Then came cancer. Stage 4 lymphoma. He was told he was in remission after the first bout, but the cancer returned just twelve months later, right about the time we began work on NROL for Women. In real-estate terms, the stem-cell transplant that saved his life was a teardown. The procedure demolished his immune system, right down to the foundation, and started over with healthy white blood cells.
That was in 2006, but he feels the effects to this day, and until recently he berated himself in almost every workout. “This is shit,” he’d say after struggling through a set of squats or deadlifts. “When I was fighting, I wouldn’t even warm up with this.”
Then one day he had an epiphany. He told me about it when we got together to plan this book:
“If you ask a woman how much she weighs, you get a story, right? She’ll tell you, ‘When I was in high school, I weighed 135.’ If you ask a guy how much he can deadlift, he’ll tell you, ‘When I was in college, I deadlifted 400.’ ”
In both situations, Alwyn would redirect the client: How much do you weigh now? How much can you deadlift now? So what would he say to a 41-year-old client who focused relentlessly on what he could do two decades, one continent, and two cancer diagnoses ago? He’d say something like this:
“Let’s start over. Pretend you’ve never lifted before. Give yourself a clean scorecard. Every workout, every lift, is a new record. Five squats with good form? It’s a new record. Well done. You got six on the next set? Same weight, same technique? Outstanding. That’s another record, your second one today. Let’s move on.”
Moving on, in fact, is essential to your success in Strong.
How to use this book
Strong is divided into four sections:
Part One describes why it’s so important to build strength and improve muscle quality, which means developing muscles that are bigger than they are now. I’ll also make the argument that some of the most controversial issues in fitness and nutrition aren’t nearly as important as we’re led to believe. Why we’re misled about those issues is a fascinating question with a surprisingly simple answer.
Part Two is Alwyn’s new program, which I’ll describe in a moment.
Part Three describes and illustrates all the exercises you’ll use, along with alternatives and options for many of them, concluding with a chapter on how (and whether) to incorporate other types of exercise.
Part Four attempts to anticipate your lingering questions (and everyone has them, sooner or later), with tips on how to get answers to them.
Some of you will skip right over the opening chapters in Part One, and I promise I won’t be offended. Those chapters, by necessity, include basic information about strength, muscle development, and weight control. But because the science of human performance continually expands, our understanding of the best way to apply it evolves. Over time even the basics don’t seem quite so basic anymore.
Speaking of science: The final section of the book, Notes, explains where I got the information I used in each chapter. So if you see a reference to “a recent study in the Journal of Things You Try Not to Think About” or what “researchers at the University of Clickbait” discovered, and you’d like to know more, that’s where you’ll find it.
The Strong challenge
The core of the book is Alwyn’s training program. The program has nine stages—three in each phase. If you do the recommended three workouts a week (each of which should take fifty minutes to an hour), a stage should take about a month to complete. On paper, that’s nine months of training programs. But for most readers, it’ll be at least a year’s worth of actual training, which I’ll explain in a moment.
First, let’s look at the three phases:
Phase One: Develop
In keeping with the theme of this Introduction,Alwyn wants everyone to start with Phase One. For many of you, this goes without saying. But for the more experienced readers, especially veterans of one or more NROL programs, it doesn’t make as much sense. If you aren’t a beginner, why would you start at the beginning?
I answer this question in more detail in chapters 6 and 7, but this is the short version: The more advanced you are, the more challenging the Phase One workouts will be. That’s because you’ll be able to use heavier weights and push yourself to a deeper level of fatigue. Remember, you’re setting records each time.
If you are a beginner, don’t be intimidated by phrases like “deeper level of fatigue,” or all the talk about deadlifts and squats and other exercises you don’t yet know how to do. You will. We’re not throwing you into the deep end. You have plenty of time to get the hang of it.
As written, each stage in Phase One will take four weeks. (There’s also a Special Workout in between Stage 1 and Stage 2, which you’ll see in Chapter 7.) But it’s okay to spend more time in each stage, especially if you’re still getting stronger from one workout to the next. More advanced lifters, on the other hand, will adapt faster, and will probably do better with just three weeks per stage.
Phase Two: Demand
Each of these three stages offers four weeks’ worth of workouts that will be challenging to readers at all levels of experience. Alwyn describes them as “the badass stuff.” For those who are new to the iron game, you’ll improve your lifting skills while building strength and stamina. Those with more experience will push yourselves with higher-volume workouts and techniques that challenge your perceived limits.
Phase Three: Display
Now you’ll train for pure strength and performance. Although it’s by no means a requirement, we hope you’ll test yourself on the major lifts by the end of Phase Three, which should be about twelve weeks after you began. The goal is to establish new personal records. These benchmarks could be true PRs—that is, the most you’ve ever pressed, squatted, or deadlifted. Or they could be the best you can do now, at your current age and in your present circumstances. Whatever they are, they’re real, and we hope you’ll celebrate … for a week or two.
Then it’s time to get back to work. Most readers should be able to repeat the programs at least once, and get better results the second time through. Some of you may do even better the third time. We offer some options in Chapter 17 to help ensure you’ll have fresh challenges. For newer lifters, the Strong program can easily keep you busy for a year or more.
How to succeed
Let’s return to Dana Smith for a moment. In her years of moderating a lively Facebook group, she’s noticed a trend: Those who follow Alwyn’s NROL for Women program as written have the most success. Those who get frustrated and quit, she told me, have a common trait: They focus on the parts they don’t like. They want to go back to whatever they were doing before, even if it wasn’t working for them. I’ve noticed a parallel trend in some of the more critical feedback I receive: The readers who like the program the least try to modify it the most, and achieve the fewest benefits.
This isn’t to imply there’s any such thing as a perfect program. Alwyn will be the first to tell you he’s never written a program he didn’t eventually figure out how to improve. But he’d also tell you this: Most of the time, you’ll get better results if you commit to any program, however imperfect, and work your tail off on it, versus hopping from one system to the next in hopes of finding one that clicks. Persistence is what makes the magic happen.
But it’s not really magic. It’s just what you get when you push yourself from where you are now toward whatever your potential might be. That potential is a moving target through life. It’s very different when you’re young and unencumbered, and have the time and energy to train as long as you want and as hard as you want, compared to your potential after giving birth. Or when you have a demanding job. Or when you’re dealing with stressful life events, or recovering from an injury, or going through menopause. Or when you’re finally ready to describe yourself as “middle-aged” (which, trust me, is about the time others start to describe you as “old”).
That’s why the best gift you can give yourself is a clean slate. Starting with the first workout of Phase One, every weight you lift on every exercise is a new personal record, because it’s the most you can do now. No, you aren’t who you used to be. But with time, effort, and the occasional callus on your palms, you’ll ensure that who you are now is stronger than the person you were when you started the program.
You Need a System
In order to succeed in the fitness industry, you need a system. A quality system will help consistently deliver results, make your clients happy, and spread the word about your ability to help people achieve their goals.
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a tool designed to help you build a system that delivers great results to your clients, no matter who they are. The FMS is a quick, 10-minute screen consisting of seven tests that help you identify ‘weak links’ in your clients bodies. These ‘weak links’ are often the things holding them back from the results they want, whether it’s fat loss, better functioning or increased performance in sport.
But just how do you use the FMS results to create an individualized training program? How do the results help you know what areas to focus on, and what exercises to select?
In The Future of Exercise Program Design, the founders of the FMS—Gray Cook and Lee Burton—explain the FMS tests, and what the screen tells you about what your clients need to get the results they’re looking for.
But more importantly, they’ve invited Alwyn Cosgrove of Results Fitness to show you how to use the FMS results to tailor programs to your clients. Results Fitness is one of the most successful gyms in America, and has successfully used the FMS to create a system that consistently delivers results for their wide range of clients.
The FMS has helped them know what areas to focus on for their clients for faster and better results. This has helped them build a happy clientele, a great reputation, and a successful fitness business.
In this DVD, Alwyn will show you exactly how he does it, using real examples from his own gym so you can see how a master program designer crafts individualized programs that get good results.
Design Programs That Get Results & Get People Coming Back For More
In the DVD, Gray Cook, Lee Burton & Alwyn Cosgrove will explore—
- The importance of having a standard operating procedure to guide your programming
- What the FMS is, and how it fits in with the programs you write for your clients
- What to look for before you start designing a program
- How to design a program using the results of the FMS: five case studies
- and much more
If you truly want to build a successful fitness business, and help people get the results they want, let Gray, Lee and Alwyn show you how to use the FMS to design individualized training programs that get results for your clients, and keep them coming back for more.
Click HERE to order
What are the top 2-3 mistakes most gym/business owners make in their first year of business?
1) Not understanding business.
Many of the people who open gyms are extremely passionate about fitness, about helping people and about the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. They continue to pursue an education in fitness but what they don’t realize is that deciding to open your own gym you are now a business owner.
You must learn new skills to run a successful business including marketing, sales, leadership, budgeting, business plans and management. Sets and reps and new exercises won’t cut it.
2) Not understanding the client mindset.
“If you can see John Smith through John Smith’s eyes, you can sell John Smith what John Smith buys”
Taking the time to put yourself in your clients shoes and really thinking through what it’s like to be your client is key to being able to help them, market to them and capture them as long term members. Our clients are not like us.
Most trainers will proudly tell you that hiring a trainer is a smart idea and a great investment. A trainer can help you get to your goals faster and safer than you can training on your own.
Yet most trainers have never hired a trainer themselves. They are effectively selling something that they’ve never invested in themselves at all. Why? That’s a sign that they don’t believe in the value of hiring a coach
Think of all the objections as to why you as a trainer haven’t hired another trainer – your schedule, price, I know what to do, no one knows my body as well as me – and realize that your prospects might be thinking the same.
3) Not thinking through the big picture.
When most gym owners open their doors they are excited about having their own gym but have not thought the idea through to where they want to build it.
Many make the mistake of building a business totally dependent on them, the owner. There are only so many hours in the day so not thinking bigger will limit the success of your business. Start to put systems in place and build up your team to create a business that isn’t going to be dependent on one person.
What are you most proud of with regards to your gym/business?
The culture. Building a place where trainers can have a long term career in the industry growing, learning and able to support their families. At this point our business doesn’t only support us, it supports our 22 employees, a few of which are husband and wives, so their entire family is supported by our company. We have employees who have been with our company for 10 years! The positive team environment enables us to do so much more and help so many more people than any one of us could do on our own.
What direct advice would you give to a fitness/health pro who’s eager and excited to help people change, to grow their client base, and/or to start their own training/coaching business?
Get crystal clear on your goal.
Exactly how many clients do you want? How much money do you want to make? Do you want to have a team working for you? Make the decision that you are going to make it happen. Find someone who has already been down the path to coach and help guide you. Then get focused and take action. Most people waste so much time figuring out the perfect plan or thinking it through and never taking action. Once you know exactly where you want to go, you have a coach in your corner to guide you, it’s time to take steps every single day to get closer to your goal.