A top coach is willing to keep learning, re-learning and re-writing everything they thought they knew year after year.

 A top coach will have been working ‘in the trenches’ for so long that they have learned to appreciate and magnify their own strengths, eliminate weaknesses and recognise when they were wrong.

I’ve had a lot of successes and made a lot of mistakes.

Here are six things I wish I hadn’t contributed to in the fitness industry and I look forward to the day they disappear or just somehow start being used like they were intended.

Like most things in fitness, none are inherently bad, but most have been exaggerated, twisted or just bastardised due to laziness or misunderstanding.


There isn’t anything inherently wrong with burpees, they’ve just been butchered like so many good exercises in the name of “For Time”.

A set of burpees executed as follows is a great exercise:

  • Start standing tall, erect spine
  • Squat down (don’t bend forward) – toes can be elevated.
  • Put your hands down and kick your feet out to land in PERFECT push up position with no hip sag
  • Either use this as your bottom position or perform PERFECT push up
  • Kick your feet back in to squat position
  • Stand up to start position or perform jump variation (we can use tuck jumps, torpedo jumps, hand claps or whatever…that’s not the point)

To be totally accurate, the original burpee never even had a push up or a jump in it! There was a guy actually named Mr Burpee and this was how he intended it to look.

The problem is people don’t care when they’re against the clock.

They get tired, their hips hit the floor half an hour before their chest due to no core engagement then the chest comes up half an hour before their hips on the way up.

Let’s note something important at this point.

If you cannot do strict push ups for high reps, why the hell do you think it’s a good idea to chest to floor burpees? How is that possibly going to work out well for your back?

Similarly, if you don’t have the mobility to do any of the above, don’t do burpees!

The movement is completed with the worst half star-jump you’ve ever seen with the nipples still pointing at the floor.

Like Olympic lifts, what is a great exercise has become a recipe for spinal destruction.

So whilst I like a quality burpee, I wish I hadn’t been part of them becoming something that was used in fast paced circuits like the nonsense you see a lot now.

They were used a lot in the military because they were a way to test and improve conditioning when no equipment was available.

Now that most places have a range of equipment that improves aerobic and anaerobic capacity, everyone would be better off if we just smashed an Assault Bike or similar where the injury risk at full speed is minimal.

And yes, if you like to embrace the suck, they will do the job just as well!

Survival Sessions

Back in the day I used to love these sessions.

You know, those sessions where completion is a beautiful cocktail of endorphins and relief that you didn’t actually have a heart attack on the 25th round of the prowler.

I once performed a session of 10 x 1000m runs with high rep sandbag cleans, table jumps, burpee chin ups and every other horrendous exercises I could think of in between.

It took 1 hour and 20 minutes and served little purpose other than to put me out of training for 4-5 days.

There is a time and place for testing yourself.

However long endurance based sessions are never top of the leaderboard of options whether you want strength, power, speed or better body composition.

Yes, you will build aerobic capacity and burn some calories. 

However, you will get better results long term with well-structured resistance training, interval based work in SHORT SESSIONS and a calorie deficit created through nutrition control.

You will also hit a wall in terms of progress with your work capacity just like if you keep performing the same running route at the same pace.

Being exhausted and getting used to pain will not improve your body composition nearly as much as proper weight training with controlled reps. Pain tolerance is very useful but there are much better ways to achieve the same result without the downsides of ‘survival sessions’ such as further increases in stress hormones.

I know…the military use it. But did you know that when tested over 12 week basic training, soldiers were found to experience a 30% drop in testosterone – the worst possible thing for a man trying to improve his body composition, well-being or sex life!

If your argument is ‘but it’s a good start before we move on’ then why not just start with what you’re going to move on to?

Talking About Goals As A Priority

In nearly every single case, the first thing a trainer will ask a new client is “What are your goals?”

It seems logical because you need to determine the right training method, likely timeframes and so on.

The problem is most people are setting goals from a place of fear and restriction generated by their personal environments and/or learned beliefs about what they can do from other irrelevant situations (their own experience or Instagram).

The situation reminds me of the famous Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Often, people getting into health and fitness, don’t know what they don’t know and will get carried away with other peoples’ transformations, not understanding their own personal situation.

They don’t know what’s achievable (this can work in both directions), and they don’t realise the huge impact their personal environments have had on their self-belief or will have on their chance of success.

Whilst other people can certainly be the inspiration to get them off the couch, the result is often that they fall flat on their face a few weeks in because they’re trying to build a 5 star hotel on quick sand.

If you really want to help someone, you have to show them how to access the creative and logical part of their brain – the part that can only operate once they learn to manage the fear, threat and stress they feel on a daily basis or when considering what they want from life.

So many people have different goals to what they will tell a fitness trainer but they talk themselves out of it before the words even reach their lips.

Instead they’ll give the template response of “getting in shape and losing some fat.” Obviously that’s part of the game but it’s rarely enough to spark them into applying all the things you give them to do.

I wish I hadn’t contributed to the ‘Big Scary Goals’ thing before I understood stress and how most people are making decisions from a place of fight or flight.

Doing Everything As Fast As Possible…Then Faster

This kind of fits with my thoughts on survival sessions even though, in theory, these sessions are done quickly with real intensity.

Those challenges still play a part in my training but in general they don’t fully serve people who are coming to improve body composition.

A great body composition program includes strength training with heavy weights and low reps, hypertrophy training with moderate weights and reps and some short sharp conditioning sets.

Muscular development (for males and females) requires slow, controlled reps that emphasise specific muscles and stress them enough to elicit a response and adaptation.

Doing things as fast as possible, by definition, reduces the time under tension and often encourages the body to utilise the muscles that are already strong and can perform the task best.

Let’s say you have weak glutes.

If you are doing fast lunges or squats against the clock to beat last week and you’re focused on ‘doing the reps’ rather than what’s firing to get them done, the odds are your body will put your quads into overdrive.

Meanwhile, your glutes are told to take a back seat (pardon the pun) because they’re not much use to the team.

If your only method of training is fast and furious, you can forget building muscle and creating a balanced physique.

You will lose some fat at the start but soon see the rate of change in your aesthetics slow to nothing.

Thinking Nutrition Was The Problem When Fat Loss Stopped

“So you’re training hard but not losing fat? Let’s look at your nutrition..”

“Oh yes, that’s clearly the problem! Now you can go forth and be a fitness model.”

Needless to say this usually just leads to losing some fat then falling off the wagon.

On repeat.

The reason is that nutrition principles can only be applied with consistency by someone who is able to logically process why the best option in any given moment is to choose some lean protein, vegetables and fats or complex carbs depending on circumstances.

The problem you face is a coach is, as above, most people spend their life in a state of fight or flight because of stress levels.

The are not able to think logically and revert back to the shortcuts that have been cemented in their brain (grabbing what’s convenient to quell carb cravings and give them the calming hit of serotonin that comes with eating those carbs).

They KNOW what they should do but in the moment, their brain plays tricks on them.

I wish I hadn’t contributed to just telling people to go back and look at their nutrition because it’s like telling a dog that it’s eaten enough from the bowl.

That might sound offensive but the mechanisms and firing up of animal instincts are exactly the same when a highly educated human being is stressed.

If you are going to coach someone through these cycles of on and off and on and off, you must show them how to become more aware of their feelings and emotions around eating times.

Until you do, all you have is forced motivation and we know that only has a few weeks at best before it runs out.

Using Leaderboards Over Progress Boards

We had a leaderboard in the gym for key performance tests and for any given fitness camp session, if it was an AMRAP or For Time, the three best male and female scores were recorded each day.

I wish I had made it a progress board that everyone could write on when they repeated a workout.

I realise now that it was akin to watching the CrossFit Games and scouring Instagram.

All you really achieve is making the vast majority feel permanently inadequate.

Find ways to recognise the people in front of other clients who try hard and progress, even if they are 56th out of the class. Doing this regularly will string together small wins and encourage people to keep going. in the long-term the results will be just as you hoped.

Don’t Get Carried Away

Learning is part of being a trainer and everything else that requires growing up over a number of years!

However, you can avoid writing articles like this by taking more time to consider the real impact of everything you do, even if you are new to the game.

If you don’t fully understand something that you’ve seen, leave it in the toolbox until you know how to use it and what job it does.

Just because someone has thousands or millions of followers doesn’t mean they are right and may have just posted something they tried for the first time ten minutes ago before they felt the effects.

Simplicity applied consistently will win out nearly every time.

Oh…and Here’s The Best Way To Build Your Fitness Business