If you’re not dying you’re not trying!
Have you ever gotten advice from a coach, or seen a social media post containing any variation of the following:
‘Man Up – Toughen Up – Harden Up’
‘Pain is Weakness leaving the body’
‘If you ain’t dying you’re not trying’
‘The workout starts when it starts hurting – those are the reps that count’
Let me first say I am a big advocate of training hard (but smart) and there is a lot to be said for building mental toughness (more on that later), that being said, can people just stop giving out this shit advice already?!
There are certain coaches and practitioners that really subscribe to the idea of grinding their clients to dust – they tend to be a big fan of drop sets, super sets, super-duper sets, and workouts with girls names.
Their main aim with clients is to essentially impede their ability to function for the rest of the week – like 7 day DOMS is a weird badge of honor. They like to prescribe workouts that contain a stupendous workload with limited rest, all accompanied by ‘motivating’ their client through it all with some of the ‘helpful’ above phrases.
They like to get rid of the boring stuff like RPE, Form, Rest, Progressive Overload and replace it with really cool stuff like Maxing out all the time, Reps to a million, different workouts every session (to keep those muscles confused) and moving things really fast.
Now don’t get me wrong there can be a place for almost ALL types of training at certain points in a program, however, training constantly to failure and fatigue and to form breakdown really isn’t smart.
On top of this it seems this breed of ‘coach’ has only one answer for the poor results and constant pain their clients are in – ‘man up’, ‘work harder’, ‘don’t be a pu**y’ – awesome – so helpful and constructive let me get right on that. If this is your go to advice when a client runs into problems then kindly get in the sea.
It is your job as a coach to ensure your clients are enjoying their sessions, making great progress and have smart and sensible methods of progression. If a client is finding a workout too tough or a lift too challenging you should be problem solving with them and working out clear ideas on how to maximize their progression and get around issues they may be having. Simply pushing harder is, 99% of the time, the wrong answer. Coaches exist for a reason – this is not it.
Clients may lack the skill, confidence and ability to overcome certain obstacles. They may be experiencing stress or issues in everyday life that will have a huge impact on their performance. Now don’t get me wrong you aren’t a counselor and you don’t want to be troubleshooting their divorce with them; but it is your job to intelligently offer training modifications to ensure they can maintain or progress around theses issues.
Unfortunately ‘Man Up’ probably isn’t going to cover it.
In my first year of working as a PT I was guilty of some of this style of coaching – I would really try and push people as hard as I could and was quite proud when a client said ‘it was the hardest they had ever worked’ or even that they were nervous just thinking about their next session. I quickly realised however this was not the smartest way to get the best out of people so nowadays I much prefer hearing that my clients are looking forward to their next session not than dreading it.
Simply put – Enjoyment of training, plus ongoing improvements and results are a catalyst for long-term lifestyle change and will lead to great adherence and happy clients. How many people do you know that have been unable to stick to (new years) gym goals because they aren’t enjoying the process (regardless of the results)?
Now, sometimes it is true a client may need to get to grips with lifting and discomfort. It may be worth reminding them that lifting weights, training and stimulating adaptations to the body isn’t always pleasant and does take hard work. They may indeed need to work on their mental toughness and use this to engage more with their lifting – HOWEVER….
I still maintain the way to do this is through explanation of what they’re trying to achieve and why, and how they can achieve it. Example:
Client A. ‘I ached so much after our last session, like I found it hard to walk up the stairs and even sit on the toilet. I was really tempted to phone the hospital to be honest – I was worried I was really hurt. I’m not sure this weight lifting stuff is for me’
Trainer A ‘ Man Up’
Trainer B ‘ Its just DOMS – Toughen Up’
Trainer C ‘ That’s most likely DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness, its very common when you start lifting or really when you expose the body to a new training stimulus. It can be super painful but its nothing to worry about, it usually fades after a few days. If its really sore I would advise some light exercise, like going for a brisk walk, to get some blood flow to the muscles as this often helps.
Remember you’re really looking at changing the shape of your body, and although DOMS aren’t essential to show a good workout they often indicate you have worked the muscle efficiently and light DOMS is usually actually a good thing.
Also they do get a lot better once you get into your program a bit, so hopefully after a few sessions you’ll be feeling a lot better.’
Which response do you think is most likely to help a new lifter continue their fitness journey rather than deciding then and there to just give up?
So if you’re a coach about to share another meme of a scarred up Lion or Gorilla saying ‘If you’re not dying – you’re not trying!’ or similar – how about don’t bother.
So what should you be doing? To be honest it’s pretty simple really – train with good consistency and intelligent programming, aim to work at a 6-8 out of 10 effort every session, slowly look to progress your work load and manage your fatigue. That’s it. You’ll be surprised how far you can come by keeping it simple.
So, if you’re getting the ‘embrace the pain’ type of advice from a coach, I would seriously consider thinking about a change of trainer. Furthermore, if your newsfeed is full up of this type of post – time to start unsubscribing and start finding some people who actually put out some helpful and constructive advice.