Theory vs. Practice
This was a pretty big year for me—there’s no denying that. While technically this blog started in 2009, I really didn’t “break out” into the larger picture of online fitness until after my first full program debuted in February of 2010.
From there, I really started getting more involved in this world in all phases.
Some fitness professionals differ on this point, but I feel that my blog, my books and my online presence are all intimately related: in order to have a book that sells well, you have to have a fairly strong following; in order to create that following, you have to put out a lot of great information; this requires blogging pretty frequently, and that of course requires time.
When I made the decision to transition online, I recognized that while I AM pretty awesome, I was not, unfortunately, awesome enough to add hours to the day. (Alas!)
All of which is really just a complicated way of saying that, from Day One, I realized that a shift towards the Internet would require a tremendous time commitment—meaning that I’d have to cut down on a few other areas of my life in order to free up the time for the online push.
I’ve spoken before about how in the initial stages (leading up to the Launch) my personal life took a hit—since I’ve covered that in other blogs, I won’t discuss that here.
Instead, in this instance, I’m talking about the time that is required with the maintenance of a website and an online business. Like any business that you personally run, working online is time consuming.
To focus on one business, I needed to make changes in another. To that end, I stepped down from managing my facility on Long Island. As things continued to grow, I stopped taking on new clients at all. This didn’t initially seem like a big change, but as I’ll touch on later, it had some implications.
Fortunately, my online business continued to grow, and out of both necessity and desire began to dedicate more time to it.
At this point, in addition to not taking on new clients, I also began to phase out some of my existing ones. This was a decision that was made not only so that I could sit and write more frequently, but also because keeping a full schedule became impossible with all of the travel that the new business required.
Sacrifices need to be made—and so, from March 1st to June 30th, I wound up reducing my roster from 26 active clients for a total of 47 training hours per week down to 8 clients for a total of 11 training hours per week.
I didn’t “fire” any of my clients; that’s not really my style. It was more that when packages expired, I’d explain to my clients that I had to close up spots for the time being, and would recommend other trainers I thought would be a good fit for them.
It must be mentioned that a lot of this happened pretty organically. The nature of the business is that I’ve always had a bit of a (slowly) revolving door when it comes to clients. I start people off at 2-3 sessions per week and start cutting down to 1 or 2 as soon as I can (usually over a few months) and then eventually “graduate” them.
I ran my business this way because I believe that if you are a great trainer, you should be TEACHING your clients as you train them. If someone is training only for aesthetic purposes* and you’re good at your job, chances are you can get them there in 6 months.
If you’re really good, by the time they leave you (in my case usually less than a year), they should be able to maintain the results on their own.
NOTE: Those recommendations and generalizations are for people looking for aesthetic results. When working with high performance athletes, generally they stay with you much longer; as they should.
So, beginning in March, when new spots would open up as clients graduated, I simply refused to take new clients.
Before I go any further, I want to say now that I do not consider ANY of this a mistake.
I believe that a good number of these changes were necessary—in every sense of the word. Which is to say, I believe that a few changes (such as stepping down from management) were so critical that my online business and presence simply could not have survived, let alone thrived and grown to the extent that they have had I not made those changes.
Others were probably not necessary in the most literal sense of the word. I’m certain, looking back, that it wouldn’t have completely disrupted the Order of Nature if I hadn’t gone out of may way to avoid new clients, or take two weeks off from training nearly every month between June and October.
And so, to reiterate: I believe that some of these changes were essential, and others merely helpful; but I do not regret any of them.
However, I am going to aim for a near COMPLETE turn around beginning in March of 2011.
You see, having toned down my training business—and the choices that led to that—turns out to have been an incredibly valuable experience for me, because I learned a lesson that I am here to share with you.
(Stay tuned, I’m about to actually get to the point!)
To put it in personal terms, I find that I am a much, much better trainer when I am with clients frequently; that of course should not be surprising. Practice makes perfect, as they say. Additionally, as I touched on earlier, the more often I work with new clients (both clients who are new to training in general, or client whom I’ve simply never worked with) is a great experience.
Moreover, the move I work hands on with clients, the better I become as a programmer—and that has tremendous carryover to my online business.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and I must make mention of the fact that I put a lot of stock in the education I’ve received that led me to achieve a high level of programming proficiency. However, as much as I believe in formal education I’ve been lucky enough to experience (both at the university level as well as all of the manuals, documentation, books and journals) and feel that it helped build a strong foundation, I’d be foolish to think that anyone coming out of a “course” (be it for a degree or a certification) is immediately going to be a great programmer.
That takes time, dedication—and most importantly, experience.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve been cultivating theories learned from books and personalizing them based on my hands-on, real-life, in the trenches experience. I’ve developed my own “style” if you will.
And I’ll say with confidence that I would not have done so if not for all of my experience.
If I may go off on a very quick mini-tangent, there is a disturbing trend in the online fitness world, and that is this: there are people writing programs who don’t train clients. And to a certain extent, I guess that’s okay—I don’t have a problem there.
But then there are people giving out fitness advice online who have never trained a client. As in, they have LITERALLY never sat down and done an in-person assessment. They have never had that awkward first session with a person who isn’t sure if they’ve made the right decision. The have never had to make a last second decision about what exercise to sub in if a client is complaining of some pain.
Basically, they have no fucking idea what they are doing.
Some of these people have some impressive letters behind their name, and perhaps in the strictest sense of the word they have the education that indicates they are perhaps “qualified”—but SHOULD they be giving out fitness information to the masses?
Absolutely not—like, seriously, not even close.
At a seminar I attended in 2009, Mike Boyle, who is one of the most highly regarded coaches in the world, gave the Keynote speech. During his talk, he brought up using a rule of thumb for proficiency: 10,000 hours. Yup, ten thousand hours of experience.
Mike simply looked out at the room and said, “if you haven’t trained clients for 10,000 hours, do us all a favor: don’t start a blog. Don’t write an ebook. Get some more work in.”
While I feel that Mike is, perhaps, asking a bit too much, his meaning is clear: you need to know what you’re doing in person before you can start giving out information to anyone with access to Google.
Okay, rant over.
In my view, all other things being equal, people that have experience training clients in person are going to be better and write better programs than those whose experience is a limited to the academic and online realms.
I feel this way because I’ve seen in myself: the more often I’m with clients, the more often I’m forced to think creatively. I have the option of knowing when a program is a bit “too much,” of sensing when the client is getting a bit bored.
All of this helps me design programs that are more interesting and, in truth, probably a bit more effective.
Perhaps I’m overstepping my bounds a bit here, but I feel this would remain true for ALL trainers—and I mean that pretty much without exception.
Of course not, I am not saying anything like that.
As I said earlier, there are a number of great online fitness pros who used to train—and those who still do.
If you look at a guy like Vince Del Monte, he’s a trainer who worked with people in person for over 6 years before his online readership simply demanded too much of his time. Vince made the decision that he could help more people by focusing his attention on his online business.
Eric Cressey is a top-notch coach who works with everyone from fat loss clients to pro-athletes, and manages to have a pretty strong online presence which includes churning out 2-3 blog posts a week, writing for other magazines and websites, and even making fun of the Jets on his Facebook page.
So, again, I am NOT saying that ALL trainers who work in gyms are immediately better than all trainers who don’t.
What I AM saying is that working with clients makes a trainer better. I firmly believe that as good as Vince is, he would simply be a better version of himself if he was still training hands on. Similarly, I think that Cressey is as good as he is, in part, because he is in the trenches.
What I AM saying is that, simply, there is a difference between theory and practice. When it comes to training, everything we do in practice should be based on theory—but it must, MUST be practiced if we are to prove whether those theories are truly relevant.
This all brings us to the point of this post: while I’m extremely proud of my programs, complacency isn’t in my nature.
What does this mean?
It means that after FPFL 2.0 comes out (March 15th), I will be re-dedicating myself to building my in-person business and re-focusing on the things that helped to make me successful.
This DOES NOT mean that I’ll be taking time away from online business; quite the opposite. In fact, ideally I’d like to blog more frequently and send out even more newsletters in 2011 than I did in 2010.
How can I do both, when time was such a problem previously?
I will be, for all intents and purposes, pulling a Cressey on my business. Which means I’ll be exercising epic time management.
I won’t be able to train 47 hours per week as I used to, of course. Instead, I’m looking to train about 20 hours per week, and blog at least twice per week. Which means I’ll have to cut a few things out (like screwing about on Facebook all day).
More importantly, I’ll be cutting out a lot of aspects of my business that are too time-consuming or unsatisfying. For example, I tend to spend about 3 hours per day on email, and I simply don’t enjoy it.
There are a lot of other things I’ll be shifting around in order to make this all happen (including a possible relocation), but that’s all boring nonsense and up in the air for now.
And I promise you: the programs I’ll release because of this…are going to blow the doors off of this place.