The number one question I get is “How do I get clients to buy into the breathing?”
Breathing is like the veggies on the plate that kids don’t want to eat. It’s not sexy, it seems weird, no one else is doing it, and it’s a really hard sale.
Fortunately, there is a way to make breathing activities look more like a juicy rib-eye vs the overcooked soggy asparagus no one wants. What if you could produce results on the spot and get immediate buy in? And you could find the right words to make warm-up activities meaningful for each client depending on what their goals are.
At Enhancing Life, within 20-30 minutes into a consult a new/potential client usually mentions how they’ve never experienced anything like this before. They’re usually WOWed after 3-6 warm-up activities, before we even get to any training. If you can WOW someone with a warm-up, just imagine how they’ll feel when they start training?
A Lazy Bear done correctly can improve a client’s movement quality right on the spot, it can get rid of tightness and limitations, and it can help gain them access to ranges of motions that are required to lift without compensating. When it’s done right, clients feel like they’re working hard, muscles burn, it gives them a rush, it challenges them in the right place, and most importantly, it gets them to buy into the this whole “breathing thing”.
A Lazy Bear done incorrectly will possibly produce little to no results, a client will feel like they’re wasting their time, they wont be challenged, and all the sudden, the whole “breathing thing” seems silly and unnecessary.
New clients are very disconnected to their own bodies, they don’t take cues well, and they struggle following simple instructions. When you attend courses you practice coaching these activities on other trainers, and guess who can take cues really well? Trainers. Guess who don’t? Your clients.
One of my biggest tools I use to get someone to buy into the boring breathing exercises is my ability to coach them through it. If coached correctly, I need zero buy in, because they immediately feel the results. They feel how their knee hurts less when they squat, they feel how their core is more active while they lift, or they feel the huge difference when they get up and start walking around.
If you produce results and you use the right words, you don’t need to worry about the selling/buying in part.
So if you struggle with the coaching part, or you struggle with the talking part, I’ve got some great news for you 🙂
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you will receive a password to give you access to OVER AN HOUR worth of videos of me teaching the students of The Lexington Healing Arts. I go through the most common breathing/warm-up activities, I show you how I coach them, how I prevent clients from compensating, variations that I use, what words I use while taking them through it, and much more!
AND you will also get a 45 minute video on how you can make breathing exercises and the assessment meaningful for each client depending on their goals. Are they post rehab? or do they just want to get strong and lift heavy weights? You can run them through the same assessment and same breathing protocol but the words you’ll use are different. With this video you’ll learn a few different ways you can increase buy in by saying the right things 🙂
If you want to get immediate buy in and WOW all clients just by running them through a simple warm-up, click on the link below!
“If your client’s training session looks like a rehab session, it’s no longer training” – the internet
Let’s give that quote a little bit of context.
The goal of training is to overstress the client to drive an adaptive change. With rehab, you are trying to apply the minimal effective dose that creates an adaptive change yet protects the client from digging a deeper hole.
If all your sessions are too rehabby, then your clients will have a tough time reaching their fitness goals. However, there are certain types of situations where a rehab-looking training session is warranted.
To learn when it’s okay to breathe for an hour, keep reading ?
Calling a Training Audible
Have you ever scratched a client’s program and let them get after it on a stress-relieving 30/30 track?
To hell with a fancy warm-up that requires a lot of thinking, frontal plane shifting, and rotating. Just lift heavy shit and not think. Blow off some steam.
But is this strategy really stress reliving for someone who has a Hashimoto’s or colitis flare up? Or someone who just tweaked his or her knee? Or a person who works night shift and has slept only 6 hours the last three nights?
When these clients need to relieve stress, getting after it might dig the whole deeper for them.
You try cluster setting back squats when you’re bleeding out of your ass throughout the night. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google what a colitis flare up entails.
While loading the system is important, it can have negative consequences on these types of clients. For overstressed clients, we must move away from system loading, and move toward restoring people. Provide an environment that promotes healing. An environment that adapts to the stressors at play.
In a perfect world, I would love for weightlifting to be my client’s largest stressor. But in the real world, I’m up against failed rehab, mismanaged autoimmune diseases, and a society that doesn’t respect sleep.
These are the clients who cancel their sessions when shit hits the fan, unless you’re a trainer who can give them a restorative session. Something that will make them feel better and eliminate cancelling as an option.
The gratitude that these people show after an hour of low level activities never gets old. It’s something they’ve never received before. Their previous trainers didn’t know how to bring the intensity down when life forced that as the only option.
So what kind of clients am I talking about?
Clients with an Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmunity is on the rise, and most trainers don’t even know what it is or what a “flare up” means. Healthy people rarely develop Autoimmunity. Though we don’t know exactly why autoimmune diseases occur, they are often associated with a stressed-out body, compromised immune system, and will likely worsen with too intense exercise.
A lot of people with an autoimmune disease deal with chronic fatigue. I never knew what that felt like until last year. I dealt with intense fatigue, talking for longer than a minute wore me out. Trust me, the last thing I wanted to do was train hard.
Clients with Acute Pain
In acute pain, everything becomes sensitive, even the lightest touch. In these situations, a client might put their membership on hold while they wait to heal. You think intense exercise or heavy lifting is on docket?
When in pain, the brain perceives an actual or potential threat to a body tissue. It’s up to you to find activities that are not perceived as a threat.
If you’re a trainer, chances are that exercise is probably a big part of your life and you love it. Unfortunately, many of your clients will not share your passion. Not everyone has a type A personality.
Robert Sapolsky in his book, Why Zebras don’t Get Ulcers, mentions how exercise can be great to relieve stress and boost mood, unless, you don’t enjoy it and see it at a chore/pain.
I work with a lot of people that have never been a huge fan of exercise. So when life gets super stressful, I take them through low level activities and hop them on a bike for some cardiac output.
Clients with outside stressors they can’t control
This one is important!
The last three clients are people you may not choose to work with, and that’s OK. Everyone has their target market. However, we all have clients where life gets in the way.
The client who made me think of writing this article texted me last week, letting me know he had a couple nights of horrible sleep. He was up because of his son waking him up multiple times per night.
Can you imagine? Caring for a son who can’t sleep while you are running on empty, struggling with recurring illness (another issue this client has, then getting up and going through your own stressful life? Do you think maxing out on the bench would be high priority?
I can kick my cat out of my room when he interrupts my sleep. Good luck doing that with a family, busy schedule, and work.
A trainer must be able to step back and look at client’s entire life situation, and make the decision of what session this person needs.
Do they need to go all out? Or do they need to chill the fuck out?
Training should be sustainable. You’re not going to prevent someone from reaching their fitness goals by backing things up on the training floor once a month or so.
In fact, you’ll be providing a better service that takes a multifactorial approach. Training from this lens will allow you to determine when a client can be stressed to maximize results, and when they need a break before going to the next level.
Why do you think people go to things like restorative yoga or meditation? If you could offer restorative sessions along with training, you’ll diversify your skillset in a manner that can only help your training business grow.
So what kind of exercises can you do with these clients? Because breathing exercises doesn’t mean you have to stay on the ground. It just means that you’re not loading the movement as much, you’re really concentrating, and you’re increasing movement variability.
Here are a few examples:
Give these a try with the clients that don’t need added stress in their life. Which will allow them to get back to training at a faster pace.
I’ve always been one that’s quick to adapt to ideas, concepts, and practices that produce better results than what I was previously attaining. Letting go and moving on to better methods helps my clients achieve better results.
This is why one of our core values for our gym, Enhancing Life, is Progressive.
We created an environment that encourages change and innovation. New information and updated ideas will always be applied to better serve the needs of our clients and staff.
I’m progressive AF. I’m like the Bernie Sanders of the fitness industry. Why else do you think I wear glasses?
I’m okay with admitting I was once wrong, leaving things behind, trying new things, and letting my clients know that sometimes we stop doing certain things to better service them.
For example, one day I learned that better pelvic positioning during lifting could be attained by tucking the hips compared to my previous cue, squeezing the glutes. That following week, I never cued it again and taught my clients the difference between tucking and squeezing.
This willingness to change requires keeping your ego in check, which unfortunately, many coaches struggle with.
I thought that everyone who was presented with new information would be willing to admit that they were wrong and adapt the new information to improve client’s results.
Change for people is hard. People get emotionally attached to certain mentalities, methods, exercises, and philosophies. Then when confronted with conflicting beliefs, dogmatism and defensiveness takeover, and no progress is made.
It was very early on in my career that I gravitated towards the post rehab population. When I first joined the industry, I had mentors with a powerlifting background. When I asked where I could learn more about programing for the general population (with the post rehab people in mind), I was told to read 5-3-1.
However, 5-3-1 wasn’t helping me get my deconditioned post-rehab client who had never lifted more than 20lbs in their life move better and gain confidence in the gym. What did though, was breathwork.
With the immediate results I saw, I became obsessed. I wanted to know every breathing and biomechanical thing I could get my hands on. I ended up getting my massage license, took several continuing education courses, practiced daily what I learned, and imposed my will on people.
The deeper I got into it, the more I realized that movement is not so simple.
My exercise selection was constantly evolving. Cues and activities were always getting left behind when I found something that expedited results.
And around 3 years ago I ran into a huge problem. It wasn’t a simple, “hey we don’t squeeze anymore, let’s tuck the hips like this” kind of fix.
It was a paradigm shift in how I train client.
I was starting to question conventional industry wisdom: “row twice as many times as you press” or “pinch the shoulder back and down”, and those damn band pull aparts.
All things I was doing for years.
I started questioning how powerlifters “fixed” problems they saw on the training floor, such as adding extension to someone rounding over during a lift.
Or does the person losing upper back position during a deadlift really need to hammer more lat pulldowns and band pull aparts?
Or does the lifter who can’t get their elbows down on their back squat really need to open up their chest and pull their shoulder blades back?
And what got the biggest backlash: Would a competitive lifter get weaker if they got away from their extension-based exercises and chased some movement variability?
I was repeatedly told that if a powerlifter chased variability, they’d lose what “made them great” at their sport.
This belief had beginner powerlifters do the opposite of what I was trying to do with them because they were told they’d lose strength if they got away from extension based exercises.
Finally, in 2017, I was able to put my unconventional methods to the test.
Tracy Jones, a world class powerlifter, was referred to me. She was barely able to walk without feeling discomfort, couldn’t sit in the car without feeling miserable, and didn’t have the mobility to squat below parallel without a massive weight shift and pain.
Limited variability isn’t a problem, until it’s a problem.
It’s a problem if it’s affecting your lifts. It’s a problem if you can’t hit certain depth in your squat. It’s a problem if your quality of life starts falling apart. It’s a problem if doctors are telling you that your done competing.
What “made her great” was about to finish her powerlifting career.
If you think you have the ability to take an athlete’s sagittal plane dominance away from them and make them weak, let me tell you, we’re not that good. No one is.
The 10-15 minutes a day Tracy spent chasing variability did not stop her from being an absolute monster on the training floor 4-5 times a week. What it did do was produce positive change in the way she moved, in a manner specifically targeted at her movement limitations.
The result? Hitting squat depth without pain, and staying in the game that she loves.
(These’s squats are about a year apart. On the first one Tracy has a pretty big shift as she tries to come up from the bottom. She was also not able to squat below parallel without a ton of pain. During the second video, she has less of a shift, comes up from the bottom without breaking down, and NO pain! )
Between Tracy Corey Hayes, and the other powerlifters I’ve worked with, I have yet to hear a single complaint about the better movement they’ve achieved.
So if you’re a powerlifter, train powerlifters, train the general population that lifts heavy, don’t be afraid to break away from extension-based exercises, don’t be afraid to do the opposite of what you’ve always done when it comes to “maintenance work”.
If you’re openminded in trying new things, let me get you started ?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as giving you one list of exercises. Everyone is different. I can’t just throw a blanket warm-up and tell you that is THE warm-up that every lifter needs.
What I gave Tracy Jones was different than what I gave Corey Hayes.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t guide you to the right direction or work with you to find out exactly what you need.
Here’s what we need to do.
STEP 1: ADDRESS DEFAULT RIBCAGE POSITION
The body is great at giving you illusions and as a coach, you can’t trust your eyes. As a lifter, you can’t trust what you feel. Muscles that feel extremely tight, might be the complete opposite, and blindly stretching it because of the way it feels, might cause more harm than good.
An example of not trusting your eyes would be rounding over during a deadlift. It may look like you’re lacking extension, but that probably isn’t the case. Below is an easy explanation that I take my students through when we talk about when I’m teaching them not to get fixated on the visual assessment.
Because I can’t trust my eyes to guide my client’s correctives, I use assessments like the infrasternal angle (ISA) and obers test to help me decided what do with each client. These tests can tell me the position of the pelvis and rib cage may be in.
Looking at the ISA helps me determine what kind of exercise to choose for each person, what kind of arm position will achieve better movement results, what positions may better drive change, and what breathing style will best address movement limitations.
By being guided by the ISA, I always end up getting changes throughout the body, such as shoulder mobility.
Or hip mobility, decreased tightness or discomfort.
So what angle do you or your client have?
Is it wide?
If so, you would like to start your warm-up with these types of activities
But what if it’s narrow?
Then I’d start with these warmup activities.
And if you’re not sure, you can work with me online and I can customize your warm-up so you’re not doing a bunch of mobility activities that don’t produce results.
If you’re interested in checking your client’s ISA, check out Zac’s video that is attached below, and my article where I go into more detail on why I use it as an assessment tool.
Once you have your 1-2 activities to get your started, let’s dive into other common activities that you might be doing that could be substituted for something more effective.
STEP 2: ADDRESS THE RIBCAGE’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE SHOULDER BLADES
A greater pull to push ratio was done to theoretically create a strong upper back, to “undo” all the benching in a program, and keep their shoulders healthy to stay in the game.
Sadly, this philosophy has a shaky foundation. Literally. Shoulder blades require a congruent foundation to sit upon to allow for effective movement. That foundation is the ribcage.
Look at the client’s ribcage as the door frame, and the door as the shoulder blades. For years I’d been trying to fix the door (shoulder blades), but this whole time the door frame (rib cage) was the one that needed work.
If a door frame is crooked, will you ever have a functioning door?
Same with the shoulder blades. If the shoulder blades don’t have a rib cage to sit on, you might see some movement limitations and restrictions: anterior humeral glide, keeping the back together during lifts, issues with shoulder blade retraction, winging, hunched over back, limited shoulder flexion…..the list can go on and on.
Shoulder blades can move on a fixed rib cage, but don’t forget that a rib cage can move on fixed shoulder blades.
When I began to appreciate this movement, I got away from band pull aparts and Y T Is. Instead, I programmed reaching activities like rockback breathing, arm bars, reaching squats and quadruped work into my group classes. Even with my rudimentary understanding, I immediately noticed client’s movement quality, especially around the shoulders, improve in ways I never thought possible. I was sold!
Having a healthy relationship between the ribcage and shoulder blades gives all the muscle in that region better leverage to work. Better leverage means better mobility, strength, work load distribution, and less discomfort.
Try doing activities that work on the position of the rib cage instead of hammering a bunch of isolated scap work.
Supine Arm Bar
Sidelying Band Reach
Still can’t break that pulling addiction? Try one arm pulls while keeping the opposite arm reaching. This movement places the rib cage in a better position for the shoulder blade to glide smoothly along. Say goodbye to winging, shrugging, pinching, and other compensations you may have experienced in the past.
Conventionally, stretching hip flexors was thought to improve hip extension, but muscle lengthening is near impossible.
Unfortunately, this stretch doesn’t take into account pelvic position. In the above stretch, the pelvis remains in a flexed position, which leaves the hip flexors in a shortened position. What ends up being stretched are the anterior ligaments in front of the hip. <- Not good.
What to do instead?
Drive hip extension by getting hamstrings to pull the pelvis into a position of extension, which will result in lengthening of the muscles that you’re trying to stretch.
Before I share with you what to do instead, let’s go over the next exercise you can leave behind because they’ll have the same substitutes, might as well kill two birds with one stone ?
STEP 4: BURN THOSE BANDED GLUTE BRIDGES AND MONSTER WALKS
It’s not that these activities are causing you harm. It’s that your time is precious.
If you’re going to spend time doing any breathing/corrective/maintenance work at all, I’d rather you spend it on activities that may do a better job at making you move and perform better.
A lot of people do banded glute work because they’re trying to “activate” or “turn-on” their posterior chain. Even though getting the posterior chain to fire is important, you’re better off putting the pelvis in a better position that changes the length-tension relationship to those posterior chain muscles, allowing them to perform better. Just because you feel a muscle burn, doesn’t mean you’re making a positive impact on how that muscle will perform in other movements.
So instead of stretching the shit out of your anterior hip ligaments, doing 15 different banded glute bridges and multi directional band walks, do activities that alter the position of the pelvis. These movements will put less strain on the hip flexors, and put the glutes in a better position for them to work during your training session.
Supine Hip Extension Drill
Half Kneeling Breathing
Toe Touch to Squat
And then you can add a little intensity to these new positions. I would focus on the sagittal plane with the next few exercises. Really making sure your hips are tucked with some hamstrings, working on trying to keep your rib cage on top of your pelvis vs arching your back.
Glute Ham Raise Hold
Glute Ham Raise
KB Front Squat
Assisted Step Up
If you’re wanting to take this to the next level and start working on all three planes, which would be great during the off-season, I’d read Pat Davidson’s article, and check out this podcast where he goes over what a powerlifter should to do during the off-season.
After going through everything I wrote out for you, you should have a pretty badass warm-up.
You’ll start with your two activties you picked after figuring out your ISA. Those breathing activities clients will usually do 3 sets of each with 3-5 breaths each time.
From there you’ll move on to what we call “movement prep”. These activties are usually 3-6 exercises all done 1-2 sets of each with 3-5 breaths/reps.
This should only take 15 minutes to complete. At first when you’re first getting started, it might take a little longer, but once you know the exercises, you can get through them pretty quickly 🙂
On your days off you could go through your whole warm-up or just the first two with your ISA measurement.
When I started taking the courses from the Postural Restoration Institute, I started gaining a huge appreciation of the axial skeleton. At the time, I thought I knew a lot about breathing, but after their courses, my understanding of breathing mechanics went to the next level.
I learned that I couldn’t make assumptions about the rest of the body without taking in consideration the rib-cage and respiration.
Visual assessments like watching someone squat, lunge, walk, and move around all had a purpose, but it didn’t help me with individualizing a protocol that would increase my client’s movement variability. And since 80-90% of my clients are post-rehab or in chronic pain, chasing movement variability is a pretty high priority.
When I run my clients through 1-2 breathing activities/correctives/resets/whatever you want to call it, I want them to have a purpose, I want there to be a reason behind it, and I want them to produce a change. The last thing I want is for my client to waste their time doing something that doesn’t get them closer to the results they want.
With that said, I’m kind of obsessed at getting better at choosing the right activities for my clients that produce the biggest change to minimize the amount of time they spend on “breathing exercises”. The better I get at being precise with my exercise selection that faster I progress people to the training floor, and the less coaching I have to do.
Last year, on an exciting Saturday night cuddling with my cats and getting my continuing ed for the week, I watched one of Bill Hartman’s videos on Ifast University where he introduced me to the concept of measuring someone’s infrasternal angle (ISA).
With checking someone’s ISA, you could start making some assumptions of what stage of respiration someone was in, and what exercise selection would get the biggest bang for your buck. Not only what Bill was teaching seemed pretty promising, but as a coach, it was a great assessment that I could quickly do on the training floor. It takes three seconds, you don’t need a table, and you can individualize your client’s training to the next level. I don’t know about you, but my clients pay a lot of money for individualized training.
After watching that video, I was ready to upgrade my clients training, so I started checking people’s ISA.
and here’s a warning, you’re going to fuck it up many times. You’re going to have to practice.
You’re going to test someone’s ISA one day and it’ll be wide as fuck, the next day it’ll be narrow as fuck, and you’ll wonder “how the fuck did I fuck that up?!”.
All these things take practice. When I took my 5th PRI course a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to start implementing their assessment into my eval. I sent out an email to over 150 clients letting them know that Dave and I needed practice, and over the course of two months we went through 80 assessments. We failed many many many times. We over explained the assessment to clients and completely lost them. We didn’t successfully coach a client through the basics and got no results. We failed to make the breathing and assessment meaningful for the client and lost their buy-in.
Through all those fuck ups, we got better. Nowadays, successful movement assessments where I get the outcome the client wants far outweigh my failed ones with little to no results.
If you’re going to start testing someone’s ISA and individualize people’s warm-up and core activities in their training, just be ready to fail many times before you start getting consistent results. Practice on your favorite clients, your family, your staff, and friends before you make it part of your new client eval or clients that don’t like all the weird breathing stuff.
So what is the Infrasternal Angle, and how to do you measure it?
If this was your first time hearing about the ISA, I know this can get confusing. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, every time I think I understand it, I learn more about it and realize how much I don’t get it. If it’s your first time hearing cues like exhale, reach, and tuck, get ready to struggle getting clients to do it correctly. People SUCK at moving.
When it comes down to it, it’s not my knowledge or my understanding on the ISA and respiration that are producing the results. It’s my ability to coach my clients into super basic movements, my ability to progress in all three planes, and going beyond 90/90 and quadruped.
If you’re struggling with the coaching part, start by following people that are extremely good coaches, who are actually practicing on a daily basis, and not camped out online never coaching people in person.
The good news: I know a lot of people that are world class coaches 🙂
Follow these people on social media, bookmark their website, mimic what they’re doing, learn from their coaching, steal their cues, and start getting better results with your clients!
more good news: I know of some courses you should think of taking
The Human Matrix with Zac Cupples. This event will teach you EVERYTHING you need to know to be able to assess and coach your client through all of this. You. need. to. go. to. this!
Rethinking The Big Patterns by Pat Davidson. Let Pat take your knowledge base to the next level. Pat is my favorite person in the industry as of late…mostly because I thrive to be just as honest and blunts as he is.
IFAST University. That’s where I was first introduced to the ISA assessment. I’ve been following these guys since I started training. They’ve always had a huge influence in how I train.