If you’ve trained at commercial gyms for a large part of your life like I have, you might assume that all trainers are a bunch of dimwits. However, this is actually not the case. Since breaking into the Strength & Conditioning scene, I’m absolutely amazed at the sheer number of intelligent fitness professionals out there who remain virtually “under the radar.” I wrote this blogpost for those who desire to become the next top fitness guru. I have put a lot of thought and consideration into what separates the gurus from the non-gurus and have come up with fifteen main reasons.
To help illustrate my points, I’m going to use three of the most popular strength coaches as examples. These individuals are Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Mark Verstegen.
1. Love of Fitness
You simply cannot reach the top if you don’t love fitness. If you love what you do, it’s not work. This is mandatory as most top fitness professionals at some time in their lives spent an extraordinary amount of time delving into the fitness field, and most top fitness professionals still spend more time in a single day learning about fitness than the average trainer spends in a month despite the fact that they’re already at the pinnacle of their career. Fitness has to become a way of life if you want to reach the top. As Confucius said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” If you don’t love fitness, you’ll never be able to withstand the long hours of training, continuing education, reading, writing, speaking at seminars, and talking to others about fitness, which are all critical components to reaching the top. If you’ve ever had the privilege of speaking to Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, or Mark Verstegen, their love of fitness oozes heavily through their words.
Knowledge is a prerequisite to becoming a guru. Not only must you be well-versed in all areas of fitness, you must be a top expert in at least one area of fitness. Mr. Boyle, Mr. Cook, and Mr. Verstegen are all innovators and leaders in terms of functional training and corrective exercise. Have patience because it takes years of learning the science, theories, and methodology as well as years of implementing the knowledge in order to figure out how to improve upon current practices. I would argue that a base of knowledge and experience is critical as well, as the top gurus possess tremendous amounts of common sense and general competence. Furthermore, being at the cusp of scientific advancement breeds creativity and innovation.
3. Motivational/Inspirational Skills
People like to be inspired. If you can’t inspire people as a trainer or coach, you’re probably in the wrong profession. The top trainers and coaches are great at motivating others to work hard and be consistent in order to reach their goals. I have no doubt that Mr. Boyle, Mr. Cook, and Mr. Verstegen are excellent motivators as trainers and coaches, and I know from first-hand experience that they are inspirational speakers. When you leave a presentation delivered by one of these individuals, you can’t wait to implement what you’ve learned into your training. Motivational and inspiration skills stem from a burning desire to help people.
While cockiness is a huge turn-off, confidence is key. Would you rather hire a trainer, coach, or therapist who doubts his abilities, or one who knows that they’re amongst the best in the world? Confident individuals seek to accomplish what others have not. Confident individuals lead others.
According to Henry David Thoreau, “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” I’ve heard Mike Boyle talk about the days when he slept in his facility after working such long hours. Knowledge is good and experience is also good, but knowledge combined with experience is lethal! You cannot become a guru without putting in your time both training yourself and training others. Mike Boyle was once a powerlifter. You can tell from the videos of Mr. Boyle, Mr. Cook, and Mr. Verstegen that they’re all in pretty good shape and still exercise to this day. This is imperative as you need to be strong and conditioned in order to test out new exercises, ideas, and methods.
Professionalism is an often overlooked aspect of making it to the top. While it is not necessary to always wear a suit and tie in the fitness field, it is important to be respectful and exhibit proper etiquette and manners. The higher you make it in the field, the more “haters” you’re going to accumulate. One must not be dragged into ridiculous forum-wars or resort to excessive retaliation. People don’t want to do business with a loose cannon. I have had the privilege of meeting Gray Cook and Mark Verstegen and was astounded by their level of professionalism.
Integrity is one of the most important qualities necessary for success. Integrity means admitting when you’re wrong and being open-minded to new ideas. Integrity also means not endorsing something you don’t believe in, standing up for what you believe in, sometimes going against the grain, and holding true to your values. No one wants to follow a sleazy scoundrel with no integrity. I’ve heard Gray Cook stand up for what he believes in time after time. I’ve heard Mike Boyle go against the grain on many occasions, and I’ve seen him change his thought process when he learns something new. If you’ve seen Mark Verstegen’s Core Values, you know that his level of integrity is through the roof!
There are so many different variables in Strength & Conditioning that it is just as much an art as it is a science. From program design to total training mix, exercise selection, rep styles, equipment, and form/technique, there are literally an infinite amount of ways to train. While the top Strength & Conditioning gurus tend to agree on a lot, they all have their own philosophies and methods. If you agree with a certain individual about every aspect of training, then you are a blind follower and you don’t think for yourself. Followers will never reach the top as they are simply reiterating what others have said. In order to be an innovator you must think for yourself and develop your own philosophy. Mike Boyle and Gray Cook are big on mobility and stability, the joint-by-joint approach, and joint-friendly training, yet Mr. Boyle likes the trap bar deadlift whereas Mr. Cook likes the conventional deadlift. Mike Boyle is huge on unilateral training. Mr. Verstegen is big on Keiser equipment with pneumatic resistance. All three like to do corrective exercise. Their methods are at the same time very similar yet still strikingly different. You must absorb as much as humanly possible and then determine your stance on the various issues and formulate your particular belief-system.
When you get to a point where you reach an extraordinary level of understanding about a certain topic, you tend to develop your own language regarding that particular topic. This may arise out of the need to communicate more effectively or because you are creating new words to illustrate certain concepts. Nearly all Strength & Conditioning gurus are unique in this regard. When you read Core Performance and hear Mark Verstegen talking about prehab, elasticity, and movement prep, you realize that he really knows his stuff. When you read Mike Boyle’s classification system of unilateral lower body exercises, you realize his deep level of understanding on the topic. When you listen to Gray Cook talk about assessment and fundamental movement patterns, you can imagine his immense level of insight on the topics. These individuals even name their exercises differently according to what terminology makes sense to them. On the StrengthCoach.Com forums Mike Boyle has a tremendous ability to sum up an entire paragraph worth of thought into one powerful sentence.
10. Communication/Public Speaking Skills
Out of the fifteen qualities listed in this blogpost, this may be the most important quality of all, yet I’ve never seen or heard it discussed. All of the Strength & Conditioning gurus become much more popular through their public speaking seminars. This may sound harsh, but if your voice inflection sucks, if you talk too fast, if you have nervous ticks, if you aren’t interesting, or if you simply sound like an idiot, you need to work on your public speaking skills. My grandfather was in Toastmasters for 30 years because he realized how important it was to improve his communication skills. Watch the videos at the bottom of this blogpost. In each one, you’ll see how natural, flowing, well-versed, and intriguing Mr. Boyle, Mr. Cook, and Mr. Verstegen are as well as how confident and sincere they are about their beliefs. If you aren’t sure about your public speaking skills, I recommend recording yourself and watching the video while asking yourself, “Would I be happy if I paid money to see this?”
Dry individuals and individuals with huge personality flaws such as selfishness, stubbornness, conceitedness, and close-mindedness never seem to go too far in this field. Being likable comes natural for many people, but for others it doesn’t. I recommend reading the book How to Win Friends and Influence People if you struggle in the “likability” department. Try to inject some humor into your every day life and never take yourself too seriously. The best speakers, trainers, therapists, and coaches know how to get people to think AND laugh. If you’ve seen Mike Boyle or Gray Cook speak, you’ll know that they are generally likable people who crack jokes from time to time. Likability and humor go a long way in networking and word of mouth advertisement.
There are most likely several trainers, coaches, and therapists out there who know just as much as Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Mark Verstegen, yet you’ve never heard of these individuals because they don’t know how to market or brand themselves. When I think of Mark Verstegen, I think of Athlete’s Performance, I think of professionalism, I think of quality, and I think Elite. Mark has done an unbelievable job of branding himself. While learning about fitness and training people is fun, learning about marketing is not always very fun. You must get out of your comfort zone and learn how to market yourself or you’ll never become popular. As technology grows, marketing becomes more and more complicated, so stay on top of technology and trends. Remember, if you can’t make any money in fitness, you’ll have to find another job and you’ll never become a guru.
Some people have tremendous levels of drive, determination, motivation, and dedication, while others do not. If you want to make it to the top, you’re going to have to work hard. It’s going to take you years upon years. When you think you know it all, you’ll quickly realize that you don’t know crap. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on everything, something new will pop up that will force you to get out of your comfort zone. You have to keep working hard to bring up your weaknesses. You can never just coast, you have to keep pushing the pedal to the metal, albeit with just the right amount of balance to avoid burnout and maintain sanity.
14. Awareness of Strengths and Weaknesses
Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Mark Verstegen know how to get people moving better and how to create better athletes. You don’t see them telling bodybuilders how to prepare for their contests, nor do you see them telling powerlifters how to bench press more weight. Mike Boyle let Pat Beith control the marketing for his Functional Strength Coach 3.0 series. Mark Verstegen has dozens of employees working for him carrying out various functions. Gray Cook has aligned himself with Perform Better and StrengthCoach.Com in order to spread his popularity. Focus on doing what you’re good at and try to be as well-rounded as possible, but know when to ask for help and when to let others take a hold of the reigns.
15. Blending of Science, Research, Experience, and Intuition
In the Strength & Conditioning field, there is a tremendous amount of scientific theory and scientific journal research. There is much to be learned from science and research. While certain knowledge can only be gained from learning the science and research, there is a vast amount of information that we don’t yet understand. While science can offer some explanation, there is an enormous body of knowledge that can only be earned from working with hundreds of people in the trenches year in, year out. And yet experience can’t tell us everything either. A certain amount of success depends on the trainer, therapist, or coach’s intuition. The most successful gurus have excellent hunches. Think about how safety-oriented Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Mark Verstegen are in terms of training in relation to the lumbar spine. Think about Gray Cook’s screening and assessment process. Think about the exercises and equipment that all three of these guys were promoting back when they weren’t even popular. Think of Mark Verstegen’s attention to tissue quality. The top gurus are often years ahead of the science, and they aren’t afraid to present their new theories to the fitness community.
Mike Boyle Death of Squatting
Gray Cook Power Development
Mark Verstegen Mobility/Stability