IFAST Internship Recap

Today’s guest blog comes to us from former IFAST intern Sean Griffin. Sean was an awesome guy to have around, and I think you’ll really enjoy his insights regarding our internship.

And before you ask, if you’d like to intern at IFAST in the future, please read this first. Thanks!

And without any further ado, here’s Sean! – MR

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I am a finance major that spent the first 4 years of my professional career in shitty (but very high-paying) finance jobs surrounded by people who pretty much hated their lives and seemingly contribute not a shred of positive energy to the world from 9-5.

Ok… that is a little cynical.

But seriously, my faith in mankind is restored after finding a home in the fitness industry. I do realize that I am very lucky my first long-term learning experience was at IFAST with Mike and Bill Hartman.

Since I’m still coming down off the four-month knowledge-high, I’d like to talk about some of the big takeaways from this awesome experience.

I cannot possibly summarize the 100+ pages of notes I took over the last 4 months, so I broke down my biggest lessons learned into 3 big takeaways. I’ll dive into each.

Takeaway #1: Becoming a better coach

You read a lot of coaches saying things like:

“It’s not what you know, but how effective you are as a coach,” or

“A bad program implemented by a good coach is more effective than a good program implemented by a bad coach.”

Theoretically, I got this.

But as a fairly inexperienced coach, I didn’t really get it until I came to IFAST.

I spent the previous 8 months reading just about every book I could on training, yet still felt I was a crappy coach. Turns out, I was!

Here are my keys to improving as a coach:

Build Relationships

Be enthusiastic and positive at all times.

This point can’t be understated. There’s a great chance the only physical activity your clients get is when they’re with you.

Sean and Intern Squat Sharing a Tender Moment…

There’s a decent chance they hate their 9-5 job. I’d say it’s critical the hour they spend with you is filled with positive vibes and an enthusiastic coach.

Figure out a way to be “on” no matter what.

Know what’s going on in their lives.

It’s amazing the rapport you build when you know little details about a client.

Do they have kids? Ask about them often.

Are they stressed at work? See point #1.

It all comes back to showing the client they are cared for when they’re in your gym.

Smile.

This one’s easy and is probably a primer to #1. Here’s my formula for faking it ’til you make it:

Fake smiling = more clients liking you = happier environment = better results = more clients = successful business = Real smiling 🙂

Attention to Detail

Knowledge of Anatomy.

Day 1, Bill Hartman:

“Anatomy tells us everything.”

I’ll say nothing more than if you aren’t really, really good at anatomy, you’re way behind the best [IFAST] coaches.

An eye for compensation.

Know what you’re looking for in every single exercise, and know the common ways people compensate — both obvious and subtle.

Develop a repertoire of cues and regressions to fix each and every one. Subtle compensations are a big deal, and details matter.

Let the careless coaches allow clients to compensate.

Know why each movement helps an individual achieve their goals.

Clients at IFAST ask “why” A LOT, and this made me a much better coach.

If you stumble through explaining why, or give some half-ass answer, your clients will perceive this. I definitely don’t want clients thinking I don’t know what I’m doing. Program with a purpose and give clients a succinct explanation justifying each exercise choice.

Cueing

Don’t overwhelm beginners.

Ah, my favorite thing to do: give a client 17 cues the very first time they do a movement. This is probably why I sucked so badly as a coach.

Zach Moore instilled in me possibly the greatest lesson during my internship: pick the absolute biggest issue and focus on that until it’s fixed. What he was saying is, if you try to fix everything at once, you’ll end up fixing nothing.

The power of the PVC.

In many ways, I feel the PVC is the greatest coaching tool in history (thanks, MR!).

People suck at getting to neutral spine. The PVC pipe gets them there faster than anything else. Use it on any exercise where a client’s backside is exposed.

A warning, the PVC is a tool to get clients to neutral — 3 points of contact. Clients that achieve 3 points of contact via cervical & lumbar extension plus scapular winging are not in neutral… you probably have them doing the wrong exercise.

Let people that move well figure it out.

Notice I said, “move well.” People that move poorly need constant reinforcement and proper cueing until they figure it [a new movement] out.

But it is very likely that over coaching a client that moves well will only piss them off and hinder performance. Get really good at adjusting your cueing from client to client.

Bonus Lesson

Set every client up for success.

This all starts with a proper assessment. And yes, people need to be challenged… it’s how progress and results happen.

But please, if a client can’t do an effective split squat, don’t put them in a rear-foot-elevated TRX split squat because they need to “find stability/balance”.

They’re going to fail.

Takeaway #2: The Importance of a Thorough Assessment

Admittedly, I still feel very inadequate at assessing. I know the FMS and I can administer the entire IFAST assessment (which, if you know, you’ll understand that’s impressive).

But it’s the interpretation and how findings drive programming that lead to real results. I’ll do my best to give a few insights into making assessment better.

Understand what looks “right” in gross movements may be “wrong” in isolation.

This is how you find compensation, and it drives corrective strategies.

It is also why I believe screens like the FMS alone aren’t enough.* I’ve seen people nail a deep OH squat with toes straight, but take them to the table and they’ve got bi- or unilateral lack of hip IR, plus poor t-spine mobility.

(*Note from MR: If you use the FMS and think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, don’t get too wound up over this. We use it at certain times at IFAST as well. This is just an opinion.)

What’s the deal? Are they safe to squat with no limitations?

I won’t offer an explanation (which could make this long post even longer!), but I will say that if you can interpret this, you have a much greater chance of fixing it and delivering optimal results.

If you can’t interpret it, you run the risk of programming exercises directly feeding compensation or limitation, which could be a recipe for injury.

Put people at ease during the assessment.

“Reducing levels of apprehension, anxiety and fear may be seen to have the potential for allowing a variety of features, including motor control, to improve.”(1)

If people are nervous and apprehensive, which they very likely will be (they don’t know you, you’re asking them to perform a bunch of movements they don’t know, you’re {hopefully} taking pictures of them, etc.), then you can expect altered motor control.

This isn’t good.

You want them to be comfortable so their true movement patterns come forth.

Do what IFAST does — start with a questionnaire or some other very light discussion to build some initial rapport.

From there, briefly explain the assessment – why you do it, how it will help them, what they can expect, etc.

An optimal assessment only happens when they let their guard down.

Be concise when explaining results at the end.

This is where I need a ton of work.

Bill would refer to it as “practicing your rap.” You’re clients’ head is already spinning after being put through a host of unfamiliar movements, and your assessment is still part of the selling stage.

You are still trying to win this person as a client.

Do not overwhelm them with lengthy discussions about the muscles and anatomical structures that are awry in their body.

Instead, be concise and give them 2 or 3 big takeaways in simple terms.

Point out the big issues so when they go home they understand their specific issues. Most importantly, briefly cover a broad strategy to fix these issues as well.

Now they’re excited and confident you have a plan to fix them!

You absolutely, positively must check breathing patterns

At IFAST we did a ton of corrective breathing.

For me, this was possibly the biggest “brand new” takeaway from the internship. I never gave a second thought about it.

Turns out ineffective breathing patterns can drive everything from anxiety to an inability to access the aerobic energy system.

Leon Chaitow wrote an excellent piece on breathing pattern disorders that I’d recommend reading: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Breathing Pattern Disorders.

Takeaway #3: Becoming a Better Student

One thing the staff at IFAST is really freaking good at is being smart.

I’m talking scary smart.

They read all those books you don’t think are important to read. Hell, look at Bill’s library.

It was not until I got into the fitness industry that I realized my love for continuing education. I was always a strong student, but not because I worked hard. I am lucky to be a very good test-taker.

One of the biggest takeaways from the IFAST experience was becoming a more effective continual learner. Here are the ways I took my true knowledge to the next level:

Never Stop Asking Questions

People smarter than you will always help you because they’re smart enough (ha) to know helping you reinforces their personal understanding.

This is neat. Smart people help dumb people and everyone gets a little smarter. This sums up my summer!

Seriously though, I cannot tell you how many small little things I never would’ve learned if I hadn’t asked the right questions. Put your ego aside and fire those “well, why” questions to people you look up to.

Carry a Journal Every Day

My short-term memory doesn’t work well if it’s full of new information. Carry a journal and jot down thoughts and new information. The benefits are two-fold:

  1. You can review later and get a deeper understanding through further research
  2. Your head is always clear so you can stay focused and absorb even more information

Interestingly, within 12 seconds of meeting Bill Hartman, he asked me where my notebook was. If he thinks it’s important, you should to, because he is smart.

The biggest bonus of keeping a journal at work: you can write people’s names in it and a short description about them. I knew every single IFAST client by name within a week of starting my internship.

You Must DO, Before You Truly Understand

All the reading in the world about back pain and knee pain didn’t benefit me as much as getting really good at coaching a proper hip hinge or correct performance of half-kneeling exercises.

You already know this, but it needed to be constantly reinforced for me. I don’t truly understand things until I experience them for myself a number of separate times. So, when you go to a conference and learn something new, TRY it!

Study Effectively

I’ll give a very big thank you to Eric Oetter for these game-changing strategies. I’ll leave it up to you to learn more about these, but I can say all 3 of the following strategies greatly improved my ability to learn and retain new information.

  • Learn to mind-map
  • Learn to speed-read
  • Tab your books with post-its or something similar

And consider Eric’s advice to me:

“You don’t need to have everything memorized as long as know exactly what book it’s in and exactly where to find it.”

Summary

This was a challenging blog to write. I left so many takeaways out. I want to say that the biggest takeaway from the internship experience is this:

Like any aspect of business or life, the real good stuff comes from truly meaningful interactions with people you care about.

Perhaps more important than all the points I listed are the relationships I built at IFAST. I want to personally thank Zach, Jae, Eric, Lil Stevie, Squat and especially Mike and Bill.

After interning at IFAST, I truly believe the best way to make your experience awesome for your clients is to make them feel special and cared for every day. None of the other stuff even matters if you don’t build relationships with all the people involved in your gym.

Go way, way above and beyond their expectations and I think success is unavoidable.

Sean Griffin

16 Comments

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    • Steve – I appreciate the kind words. The connections I made at IFAST were great man and I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet you a number of separate times.

      Let me know next time you’re in Chicago!

  1. Good info here. My problem is always spotting subtle compensations. I just bought Shirley Sahrman’s book and it is a great resource but do you have any suggestions for videos and/or books that might be able to take a step back from what she offers and look into compensatory movements and how to have that eye for it? Obviously hands on training is ideal, but want some good stuff to watch and read too. For instance, if a client does X, what could be weak/tight and how to fix it?
    Thanks!

    • Brent – Two things that immediately come to mind are the Bulletproof Knees and Back Seminar, as well as Building the Efficient Athlete. They are both designed for coaches and less clinical than Sahrmann’s text.

      Thanks!

  2. Very well written Seam. I really enjoyed reading it. I’m glad you gained so much out of your summer. It was great having you home
    Dad

  3. Nice Sean! As a current IFAST intern, I don’t disagree with a single thing you said. I especially agree with the coaching piece.

  4. Brent I am going to second Mike’s recommendation for Bullet Proof Knees and Back. It’s the best hands-on DVD I know of.

    I will say that I watched it once before interning and once during and definitely got more out of the second time after actually practicing the stuff on the DVDs. Unfortunately, in terms of compensations and such, I don’t think there’s anyway to get good at spotting them and actually fixing them until you see what they look like in person.

    As I mentioned in my post, it’s seems a lot of really good stuff happens when you start hip hinging properly and when you can find neutral in half-kneeling.

    Good luck!
    The

  5. Sean, Great advice man. I’m in a similar boat, leaving corporate finance forever and will be interning this winter at MBSC. Again great post, thanks

  6. Hey Sean. Really enjoyed your article. I have a quick question regarding neutral lumbar spine. When stretching the hamstrings, do you solely recommend lying on ones back so that the lumbar spine stays out of flexion? And two, if it’s not a good thing to stretch the lumbar spine, are decompression devices a horrible idea? Thanks.

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