This week’s interview features my boy Zach Moore, an integral part of the IFAST team, and in my opinion, one of the smartest young coaches around. Enjoy!
Zach, could you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself?
ZM: First of all, I just want to say thank you for interviewing me on your site. It is definitely an honor as you are one of the first blogs I started reading when I was getting into the field.
I am 26 years old and work as a full-time strength coach at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST), named one of the Top Ten Gyms in the US by Men’s Health.
I am certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and hold my club coaching certification through USA Weightlifting. I graduated summa cum laude from Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis (IUPUI) with my bachelors and masters degrees.
I also write on my website www.zmoore.com and offer online training and nutritional services.
Outside of work, I enjoy playing pretty much any sport, and I love to read. I am pretty nerdy so I am usually reading textbooks. However, I actually just read my first fiction book (The Hunger Games series – I know, not very manly, but it was good) in probably a year so I am pretty proud of myself.
Growing up, you were quite the athlete as well! What sports did you play, and do you feel like playing sports makes you a better coach?
ZM: I don’t know if I would go that far :). But yes, I did play tennis my first two years of college, but I had to stop due to knee injuries.
I also played pretty much every sport throughout school – basketball and baseball through junior high, football freshman and sophomore year, golf all four years of high school, and tennis up through college.
I also loved to skateboard and snowboard. We had a small ski resort in my hometown of Paoli, Indiana (Paoli Peaks) where they blow fake snow in the winter so I was up there everyday.
I think having been an athlete does help me with my younger athletes because they know that I was competitive, and it helps me earn their respect a little easier. I do not think it is necessary to have played sports to be a great coach, but it can make things easier.
One of my favorite “Zach Moore” stories is how you took at Masters in Economics and turned into becoming a strength coach. What happened there?
ZM: Haha, yeah it is quite the change in career paths. Honestly, I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life. I was good at Math and Economics in college, and one of my profs asked if I had ever considered graduate school. I told him no, and he said that he thought they could get me a good scholarship if I was interested so I went for it.
Just before I started the grad program, I had my second knee surgery (on the same knee), which turned out to be unsuccessful like the first. So I decided to learn as much as I could about improving my knee because the doctors had told me I should never run or play tennis again. I was not about to take that for an answer!
So I started reading everything on the knee and stumbled across your Bulletproof Knees Manual. I read it and learned a ton. It also led me to your blog, and I soon found out that you owned a gym (IFAST) 20 miles from my apartment!
I decided to head up there, and I eventually became a client for about a year. In that year, my knee pain improved tremendously. I was having less pain than I had in years and could run and play tennis again. This made me very interested in what IFAST was doing.
I wanted to learn more. So I decided to apply for an internship after I graduated from the Masters program. It was an awesome experience, and I learned a ton! I was also very fortunate because IFAST brought me on full-time after I finished the internship.
My economics department was not very pleased because they were all planning on me getting a PhD :). So glad I did not do that!
You’ve been my afternoon guy here at IFAST for almost 2 years now. Could you tell everyone a little bit about what your average day looks like? And who do you typically work with at IFAST?
ZM: I work on the semi-private side at IFAST where I coach up to 4 clients at a time, and each training session is scheduled for one hour. So, from the start of my shift to close I am usually coaching non-stop, which is great. It’s good to be busy!
I usually get on the gym floor between 12-2 depending on the day. My clients around this hour vary greatly. I have a group of firefighters who are preparing for the Firefighter Combat Challenge, which is apparently huge – these guys work extremely hard and are awesome to work with.
I also work with a basketball player who is hoping to play Division 1 basketball next year, a self-employed woman looking to improve body comp, and a grad student, among many others.
Around 4pm my high-school athletes start rolling in. Unfortunately, I am currently working with a lot of injured athletes. At IFAST, we are pretty successful at getting people out of pain, and many of these athletes are word-of-mouth referrals. It is unfortunate to see so many kids injured.
Getting to work with these kids, though, is one of my favorite parts of the job. It’s very rewarding to help them improve their movement and pain. I am also very passionate about teaching them along the way so they understand why they are doing what they are doing.
At 5 and 6pm, I coach mainly fat -loss clients and people dealing with injuries or looking to stay healthy.
It’s a great mix of people. I have every age from a 12-year-old soccer player to an eighty-year-old doctor (who can squat to the basement, by the way!).
Everyone knows each other, and it’s a great atmosphere.
As many already know, you were born without a lower right arm. However, I’ve never heard you complain once about that or let it hold you back.
Can you give us some examples of how you’ve trained around what some would consider a “limitation?”
ZM: Well, I lifted throughout high school, which unfortunately left me pretty imbalanced. I was not training the right side of my upper body at all, and for lower body I was stuck to machines because my coaches assumed I could not squat with a bar or deadlift.
I got away from lifting seriously when I started playing tennis in college. The coach assumed that heavy weights would make us too bulky, which is ridiculous.
After my knee surgery, I decided to get back into lifting seriously. I had lost a lot of weight so I was determined to put on some muscle, and I knew weights would be the best way to do that. I began reading a lot about proper strength training and how to build muscle. One of the first books I read was Scrawny to Brawny by John Berardi and Michael Mejia, which was very helpful.
The problem was that all of the material I read on how to get swole revolved around big compound movements, which I had done very little of. Most importantly, these experts claimed that YOU HAVE TO SQUAT AND DEADLIFT to gain muscle. So I was determined to figure out a way to squat and deadlift, as well as figure out a way to train the right side of my upper body.
I eventually figured out how to front squat, and later bought a strap for my arm to hold dumbbells and cable attachments. I also bought a truck strap at a hardware store that I still use to deadlift with.
Here are some videos that may help demonstrate how I set some things up.
I love figuring out ways to train around my “limitation.” I’m pleased to say that there is not much I cannot do.
Taking that a step further, others would say “well that’s great, but there’s no way I could do the Olympic lifts!” Yet you took the USA Weightlifting course a while back. Was that difficult for you? And what did you learn from that experience?
ZM: It wasn’t difficult at all. First, I had an excellent instructor and coach, Grant (“Rufus”) Gardis, who I’d highly recommend.
Second, I think the biggest benefit of the course is getting to see multiple repetitions of the movements. It is a lot of practice and hands-on coaching during the certification. You get to coach and watch a wide variety of people perform the movements.
Therefore, you see many different mistakes and how to possibly correct them. It is one thing to know what the ideal movement should look like, but to actually pick apart a flawed lift is much more difficult. There is so much going on, and the lifts are performed quickly so you have to develop an eye for it, which the course helps with.
I would definitely recommend the certification to anyone wanting the learn how to perform and/or coach the Olympic Lifts.
And don’t be timid if you have very little or no experience with the movements! There were several people in my group that had no prior exposure, and did quite well.
One of the things you’re best at (in my opinion) is coaching and cuing clients around their spine. What issues do most clients have when it comes to spine mechanics or positioning?
ZM: Many clients are stuck in what Charlie Weingroff calls an “open scissors” posture. Basically, they have an anteriorly tilted pelvis and a posteriorly tilted ribcage. A person with this posture is completely reliant on passive restraints for stability. What I mean by this is that they are hinging on the bones of their spine to stabilize themselves – not good!
To create optimal stability, we want our pelvic floor aligned with our diaphragm, which has been likened to a canister. When these two are not aligned, it is impossible to get maximum intra-abdominal pressure and will not allow someone to use their core muscles effectively.
To correct this problem we need to build stability around the lumbar and thoraco-lumbar (TL) junction, improve mobility in the thoracic spine, work to lengthen any muscles that may be pulling the pelvis anteriorly, and teach proper breathing.
This is not an easy task, but if you constantly cue people into a good neutral spine position and hammer good breathing patterns then you will start to see big improvements fairly quickly.
So if they come in with these issues, what are some of the cues you use to improve their positioning?
ZM: The first thing we will work on is developing a good breathing pattern. I often start people in a 3-month position (supine with feet together off floor and knees out wide) and look for good circumferential expansion around the abdomen with full exhalation. I cue people to push as much air out as possible to really bring the ribs down.
When people are stuck in the “open scissors” posture I mentioned above, their ribs are constantly in a position of inhalation – they never fully get all of their air out. Therefore, they can’t get as much air in upon inhalation. This causes people to take quick and shallow breaths, which is problematic for multiple reasons.
Therefore, it is very important to teach people to exhale as much air as possible while bringing their ribs down.
On the inhalation, I put my thumb on their low back (just above their iliac crest) and my fingertips on their stomach and cue them to breathe into my fingers.
Circumferential expansion ensures that we have good alignment of the diaphragm and pelvic floor.
I could go on and on about the diaphragm, but I do not want to get too geeky :). Just trust me that it is very important and you need to be addressing it with your clients if you want them to stay healthy and/or perform at a high level.
As far as common cues I use on more compound movements such as rows, squats, deadlifts, etc. my favorite is “ribs down,” which helps get people out of excessive lumbar and/or TL extension.
I also cue “head back” to get people into a good cervical spine position. I have found that if you can get people to really focus on a good neutral neck position, then it will often fix the position of their thoracic spine as well.
I am not a big fan of the common “chest up” cue to fix a person’s thoracic spine position. This is because, as I discussed above, many clients are very likely to just extend from their lumbar spine or TL junction when attempting to get their “chest up,” which is what we are trying to get most people out of.
Outside of those cues, I am often carrying around a PVC pipe to constantly hammer neutral spine. The more we can reinforce this optimal posture, the quicker we should see results and the more natural it will become to the client.
You work with a mixture of fat-loss clients, as well as athletes. Do you feel there are psychological differences between the two?
ZM: This is a difficult question and one that depends largely on the client’s motivation to reach his or her goal.
If the fat-loss client or athlete is really motivated, then you just have to give them a good program with good movement coaching, and show them that you care about their progress, and they will usually succeed.
On the other hand, if you have a fat-loss client or athlete that is not highly motivated, then how I handle each is slightly different.
I’ve found that if an athlete does not push himself in the weight room, it is usually because he does not understand the importance of what we are doing. Therefore, I think the best thing you can do as a coach is educate him on why work in the weight room will improve his performance. Explain to the athlete why you are doing a certain exercise and how that will translate to improved performance.
If one of my fat-loss clients is struggling, then I sit down with that person and really try to determine what it is they want. Why do they really want to lose weight? What is holding them back? I try to dig deep into the WHY of their being there to see me.
I’ve come to realize that to be a great coach, knowing the steps to get a client to a goal is not always enough. You also have to be able to get the client to follow those steps. This is where the field of behavior change comes in handy and it is something that I have been trying to learn more and more about.
I will not go into detail on the topic of behavior change, but if you are interested Precision Nutrition (PN) is a great resource and provides additional resources to look into. Here is an excellent 4-part series by PN to get you started:
- The Compliance Solution Part 1
- The Compliance Solution Part 2
- The Compliance Solution Part 3
- The Compliance Solution Part 4
In the end, every person is different and how you handle each will vary, but I have found the above strategies to work well in getting many of these less-motivated clients on track to their goals.
Zach, even though you’ve been in the industry a relatively short time, I feel like you’ve learned a ton. With that being said, what was one mistake you’ve made along the way, and how have you learned from it?
ZM: Trying to make everything perfect at once. This can overwhelm and frustrate the client.
When I was an intern at IFAST, I was just starting to see how many mistakes are possible during an exercise. This caused me to try and correct all of these mistakes, which made the session take longer than it should have and probably irritated a few clients.
Bill Hartman saw me doing this and told me that I needed to coach clients as if I will be working with them for a long time. Therefore, he said, you do not need to make everything perfect at first. Hammer away at the most important things and slowly build the movement pattern.
So what I decided to do was come up with a list of my top 2-3 cues for each exercise and really hammer those before moving onto other mistakes. Otherwise, it can be tempting to correct other flaws even if a client has not mastered the most important ones.
I think this is a great tip for all coaches and it has definitely made my job easier. I am sure it has also saved me from irritating a few clients as well :).
Zach, I really appreciate you coming on here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?
ZM: Thank you so much for having me on, Mike. My website is www.zmoore.com. I try to post a few times a month, and also offer online training and nutritional services there as well.
You can also find me on