Skip to main content

It’s All About the Trainer!

By February 13, 2010December 26th, 2013Coaching Tips, Training Philosophy

I’ve always been really good at helping people get strong. I’ve helped nearly all of my male training partners over the years deadlift over 405 lbs, and most of them weighed around 180 lbs. Several have deadlifted over 525 lbs. One of my training partners full squatted 525 lbs and deadlifted 585 lbs, although I must admit he was built like an absolute tank (5’7″ and 225 lbs of pure steel). These are normal folks, not powerlifters and not steroid users. They don’t wear briefs or suits, nor do they even wear knee wraps or belts.

My personal training clients typically see similar results in a very short amount of time. Within around three to four months I can get most healthy guys deadlifting 405 lbs. And this is with good form too, not the excessively rounded-back, hitching deadlifts you see on the internet. When I had my training studio Lifts, I specialized in training women. I trained regular women who were not athletes. At one point I had six different girls who could full squat at least 135 lbs, deadlift at least 185 lbs, and bust out at least 6 chin ups. When I helped train a squad of high school football players, I had two different linemen parallel squatting and deadlifting over 500 lbs (and they were in high school!).

For some, this is not impressive. I venture to guess that many of today’s top trainers produce similar results. For others, it’s shocking. I’ve met tons of personal trainers who simply believe in “conditioning” and are “anti-strength.” For the record, it’s really easy to get people conditioned. Just don’t let them rest much and have them do a bunch of burpees, mountain climbers, interval sprints, sled pushes, hill sprints, or intervals on the Airdyne or row machine. Hand them a kettlebell or a jump rope, or just utilize a method that’s been popular for many decades called “Peripheral Heart Action” Training (which simply means alternating lower body, upper body, and core movements to get blood pumping to different parts of the body). Conditioning is important but it’s not very difficult to obtain. In fact, hand a ten year old kid a stop-watch and a whistle and tell them that they are going to be “trainer” for the day and I bet they could do a pretty good job of getting you “conditioned.” However, getting numerous clients to be considered “strong” is not so easy. It’s as much of an art as it is a science.

For this reason, I believe that it is imperative to have high expectations for your clients. If you’re satisfied with your clients doing lat pulldowns and never being able to do a chin up, guess what? They’ll never be able to do a chin up. If you think that half squatting 225 lbs is impressive for a male client, they’ll never get strong. It is often the trainer’s expectations that limits the client’s strength. Having high expectations is the best thing that you can do for your clients!

How does a trainer acquire “high expectations?” Knowledge, experience, and success. You have to see strong to know strong!

When I saw a video of one of Mike Boyle’s female clients busting out 3 chins ups with a 45 lb plate suspended between her legs, it encouraged me to get my female clients stronger at chin ups!


When I saw one of Nia Shank’s female clients deadlifting 225 lbs for 6 reps like it was cupcakes, it inspired me to get my girls stronger.


When I watch one of Jason Ferrugia’s female clients cranking out 13 chin ups, it reminds me how important it is to “expect” my female clients to be able to chin.


I’ve seen so many strong people train over the years and spotted enough heavy squat or bench press attempts that strength has become second-nature to me. I guarantee you that guys like Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, and Joe DeFranco have higher expectations than 99.99% of trainers out there. Why? Because they’re accustomed to “strong.”

Before I released my video of 405 lb hip thrusts or 495 lb glute bridges people only used bodyweight for glute activation exercises. Now people realize that the glutes and posterior chain are capable of moving much more weight on these movements and that glute activation exercises can be loaded to become glute strengthening exercises.


In this sense, Youtube has been a wonderful tool for “raising the bar” in terms of impressive feats of strength and athleticism.

I’m not in favor of “putting strength onto dysfunction,” as Gray Cook would say. Getting stronger at the expense of good technique causes injuries, halts progress, reinforces crappy motor patterns, and causes prime movers to become stabilizers and vice versa. In other words, allowing bad form is a disservice to your clients.

By knowing proper progressions, keeping strength balanced, ensuring good form on every rep, giving constant feedback, and designing excellent programs, you can get your clients freakishly strong.

Some clients aren’t built to squat. They’ll never be good squatters, but they can become excellent deadlifters. Some won’t be good pressers but they can be great pullers. Give your clients something to go home and brag about to their family! My clients are always aware of their strength levels because I make it important to them. I always laugh when I overhear my female clients talking to each other while using “meat-head” terminology. They say stuff like, “I full squatted 135 for 3 yesterday,” “I’m going for 115 on the bench press today,” “Last week I did 50 non-stop Bulgarian squats,” or “I got ten chin ups last week.”

In our industry, we like to talk about the importance of free weights and bodyweight exercises over machine exercises. I bet that I could see better results with my clients using solely machines than 95% of trainers could by using any exercise they wanted (free weight, bodyweight, or machine). This is due to the fact that I have high expectations, I’m a great motivator, and I design superior programs.

Do your clients a favor and get them strong with good form. It all starts with having high expectations and knowing what “strong” entails.

bikini training


  • Elsbeth,

    Thanks for the kind words. It’s hard to tell in regards to the low back. The upper back is definitely rounded but many of the top powerlifters deadlift with rounded upper backs. Obviously the safest posture is to be more arched or neutral. The woman’s posture in general seems a little off…but her strength is phenomenal! She doesn’t look very strong (at least with what she’s wearing in the video) but she’s stronger than any female client I’ve ever trained in the deadlift. That’s why I was so impressed. It looks like the set ended when her grip strength was giving out…her posterior chain looks like it’s capable of doing another 4 reps or so. So if she wore wrist wraps she could probably do 225 for 10, which would be stronger than many of the guys who lift in commercial gyms.

    As for the full squat, I have a box squat from Elitefts that adjusts down to 11 inches. I’d have them tap their butts to the box when I tested their limit strength. Obviously a 5’0″ girl would have an advantage over a 5’8″ girl but at least it allowed me to be consistent with testing.

    Great questions!


  • Joe says:

    Nice article Bret. It never hurts to be to strong most of the time. Heck look at Ben Johnson squatting over 600 pounds. And you are so right about the posture and technique, i think that would take care of everything in the movement efficiency category you had in s factors.

  • Great stuff as always, Bret! Although is it just me or is the form in that woman’s deadlift a little sketchy – bit of a rounded back? Also – when you say full squats, how full is full for you? a** to grass, parallel, or to a box of some height? Just curious what different trainers use for a standard on this.

  • Dopeness, Bret. I’m starting to notice that many of the women clients that come into the gym I want strength to be their main focus, only second behind fat loss, and I LOVE it!

    It reminds me of this quote – “Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him.” But give him a good name – and see what happens.” If you start of with the expectation that your client can only get so strong, then its no surprise if they end up weak, but if you go in with the knowledge that they’re stronger than they can ever imagine and help them realize that strength – wow.

    Look forward to meeting you at the JP Fitness Summit.

    – Rog

  • Brett,

    Wicked post man. I think one of the greatest failings I saw while I worked as a personal trainer was so many trainers are afraid to train people to get stronger. And sadly, this seems to be wildly more prevalent when people train females than males. Which is unfortunate, since I’ve had 110 lbs females deadlift 165 lbs and they love nothing better than watching the faces of huge guys nearby when they effortlessly pull these weights off the ground.

    In terms of this fear of strength, do you think that is more a failing of the lax standards in becoming a personal trainer or moreso an issue with the “educational” material in most personal training courses?

  • Graeme, thanks man!

    The blame really falls upon the individuals. Sure we have lax standards and insufficient material in the profession, but any trainer with some drive and zest can easily learn, improve, and rise up. This profession is full of lazy individuals, copy cats, and linear thinkers. Not many trainers think outside the box or push the envelope. Many believe that a woman can’t get strong so they never push them to reach new levels.

    I was training my 56 year old mom yesterday and she deadlifted 145. I’m trying to get her to be able to do a chin up; she’s very close. Talented, successful people tend to excel at whatever they do. The treat training like a science project; implement something, observe, tweak, tinker, etc. This is how the Gray Cooks, Mike Boyles, Charlie Francis, etc. developed their methods…from years of experimenting. Many trainers just keep doing the same thing year in, year out without evolving.

    If more trainers would simply read other great trainer’s blogs and watch their Youtube videos they’d see that there are plenty of strong individuals out there and it would raise their expectations and make them better trainers. In the end it comes down to experience, as young trainers with poor knowledge of technique will just get his clients stronger with crappy form (putting strength onto dysfunction). Thanks!


  • wow thanks Bret for this post,
    it was awesome.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I wholeheartedly agree with you, the majority of trainers at least in a commercial gym setting don’t expect or believe that their clients can become appreciatively stronger and they don’t push it. Especially with older clients.

    As a very petite female, growing up I never thought I could be strong. I started strength training in order to improve my martial arts and I got hooked.

    When I started I never thought I’d ever be able to squat or deadlift more than my bodyweight or do chin ups but now at 45 years old I’m doing all of that and I continue to get stronger.

    My success is not because a trainer at the gym told me I could but because I started to read professionals such as yourself, Tony Gentilcore and others that I started to think that I SHOULD be able to do all that and I pushed myself.

    What really saddens me, is that so many commercial gym trainers are encouraged to find “unique” exercises (circus tricks) to teach their clients in order to differentiate themselves, when if they just went back to basics and got their clients stronger they would stand out.

    Thanks again and I look forward to being a regular reader of your blog


  • Michelle – it’s obvious that you “get it.” Sadly the circus-trick commercial gym trainers will never “get it” and often think that trainers who focus on the basics are idiots for sticking to the basics and pushing their clients so hard. On several occasions I’ve been working out at commercial gyms and overheard other trainers’ clients ask their trainer “why don’t we do that exercise?” to which the trainer answers “that exercise is worthless, they’re just going to hurt themselves.” This is in reference to the deadlift! Thanks for the post! -Bret

  • allie says:

    expectations come true. if you expect little of someone, they will deliver. if you expect greatness from them, they will deliver, or try like nobody’s business and be awesome in the process. this post is SO inspiring, makes me proud to be a formerly skinny turned strong chick- thanks for this!

  • Zack Becerra says:

    Bret, I’ve been in the medium of personal training for a little under a year now but just recently I’ve been employed as a personal trainer at my local gym. A co-worker referred you to me and so far you’ve been very informative. What tips would you give someone like myself just starting out in the business?

    • Bret says:

      Hey Zack, depends on your goals. Personally I think that you should get a bachelor’s degree (not sure if you have one already) so you can start studying to obtain your CSCS. Keep reading my blog and other websites, and make sure you’re training others and training yourself. Optimal learning occurs when you learn from others and then incorporate that into your own training to see if it holds weight. After a while you’ll have to decide if you want to have your own personal training business or take a job as a strength coach, head personal trainer, etc. It’s a must that you learn how to make money as nobody lasts in this profession if they can’t pay the bills. Best of luck! -Bret

Leave a Reply


and receive my FREE Lower Body Progressions eBook!

You have Successfully Subscribed!