Things I learn while teaching: the squat bar pad

(This post is dedicated to Jay Ashman – strength coach, writer and, surprisingly, patient enough to be a personal trainer)

I am not a personal trainer. I am not really sure what I am, occupation-wise, but here’s a couple of things I do: I teach courses at graduate programs about strength training, strength sports (plus whatever they pay me to talk about), I write books and articles, I speak about strength in philosophical, social, bla-bla-bla dimensions and I have my own program on powerlifting. That’s my baby. In this program, I teach powerlifting not as a sport, but as a repertoire of fundamental and original movement patterns. There’s just a little bla-bla-bla (about two hours in a 20 hour course for each of the four levels). After this intro, I send everyone to their bars and we practice for two days.

My students are usually sports coaches and personal trainers.

This weekend, there was one specific dialogue that called my attention:

–          Dr. Coutinho, how should I handle a client that insists on using the squat bar pad?

–          The what?

–          That foam gyms have to protect the neck for the squat?

–          Ah… that. Well, forbid it.

–          I can’t. Clients like it.

–          Why would anyone like that crap?

–          They feel it protects them and they say the bar is uncomfortable

–          Nonsense, take it away from them.


–          Are you serious? (that’s me)

–          Yes

–          Well, then tell them the truth: it’s dangerous, it introduces instability where you need total stability. Knurling is not an ornament on the bar, it’s something industrially made to provide better grip, adhesion and stability

–          They don’t understand that

–          Tell them it leads to injury, serious injury

–          How?

–          Well, go through the instability argument and tell them the fucking pad will hurt them

–          Then they won’t squat

–          Make them


–          Hey, I know what: tell them it kills. It works with kids, I know, I’m a mother – it will work with a stupid client. Kids are smart, the client can’t be that stupid.


–          Sorry. I really don’t know what you should do. I’m really sorry your work involves that…

I have always felt sorry for my friends who work as personal trainers. I feel 90% of them hate what they do. They do it because there is no market for what they really wanted to work with: sports coaching and strength coaching. When they were 18 and started college, they dreamed one day they would be coaching an Olympic team and win a gold medal. It never happened.

That was what personal training meant to me.

I have a few clients who hire me as a consultant and I provide a training protocol to them. I still don’t see myself as a personal trainer. I like my clients and I am happy with their progress. I get frustrated when they don’t make progress.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the stomach to be a personal trainer considering my friends’ and students’ accounts. It seems to me to be the most depressing activity I can think of: dealing with futile, spoiled people the whole day.

–          But you are a strength training specialist now, what are you going to do if you go broke?

Good question. I think there’s always giant crab fishing in Alaska. Dying in the ice cold northern sea sounds good as an alternative.

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