Evolution of a Strength Coach


A few recent events have made me realize that all strength coaches will eventually evolve to the same place. Like many of us, I listen to and read a great deal from the internet. One trend that I have seen is that some of the previously “hard core” guys are gradually embracing the corrective exercise/ functional training side of the coin. This made me realize two things:

1-    Why I think the way I do

2-     Why others make fun of me

The reason I think the way I do and the reason lots of the “hardcore” guys make fun of me is because I am old. I am further along the evolutionary trail of the strength coach. You see, we all start at about the same place and we probably all end up at the same place. I just started my journey sooner. In fact I am in year 32 of my evolution. For me phase 1 of the Evolution of the Strength and Conditioning Coach, The Bodybuilder, was actually in the 1970’s. I saw Boyer Coe guest pose at a show in Connecticut and wanted to be the next Frank Zane. If you don’t know who those guys are, it’s OK. You are just too young.

The truth is almost all male strength coaches and personal trainers go through the evolutionary process listed below.

Stage 1- The Bodybuilder.

Face it, we all started here. Maybe we wanted to get better at sports but what we really wanted in our teens was to look better for girls. To do this we picked up a muscle magazine, joined the local gym , copied the routines and began bodybuilding. The beauty of this stage is that we knew it all. We bombed and blitzed our way to success as Joe Weider looked on from the pages of Muscle and Fiction.

Stage 2-  The Powerlifter

At the onset of stage two the bodybuilder realizes that the really strong guys in the gym don’t give him the time of day.  In fact, the truly strong guys laugh at him in his tanktop as he admires his arms in the mirror. The young bodybuilder and future strength coach is determined to get some respect so he really works on his bench press to gain that respect. What he then realizes is that these strong guys don’t respect anyone with no legs and a big bench. The bodybuilder soon evolves to the powerlifter.  As in stage one we still know it all but what we know is different. We realize that what we thought we knew in stage 1 was not quite as true as we thought. At this stage we never admit any mistakes though. Stage two last for 2-3 years or until the first major injury. In this time period you really fall in love with the weightroom. You become diligent about diet and not missing training days and you get stronger almost every week. Your training partners cheer you on. Your technique is not perfect but you are moving big weight. Usually in stage 2 you also decide to enter a meet. A meet is great reality therapy. Your 315 bench done in “all you” form with just a bit of an arch and bounce becomes a 275 pause bench. Your “parallel” squats suddenly expose your lack of knowledge of geometry. Usually you bomb in the squat in your first meet and resolve to return a much better lifter. In stage two you are at your most macho. You laugh at anyone doesn’t do back squats and deadlifts and you post frequently to internet forums. All posts mention how strong you are and usually some line that belittles those who don’t lift heavy iron.

Stage 3- The Injured Powerlifter.

This stage begins with a bad back or a sore shoulder and usually lasts through one or two surgeries.  Stage three is like denial in the substance abuse world. You realize that your days of lifting huge weights are coming to an end but you refuse to say it out loud. Your searches of the internet now focus on healing your wounds. You vow to make a comeback. Often, you have surgery and attempt to lift in a meet again. Like a guy repeatedly slamming his fingers in the car door, you can’t wait to get back under the bar.

You learn about ART, MAT and a bunch of other therapies that seem to have guys names.  You also begin to sneak a few looks at books on injury prevention and heaven forbid, you begin to explore things like warm-up and mobility. At the end of the injured powerlifter stage you begin to apologize to those older and wiser that you made fun of and called names. You realize that much like your parents the guys you taunted on internet forums were just older and wiser.

Stage 4- The Functional Training Guy.

Most of us end in stage four. Usually we have a few scars from our time in stage three putting off the inevitable. In stage four we realize that we can still train however, the days of trying to pick up the heaviest thing you can lift goes by. You become an innocent bystander watching car wrecks as you see the young guys move from stage 1 to stage 2. You try to warn them but they laugh at you and go into their chat rooms and make fun of you. All you can think of is “call me when you are fifty and we can talk”.

The truth is evolution and development are both inevitable. Young men will always want to impress young women. They will also, in a very primal way, want to impress other young men. We can only hope to speed the evolution and save people some pain.  As you read this hopefully you will see yourself in one of these stages and intervene. Next time you get ready to “lay it on the line” ask yourself why.

PS- If you like this, feel free to repost it,, link to it whatever. Just include a link to StrengthCoach.com

Michael Boyle is a Boston based strength coach, and a partner in http://www.strengthcoach.com the worlds leader in performance enhancement on the internet. He has been in stage four for almost thirty years. Boyle has had one shoulder surgery, two knee surgeries and a bad back.  His best lifts in the late seventies when he was in stage 2 were 275 Bench 475 Squat and 475 Deadlift. These were done with an Inzer belt and a wrestling singlet.

15 Responses to “Evolution of a Strength Coach”

  1. […] I hear Mike Boyle’s Evolution of a Strength Coach idea, I like to apply the idea to most people that exercise, not just coaches (or trainers.)  […]

  2. […] When I first read Mike Boyle’s ‘evolution of a strength coach’ article I found myself thinking of how this might apply to coaches/trainers in other sectors of the fitness industry. This article is an adapted version of Evolution of a Strength Coach. […]

  3. Thanks to your knowledge and will to help others I have probably spent a little less time in each of the first few phases. I am happy to not have had any serious injuries and am learning ever day.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    Funny, never looked at it that way. That would make a great article.

  5. From a “performance” training perspective (training for sport), I think much of this is the same… only in reverse. Kid goes to a functional guy, speed guy or purchases a “speed program” off the internet. The kid has some success, but soon realizes that speed is about putting force into the ground, so the kid starts lifting to get stronger. Kid gets injured, so he rehabs and learns about all his imbalances. Kid starts to isolate and body build but starts to plateau. Kid goes back to the functional guy, or speed guy with a much broader foundation and now is able to apply both force into the ground and experience into the training. Kid comes full circle and has success. It’s really all about being receptive to the education, ready to learn. If we don’t have injuries and have never experienced a plateau, we never see the need for change.

  6. I see plenty of people doing this… but my first exposure to strength and conditioning was Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman. I was 19 and new… so I started in Phase 4. However, that is probably only because I was an injured cross country runner in high school… so I already knew injury and wanted to avoid it forever. Now that I some solid functional knowledge, I actually have just started getting into the powerlifting side of things… and after that, I might go for the more aesthetic look… so I might be backwards… but I’ll never ignore the function… that is the foundation of what I do, always.

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