When I first entered a weight room, I was a scrawny 14 year old kid with broad shoulders and little to no idea what in the world I was doing there. The big guys in their 40s who looked like they could lift a house off the ground intimidated me, the women who looked like they could lift the big guys in their 40s intimidated me, and the rest of the people in the weight room obviously felt the same way I did. There was the noxious odor of sweat-soaked leather that is singularly unique to a hardcore weight room that I found both pungent and strangely cloying. There was the rock music that the old guys insisted be played as loudly as possible, and no one was going to argue the point. And there were mirrors. Everywhere there could be a mirror, there was a mirror.
Initially, the desire to turn around and never come back was almost overwhelming. And for the first few weeks, that sensation didn’t subside. In fact, the day one of the bigger old guys yelled at me to rack my weights, it took everything in me to stand and take the admonishment and fix my error.
But, I stuck it out.
I kept coming back.
Over time, I realized the old guys appreciated how hard I was working, even though I only had a handful of “workouts” from one of the prominent bodybuilding rags of the day to guide me. They never approached me or talked to me, but they left me the hell alone. Which, I realize now, is what I was seeking. There is a peace that comes over the trainee who just buries all the focus and mental fortitude within to the task of lifting iron. Henry Rollins’ seminal article, “Iron and The Soul” is revelatory for anyone who wants to understand the mindset of a lifter. When I set out to begin training people, I was looking for people who had that same drive and intensity.
What I found, however, was really contrary.
People, it was discovered by yours truly, don’t like to exercise. When I started to work with increasingly broad samples of the population, it became obvious that most of them actually detested exercise, and did it as a form of pennance for their dietary sins. So, being a student of people and their motivations, it became clear that finding ways to make the process not just palatable, but actually enjoyable was crucial to my success. What’s more, it was clear that many of them didn’t like exercise because they had so many negative connotations that came about from bad experiences as kids, and/or because they were in some form of physical discomfort.
And THAT realization led me (as it does for so many trainers and strength coaches) down the road of “Corrective Exercise.” Addressing posture, analyzing form in obscure exercises, and watching the way people walked became part of my gig, sometimes to the point of becoming the gig. It wasn’t unusual in my time at the corporate gym setting for someone with some kind of dysfunction or discomfort in the midst of a conversation with a member of the sales team to start talking about their issues, and for the salesperson to say, “Hold on, let me get Robert. He’s an expert on injuries.” I wasn’t and I’m not, but that didn’t stop the referrals.
When I started to really get serious about pursuing strength, I learned that much of it is neurological in nature. I won’t put it into a hard number, but I would estimate that strength is well over 80% determined by what happens between someone’s ears. And as I taught the principles of strength to people who had never considered its use before, I noticed certain tendencies. It came to my attention that when teaching someone particularly complex in terms of movement or a new approach to a familiar movement, the trainee’s plantar fascia would cramp up on them, even in positions where the feet were completely uninvolved. With some study, I came to call this cramping a “guarding response,” wherein the trainee’s brain is interpreting a movement pattern as unsafe, and so it was introducing a harmless cramp in the foot to stop the attempt.
Little did I know where that would take me. . .
I had heard of Z-Health Performance in my autodidactical meanderings, but felt the curriculum was too esoteric in nature, too cerebral for a guy whose thing was “Strength & Movement.” And then I took the Neurofundamentals course.
It completely changed my outlook on my work.
I realized that yes, all training is neurological, whether we realize it or not.
The frustrations I had endured trying to employ corrective exercise solutions repeatedly with certain clients and students over months, and sometimes years, suddenly made sense.
I understood why certain trainees adapted easily to training while others felt like dragging a mule up a muddy hill.
So many things struck me with such lucidity that I knew I would forever view my work differently as a result.
Now when I look back at that 14 year old kid in the weight room, I understand those moments in that weight room were building blocks. It is clear now that the years of learning so many languages and iterations of movement weren’t a waste. Instead, they were clarifications of lens through which I view my work.
Most importantly, they aren’t supplanted by what I have learned through the process of becoming a Z-Health Practitioner. They give me an enormous library of skills to use to enhance the lives of my clients/students/pupils. And that library is supercharged by what I am continuing to absorb through the Z-Health curriculum.
In some ways, I feel like I’m starting all over.
But only in the best ways.