Barbell training has become incredibly popular over the last decade with much credit being given to Crossfit for putting the barbell in the limelight where it belongs. Let’s face it, when it comes to producing results, nothing can beat good ol’ fashioned strength training; thus the barbell. Thousands of people every year
are flocking to the barbell after being inspired by the Crossfit games, or any of the hundreds of Youtube channels featuring various types of barbell-based training modalities including: bodybuilding, powerlifting and Olympic weight lifting.
As more people become excited about strength training, the demand for this type of coaching continues to increase along with the number of businesses looking to cash in on this new market segment. This leads me to the burning question I’ve been pondering, “Do strength training and technical lifts incorporating the barbell belong in a franchise or corporate fitness concept?” My answer… “AWW, HELL NO!”
Alright, hold your horses for a second and give me a moment to qualify my opinion. To better understand my reasoning, you first have to understand the most basic requirements a franchise or corporation must possess in order to actually be, a true scalable business model. The best book I’ve ever read on this subject is called the E-myth, written by Michael Gerber. The book is a how-to guide for turning any small family-owned business into a “turn key” money makin’ machine…This “turn key” idea is the fuel igniting the flame of every major start up business being marketed today. The hook is, own your own business and never actually work in it ever again…
The book suggests there are a number of essential factors a business owner must strategically implement to create this “turn key” revolution. Here are a few to give you a rough idea:
- The company must create systems and document them into training manuals
- The company must create a consistent, brandable experience. Think McDonalds…McDonald’s Big Mac is the same Big Mac if you buy it in Selma, Alabama or Saudi Arabia. If you don’t have a consistent product, you don’t have a franchise.
- Provide consistent value to your stakeholders
- Be operable by people with the lowest possible level of skill
… “WTF does that mean?”
That’s right, bullet point #4 states that no successful franchise can operate unless it can create a consistent product which has to then be operated by employees who possess the lowest possible skillset…The business must be scalable in order to replicate it. Think about it. Could McDonald’s be Mcdonald’s if it depended on highly skilled butchers to process its meat? Could they exist if they required chefs with culinary degrees from established institutions? Could they exist if they purchased their products from local farmers and bakers? No. No. No. And No.
Franchise and big box gym fitness is no different. They must create a product (fitness classes, personal training) which is easily scalable, relying on equipment such as treadmills, rowers and spin bikes to do all the heavy lifting for them. If you look at the rise of most current fitness trends you will see this model replicated over and over again. Truth be told, it doesn’t take much education or skillset to teach an employee how to load 30 people on a treadmill, or rower and provide basic instructions as to how to operate them.
In turn they then have half the class perform some basic exercise like a burpee, kettlebell swing or some variation of suspension (e.g., TRX) exercises and you’ve got your scalable hamster wheel, conveyer belt, cater to the masses fitness business. In many ways, this model fits a lot of people’s goals and fitness needs. The majority of people want a simple, social, predictable exercise experience much the same way many people want and crave a Big Mac that can be grabbed at the drive thru for $1.99. When it comes to a simple exercise bout, you may very well be content with a group class in your box gym or one of dozens of fitness franchises on every corner. But when it comes to strength training, its time to hire a chef.
Strength training, especially technical exercises involving the barbell is the ultimate truth serum of fitness and absolutely destroys the e-myth process. Here’s why. First, barbell training requires a coach with an extensive understanding of human anatomy and the knowledge to be able to regress (downplay) or progress (elevate) exercises in real time. A fitness chef must be able to correct dysfunctional movement patterns through specific exercises and stretches. He/she must be able to watch the technique, identify breakdowns in the fundamentals, understand why these breakdowns are happening and most importantly know how to fix it. He/she must be able to program on an individual basis so the trainee doesn’t over or undertrain and no template will work for every client. Usually this means the coach has an advanced degree in the subject and also certifications from relevant, and credible sources. They probably spent a shit ton of money obtaining these credentials and expect to be paid for their expertise. Budget friendly training is usually exactly the level of coaching you will get. Secondly, they themselves must have at least ten years of experience under the bar and be well-versed in every barbell-based modality including: bodybuilding, powerlifting (bench, Squat, deadlift) and they Olympic lifts and there variations (clean and jerk, snatch). If they cannot claim these credentials, they may simply understand the science of strength training, but not the art. Lastly, no two people posses the same lever arms or dysfunctional movement patterns, which makes every lift unique to the lifter. There are best practices in barbell training. What is always true, is that no two people will squat, press, snatch or deadlift quite the same way. Nor will any two people respond to the same coaching methods. One person gets it by watching (Visual Learner). Someone else gets it by verbal commands like “sit back, chest up” (Auditory learner), and yet another needs all the above plus an actual kinesthetic practice run. To sum it up, the coach must also have 5-10 years’ experience coaching human beings. Total qualifications to become a strength coach:
- 4 Year advanced degree
- Multiple, very expensive certifications in the field
- 10 years consistent training in all associated lifts
- 5-10 years of coaching experience
Coaching the barbell and all its intricacies requires mastery in the subject matter. Due to the required level of expertise it is often impossible for a box gym or franchise fitness center to hire and maintain the level of scientific mastery necessary to help you perfect your technique. Look for someone who has a solid, seasoned book of clients. Probably the best have their own business. If you are not sure, ask for references, talk to people who are working with coaches on similar goals, and have achieved what you are looking to accomplish. Don’t settle, and never compromise your body. Once you get under that bar, there is no turning back. If you want to learn how to make Crème Brulee you better find a culinary master, not a fast food cook.