Q: What do you focus on the most while training a client?
My clients understand that I require every movement to be perfectly executed. Proper form and excellent movement mechanics are crucial components that allow them to surpass their goals. I also pay close attention to how clients are feeling, and I look for cues to see how their bodies are responding to each exercise. This allows me to properly alter the workouts when needed in order to get the most out of each person. It just comes with the experience of knowing how to read your clients, and what they are capable of on any given day.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between training a life-long athlete versus the average adult just starting out?
Athletes tend to have good mechanics and footwork. They have strong body awareness and know how to properly shift or transfer their weight. The foundation is there, more or less, and it’s just a question of tweaking certain elements to improve performance. Of course, some athletes can have poor mechanics from years of moving incorrectly, and this can take some time to correct.
On the other hand, the average uncoordinated person needs to take a few steps back in order to rebuild basic movement patterns. As much as I appreciate helping well coordinated athletes improve their performance, I especially enjoy showing that with proper guidance, regardless of age, even the most uncoordinated of adults can begin to move and train like an athlete. You just have to be patient with every person, and you have to see their potential even when they can’t. It’s all about constantly tweaking and adjusting every exercise until the movement becomes fluid, and the person has advanced to a higher level of athletic ability.
Also, regardless of whom you are training, it’s important to look far enough ahead to make sure that they are progressing safely and effectively. Sometimes I will push clients to their limits, other times I will slow down the session to help correct a potential weakness. I have clients that were never athletic growing up, and still had nightmares about their gym teacher, but now, in their 40’s and 50’s, they are discovering the athlete that was always inside of them. I enjoy that.
Q: But should the average person train like an athlete?
The approach is similar in that both athletes and non-athletic people need to train to properly balance the body, improve performance, learn how to generate force, and reduce risk of injury. For the athlete, the best way to improve at a sport is to practice that sport as often as possible. However, continually training the body with the same repetitive movements leads to imbalances, injury and compensation patterns that limit the athlete’s ability to get back on the court or field. That’s why we name so many injuries after sports, such as golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, runner’s knee and so forth. In order to stay out of trouble, even the greatest of athletes exercise outside of their sport to eliminate weaknesses and muscular imbalances.
Athlete or not, we should all have the same goals of maintaining good structural and mechanical balance, and reducing risk of injury while performing normal life activities, such as picking up heavy objects, playing around with the kids, or even participating in weekend sports. For a lot of people, the new sport is mousing! Staying in front of the computer screen, slumped over with terrible posture. They go from being seated at a desk at work, to sitting in the car, to sitting at the dinner table and then the couch. The last thing I’m going to do with these people is have them perform a series of repetitive seated exercises on machines at a gym. I need to train them like athletes, working on their balance, power and agility so that they never feel limited in doing the activities that they enjoy in life. That’s how they stay young, and that’s how they compensate for an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
Now there is one caveat- some trainers and training systems sometimes go too far in pushing very difficult movements requiring lots of skill on individuals that, quite frankly, are not ready for it. Just because someone is able to get the weight up doesn’t mean that they have mastered the movement. This happens with athletes as well because they are so determined to do everything it takes to achieve a target, even if it means sacrificing proper form. And this can actually limit future progress as well as increase the risk of injury. You have to think ahead, build them up properly and set up a strong foundation. Along the way you may have to adjust, if not completely eliminate, certain movements depending on each individual. It’s a process, not a system, and as a trainer you need to be creative and come up with different ways to help clients achieve certain goals. That’s why I’ve never subscribed to any one system or style of training.
Q: Some people say that they are naturally uncoordinated and there is nothing they can do about it. Is this true?
I don’t care how uncoordinated you think you are, with proper guidance you can and you must train to improve coordination- don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It’s very important because it’s what keeps your body in sync, and what ultimately allows you to avoid plateaus and keep progressing.
There are many keys to improving coordination, but perhaps the most important, as a trainer, is that you have to be able to break down each movement into segments, have a great understanding of what’s involved, and teach it to the client. They say that many great athletes make horrible coaches because everything comes naturally to them, so they just don’t understand why others can’t do the same. To be able to teach it you have to understand it. It sometimes takes a lot of patience to train uncoordinated individuals with lots of muscular imbalances- but I know, from years of doing this, how to create and adjust exercises for each person in order to bring them a step closer. Step one is all in the brain- neural adaptations come first as you begin to reprogram your body. You start by working on elements of coordination such as balance, rhythm, and synchronization of movement- and I use everything I can think of to get the client to feel more comfortable with each movement- even little dance moves. It’s clear to see when a client begins to move more fluidly, and they feel it too- it’s a great feeling and I’m happy for them as they discover their athletic ability. Ultimately, there is a coordinated, strong, balanced and fit person living inside of all of us- it’s my job to bring that person out, and I won’t give up.
Q: What’s the difference between a group class versus one on one training.
I normally train a maximum of 4 people at a time in order to focus on each person with a level of detail that I find acceptable. And even within a group setting, clients of all ages and levels receive individualized workouts. After years of experience doing this, I’m able to create 4 individual workouts on the spot, and alternate the exercises during the session depending on how clients are performing. These small group sessions are dynamic, interactive, focused and lots of fun. For example, some of my groups include 3 generations of the same family- I have grandpa working out next to daughter and grandchild! They’re not doing the same thing, but they get to have fun together while experiencing something positive. Several clients like to bring in their teenage kids to train with them; it’s a way for them to get exposed to proper health information at a young age. So sometimes, depending on the group, we take a break from the workout and I use the whiteboard or screen to start teaching different health topics. These groups work their bodies and their minds at the same time.
The most common sessions I conduct are semi-private, meaning two (sometimes 3) people at a time. In this instance I really appreciate training young couples. When you get the husband and wife in the same room you can really make an impact on their lives. I’m proud to say that some of the couples I train have literally transformed their lifestyle based on the knowledge they acquired during our sessions.
So whether it’s one on one, semi-private, or small groups, I conduct each session based on what I feel is best for each individual. I’m also looking out for their long-term progression.
Q: Do you keep up to date with all of the latest fitness trends?
I keep up and I see what is out there, but I don’t blindly follow trends. I’m more interested in the human body than in fitness marketing.
Many people, including trainers, get caught up in fitness fads and trends that are based on more hype than substance. The result is wasted time and effort, and often an increased risk of injury. Instead of following these trends, you have to remain ahead of the industry by understanding how to review proper research, and then learn to apply this information to benefit your clients. You have to know how to separate the good from the bad, and the disasters as well! There is no shortage of trends in this industry, that’s for sure. So my main focus is always on the people I am training and NOT on the equipment or current fad. For example, I may choose to teach clients how to box so that they learn to properly move their hips, or I might make use of an agility ladder to accomplish the same goal. The exercise or equipment I choose depends on what I feel is best for the client in that particular moment. From weightlifting to powerlifting, plyometrics, boxing, balance training, bodyweight and suspension training, resistance band and sports specific training, I will certainly draw from a wide range of the most proven techniques to deliver the most effective and varied workouts.
I think the fact that I don’t blindly jump on every bandwagon, as trends come and go, is one of the reasons that my clients have remained with me for close to 15 years- they know I properly review information and they even make fun of me for the amount of time I spend studying. Bottom line is that they trust me, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
Q: What about clients in their seventies and eighties, do you use a different approach with them?
The short answer is no! That would be a great disservice to them. In fact, some of the fastest and greatest improvements I’ve seen are with clients that are above 70 years old.
Here’s the thing, as you get older you will notice that it gets more difficult to get up off the couch. Now you probably feel okay walking for hours, but you just have a hard time getting up. That’s because with age and lack of exercise you begin to lose your explosive muscle fibres. And even if you walk all day long, every day of the year, you won’t be doing anything that will help you get that explosiveness back. So when older people are instructed to go for walks and not to lift heavy weights, they are essentially being told to get older, lose function, and struggle for the rest of their lives. That’s just wrong. I have clients in their 70’s and 80’s that used to have a hard time getting up from their chair, and today they are able to get up from a seated position on the floor without using their hands. I train them with the same principles that I use to train athletes. Of course, the older you get, and especially if you haven’t taken care of yourself, you may have health conditions that restrict certain types of exercise- but that is also true for younger adults. So it’s not about age. Proper intensity exercise can literally change your life, even if you begin at an advanced age. I have senior clients training with me even following heart surgery, and they do fantastic.
Q: What about young children? What’s an appropriate age to start?
Near the beginning of my career I was teaching physical education in an elementary school. I was initially hired to show the teachers how to conduct their classes, but they must have seen something special in what I was doing because they quickly gave me the whole job! It was an incredible experience that lasted several years. I carefully designed every activity as a vehicle to teach children important lessons and skills that they could transfer to other parts of their lives. The recurring theme was “you get out of life what you put into it.” I learned that it’s never too early to benefit from the lessons that exercise and sports can teach.
Kids are eager to grow, to learn- especially when they understand that there is a purpose to what they are doing. I believe that once you teach a child about that magic ladder, they are going to want that ladder over and over again in life. What is the ladder? The ladder is starting something new, taking all the steps to improve, and then enjoying the feeling of being good at it. That’s the ladder- and you learn how to climb it. It’s how you learn to face challenges in life, how you learn about yourself, and how you get the most pleasure. If you quit before you get good at something, you will never truly enjoy life. Children, just like adults, all have the fundamental need to improve. It’s when we stop looking for that ladder that we get in trouble, we can’t get stagnant in our lives. I can tell you that every one of my students, ages 5 to 12, participated in all of my classes with full enthusiasm- even when they were doing repetitive drills- because they were shown how these little steps are exciting- and they found the magic in them.
From a technical standpoint, I found that you could start successfully correcting form and mechanics at a very young age- but you have to strike that perfect balance of teaching while letting them have fun – the best is if you have what it takes to make teaching fun. This allows you to get real technical without making it sound that way. Kids can see if you know what you are doing and, as I said earlier, when they see it working they start to enjoy the process a lot more.
Q: What’s more important, proper nutrition or exercise?
I get asked this often, and with 15 years of experience working with clients suffering from all types of chronic health issues, I can tell you, without any doubt, that it’s a silly question!
It’s 100% about exercise, and 100% about nutrition.
Here’s why: If you are suffering from bad posture, say you’re hunched over and you have neck and back pain on a daily basis, it won’t matter how well you eat. Nothing in this world will help you correct your posture other than resistance training. And here is something else- if your head isn’t properly aligned with your neck and you have forward head posture, even by a few inches, it can actually decrease your lung capacity by 30%. There is no diet on this earth that will fix that for you. Exercise is what you need. And if your bones and muscles are getting weaker there is only one way to strengthen them, and that’s by placing your body under some mechanical stress. This means exercise. No food or vitamin will do this for you. If you want to change the shape of your body without surgery, only a well designed training program can help you achieve that goal. The bottom line is if you want to feel and look your best you need proper exercise. You can lose weight without it, but you won’t feel very good, you won’t look very good, and you won’t be fit.
Now, regardless of how well you train, you will never be able to compensate for bad nutrition. Losing weight is not about how much you exercise, it’s about how well you eat- and whether you are eating the right kinds of food. More importantly, we know that almost every chronic health issue, from type 2 diabetes to high cholesterol, heart disease and even cancer can be prevented, and even reversed, with a proper plant-based diet. I produced a video on this topic, it’s called The Leading Cause of Death in Canada, and the answer is food! We’ve seen our clients, armed with a proper education in nutrition, reverse health issues with great success- this is what led me to create Markito Nutrition, and to pursue my education to become a holistic nutritionist. I’m very proud of the nutrition services that we offer our clients, and when you combine this with proper exercise, it’s the winning combination, and it’s what I call the real health-care system.
Finally, you just can’t separate exercise from nutrition because the body is a very complex system that needs both in order to function properly. And here is something everybody will relate to: when you eat better you have the energy to exercise more, and you recover faster from each workout. And when you exercise more, you feel better and are more inclined to eat well. That’s a fact. So anybody asking which is more important should be asking a totally different question, such as how much respect do you have for yourself…that’s what it’s really about.
Q: Why were you initially opposed to online personal training, and what finally made you start offering it?
I was, and still am, against the idea of trainers taking on hundreds of clients by utilizing online personal training software. Within seconds and with a few clicks they put together programs for people they haven’t met or properly evaluated. I stay away from that because I don’t find it very beneficial for the client. Why pay for a series of random exercises that you could get for free?
Finally, after several requests from people around the world who had watched some of my videos online, I decided to offer something unique that would benefit them. Today I do offer online personal training and support to clients who accept to do the following: first, they have to complete very detailed forms so that I can learn as much as possible about their health history, lifestyle and the goals they would like to achieve. Second, when asked, they have to be able and willing to record and send me a few short videos of themselves performing exercises so that I may evaluate their form. Third, they have to be willing to communicate often with me and to provide updates about how they are progressing. Many exercises that I prescribe, when done correctly, serve as a bridge to the next level of fitness. I have to see the client performing them properly at least once, and the lines of communication have to be open so that I can help each person fine tune their program. It’s not the most convenient way to do online personal training for the trainer, but it’s the right way for the client to ensure safety as well as proper progression and results. I set aside time in my schedule each week to help train my online clients, same as I would with clients who train at my studio face to face.
Q: What type of client do you enjoy training the most?
Clients that do their best without excuses, that ask the most questions, and that are interested in learning about nutrition as well. In other words, I enjoy it when they want to make substantial improvements not just with their workouts, but with other facets of their lives as well. When you accumulate knowledge and experience over many years, you want people to take advantage of it- that’s why you spend endless hours working to get better at what you do. Ultimately, you want to help people. That’s my job, and I don’t succeed if my clients don’t succeed- so my philosophy is let’s achieve something special. If your goals and ambitions are limited, I’m not right for you. The deal I make with each client is simply as follows: “I’ll give you everything I have, you must promise to do the same.” Whether you are in your physical prime, or going through some challenges, I know just what to do to get the best out of you- but you have to want it. My greatest reward is to witness clients achieve goals that they never imagined possible.
Q: What message do you have for the general public regarding their state of health?
We have the proof that the power of proper exercise and nutrition is stronger than any medicine in this world. Yet somehow we’ve been led away from our instincts, and tricked into passively participating in a culture of disease. The good news is that this generation is no longer accepting the status quo. I believe that people today are getting educated, becoming more conscious and, more than ever, looking to live well with energy, love and compassion. It comes down to this very simple fact: if you’re happy, you want a healthy body that allows you to experience this world to your greatest potential.