Badges of Success in Training the General Population

The following article was originally published on

 While the focus of this site is on strength and conditioning for athletes, I know that many of the coaches on here also work with the general population. I have for several years and it’s often been the most rewarding part of my job. 

I’ve seen a lot of people go through our facility and I can tell you that there are telltale signs within your own client population that indicate you’re doing a good job – above and beyond producing short-term results. These are badges of success and any coach who has most (or all) of these should be proud of them.


Training success has a lot less to do with novelty or constant change and a lot more to do with keeping people engaged and focused. At the end of the day, training residuals don’t last that long and the people who continue to train – week in and week out – will have the most to show for it.

 If you are able to teach your clients that training is a marathon, not a sprint, you will be able to produce great long-term results.

 Late Bloomers

This is an extension of the category above. You will periodically encounter people who start working with you before they’re really ready. They like the idea of getting fit but are not prepared for the amount of change truly required to make their goals a reality.

 Let’s be honest, we’re describing most people. Much of the fitness business banks on the fact that people won’t use their gym memberships. It’s an unfortunate reality.

 For someone not yet ready to change, the limiting factor may be nutrition. It may be outside stress. It may even be the fact that hard training – to the neophyte – causes their nervous systems to scream, “Stop! It feels like you’re killing me!” There may be a whole stack of obstacles in the way. This is common and may take months (or years) to fully deal with.

Taking somebody from this category and keeping them in the loop for more than a 6-8 weeks can require diligent work. Having them stick things out for several months means that you’re doing something really right. However, the real (and some of the best) success stories come from those who required a much longer timeframe to begin to make significant change.

If you’ve helped people reach their goals after an extended period of training, it means that you were able to gently build the foundation they needed and provide support– even when nothing was going right. Most importantly, it means you’ve taught them the cumulative value of hard work.

I have a soft spot for late-bloomers because I think that they’re the first people to slip through the cracks.

Iron Butterflies

Aside from being a nod to a long-faded band from the 60s, this badge refers to female clients who have emerged from the training process with very different goals than the ones they brought in.

One of my biggest complaints about the industry is how females are consistently given low expectations about strength and training potential. Women, to be clear, are very competitive with men with you compare strength per lb. of lean body mass. However, maniacs like Tracy Anderson continue to be influential enough to hold back many females from exploring rewarding strength work.

If a woman comes in with a fear of becoming too “bulky” and you are able to progressively alleviate that fear and replace it with a love of strength and hard-won lean muscle mass, then you have done her a great service.

This doesn’t mean being dogmatic about strength or forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. That’s called being a jerk. You need to address a client’s goals while gently nudging them in the direction of their true potential.

When a female client approaches me and says, “You know, I think I’d like to focus on getting really strong,” or even “Let’s pack some more muscle on!” I feel like we’ve expanded her ideas of what fitness is and helped her take pleasure in legitimate work without fear of what other people might think.

Whatever the Opposite of a Purple Heart is

The army doesn’t give out medals for not getting injured but perhaps we should. As Coach Boyle has pointed out many times, if a client gets injured while training with you, that’s your fault. Every program has to weigh benefit with injury risk.

It isn’t complicated to get people working at high intensities while keeping the risk of musculoskeletal injury low. The trick is to remain flexible and not be married to any single approach. This brings us to our next badge.

Keeping Things Simple

“When in doubt, strength and conditioning.” There are any number of tools out there, from Olympic lifting to kettlebell work that tend to get people wrapped up in one school of thought. If you’ve opened up an Olympic lifting gym or a kettlebell gym, ok. Just do that. However, if your goal is to get the best results possible, that’s different. See what you assimilate quickly and easily from different training methodologies. Put these methodologies to work for your clients (and not vice-versa).


A tai chi teacher once told me this story: his grandfather traveled to Malaysia in the 1970s to start up a new tai chi club. Since his stay was not very long, he prepared a voice recording to walk people through the 108 movements of the tai chi form. And every day for 35 years, the group would wake up early, put on the recording and diligently follow along.

When this teacher visited the club himself a decade ago, he took a look at the group’s movements and said, “That’s actually very impressive. Now let’s see how you do without the recording.” What he saw caught him off-guard.

Nobody could remember the movements. After practicing several days a week for over three decades, many of these people had never learned to follow the form from pure memory.

Your clients should want to train with you and benefit a great deal from your expertise. However, if you’ve truly coached them well, they’ll be able to train independently when necessary.

Fun but Focused

There is a delicate balance between dedicated, focused work and having fun. When people visit your club, they should see a group of people that are continually in motion. Clients should support each other, cheer each other on and even joke with each other. However, you’ll know that you’re promoting the right atmosphere if most exchanges take place while people are still trying to recover their breath.