Lesson 1:  Needs Before Wants

Initial and continuous assessment of abilities and goals is one of the most important components of training.  The purpose of an assessment is to recognize your current level of ability and to use that as the starting point to develop a plan to achieve your goals.

The majority of the time, when someone sets an exercise specific goal it is a “want”.  For example: I want to be able to squat 500 pounds. I want to run a marathon.  I want to do 10 strict chin-ups, I want to deadlift double my body weight.  There aren’t many situations in life in which you will have a natural or functional “need” to do any of these, unless by the requirements of a chosen activity or sport.   So as I said, they are wants, not necessarily what your body needs for health or functionality.

Let’s move on.

Introducing Client A:

During the consultation, we begin to learn that Client A was able to deadlift double bodyweight back in his “prime”. We are then informed his prime was back in high school. He begins to describe the scene with incredible detail, “I put on my lifting belt, wrapped my hands to the bar and had all of my teammates scream at me until I finished the rep”. 

Good for you sir! 

How much weight was it that you lifted?

“340 POUNDS!”

Good for you sir!

By now I have learned that in his “prime” he weighed 170 pounds. He is currently easily over 200 pounds, making his goal a 400+ pound deadlift.  I have also learned that it has been 10 years since he has touched a barbell or exercised at all. In addition to that, he works 40 hours per week sitting behind a desk and suffers from chronic lower back pain. (I wonder why!)

Now it becomes apparent that the most important NEED for this client is to educate him on what the journey to his goal is going to look like and what NEEDS to be done in order to achieve it.

As a coach, one of the most important skills is your ability to reverse engineer a goal (want) and motivate and educate a client to commit to the journey rather than their end goal.

Here is what my take on what reverse engineering a double BW deadlift looks like:


Deadlift 1.5 x BW

Deadlift 1 x BW

Deadlift 1/2X BW

Deadlift X Bar

Learn to Grip the bar

Learn to BW Hinge

Have adequate posture, mobility, and composition to perform hinge

Assess posture, mobility, and body composition.

Be cleared for exercise.

Perform a consultation and health history session.

It is time to explain to Client A that we need to work on his body composition, mobility and relative body strength before we start worrying about doing a heavy lift.  In this explanation, my goal is to maintain motivation and to get him to “buy-in” to the plan.

By now the picture should be clear. And although this is a simple list, within each of these tasks you can find a lot more detail, effort, and our most precious commodity, time. It is important that transition from one step to the other is done safely and appropriately. How long will it take? That I can’t predict with certainty, but I can tell you - if you take it too fast in pursuit of the end goal, bad things can and will happen.

Recognizing these issues is only the beginning. Anybody could have reviewed client A’s consultation and realize that what he wants is not in alignment with what his body first needs.  Recognition is the easy part. 

The challenge is acceptance. Acceptance on the end of the client to be specific. How can I get this guy to accept that he is no longer in his prime? That he will not be lifting heavy things yet? So on and so forth.

It can be a huge culture shock when someone is expecting deadlifting and heavyweights and their to-do list turns into hip bridges and bird dogs.

As a coach, it is important to clearly and concisely communicate to a client why” this” will lead to “that”.  It is the coach’s responsibility to keep the client engaged and motivated and you do this by turning the needs into the wants.

When a goal seems far out of reach, smaller and more achievable goals need to become the focus of your attention. Setting small goals will set you up for success in achieving them, which will, in turn, give you the confidence (and skills) to be successful with those bigger goals that seem unattainable. Concentrate on the progress of the client’s “needs” and the “wants” will SAFELY follow!           

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