Robin Williams Made Me a Better Trainer
I’ve wanted to write this post ever since I learned of the premature passing of Robin Williams, but the timing just wasn’t right for me. I wanted to give it time to not only sink in, but also for all the waves that his untimely death created to subside. Although I hardly think that the impact of his passing is actually settled just yet, tonight, I just felt it was time to put this out there.
Fortunately, I grew up in the 90’s. I say that, because during that decade Robin came out with some pretty fantastic movies and characters to watch. He was not just the comedic genius we all came to love, but I found that his more serious roles were just as awe-inspiring and captivating as his comedy. Since his untimely death, I’ve taken time to think back on all his movies I watched growing up and I realized that many of these films actually taught me life lessons, if you will, that have helped me grow into a successful personal trainer. So without further ado, I’d like to spend the next few moments illustrating just how Robin Williams made me a better fitness coach.
Let’s start with a different take on one of my favorite stories of all time, Hook. In the film, Robin plays an aging Peter Pan who has abandoned his home on Never Never Land and is now an overweight, corporate Joe-Schmo who works too much, avoids time with his family and has absolutely no recollection of the boy wonder he used to be. Hell, Peter Pan is even afraid of heights as an old man now! The boy who vowed to never grow up did just that, and not in a good way. And that’s my point. Your age should never matter, as long as you’re remaining a kid at heart. Taking time to enjoy life, to enjoy adventure and to be around those you love more often than not is the true key to happiness.
As far as training clients go, I can tell you that both the client and the trainer (me in particular) get more of out any session and any program when we’re all having a good time. There’s nothing worse than a clipboard holding, coffee worshipping, rep counter for a trainer in my book. I love getting in their and not just coaching but taking that 45 minutes to have a GREAT time and honestly just be a kid again while we’re working out. The session is much more enjoyable and is therefore much more effective. I mean let’s face it, some days you just don’t want to go get your ass kicked by a trainer… and vice versa… some days I’d much rather stay in bed than wake up at 3:45 AM to get downtown to the studio and train. But, I know, and even more importantly my clients know, that once we get settled in and once we get into the hard part of the workout, no matter what else we both have going on outside of that session, we’re going to have a damn good time for the next 45 minutes! Now, and you can ask my clients about this, this doesn’t mean we’re going to just goof off and not workout! Quite the contrary! But it should be and needs to be FUN! Why else would you put yourself through burpees and kettlebell swings on a regular basis?
Next, and on a more serious note, not just one of my favorite Robin Williams’ movies, but one of my all time favorite flicks is Good Will Hunting. This drama has a complex storyline but is eloquently written by and stars, along with Williams, Ben Afflec and Matt Damon. There’s one scene in particular when Williams and Damon are sitting on a park bench after their previous, explosive therapy session wherein Damon challenges Williams to the point where Williams snaps and literally pins him against the wall with a fire in his eyes like he’s about ready to pummel this man. But that’s not it. As a trainer, it’s not my job to pummel my clients. In fact, that would be bad for business! But in this particular scene, when the two are seated on the park bench, the soft spoken Williams just tears down Damon’s character’s walls by telling him nothing he wanted hear, but EVERYTHING he needed to hear at the time. Really digging into the core of the issues he’s facing and not bullshitting his way around it to make him feel better.
This is where Robin helped me as a trainer. You see, sometimes the necessary conversations, although hard, are exactly what is needed. I learned, from this film, and in my own experiences, that the harsh truth will help someone find their own path much more effectively than sugar coating everything to “keep a client happy.” When I first started training about 10 years ago, I always told the clients what they wanted to hear as to not upset them in fear that they would discontinue working with me or whatever. I was there to make them feel good all the time. Well this “feel good all the time” approach didn’t necessarily give them the information or motivation they needed to get the results they desired. In that regards, it was my fault. I avoided the uncomfortable conversations and therefore did not challenge them to make the necessary changes needed to achieve the results they were seeking. In the end, without having these types of conversations and not setting them up for success, despite my best efforts to keep them happy and not lose them, the lack of progress would cause them to leave anyway and who could blame them.
About 6 years ago I decided no more! I will not simply cater to being comfortable and therefore not challenging my clients to constantly seek improvement by sugar coating things. Now, I ‘m not a total jerk about things, but nowadays, if I see a client is not showing up for his or her workouts, or is not eating how I’ve coached them too, or is spending more time on his or her phone than actually working out during the session; I’m more equipped and more confident to approach them about it. I know that if I don’t have the necessary conversation with them than I’m not only doing them an injustice as their trainer, but I’m also doing myself an injustice as a fitness professional. Again, I challenge you to not seek confrontation, but don’t fear it either when you know that the regardless the outcome, you’ve done all you can to set that person up for success in the future.
Finally, Patch Adams. Need I say more. I love, LOVE this movie. And just like in Good Will Hunting, there’s one scene in particular that stands out to me. It’s the final board-hearing scene near the end of the flick where Patch (Williams) is defending his right to practice medicine and become a doctor. In the scene Williams states, “Treat a disease you win, you lose. But treat a person, and you will win every time!” In training, no one client is just like the other. Therefore, no workout should be just like the other. Now there may be some similarities, as you know from reading my blog I focus on essentialism when it comes to training and getting rid of the fluff aka “functional training” bullshit.
But each client needs a different level of motivation. Each client needs a different way to be held accountable. Each client has different stressors ready to pounce on them as soon as they leave the studio. Each client is an INDIVIDUAL and should be treated, coached and trained as just that, an individual. I don’t have cookie cutter, pre-designed programs. I do have tested and proven theories and programming notes that work. So I use these notes and mold them to fit each client specifically rather than trying to make the clients fit my style of training. Our goal as a team of trainers is to connect with each person who comes through our doors on a personal, individual level no matter if they’re a private or group training client. It’s all the same, when you come to FT, you’re unique and we’re going to train you that way. Period.
I could literally spend hours writing about Robin Williams, as I’m sure many of you could too. He was such a talent. A comedic genius who could also pull at your heart strings at the same time. I hate that he was plagued by so many personal demons. But I’m thankful for the impact he made on my life and hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe.