What I Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer for My Gym

I’m in the process of hiring a personal trainer (or two) for Custom Strength, to avoid having to turn new clients away. But it’s a fine balance, as our clients expect a certain level of knowledge and ability from their trainer. It thrills me that our clients expect this, and I love that it keeps me on my toes and keeps me learning so that we can continue to provide great training. It does, however, make hiring a challenge. There are some great trainers out there, but most are already enjoying a rewarding career elsewhere (although if you’re a great trainer in Ottawa who is no longer enjoying your career, please shoot me an email). There are also many not so great trainers out there, and then there are the new or soon to be trainers.

The new or soon to be trainers may be great from a personality and potential perspective, but they just don’t possess the knowledge and experience necessary to work with my clients. I’ve come to the realization that in order to grow Custom Strength, I need to help develop some trainers. And I’m happy to do so as I love to teach, especially to those who are keen to learn. Unfortunately I’m very busy, which means I have to be somewhat discriminating with my time. This may be a good thing, because it means I have to pre-screen who I am willing to help. I was reminded of this recently when I interviewed a few potential trainers, and then took them through a couple of training sessions to get a feel for their training and movement knowledge and ability. There were a couple of people I really liked in the interview, but their knowledge just wasn’t there. It is true that I can teach it, but I actually don’t think that’s the right start. Instead I am putting the ball back in their court. Here’s my response to an email from one of these individuals, who had expressed frustration in the circle of not having experience, but not being given the opportunity to get experience:

“To your frustration, I get it. And I would like to help, but I guess I need for you to have a bit more knowledge first. That said, you may be able to get that outside of work. There are some books and a website that I can suggest that will help you learn some of the basics that strongly influence how Custom Strength works. Unfortunately this stuff is not taught in the certification you took. The good news about that, is that learning this can catapult you way ahead of where you are now.

Training Resources I wish all Trainers would read:*
1. Movement or Athletic Body in Balance by Gray Cook
2. Advances in Functional Training or Functional Training for Sport by Michael Boyle
3. Any Core Performance book by Mark Verstegen
4. Any New Rules of Lifting book by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove (the Women’s one is co-written by the amazing Cassandra Forsythe)
5. A membership to StrengthCoach.com. Read articles from it, and follow the forum threads. This is a gold mine of knowledge. Also members can download a free ecopy of Advances in Functional Training.
6. Ignite the Fire by Jon Goodman. This one is about the personal training profession, including things like how to market yourself. From the perspective of your frustrations about not being able to get experience without having experience, this will be especially helpful.

This is not an exhaustive library, but rather what I would consider a solid introduction to the style of training that we do at Custom Strength. More importantly, it’s an introduction to what I believe is a solid approach for how a trainer should look at the needs of the body. As you read these books, you’ll notice common themes. That commonality is the underlying body of knowledge that I want any trainer who works for me to have. I’m happy to help develop and train it further for the right person. But please understand that training and developing someone to help them be the best trainer they can be takes time and energy. Before I will commit my time to helping develop someone further as a trainer, I need that person to commit to their own self-improvement. I want to invest my energy in the kind of person who will see this list, and excitedly go buy them (or get them from the library) right away.

Put another way: If you’re looking for work in a field where you don’t have a lot of experience, you’re effectively asking to be assessed on things like personality, potential, drive, and enthusiasm. Your actions in response to the reading list above speaks volumes about drive and enthusiasm.

Once you’ve spent a month or two reading, email me back and let me know that you’re ready to meet again. Just be ready to talk about what you’ve learned. I don’t expect you to have memorized anything, so don’t stress. Think of it as an opportunity to talk about what you’re learning, to ask questions about things you didn’t quite get, and to even bring up anything where you disagree with the authors. Here’s the real point of this (on top of you learning): I am a geek when it comes to training, and I will happily offer my time to help someone else who is interested enough in training that they want to read and then talk about what they read. The flip-side of this: if you’re not much of a reader, then realistically, you are going to have a hard time becoming a trainer. If that is the case though, definitely pick up Ignite the Fire as a minimum. It alone won’t help you get work at Custom Strength, but it is a great resource to help you get work and clients.

Lastly, while you’re reading, try to apply the training principles you learn to yourself and to your friends. You can try to do this by coaching yourself, or by following one of the training programs in one of the books above, or hire a great coach who is experienced in the type of training these books espouse. If you’re in Ottawa, you could consider getting trained at Custom Strength for a while. Or if it would feel weird to hire me and then apply to work for me, there are other great choices: The Athletic Conditioning Centre, John Zahab at Continuum Fitness, and Jonathan Chant at Fitness for Freedom. Note there are other great training options in Ottawa where you can learn, but I didn’t list them because I’m not as familiar with the approaches of others or how similar or different they are from what we do at Custom Strength.

Good luck with your learning and I hope to hear from you in a month or two.”

Addendum: If you are an experienced trainer in Ottawa, and you have read most of the books above, and maybe you’re thinking, how come she didn’t include Supertraining, Periodization Training for Sports, Low Back Disorders, Diagnosis and Training of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Athletic Development, or anything by Eric Cressey? Great question! And if you are looking for a change, or maybe to add a shift or two each week somewhere different, I definitely would love to hear from you.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is eager to find great people to join the team at Custom Strength. Those great people don’t need to have experience if they are willing to put in a little effort.

* Note that the links to the books and website above are all affiliate links. I don’t have any reservations about earning a few bucks for recommending solid resources. If, however, that bothers you to be a part of the whole affiliate system, then instead of clicking the links above, open a separate browser tab and search for the book title or website directly. I won’t know the difference, and if I did, I wouldn’t be offended.

To FMS or not to FMS: That is the assessment

This is the second part of a two-part post about personal training client assessment options. Check out part one here where I talk about why I was looking for alternatives for the FMS and what I was looking at.

For the past ten weeks I have put new clients through a dual assessment: the FMS as well as the alternative assessment I shared in part one. Note, I understand that the FMS is designed as “a screen” and not an assessment however I think that distinction is founded in the context of a medical assessment. As a trainer, when I say assessment, I am not referring to a medical assessment, but rather a tool for collection of information about a client that I can use to help guide the exercise program I will create for them. A review of a few dictionaries confirms this as a valid use of assessment.

I ran 15 people through the dual assessment. As mentioned in part one, I made notes after the assessments about what I learned from each for each person, but then I didn’t look at it again until this week as a means to reduce any pre-judgement I might have.

My conclusion:
Ten weeks after starting this test drive, I have decided to stick with the FMS, with a few additions. I know part one had a tone that suggests I would be parting ways with the FMS. I wrote that before I started testing the alternative, and at the time, I thought I would end up dropping the FMS. Even though I felt that way, I am an engineer at heart, and that means I don’t make decisions like that without a proper evaluation. Given my conclusion, I’m thankful for that.

Here are the main contributors to my decision to stick with the FMS:

1. The things I like about the alternative assessment were related to how well they set me up to coach exercises we would be doing during my client’s first training session, but it didn’t have much impact on selecting the exercises. Practically speaking, I was just taking part of the first training session and doing it as part of the assessment. I’m not sure that’s actually a gain.

2. As I ran new clients through the alternative assessment, I realized it wasn’t giving me as much clarity in regards to corrective exercises as the FMS does. I am certain I could map the movements of the new assessment to appropriate corrective exercises, so the new assessment could accomplish this in time. But I am already able to do this with proficiency using the FMS, so at best this falls into the category of different but not better.

3. There were three areas where I like the alternative assessment so much that I will continue to do them after the FMS. In fact they almost won me over to the new approach:

  • Hip hinge: I mentioned in part one of this post that I was moving toward the thought that the Active Bent Leg Raise (ABLR) would be a better predictor of deadlift ability than the Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR). In practice, it wasn’t. Almost everyone can do a decent ABLR (maybe obvious to some, but it wasn’t to me). The hip hinge on the other hand was very useful.

    I think this really demonstrates Dr. David Frost’s point about transferability of movement quality to actual movement (part one for more). Whether or not someone can lift their leg beyond a certain angle does not mean that they can deadlift safely. A score of 2 or 3 on the ASLR means they have the hip range of motion to deadlift safely, but a deadlift also requires movement coordination and stability. There are a fair number of people for whom the hip hinge movement is foreign, and for these people, programming a deadlift as their main hip dominant strength exercise in their first training program is a missed opportunity. This is because we’ll spend too much time teaching, and until it looks good, we will have to limit the load. The hip hinge test allows me to see who is actually capable of doing a deadlift which, in conjunction with the ASLR, helps me to decide who gets a deadlift pattern as a starting strength exercise and who will gets an alternative like a hip lift while working on the hip hinge as a corrective exercise.

    The other reason I like the hip hinge in the assessment is that, further to Dr. Frost’s point, I’m no longer convinced that a score of 1 on the ASLR is necessarily a sign that someone doesn’t possess the movement required to deadlift. The ASLR would be a good choice to screen for whether someone possesses the movement to straight leg deadlift, but that’s not an exercise I use. I have clients doing conventional deadlifts (from risers if warranted), Romanian deadlifts (like the straight leg but slightly bent legs), rack pulls, and single leg Romanian deadlifts.

    Admittedly a 1 on the ASLR likely means a person won’t be a good candidate for conventional deadlifts from the floor, but that is not the only deadlift option I’m considering. I do like the ASLR because it will help me to determine which deadlift patterns are more likely to be good options – once I have determined with the hip hinge that they are candidates for a deadlift at all.

  • Arms crossed squat: Watching people do the arms crossed squat made it very clear to me that I don’t like the Deep Squat (DS) as a screen for whether someone has the movement to squat well. I saw many people perform poorly on the DS who had a very nice arms crossed squat. Testing the arms crossed squat allows me to decide whether a goblet squat is a viable option for someone’s first program, whereas the DS is sometimes unclear for this.

    I love split squats as a first program squat option, but there are some people for whom it is a gruelling exercise. Usually (but not always) these are people who struggle with the In Line Lunge (ILL) in the FMS. For these people, I would prefer to work on the split squat as a corrective and build strength with a squat version that more suits their current body.

    The practical reality is that I want my assessment to help me determine what knee exercises make the most sense for my client initially. Unfortunately the combination of the DS and ILL don’t always succeed at that. If someone scores a 2 or 3 on the deep squat, I can feel confident that they will be a good candidate for the goblet squat. But if someone scores a 1, I don’t know whether or not this would be a good choice for them. I want to know.

  • Bird dog: The bird dog is similar but different from the Rotary Stability (RS) test. I really like the bird dog as a test because it tells me whether someone has the stability for the exercise, and by asking where they feel it, it gives me insight into how well they’ll do at lateral/rotary core exercises like Pallof presses, and side planks. I think a side plank could achieve the same thing.

    Lateral core stability is an interesting topic for me at the moment. Ever since I started asking clients where they feel rotary and lateral core exercises, I have heard some responses about their shoulders and backs, while others thankfully say core. It turns out many of my clients were looking good while doing exercises to train rotational stability, but they weren’t getting that stability the way I hoped. Finding this out changed the way I program for rotary core stability, and as such, I like either the bird dog or side plank in the assessment.

    At the same time, I also don’t care for the more challenging part of the RS test. In fact, if I had my way, I would use the FMS but replace the same side elbow to knee touch test with a bird dog where they perform 3 reps for 5 second holds with one arm leg combination and then repeat with the other. The problem with the stability part of the RS test is that it’s too hard for most of the population, meaning the result provides very information.

    Doing the bird dog in addition to the opposite side arm/leg rotary stability test in the FMS would tell me everything I want to know. The opposite arm leg RS part tells me about range of motion (and stability to an extent), and the bird dog part tells me about their ability to stabilize. Adding the “where do you feel it” question makes it a complete picture.

4. There were two other parts of the alternative assessment that have me thinking:

  • Push-up: I saw people perform poorly on the FMS Trunk Stability Push Up (TSPU) but then do well on a “normal” push up. I still like the TSPU because I think it provides valuable insight into core stability. For example, one such client scored a 1 on the TSPU but could hold a plank for two minutes and could do regular push ups relatively easily. Upon closer examination, his spinal erectors looked like huge metal rods while doing both regular push ups and the plank, which suggests to me that the TSPU did do its job in that it told me that something is off. The regular push up combined with the plank also told me that, but less efficiently, requiring two tests instead of one.
  • Split squat: The split squat is the one exercise that I think often looks right but is actually wrong. Since noticing this with my clients, I now always ask where they feel it, and their response helps me decide how to coach it for them. While I think this is important, I’m not sure it belongs in an assessment. By using the split squat in the alternative assessment, I knew going in to the first training session whether I would need to overly coach the movement. I’m just not sure how helpful that is. Especially in light of my decision to add the arms crossed squat to my assessment. By looking at someone’s ILL and their arms crossed squat, I can easily decide whether split squats are a good strength exercise for them, or whether it makes more sense as a corrective at first. In my mind, this renders the split squat part of my alternative assessment less valid. It’s true that I’m picking two tests over one, which I frowned upon for the push up. In this case, I am getting more bang for my buck though because the ILL also contributes to my understanding of how their thoracic spine and shoulders move, which I value.

5. I have been adding single leg squats to a bench with my clients in addition to the FMS for years, but I think adding the arms crossed squat may render it unnecessary. The single leg squat tells me if the person has decent hip stability, while also pointing out if there is a strength deficit on one or both legs. The arms crossed squat will show me the hip stability part via hip shifting or knee alignment. It won’t necessarily show me the granularity of strength deficit that the single leg squat does, but that won’t affect my programming much. If someone has a significant strength deficit, I will have see it in the ILL, and a minor strength deficit is not going to affect my programming.

Summing it up:

I’m not breaking up with the FMS after all. This experiment has shown me that I want to keep using it as the core of my client assessment. What remains to be seen is whether I continue with the actual FMS with a few extra tests, or whether I start using a modified FMS. I really want to do the latter, but my inner engineer doesn’t like informal system edits, so it’s a tough call for me.

I’ll post an addendum to this in a couple days with the specific modified FMS that I am considering.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa whose inner geek is currently on overdrive.

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Corrective exercise is like coriander

People either love coriander and that guacamole without it is an abomination, or they run screaming at first taste when they see the little green bits in their salsa. It’s amazing that an herb can be so divisive. Not that there are other divisive herbs.

Corrective exercises are like coriander in that they too seem to be quite divisive. In particular, they come up as a reason some people have for disliking the FMS (Functional Movement Screen). I have read many a rant about how people who use the FMS are wasting their client’s time because they spend their entire training session corrective movement patterns, and that if they want their clients to succeed, they need to get their clients squatting and deadlifting instead of wasting time with mini bands.

I completely agree. Training clients entirely with corrective exercises and doing no strength training is not great training. In fact every trainer I know who uses corrective exercises would also agree. The assumption that someone who uses corrective exercises ONLY uses corrective exercises is ridiculous. If someone tells you they like coriander, you wouldn’t assume they only eat coriander. Coriander elevates salsas and guacamole to new heights that could never be achieved without it, but without the salsas and guacamole, it’s just a plant.
Corrective exercise is the same way: Its presence elevates the training.


I view the use of corrective exercises as a very efficient way to prepare for the workout. My clients will do a warm-up that lasts between 5 and 15 minutes based on how well they move, how fit they are, and how old they are. The primary goal of my warm-up is the same as it would be if I didn’t believe in corrective exercise: To prepare the body for the work ahead. The only difference is that I accomplish this with specific exercises intended to improve weak or limited aspects of the person’s body instead of general exercises.

Ask any engineer how much they love accomplishing two outcomes with one task and you’ll understand why I love warm-ups built on customized corrective exercises.

Now that the warm-up is done, we move on to the pillars of the workout: power, agility, strength, and conditioning. My clients pick up heavy things and put them down again just like yours do.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who likes to do mini-band walks before lifting heavy weights.

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Looking at an alternative for the FMS for client assessments?

I’ve been such a big proponent of the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) since I started my personal training career that it feels weird to be looking at other options. Am I really going to break up with the FMS? For now I suppose I’m just experimenting. But let’s face it: when a relationship gets to the point where you want to see other people, it’s usually a sign that the end is near. Still, I haven’t given up on the FMS yet. We may still have a future. But there are doubts.

The doubts have been coming on for a while now. Interestingly, they reached a peak while I was writing my “why I use the FMS” answers in a blog debate about the FMS with Bret Contreras. It felt a bit odd to be writing about how great I think the FMS is, while at the same time evaluating alternatives. I do mean what I said in that article, and in fact I noted in it that I was looking at options.

Why are my eyes wandering?
I think my doubts actually started with some FMS discussions on the StrengthCoach.com forums. While most people on that site have a pro-FMS philosophy, there is still discussion. In particular there has been a lot of discussion in recent months about FMS scoring details. It’s these discussions that first planted seeds of doubt for me about the FMS. One of the aspects I like most about the FMS is the simplicity, but I don’t love the level of nit-picking for some of the scoring details. Or more accurately, I have a hard time relating these details to anything functional.

Once I start to question the small details, it’s almost inevitable that I will soon start questioning some of the bigger details. Such as:

  1. The scoring criterion for the Shoulder Mobility test is that a 3 is scored if the distance between hands is less than the length of the person’s hand, and a 2 is scored if the distance is less than 1.5 times the hand length. This means that in some cases a half inch difference from left to right could score an asymmetry, while another person could have a two inch difference and score symmetrically. I don’t believe that human movement is a place for step function scoring.
  2. Feet pointed straight forward is a requirement in the FMS Overhead Squat test, meaning if one or both feet turn out during the movement, it is scored down. I initially thought about this as a problem while attending a Dr. Shirley Sahrmann seminar as she talked about how common structural hip differences are. Not everyone has a hip structure such that feet forward is neutral. Given that, it doesn’t make sense to me that everyone should be able to squat with feet forward, or that the ability to squat with feet forward has any meaning.

Other thoughts have also been brewing. I realized that the more I used the FMS, the more I became attached to its truths. Most notably, that the Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) test was a useful determinant in whether someone could (or should) deadlift. I held on to this belief until a few weeks ago when I discussed the FMS with Dr. David Frost at the Toronto International Strength & Conditioning Conference prior to his presentation about an alternative assessment concept. I mentioned my belief that the ASLR is a good test to help determine if someone can or should deadlift, and he quickly asked why straight leg? Why not bent leg? Huh. Why straight leg indeed? Later in his presentation, he spoke about how our movement competency is different with legs straight or bent. Very true. And given that, what is the relevance of an active straight leg raise in functional movement? I was trying to think of a sport or occupational movement where a straight leg raise is relevant? Gymnastics was the only one I came up with.
Earlier during that same conference Dr. Tyson Beech gave an interesting presentation of some of the FMS lab tests he and Dr. Frost had run. The most interesting (to me) of Dr. Beech’s findings was that some of their subjects (firefighters) scored well in the FMS but then when they were subsequently asked to perform work tasks, their movement did not display functional competence. Test competence did not transfer to performance competence. One specific example given was of an individual who had scored an 18 on the FMS, including symmetrical 3s in the In Line Lunge, but then when asked to pull a fire hose in the way he would on the job, he did so with a large valgus collapse in his knees. The position he takes to pull the hose is effectively a weighted lunge walk. The In Line Lunge score did not ensure that the subject lunged well. Huh.

Dr. Frost also spoke about the concept of transferability in assessments. If the movement quality in the assessment does not hold when the movement is used in the field, is the assessment relevant? A good question, in my mind.

He then presented an assessment concept that I believe provides the basis for a simple, meaningful and easily transferable assessment than is the FMS. The concept is that you select appropriate movements for the individual and in each one you assess for whether or not they can control:

  1. Shoulder elevation
  2. Shoulder anterior rotation
  3. Back flexion/extension
  4. Back lateral bend
  5. Back twist
  6. Knee frontal plane
  7. Knee sagittal plane

Now I would guess there might be four reactions to this:

  1. Clever!
  2. But how do you pick the movements?
  3. Where’s the repeatable system?
  4. This is nothing new.

I for one thought all four, but upon further reflection, realized that maybe I can pick a baseline set of movements that relate to what my clients do in the gym, and then create a series of movements to have at the ready for specific sports. Even if I don’t have the latter initially, the former still provides a solid foundation. I can then set up a data table (remember I am an engineer: I love me a good table!) with the movements as row heading and the area of control I’m looking for as the column headings. For each movement I watch, I can mark an X for each cell where there is compromised movement or control. Now it’s repeatable. As for whether it’s new, well, is anything really new? I do think it is similar to what many great coaches already do: they treat each exercise as an assessment. But what I like about this is that I have a formal set of things I’m looking for in each movement and I can mark it down for myself for program creation and to remember to look at again, as well as to share with other trainers working with me so they can anticipate where they will have coaching challenges.
I did like Dr. Frost’s 7 movements to control, I opted for a few slight variations to make it fit my needs. In particular, I opted for controlling the hip in the frontal plane (instead of lateral bend of the spine), and I separated spinal flexion and extension. I also added two extra columns to my table: Where did they feel the exercise, and a notes column for my observations. Here are the exercises I have selected (so far):
1. Squat
2. Hip hinge
3. Push-up
4. Single arm cable row or TRX inverted row
5. Split squat
6. Single leg squat
7. Active bent leg raise
8. Bird dog
Optional adds:
a. Side plank
b. plank

Here’s what the table looks like for a recent new client at Custom Strength, and for comparison I have also attached the FMS result.

New assessment example

FMS for same person

It is true that we can interpret some of this from the FMS, but lately I’ve been wondering if the transferability from FMS to exercises we do in the gym is always as clear as I hope it would be, and when it isn’t, I am left having to make changes in the first training session. My gym is called Custom Strength, so of course I don’t mind customization, but I wonder if I can get more out of a different assessment such that I’ll have less need for change to the program I create based on the assessment.
There are three additional reasons I like this approach: (I had another in mind but can’t think of it)
1. Most of my clients see me one or two times per week, meaning I have them on a one day program. Given that, I really only have time for one knee dominant (squat family) exercise and one hip dominant (deadlift family) exercise. Because I am a proponent of both bilateral and unilateral exercises, I typically give my clients either a bilateral hip dominant exercise and a unilateral knee dominant exercise, or vice versa. Periodically I go with unilateral or bilateral for both. I don’t always find that the FMS reliably gives me enough information to decide which combination is most suitable for the given client. I say that in conjunction with some observations I have made from clients to date:
a. Some people can perform beautiful goblet squats but do not score well in the overhead squat.
b. Not everyone can perform split squats comfortably. Those who can’t should work on it, but if I make that their primary squat pattern, they are going to be staying with very light resistance as they build that movement. While score in the In Line Lunge sometimes predicts this, I haven’t found this to be a reliable predictor.
c. Some people really struggle with the hip hinge pattern, and score in the ASLR is not always predictive of this. In some cases, I have seen bilateral threes in the ASLR, but it has taken a long time to teach the hip hinge. If I could have seen the hip hinge in their assessment, I would have had given these clients a different hip dominant exercise and worked on their hinge as a corrective pattern initially.
2. Adding the “where do you feel it” question is really important for me, especially with the split squat, and bird dog. I have seen many people who have a good looking split squat but who feel the exercise primarily in the back leg hip flexor/quad. In some cases, I haven’t noticed until I realized after several sessions that they were not able to progress the resistance as I would have thought they should. I am starting to realize that a good portion of the population needs extra coaching to perform this exercise properly, even though it may look like they already are. Similarly, the bird dog was my choice to represent rotary core stability. For now. When I ask where they feel it, I am on the lookout for people who feel it primarily in their shoulders or back. My current thought is that this is a sign of someone who does not engage their rotary core muscles well. I see this enough that my guess is many of your clients are also in this situation, even if you don’t know it yet. I don’t mean that as a knock, but rather I was surprised to learn that some clients who were doing great looking Pallof presses and side planks weren’t actually feeling their sides at all. Now that I am asking this question in the assessment, I am starting their first training session several steps ahead. Perhaps there is a way to do this with the FMS, but I have not figured it out.
3. Reassessment is a breeze, as I can now pick intervals where I will bring out the table and mark Xs while my clients are doing their workout rather than pulling them aside for a re-FMS. I train clients in a semi-private environment, so this is logistically a better option for me.
While I think this post suggests that I’m quite excited about this approach, I am still trying to remain logical and scientific about the decision of whether to use this with all of my clients, or whether to continue with the FMS. The FMS has served me well for years, so throwing it out based on a few ideas and discussions would not be prudent. Instead I am spending a couple of months test driving the new assessment approach while also continuing to use the FMS. It means my time spent on assessments during this period is longer, but I feel it is worth that time investment to make a sound decision. During this test drive, I am running each client through both tests, and am making the following notes both when I create their program and after I have trained them a few times:
1. What did I learn from the FMS that I didn’t learn from this new assessment?
2. What did I learn from this new assessment that I didn’t learn from the FMS?
It is too early to tell which direction I will go with this in the end. Early indications suggest to me that the new assessment will be more favourable in selecting the exercises I use in the strengthening portion of the workout but may leave me with less guidance about what to include as corrective exercises, which I believe is an important part of our programs, even though it occupies a fairly small portion of their workout time.

I actually wrote the main draft of this post two and a half months ago, meaning I have already test driven the dual screening approach for just over two months, and have come to a conclusion about how I will screen clients in future. That will be part two, which I’ll share next week.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada.

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Tennis training: dynamic warm-ups, training, hip rotation, and back pain

I had a great tennis lesson with a new instructor yesterday, and we chatted a bit before starting, and in particular noted that the warm-up I had been doing was not what tennis players typically do. I mentioned that I have a dynamic warm-up for tennis video that I would be happy to send to him. As the discussion ensued, I realized that I have a few references that would probably be of interest to tennis players, so I decided to organize them into one post.

Without further ado, this post includes the dynamic warm-up video, an article about training for tennis, a series of exercise videos aimed at improving your hip rotation, and an article about exercises for low back pain. I include the latter because three of my tennis player friends have been having back problems this month.

Dynamic warm-up for tennis

Try this while you’re waiting for the court. It only takes about 5 minutes.

Tennis training

This post covers concepts and some specific exercise videos in regards to strength, power, endurance, and mobility training for tennis. Click here to read the article.

Hip rotation training

These are actually videos I put together for training skiers, but I realized while watching a tennis player do a cross-over that this would also be very helpful for tennis players. As you watch it, every time I refer to turning the skis, pretend I said changing direction on the court and I suspect you’ll find it makes a lot of sense.

Note: In addition to the videos below, if you have a hip injury, or find that your hips bother you when (or after) you play, you may find my ebook about Training Around Hip Injuries very helpful. The ebook is only $9.99 now, but will go up to $24.99 on August 1st. Note that the currently available version is specifically for individuals with Femoro acetabular Impingement or FAI, but I have a new version coming out in September that is intended for a wide array of hip issues, including labral tears, arthritis and even hip resurfacing or replacements. If hat is more interesting to you, I suggest you add yourself to this list and I will send out an email when it is available.

Standing hip rotation:

Mini-band hip rotations:

Single-leg squat:

Reverse lunge with hip rotation:

Low back exercises

As noted above, several of my tennis player friends have been having back issues recently, and so I have sent my 6 Exercises for Low Back Health article out a lot. The challenge with tennis in regards to our backs is that a tennis swing involves a lot of rotation, and the serve will likely have rotation combined with extension, and potentially even rotation combined with flexion in the follow through. Ideally most of that movement happens in the hips and thoracic spine (upper back), but if mobility is limited there, then the low back will pick up the slack. Unfortunately the low back is not as well equipped to handle these movements. Click here to read the low back exercises article.

I hope this post is useful for some tennis players out there, and that some of it helps you to improve your performance and/or helps you stay healthy so you can enjoy this great (but sometimes frustrating) sport.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who works primarily with athletes and individuals returning to active lifestyles post-injury.

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How to fix your car when you know almost nothing about cars, spark plug edition

Last Friday evening my car wouldn’t start. Knowing that I wouldn’t have time to take it in on Monday and that I needed the car on Tuesday, I decided I would fix it myself on Saturday. This was a strange conclusion because I’ve never done any car repair before. Heck, I rarely even take it in for oil changes. Haha, so many people cringed at reading that. But it’s true. So lesson #1: if I’m selling a car, you probably don’t want to buy it. Even though it would have the appealing ad copy “one owner”. I decided to take photos and post commentaries on Facebook as I did the repair, and allegedly it was more than mildly entertaining. So I figured I’d pull those posts together into a single blog post here:

My car won’t start, which I have self-diagnosed as a spark plug problem (based on zero auto repair knowledge+being an engineer). Five minutes watching a (great) how to video and a trip to Canadian Tire and Sherwood Deli and I am ready for my first auto repair experience.


Spark plug replacement, steps 1 and 2: Open hood and eat sandwich.


Spark plug replacement steps 3 and 4: Take off manifold cover (is that what it’s called?) while experimenting with whether this can be done with one hand, as this is being done in parallel with step 2. Wash hand in case sandwich is messy enough that it requires a second hand (it is). Sandwich does not get put down at any point. Obviously.


Spark plug replacement steps 5 and 6: Open beer and contemplate that you have exhausted all of the easy steps.


Spark plug replacement step 7: notice that this looks to be broken and ponder what it is and whether that might be the real problem. Anyone know?


suddenly I experienced the true benefit of Facebook – instant answers to questions! Like these:

“Trim the end and reattach to the nipple. It is a vacuum hose. May not be the reason for the non start, but should be fixed.” A second comment confirmed that. Validation!

“That tin pot is a vacuum control on your fuel rail. That means your fuel rail is not controlled properly and you have a major vacuum leak. It could stop your car from working.”

Spark plug replacement steps 8 – 12: Realize that the ratchet set won’t work because it actually requires allan keys. While contemplating where your Allan keys are, check oil and realize you basically don’t have any. Add oil as your excellent neighbour Ken pulls up and offers his Allan key set. Remind yourself of the lefty-loosey righty-tighty mantra as you remove the bolts to get the manifold out of the way.


Spark plug replacement steps 13 – 16: Enjoy a moment of admiration at how easy it is to lift the manifold up and out of the way. Find appropriate jack to hold it up there, and then feel sweet accomplishment as you see how easy it is to use the spark plug wire tool to remove the wires. Then decide it is time to rewatch the video part about removing the actual spark plugs.


Spark plug replacement step 17 – 19: go back to the toll box for thw extended 5/8 ratchet noticing the SPK written on it, almost as though it was designed for spark plugs, then adopt a wow cool expression as the spark plug comes out with the ratchet. Just like in the video! Minor note: took way more than the 7 or 8 turns in the video. Ponder whether to open another beer or wait until the job is done.


Spark plug replacement steps almost last: feel sense of accomplishment as all plugs are in. Wonder if the car will actually start as you start to reattach the manifold. Then the cursing begins. Seriously VW? Allan f’ng screws to hold the fricken engine together? Thinking beer number two before starting this would have been wise. To be continued…


And it’s all back together minus one screw that is lost in the engine. I didn’t realize VW employed child labor, but I don’t see how some of these screws get installed without the help of tiny fingers. A bit worried that a lost screw in the engine is a bad idea but I’m going to do the test run anyhow. Oh and wasn’t able to reattach that vacuum hose as it’s too short now. It looks easy enough to replace though. Now the moment of truth…


And it works! Although isn’t exactly purring like a new car. Off to Canadian Tire for a hose…and hoping the car will still start when I try to leave there.

Customer service win! Went to Canadian Tire for a vacuum hose for my car and the guy spent a few minutes looking at the computer asked what diameter, I said I didn’t know, and he then said, “we don’t carry it”. My sense was he wasn’t sure and didn’t want to bother, but I could be wrong. Went to Parts Source and the guy said there were a couple of diameters so he would go get a couple and see which fit. Note the rain in the photo. Part cost less than a buck. Gotta love people that do their beat to help their customers. This is my new go to store for all things auto.


Spark plug replacement project epilogue:
1. Got some help in the search for the missing screw.

2. Apparently some people feel that driving around with less than the minimum recommended amount of oil is a bad idea.


3. I wasn’t allowed to leave until the world (aka my car’s oil level) was righted.


4. And now that all is well, I’m sure I can wait a few months before getting that oil change.


Next up: replacing the brake pads and rotors!

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who for some strange reason felt that a post about replacing spark plugs belongs on her nutrition and exercise blog.

Top 13 benefits of a unique name

Several fun lists about the challenges of a unique name have made the rounds of the interwebs recently, which made me think it was time for a list of benefits.

And thus the following Top 13 benefits of a unique name list was born:

1. I got elsbethvaino.com. What’s your URL, Dave Smith?

2. Like Madonna, and Cher, last names are optional.

3. No chance of getting on a no-fly list because the authorities confused you with another person with the same name.

4. Similarly, security clearance applications take very little time due to the ease and quickness of the background check. I got my last one in the time it took to walk three blocks back to the office. My boss waited three months.

5. That blissful feeling when, after forty years of searching, you finally get an off-the-shelf mug with your name.

els mug

6. When someone mentions you in a story at a party, nobody asks “which Elsbeth?

7. Frequent Starbucks name blunders inevitably lead to adopting a superhero name for ordering which is surprisingly fun. If you can’t spell or pronounce Elsbeth, you may call me Elektra.

elektra coffee

8. If the barista spells your fake name wrong, you won’t mind because it’s not your name.

9. Long lost friends have no problem finding you. (Arguably this could go on the disadvantages list too. )

10. Slough off any responsibility for friending people on social media with a simple “It will be much easier for you to find me”.

11. You can do things like leaving notes on food in a communal fridge that say ‘property of Elsbeth’ without worrying that someone else will take it as an invitation. ()

12. If you are ever teaching or giving a presentation, it provides a great option to lighten things up. I like to use it as a way to decide who wins swag at seminars. “First person who pronounces my full name properly gets this suspension trainer”.

13. You have a very easy out with telemarketers: “May I speak with Elizabeth please?” “Sorry, there is no Elizabeth here.

Do you have a suggestion for my list? If so, please add it in a comment and if I like it, I’ll include it (with credit of course).

Elsbeth Vaino, aka Elizabeth Viano, aka Elsa Wino, aka Elvis Vanio, aka Lizbet Vain, aka Elektra is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

If you’re Canadian and food labelling is important to you…

Consider stepping up and being part of the solution. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has created a survey for consumers and industry about proposed changes in direction to the food labelling system in Canada. If you’re Canadian, and you have an interest in the direction we take in our food labelling, then please take the time to fill in this survey.

Unfortunately the survey is clunky and long, and I know it’s not easy to find time to fill in surveys like this. In fact the instructions say it will take about 45 minutes to fill in. I didn’t keep track of how long it took me, so I can’t confirm or refute that estimate, but it isn’t short. The upside is that you can save at the end of each section, so you don’t have to finish all at once. The other downside is that some of the questions are oddly worded. In fact they remind me of project meetings from back in my consulting days. My guess is the survey was designed in-house. Oh well. The upside is that there is a lot of room for comments, so if you have ideas do share them. Hopefully someone will be reading.

Also keep in mind that this is a survey for industry and consumers. My bet is that there will be no shortage of responses from industry. This means that if we the consumers don’t take the time to fill it in, the direction of our food labelling system will be (more?) skewed in favour of industry.

What if only industry representatives answered the following question (from the survey):

“Are you in favour of a model in which industry takes a more active role in the development and maintenance of policies on consumer values claims?”

This is my answer:

At the end of the day, industry is responsible to its shareholders, not to the public. By definition that means they have goals that are related to profit over health. They should of course be a stakeholder along with the Government, nutrition and health practitioners, and consumers. But the size of their role should be strongly scrutinized.

I have a friend who is in the frozen foods business, and he once told me that one of their key performance indicators was oil uptake. They try to adjust recipes to increase the relative quantity of oil because oil is their cheapest ingredient. My guess is that all manufacturers have their own version of that KPI, and it is very clear that that does not align with either the Government, health care, or consumer goals for food. This is why industry should not have a bigger stake.

Want to make sure interested Canadians have as much of a say as interested industry?

Here’s the link to the survey again: Canada Food Labelling Survey. Please fill it in if you have an interest in the future of the Canadian food labelling system. The deadline is June 30th, 2015. If you have an extra interest in food labelling, there is an email address for the initiative at the bottom of the first page of the survey.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who counts on effective labelling to help make healthy choices.

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Pizza and beer for fat loss?

You know how sometimes people write crazy titles just to get your attention, and then it turns out the content is either completely unrelated or is only marginally related to the point that you lose all faith in that person? I’m excited to say that this is not one of those cases.

This is a two month follow up from the start of My Daily Pizza project. Admittedly calling it my daily pizza is a bit of an exaggeration. I have actually only been eating pizza three or four times each week. And for full disclosure: there was one week where I had no pizza. I know, shame on me. But it was only one week! I shared some of the details about how I managed to eat pizza that often without increasing my waistline in the above linked post as well as some observations about how it was going two weeks in.

So that’s the pizza part. I also mention beer in the title. Say it with me in your best Homer voice…mmm…beer…Indeed, beer consumption has occurred over the past two months. Real beer; not that low carb or light beer crap. Craft beers mostly. In particular I’m on an IPA kick, so lots of Flying Monkey, Muskoka Detour, and a few varieties of Beau’s.

And not just once a week either. I’m consistently drinking beer or wine three or four times per week. That probably sounds like a lot, and no doubt some of you are getting your judgement faces on. That’s okay, I can take it. But before you finish putting your robes on, let me explain how I came to my four days of alcohol plan, along with the few other habit changes I’ve made, and then you can decide whether this makes sense.

As I noted above, I have finally worked out the details of the follow on to my Get Lean challenge, which I am tentatively calling the “Get Lean Lifelong Habit Challenge”. If you’re interested in the Get lean Challenge (which is free by the way, and people seem to really like it), head over here for details and a registration option.

The reason I mention this get lean challenge, is that following it is how I arrived at what I think is my own optimal lifestyle plan. The 8 week get lean challenge above is cool because it gets you thinking and trying a variety of habitual changes in the hopes that some either stick, or they help you to figure out what would stick. The follow-on that I’ve been crafting is where you get to work on customizing habits to your own life. The reality is that we have different goals, desires, expectations, and bodies. We also have big differences in how easy or hard certain changes are for us. It only makes sense that the optimal lifestyle plan for each of us is unique. This follow-on program is all about finding that unique path.

In my case, I knew that alcohol consumption was something I had to limit somehow as I had reached a point of having a glass of wine or two every day or almost every day. I also realized that I don’t always stop eating when I’m full, and I sometimes snack for reasons like “I’m bored”. Lastly, I know that I don’t get enough sleep and that getting at least 7 hours each night is very hard for me. I realized that my success in living well but also living healthily required finding a way to manage those elements. And so for me, the follow-on to the Get Lean challenge was figuring out how to address these. I took advantage of this new process to come up with the following plan:

  1. Sleep 6.75 hours per night
  2. Alcohol at most 4 times per week
  3. When reaching for food ask myself “Am I actually hungry?”, and if not, walk away
  4. When going to get seconds or something to finish of a meal, wait 15 minutes. If at that point, I still am hungry, then I have it.

I created a tracking sheet that I put on my fridge so that I can give myself credit when I meet my goals, and also created a plan that helps guide me as to when or whether I should replace or adjust one of my selected actions. My goal was 85% compliance. Using this goal setting and tracking sheet has been tremendously helpful to me as it forms a voice in the back of my head reminding me when I’m about to break one of these rules. But equally important was arriving at the right set of actions for me. If the actions are too hard, I would fail, and if they were too easy, I wouldn’t change. It was a process.


I spent the first four weeks trying to implement actions that weren’t quite right for me, and so I didn’t succeed enough, but then one month ago, I made some refinements to arrive at the plan above, and since then have met or exceeded my goals every week.

The result is that I’ve lost five pounds since starting this process. This is weight that I put on somewhere between one and two years ago, and had not been successful at dropping it again, until now. Granted I didn’t try very hard either. I wasn’t motivated to make drastic changes to my eating and exercise habits because, well, I just didn’t want to. I enjoy food and beverages, and I don’t want to exercise more than I already do. Life enjoyment is more important to me right now than losing five or ten pounds.

Interestingly, it was my desire to eat more pizza that led to my new plan that allowed me to lose weight. Bet not many people have claimed that before! While I was comfortable in my skin, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of gaining weight. And I suspected that adding lots of pizza to my diet, if I wasn’t careful, would lead to weight gain. So as a means to bring more pizza into my life, I figured out how to balance the rest of my lifestyle habits to make room for pizza. As it turns out, I also figured out how to keep the calories down in the pizza itself (without sacrificing deliciousness). And the result was losing five pounds. Cool!

You’ll notice that there is no mention of limiting chocolate, ice cream, chips, or dessert in my list above. That’s because I love pizza and beer much more. When I have beer and pizza in my life, I rarely reach for other indulgences. Since it’s so rare, I chose to not put any limits on it. And that worked – I still rarely eat those things, and when I do, it’s okay. What’s particularly cool is not just that the foundation of my diet is beer and pizza, but that I’ve found a balance of lifestyle habits that has long term potential and allows me to be happy and healthy.

The aforementioned four habits seem to be the changes I needed to make to my lifestyle to reach the balance of happy and healthy, but my guess is yours will be different. Hopefully this process has triggered some of you to think differently about what habit changes make sense for you that can improve your health while not adversely affecting your happiness. My guess is that the traditional “eat less and exercise more” or “cut out sugar” will not cut it for most of you, but instead you’ll find more specific and relate-able changes.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys health, food, and exercise

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Can the FMS predict sports injury?

I’ve been reading a lot about why the FMS is good and why it’s not recently. I’ve even co-written a point-counterpoint discussion with Bret Contreras about it.

I am a proponent of the FMS, but I have read some studies that have made me question it. I also attended a couple of very compelling presentations at a strength & conditioning conference at the University of Toronto recently that pointed out some shortcomings.

I have not read or heard enough (yet?) to change my mind about continuing to use the FMS for my clients, but I have just started to use a new assessment approach for my clients in addition to the FMS. For the next few months, I will use both approaches and will take notes about how well each one worked, both during the initial client consultation and over the first few training sessions.

I will also continue to read and listen. In fact I just read a study this morning that suggests the FMS is very beneficial in predicting injury. Here is a link to the study, titled ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN AND INJURY DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE ATHLETES. Or more specifically, that an FMS score of less than 14 combined with previous history of injury equated to athletes (in the study group) being 15 times more likely to sustain an injury over the course of a season.

I didn’t love the study abstract and write up because it didn’t address the difference between the FMS, the previous injury, or the combination of the two. Thankfully one of the tables in the study did just that. And as you can see from the screenshot below, it would appear that the combination of previous injury and an FMS score of less than 14 is a strong predictor.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 11.05.15

What I would like to see (and maybe I just missed it in the presentation of the data) is what this number changes to with higher FMS scores. What was the injury rate among athletes in the group with a history of injury and an FMS score of 15? of 16? If there is a significant drop there, then that makes for a very compelling case for a combination of:

  1. using the FMS
  2. finding out about previous injury from your clients or athlets
  3. appropriate training as a means to in increase the FMS (and conveniently training is also a great option for performance improvement)
  4. re-FMS to see if the person has moved into a lesser risk range

I think this study does show that having a low FMS score and a history of previous injury makes one much more likely to sustain an injury. That is good information to have, but only if there is something we can do with it. If there is also a proven link that the risk is lower with a higher FMS score paired with a history of previous injury, and if there is a proven link that appropriate training is a tool to get us to the higher FMS score (which I believe there is, although I need to re-review the literature), then that would be a very compelling reason to use the FMS for athletic clients. While the study is not quite a home run, it definitely sits in the “pro” column for continuing to use the FMS.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys the science of training

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Exercise and nutrition for healthy living and sports performance