I tried out a new pizza place last week that has been getting great reviews. The friend I was with first said he wanted to try everything because they all sounded amazing, but then he suggested their Margherita pizza. He went on to point out that the Margherita is only 3 ingredients (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil). How well they can make a Margherita is a great measuring stick of how well they can make a pizza. Extra ingredients can make for a tasty pizza, but it can also mask a mediocre base. But a place that can make a piece of heaven out of three ingredients? That is mastery.

Simplicity well done is beautifulWhat a great point, and a truth that goes beyond pizza. I think it is fair to say that espresso is the margherita pizza of a coffee shop. If they can’t make a great espresso, then nothing else matters, although the syrup and milk will partially hide a bad espresso in a caramel frappuccino, if you start with great espresso, everything based on it will be better.

So we can judge a pizzeria on how well they make a Margherita pizza, and a coffee shop on their espresso. What about your profession? I am wondering this myself. There are a lot of personal trainers out there, and a lot of gyms. Each has their own menu of offerings, and their own specialties. But what is that basic, simple, product or service or behaviour that we offer that really defines our performance?

Can we say it’s “the big 3”? How well we, or more importantly, our clients can squat, bench press and deadlift? Or is the FMS (Functional Movement Screen) the standard – how well our clients move? Maybe it should be more basic: pushups, pullups and squats? Or substitute single-leg squats for squats?

Is it even right to measure the quality of a gym or a trainer by how well their clients do an exercise? Or is it about how much energy we have? Or how hard our clients are working? Is it a factor of our demeanor? How much weight they lose? Some of these feel like outcomes instead of fundamentals. I started this blog post thinking that I would present the margherita pizza of personal training. And obviously, it would be brilliant. Truthfully, I am stumped. Maybe that is a reflection that my elevator pitch needs work. Or maybe it’s a reflection that it is hard to measurably define a great trainer. In fact, maybe this ties in to why most people in the market for personal training products and services can’t tell that there there is a worlduniverse of difference in quality between Jillian Michaels and Michael Boyle.

I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. So I’m asking what you think is the answer. This is a question for both the trainers and the training public:

What is the margherita pizza of personal training?

Please post your answer or thoughts as a comment below.

I’ll follow up with another blog post with a summary and impressions of the comments.

PS – We opted to share two personal pizzas: the margherita and then one with pear, prosciutto, pesto and goats cheese. The understated and the overstated. Both were great, but we both preferred the Margherita. Simplicity done well is a beautiful thing.



  1. Dan – what you’ve described is the Paleo diet. It is very popular among some trainers, but in my opinion is seriously flawed. There is nothing wrong with wheat for the majority of people. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of studies that have found positive correlations between consuming whole grains and reduced incidents of cardiovascular disease. For those who have allergies to wheat, it is not a good option.

    People tend to believe in their diet the way they believe in their religion. Each diet is supported by science, and each one is better than the other. But which one is The One True Diet that is actually science-based while the others are all wrong? I don’t think there is one. People are different; the diet that works well for one person will not necessarily work well for another. Kind of like religion. Check out my One True Diet article (http://elsbethvaino.com/2009/11/the-one-true-diet-does-it-include-donuts/) with more on that.

    Partial squats are squats where your thighs don’t go anywhere near parallel. Not a great option. It encourages a quad-dominant movement pattern, which can lead to shortened hip flexors, and weak glutes. I included them in the “ugly” section of my “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” article about the gym: http://elsbethvaino.com/2009/12/at-the-gym-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

  2. not Paleo.

    I eat meat for sure but lots of vegetables too. I was veg for 10 years as well. I’d eat the pizza without the crust! In an emergency I might have a slice but that would be it.

    I think that for the average person, wheat and sugar is a really bad deal. They’d be better off without eating any bread or grains at all. I mean, pizza dough is really just another form of sugar. So for the average person, it is a bad food item. Now if you could make the crust out of a grain like rye or even an almond based crust, I might try it from time to time.

    Oh and I don’t even know what a quarter squat is!

    Like I said I think your concept is interesting. I guess then that my margherita pizza of personal training would not include eating margherita pizza.

  3. Dan – should I interpret that to mean that you are a paleo diet type? Because truthfully, pizza is not a bad food item. Particularly the Margherita. It’s very few ingredients, and if done well, it is a very natural food choice. Now if you slather on the bacon and sausage, and have ridiculous amounts of cheese, or eat too much of it, then I would agree.

    I would definitely pick a trainer who can admit to an appreciation of fine foods over one who encourages silly exercises like quarter squats. πŸ˜‰

  4. I like the concept but I’m not sure the pizza analogy is a good one. I prefer the espresso one. Probably just me but I wouldn’t feel right about my trainer being ok with (or at least admitting to) eating pizza πŸ˜‰

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