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21 Lessons From 2021

2021, what a crazy year. No words will ever justify the chaos, the uncertainty and the novelty we've all experienced over the last couple of years.

For me, it's been a rollercoaster. From my first baby to many new clients, the return of powerlifting competitions, it has truly been a memorable year.

Here's what I learnt from my tiny corner of the fitness industry, in a tiny corner of the UK:

1) In order for me to accept I will never have a close relationship with my absent father, I had to become a father myself, and to thrive. Proving to myself once and for all, being an absent father doesn't run in my family

I'll tell this story in full on here I'm sure. If you'd like to know more, please feel free to chat to me about it. The story is long and winding, but results in a level of acceptance and peace I haven't felt before.

2) The Cure are an incredible band

My partner has listened to them around me for nearly a decade. They never clicked for me.

Then a client requested we play an album during a private studio session.

I played the album 'Disintegration.'

The Cure have very much clicked with me now!

3) Being a Christian doesn't make you an idiot

Long-term readers will know I'm atheist to the core. One of the problems atheists have is dismissing everything religious people say because they are religious, even when they aren't talking about religion.

I fell into that belief system. In a big way.

Which is to say, my attitude towards Christianity has been shitty for years and it feels good to change it.

Thanks to people like Shane McLean, who is a coach, writer, and friend I admire a great deal, as well as being Christian, I've realised my out of place, out of character, idiocy.

Christians aren't idiots. Some idiots are Christian.

But still...


4) The relationship between coach and athlete is far more important than the specifics of programming, and optimum periodization

If you have a strong coach-client/athlete relationship, you will produce amazing results even if the specifics aren't scientifically optimum.

If you show someone you are going above and beyond to help them achieve results a person will try harder to achieve the results even if the plan is quite suboptimal.

If you write someone the best plan in the world and then you're a dick of a coach, their isn't a relationship conducive with good results.

The relationship is nearly everything, the rest is not hurting people.

4) My career doesn't fall apart if I don't post on social media for a few days

I can now post on Instagram when I feel inspired or when I think I'm hilarious. Sometimes that's a few days in a row, sometimes it's every 2 weeks.

It has been incredibly liberating to know this. As my career progresses, and I guess as I get older, more clients than ever are coming from referrals from existing clients. I'm very much OK with this.

6) It feels great to see your name in print

I wrote an article for Lift The Bar Magazine Issue 12. The article was called The Happiness Effect.

I'm still not sure if I'm using the word 'effect' correctly.

I received a copy in the post. It is a beautifully designed magazine and it gave me such a buzz to see my work in such a place, where people I look up to feature regularly (NO SHORT JOKES PLEASE.)

If you write, I'd encourage you to try and get in print at least once. It's such a thrill!

7) Regarde Les Hommes Tombre are a black metal band. In 2021, I learned that their are very few bands who get near these live

If you love black metal, you'll love these both on record and live. If they keep up to the work they've put in so far, they will surely be a titan of the genre.

8) Deficit Split Squats are a thing

Thanks to a Sohee Lee Instagram post featuring this exercise, I now give it to clients and perform them every other week myself. They are horrible, but when used correctly are wonderful.

Beware however, they make one of the most hated exercises tougher, so you won't be popular with your clients for a little while after they've performed these beauties.

9) Single Leg Rack Supported Kettlebell Swings are a thing

Thanks to Eric Cressey for bringing this exercise to my attention.

It's a wonderful exercise for developing a powerful hip hinge, for targeting the hamstrings and glutes and for helping maintain power and balance into old age.

It sounds like it's an exercise which shouldn't work, but with many people it works very well.

I look forward to fitting it into many programs in future.

Also, if you aren't already following Eric Cressey, start following him. The man is a coaching genius.

10) What We Do In The Shadows is one of the best comedies ever made

I think I watched this film at least 12 times this year, and each time I watch it, my love increases.

Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi deserve every bit of success after producing this masterpiece.

The story is delightful and charming. The characters are wonderfully developed and in our house, we usually communicate via quotes from this movie.

11) Some physical therapists need to realise while the causes of injury and pain are often complex and multifactorial, in order to keep training, to stay hopeful, and to not feel as fragile, certain people need a concrete problem to attack, even if it's clear the cause of pain/injury is anything but simple

I've found this to be the case with people who are black and white thinkers.

With people like this the conversation can often be as follows:

Patient: Why am I in pain?

Therapist: Pain is complex and multifactorial, so I'm not sure.

Patient: What do I do then?

Therapist: *Gives a fully legitimate answer with general rules which gets many people out of pain*

Some people don't work with grey area and will search out an answer until they find one, so a working hypothesis is better than something vague, especially if the person is in a lot of pain and a black and white thinker.

I want that hypothesis to come from the therapist, not webMD.

Some people need specifics to be motivated to do any rehab. This year has made this abundantly clear to me.

And this is where coaches/personal trainers can help therapy practitioners.

Therapists don't have time to get to know the psychology of every client in detail, but a coach does. Working as a team, therapist and coach can work through hypotheses until hopefully the problem is hopefully solved.

The approach should be honest, and the client/patient should be fully aware that the hypothesis is an educated guess which could be wrong during every stage of rehab.

Coaches, you should work with a therapist who takes how an individual thinks into consideration. Therapists, never underestimate how much your communication skills affect rehab and general exercise adherence

12) After nearly a decade of being with someone, you can still make huge leaps forward in how you communicate with one another

2021 has been full of revelations about how myself and Coach V communicate, long may the progress continue.

Communicating on a deeper level is a scary, beautiful, frustrating, incredible thing. Through studying how we both think and process the world, we can understand each other better.

13) Fat and thin shaming is a very real, nasty, prevalent behaviour in life and in gyms

I've heard people close to me say shocking, upsetting, and completely needless things about both overweight people and underweight people.

It's 2022. We can get past this.

People at either end of the weight spectrum find themselves where they are for many reasons.

Maybe food is the dopamine trip someone needs in order to feel alive because they have unmedicated ADHD.

Maybe they hate eating because they get brutal acid reflux regularly after every meal so have an aversion to many foods and they end up underweight.

Maybe their not perfect.

But before you start being a dick and bad-mouthing my clients because of their weight as if it definitely reflects their character, please consider you are being part of the problem.

People can tell when people are being bitchy (although certain neurodiversities may make it more difficult for some to read,) and if you are being like that in the gym, you are going to put people off, potentially for life.

Don't be part of the problem. Make the gym a safe place for any bodyweight.

14) Having the back of your hand tattooed hurts like fuck

So much so that I learnt to disassociate from pain while I had it done. It was a weirdly profound, painful set of moments that was worth every minute.

I'm still trying to find a deep reason to get tattoos. So far, my only real reason is that I wanted to be covered in well-drawn creepy shit, but be are really nice person.

And my mum hates tattoos. And I've always been a bit of a rebel. I'm sorry mum, I'm still me, I promise.

And this one taught me short-term pain is only pain. We humans can sustain so much. As someone rather afraid of pain, I feel I needed this lesson in 2021.

This is why during endurance events in Strongman and Strongwoman, my clients will hear my yelling "it's only pain!" regularly.

These clients keep coming back, so I think it helps.

Anyway, these were the mental gymnastics I had to perform to somehow make my self-indulgent tattoos about fitness and strength training.

I should also point out that chronic pain is a different beast altogether and no amount of tattoos will remotely teach me anything about being in long-term pain.

15) Direct adductor training makes better powerlifters

Thanks to The Chris Knott Podcast I realised that:

1) Copenhagen drills often hurt knees.

2) My programming didn't contain enough inner thigh/adductor work

I added side plank band press downs, adductor machine work, foam roller squeeze exercises and a few other things to strengthen the area.

Squats began to feel stronger and many clients saw significant muscle growth in the area which you'd expect.

A few niggling injuries disappeared, stronger adductors may have been part of the solution.

Most importantly, adding in more adductor work hasn't resulted in any injuries so far and beginners seem able to jump in to training the area without any problems assuming I program it correctly.

16) Lift The Bar is amazing

Lift The Bar is an online education platform for coaches and Personal Trainers.

The community is awesome and this year, it's made me a better coach and a better business owner. I highly recommend it.

17) Patrick Umphrey/ Eat Train Progress. Patrick Umphrey came on my podcast this year after I heard him on Jason Leenaarts' podcast.

He is an online coach with a Facebook group called Eat Train Progress. It has 20k members and is extremely well moderated.

It has great rules, it's inclusive, funny and full of people from all walks of life. Check it out.

18) Gregg Slater.

Gregg Slater is head of education over at Lift The Bar and alongside Stuart Aitken have contributed many of the near-300 course videos I've watched while cooking breakfast this year.

I thought I was taking their courses merely as a refresher, but they have gone beyond refreshment and improved my coaching.

A particular example from Gregg was the idea about gradually reducing the coaching cues you give someone while they are doing a specific movement in a structured way. I've always done this as people get better at a movement, but the idea of having a structure to follow was a real lightbulb moment for me this year.

19) Most independent gyms don't cater towards any neurodiversities or disabilities and very few people seem to be talking about it

I feel many gyms can become far safer spaces for a far larger spectrum of people. I will hopefully be working with this idea extensively in 2022.

20) Beginner powerlifters can still have a great competition despite having a child 2 weeks beforehand (not the person doing the birthing), and having very little sleep

It's possible.

I've seen it, but I still don't recommend trying out the theory.

My client, friend, and new member of the dad club showed me this was possible even if his first competition squat was, to put it mildly, a fucking disaster. The fact he came back and had a great competition amazed me and made me question my own tendency to let little insignificant things get in the way of my competition performances.

I still wouldn't recommend it.

21) Women are often misdiagnosed as having depression/anxiety when they are autistic

Gaining a correct diagnosis can have a profound impact on the lives of incorrectly diagnosed people and their loved ones. People close to me are going through journies of discovery around ADHD and autism and apparently most men are diagnosed with autism before they are twenty, whereas most women are diagnosed above the age of 30.

2022 will involve me becoming a lot more familiar with this topic.


The great coach Mike Howard did a much better version of this on his Facebook wall. You should follow Mike. He has many wonderful things to say.

I hope everyone has an amazing 2022.

Chris Kershaw

The Heavy Metal Strength Coach

If lifting, strength training, and talking to a short individual with a beard about cats sounds like your thing, let's talk.

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