Stacy’s Grace

Stacy was one of my first and favorite personal training clients.

A petite woman who was completing a masters in social work and had as much curly red hair as she had anything else, Stacy’s chronic back pain and the fact that she lost her mother to Cancer at an early age always ran in the background of our training sessions. Looking back on it now, those two facts were probably related but I wasn’t smart enough to realize it at the time.

But these details are somewhat irrelevant to the story. Stacy was always friendly, came in with a great attitude and displayed a squat pattern that had me convinced she could have been an Olympian had she pursued athletics rather than an advanced degree.

One late afternoon we were training in the corner of the gym and I was having Stacy perform a dumbbell complex – a challenging series of multiple exercises performed with one set of weights with no rest as you transition from one movement to the next.

Stacy was blowing through this. Bouncing off her joints as she rocketed to the bottom of a squat or pressed the weights overhead.

As I stood idly watching I didn’t realize I was being watched as well. The owner of the gym – and one of my biggest training mentors – had a birds eye view of the session from his perch atop of a treadmill and called me over between sets.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he asked.

“She’s not showing any control of the movements. And should she even be doing that in the first place.”

I was humiliated and mortified. Not that I got called out but rather because I was doing a shitty job.

This leads me directly to lesson one of this post: you cannot be (nor should you accept your trainer being) lazy when it comes to programming and coaching. My clients deserved a more thoughtful approach and I was razzle-dazzling them with new concepts and ideas rather than sticking to what they needed and making sure they did those things incredibly well.

More than anything else you’ll read here, this is the lesson – the concept of simplicity and proper training application – that has become deeply, deeply ingrained. It’s the backbone of our gym. Do what our training population needs. Make sure everyone does it to a standard and the best of their ability. Don’t do anything just because it’s new, trendy or flashy. Take it seriously. Do what works.

OK, back to my story.

After licking my wounds for a bit, I decided to take action.

I got home late that night, popped open my laptop, made a list of all my clients, analyzed and categorized the training programs I had them on, the challenges each of them faced and how I thought to address them.

I then emailed this to the owners and managers of the gym.

“Here is who I’ve got. Here is what I’m doing with them. Here is what I’m thinking. I’m happy to accept any feedback in order to make this better.”

The top brass was very impressed with this move.

“This is great Dan.”

“We appreciate you taking the time to think this through.”

“We should have all of our training staff do this.”

And while I appreciated the accolades and felt slightly better about my earlier misgivings, the absolute worst thing possible happened.


No follow up from management. No advice given. Not another mention of it the next day, the next week or for the remainder of my time at that facility. I would have been happier if they told me all of my plans and thoughts were garbage. That I was thinking about it all wrong. But I didn’t even get that. I got nothing.

And this leads me to the second important lesson of this post: If you are going to demand standards from people, you have to have the support system in place to help them meet or exceed that standard.

I was willing to put in the work but my skills were limited. I was called out and reached out for help. And I got nothing.

And that is way worse, in my opinion, then getting called out in the middle of a session.

It’s okay to command excellence from the people representing you. If you run a business, I’d say it’s mandatory.

But as a leader you need to meet people more than halfway.

And if you are fortunate enough for them to cry out for it, consider yourself lucky.

Helping someone who raises their hand asking for help is what leadership truly is.

I’ve run into Stacy a few times recently. Turns out she lives fairly close to me and we often ride the same train. She’s doing great. Married. Two little kids. She started her own practice.

After about the third time seeing her, without much else to talk about, I sheepishly mentioned the above story. It’s honestly the only remarkable memory I have of our training together.

I’m not sure what I was expecting her reaction to be. Disappointment? Confusion? Apathy?

But after pausing for a second she said what is probably the most wonderful thing possible given the circumstances.

“Dan, the fact that you even remember this and it still bothers you more than ten years later just goes to show how much you cared about me and your clients. So thank you for that.”

Fuck. How gracious can one person be?

She was one of my favorites for a reason.