Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Have No Favorites

by Carl Raghavan, SSC | September 07, 2021

When I coach, I have no favorites. Of course, that’s a lie. My fiancée is my favorite. I tell her so frequently, without hesitation, especially when in her presence and definitely when we’ve got guests. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. However, when it comes to coaching on the platform, I have no favorites. That’s including my fiancée – if you don’t believe me, ask her. (Side note: Don’t train your wife. Do as I say, not as I do.) Not coaching a lifter hard does them a disservice. I would even go so far as to say that not coaching this way is verging on malpractice.

As a coach, I tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I do not kiss your ass or tell you how magnificently the sun shines out of your sphincter. If you don’t want my opinion, then don’t ask. Go see Timmy the Trainer for all your feel-good vibes and catchphrases. In the “cancel culture” we live in – when facts, truth, and knowledge are under threat – I regard the weight room as the last sacred ground. The acceleration of gravity, you see, is a constant and is always equal to 9.8 meters per second squared. Gravity doesn’t care about wealth, skin color, political correctness, or whether you have a Ferrari or a bus pass. It doesn’t care whether you had a nice childhood. The barbell only cares if you’re strong or weak: 400 pounds is always going to be 400 pounds. And it never lies! Unlike the internet.

The weight room is still noble, honorable and worthwhile; now more than ever, it is a necessity in our culture, helping to build humility and a greater appreciation of life. We can guide the average Joe from humble beginnings through the process of becoming a stronger and more useful human being. This is a journey the world needs. It helps to ground people in reality and remind them about what important shit looks like, not who’s liked their latest TikTok video or commented on their breakfast shot on Instagram. As we know, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one. Mine is informed, and it helps lifters improve, learn, and develop a deeper understanding of what they’re doing on the platform.

I’ve always hated – and I mean absolutely hated – brownnosers. When people try and sneak their way into my good graces, they usually get the opposite reaction. I believe that appreciation is due for hard work, honesty and accomplishment; I’m not interested in favoritism.

“Going easy,” as they call it, while I’m charging people their hard earned cash doesn’t sit well with me. I take my job seriously: this is my lifestyle, not just my profession. I live and breathe the squat, press, deadlift, bench and occasionally the power clean too. I’m always looking to improve myself and discover new hacks to create a sharper, more effective toolbox of cues or a deeper understanding of my subject.

If I allowed myself to turn a blind eye and just said, “Good job, two more,” or “Beautiful set, bro,” then in my line of work I wouldn’t have lasted very long. How do I know this? Because a high percentage of my clients have already had shitty trainers. They tell me stories about how their “personal trainer” would crush them into a fine powder multiple times a week and left them complaining of injuries and sub-par results. They got frustrated and took action, making an intelligent choice about their training. Usually, they simply googled Starting Strength and then found me. So, in fact, I’d like to take a moment to thank all those PTs. If it wasn’t for your near-malpractice and no-pain-no-gain attitude, I wouldn’t have a business where I get to charge 2–3 times more than you do. So, thanks.

Plot twist: all of the above is a lie. I do have favorites, but you wouldn’t know it, because I push the people I love to coach even harder than the rest, and I care even more about them getting stronger. Tough love is my method of choice. If necessary, I do sometimes take a softer approach, depending on the client, but mostly it’s a lot of tough love. I want to see my lifters shine in the splendor of strength. I’m truly proud to coach my favorites, to know that they are all an extension of me and of the Starting Strength brand. First and foremost, my priority is for clients to know how to perform all the lifts correctly. Second, I want them know why we do what we do. Third, I want them to get strong. Simple.

Of course, now that I’m thinking about it, I reckon that actually I might have a different favorite client any given day. This is because of how highly I respect effort, and sometimes a client can surprise you. I won’t tell you that you’re good just for the hell of it – to me, that’s one of the worst things you can do. If I see a lifter, any lifter, deal with adversity and come out the other side to produce a great set, then that’s who my favorite is that day. Sometimes heavy squats, presses or deadlifts can bring something out of a person that they didn’t know they had. They did 4 reps, they weren’t sure they’d get the fifth, but they did it anyway and emerged victorious. Success, as they say, goes to the bold.

Do you have favorites who you coach differently – more gently – than other people? If yes, shame on you! Coaching is about objective truth. The barbell never lies. And as a coach, neither should you.

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