How to find your passion


Not everyone’s as lucky as I am to have fallen into their passion. I was 17 years old and fell in love with lifting weights. I had been working out since the age of 13 and it was a sort of mental outlet for me. The gym felt like home where I got to hang out with friends. People of all ages and backgrounds with the same lifestyle as me.

A man wanting to lose weight walked in the door at the gym I was working at. Weighing 400lbs I felt the need to help this guy. So I did.

I trained him 5 days a week for free and helped him lose 200lbs. I wasn’t a personal trainer (yet) but that’s how it all started. In fact the willingness to do it for free is part of the passion that I discuss below.

People would see this guy melting fat away every week and started asking me to help them too. The owner of the club named Laurier at NBD got me on board because I was now in demand. I owe a lot to him having let me become a trainer at such a young age.

What I learned at that point was this:

“No one cares what you know until they know that you care.”

Looking back now I cared …a lot and that’s what guided me.

This question of finding your passion has always intrigued me. People always say to me “you’re lucky you found your passion” but fail to dissect what that means.

What is passion?

Passion is an intense enthusiasm or desire for something. Fitness and nutrition was that for me.

So if you’re looking to find what your true passion is the first question you need to ask yourself is what do you enjoy? What do you enjoy learning or doing on your free time? What would you do for free?

It can be anything, teaching: Hockey, writing, golf, cycling, working out, traveling or playing the guitar.

Now that you’ve answered that, hold on to that thought because there’s more to it. It’s not enough to just like something to succeed at it. We happen to live in a world where we compete over one another. Standards keep getting higher.

Now this next question is a little harder to answer but it helps if you think back to your school days.

You see, I can play the guitar but I’m pretty bad at it. Back in school, I had a friend that started at the same time as me but while I was still trying to figure out basic chords, he was playing songs. His ability to learn music was much stronger than mine. (Check him out here, he’s the one playing the drums.)

I was mediocre in most subjects in school but I was good at biology, gym and art. Weird mix, huh? But if you look at those subjects you can see that I should be good at sculpting bodies using fitness and understanding how nutrition affects the body.

If you want to succeed you need to focus and the better you know this from the start the better off you will be. So the question is:

What subjects came easy to you?

Once you’ve answered this question you need to get creative and bring those two questions together.

Here is what the formulae should look like:

I love sports
Statistics and math come easy to me
= Sports analyst

I love animals
Drama and acting come easy to me
= performer with animals

I love cycling
Drawing and design comes easy to me
= Bike designer

I hope you can get a little creative and figure out your passion.

PS: If you’re thinking your too late to make a switch to finding your passion.

Just take a look at the chart below.

Finding your passion

Reflecting for Improved Performance

Reflect by FUMIGRAPHIK licensed under creative commons

It’s week 3 on the job. You’re nervous before meeting yet another potential client.

You had one appointment last week that went well. The client was friendly, and you seemed to hit it off. You asked the right questions. You had the right answers for all of her concerns. It went exactly how you had envisioned a sales meeting would go for you after taking the personal trainer course.

You felt confident. You say to yourself, “Maybe I can do this.”

Unfortunately, this wave of confidence doesn’t last long. The next 3 consults that you had were absolute disasters.

For some reason, things just didn’t click like they did with the first client. When the next session didn’t go well, you began to doubt yourself. You thought about what your responses should be rather than really listening to what the clients were saying. In turn, they didn’t feel like you could give them what they needed, so they decided to look elsewhere.

You’re now worried. You need to turn things around. How are you going to pay the bills?

It happens to everyone

First, you breathe. Relax. If it is supposed to be easy, than everyone would be successful. It would be unrealistic to believe that you would be able to make every single sale.

During my early days as a trainer, there was one meeting in particular that just a disaster.

She was a middle aged woman looking to lose some weight. She asked what kind of results would be reasonable for her to expect.

I will never forget what my response was. It still makes me cringe just thinking about it.

I said, “It depends on several factors, such as body type and genetics. You may not be able to get down to a size similar to me, for example, but you will definitely be able to lose some weight.”

I knew it was bad the second those words left my mouth. I could tell she was offended. I didn’t know what else to say to fix it, so I just continued on wife something else.

Needless to say, I never saw her again.

What you should do.

Remember what you tell your clients. Just focus on doing things that are under your control. Don’t worry if the scale doesn’t seem to budge.

This goes for you, as well. As a new trainer, skills like sales will take some time to develop.

The best thing to do to learn from your mistakes is to face them head on. Reflect after each session. Ask yourself:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What did you say that worked and what did you say that didn’t work?
  • How focused were you on the client?
  • Did you ask the right questions?
  • Did you sound confident?
  • How will you do better next time?

Time to Reflect

Reflecting after each session is probably the single most important habit that you can develop. Don’t just toss the bad experiences aside. Sit down and replay the scene in your head. Critically examine what you did. Take the good and repeat them for subsequent sessions. Discover the bad and make a plan so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future.

What I did

First, I swore I would never say anything that would make me sound that arrogant ever again.

Next, I thought about some responses that would have been more appropriate in that situation and wrote them down. This way, I would be more prepared the next time someone asks a similar question.

Then, I practiced saying these responses out loud. There are two reasons for doing this. One, practicing the delivery makes it sound as natural as possible. It also makes you more confident in what you are saying. Two, sometimes things don’t sound as good out loud as it did in your head. This way, you can change the wording so that everything flows.

I hope that nothing this embarrassing will happen to you. However, there’s a good chance that it will.

When it does, don’t fret. It happens to everyone. As long as you commit to critically examining yourself to do better next time. Find and enhance your strengths. Discover your weak points and make a plan to improve upon them.

Most importantly, don’t give up. People need your help to change their lives. They are worth the extra 10 minutes it takes to reflect on your own performance to become better at your craft.

Articles of the Week

Sunday learning

Every Sunday Free Form Academy posts a list of the best articles that will help make you a better trainer. The articles are grouped into 4 categories: Exercise, Business, Motivational Psychology, and Nutrition. The links will be opened in a new window.


3 Weekend Mobility Drills to Help You Enjoy Spring by Dean Somerset

Lifter’s Shoulder: The Cause and the Cure by Dr. John Rusin


The Idea Day by Alwyn Cosgrove

Fitness Business Marketing Advice by John Spencer Ellis


How to Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation in Young Athletes by John O’Neil

Want to Crush Your Inner Demons? Use the Skywalker Strategy! by Steve from

Hate Small Talk? It’s A Skill Worth Learning by F. Diane Barth


Sugar Alcohols: Good or Bad? by Joe Leech

3 Science-based Steps to Curb Your Appetite by Kamal Patel

Mood Food: How to Fight Depression Naturally with Nutrition by Camille DePutter

McGill’s Big 3 Exercises for Low Back Pain

Low back pain is an ailment that affects a significant number of people. Whether you are a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or a complete couch potato, low back pain doesn’t seem to escape anyone.

The prevalence of low back pain means that it is no surprise that this will be one of the top complaints from your clients. Knowing how to minimize the symptoms will improve your clients quality of life and earn you a sterling reputation.

Dr. Stuart McGill, a biomechanics professor at the University of Waterloo, is considered one of the world’s leading experts on low back pain. His texts Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance are great resources for understanding the mechanisms behind chronic low back pain.

Low back pain is a multi-faceted issue. One common cause is lack of spine stability combined with poor hip mobility. When clients lack the hip mobility to perform movements properly, the spine is often the next place to go to get the mobility. The constant flexion and extension through the spine to compensate for the lack of hip mobility overtaxes the muscles surrounding spine. Therefore, teaching your clients how to properly stabilize their spine is an important early step to managing low back pain.

Known as McGill’s Big 3, the following exercises should become a staple to develop spinal stability for your clients with low back pain.

Curl Up


Top image: Correct form. Head and shoulders are slightly elevated from the floor. Bottom image: Incorrect form. Head and shoulders are too high
Top image: Correct form. Head and shoulders are slightly elevated from the floor.
Bottom image: Incorrect form. Head and shoulders are too high

The purpose of this exercise is to activate and strengthen the rectus abdominus without producing spinal flexion like a sit up would.

To perform the movement, have your client lie on their back with one leg extended and the other leg bent. This helps to stabilize the lumbar spine, reducing movement through the area. Place their hands, palms down, under the lumbar spine.

Elevate the head and shoulders just off the floor. The head and neck must be rigid and move as one unit.

Side Plank

Side plank on feet
Side plank on feet

The side plank is a great exercise to build lateral stability.

To begin the movement, have your client lie on their side, supported by her elbow and hip, with the knees bent to 90 degrees. Bracing the spine, your client should elevate her hips from the floor, using a hip hinge pattern. The hips should be fully extended, forming a straight line from the head to the knees. Ensure that the spine remains stable and that movement only occurs through the hip and shoulder.

Bird dog


Top image: Start position. Bottom image: Finish position. Ensure that a straight line forms from heel to fist.
Top image: Start position.
Bottom image: Finish position. Ensure that a straight line forms from heel to fist.

The bird dog allows you to train your clients’ back extensors without placing the spine under a large compressive load.

Have your client get into a quadruped position (on their hands and knees). Help them find a neutral spine position. Lightly brace the torso and extend one leg and the opposite arm until it is horizontal to the floor. Ensure that the spine remains stable and that movement only occurs through the hip and shoulder. The following video demonstrates the correct way of performing the bird dog and an example of the incorrect way to perform the bird dog.


McGill’s research shows that muscular endurance, not strength is the main issue when it comes to low back pain. Therefore, the “Big 3″ exercises should be performed for time to build up muscular endurance.

Begin with sets of 5 reps with a 3 second hold for each rep.Work up to 10 reps before increasing the length of the isometric hold. When time is increased, decrease the number of reps back to 5 and work up to 10.

Week 1 – 5 reps at 3 seconds

Week 2 – 8 reps at 3 seconds

Week 3 – 10 reps at 3 seconds

Week 4 – 5 reps at 5 seconds

Quality Over Quantity

Quality is the most important aspect for all of these exercises. Once form deteriorates, stop the exercise and allow your client to rest. If they are unable to control their spine with these lower level movements, it would be unreasonable to expect that they will be able to control their spine in a more difficult movement, such as a squat or deadlift.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

How to Change Your Client’s Diet Without a Meal Plan

D is for diet! by Gloria García, licensed under Creative Commons
D is for diet! by Gloria García, licensed under Creative Commons

Programming a training plan for all of your clients already takes up enough of your time. Especially as a new trainer who doesn’t have years of knowledge and experience behind you. Each individual offers a new challenge; a challenge that requires extensive planning in order to provide your client with the best experience possible.

And then you have to help them with their nutrition.

In an ideal world, we would work with a team of nutritionists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, doctors, and orthopedic surgeons. Everyone would work in the same place where clients can receive all of these services without having to drive all over town. Everyone would work together effectively and communicate freely about their plans for mutual clients.

This is not an ideal world.

In real life, you, a personal trainer, is also expected to handle all of your clients’ dietary concerns. You are also expected to have a solid network of reputable health professionals that you can recommend, if your clients need such services (which is a whole other article for another day). When it comes to nutritional help, clients will often ask about being provided a meal plan.

The mystical meal plan can be a complicated beast. On the one hand, the ability to control every single thing that is put into your client’s mouth is a powerful tool to take advantage of. However, the simplicity of this theoretical practice is met with a whole host of issues in reality.

The number one issue being that it takes a whole lot of time. Time that is better spent elsewhere.

Other than being a personal inconvenience, there are many other issues that can appear on the client’s end as well.

  • They don’t like the food that was chosen.
  • It’s too much food.
  • It’s too little food.
  • There’s not enough _______.
  • There’s too much _______.
  • Why can’t I have _______?

So what can you do instead of creating a meal plan?

First, think about what stage your client is currently at in their nutritional health. Most people will fall into one of two categories. Those who eat terribly (lots of processed food, eating fast food, little fruits and vegetables) and those who think they eat reasonably well, but are still experiencing weight gain and other health issues.

For those who eat terribly, it’s easy. Simply work them towards replacing some of their processed foods with some protein and vegetables. If they eat a lot of fast food, get them towards making their own lunch or dinner on more occasions. For some who eats fast food for lunch every day, a simple sandwich and a piece of fruit can have a profound impact.

It doesn’t even have to be every day. Start with two days out of the week and work from there.

It is very important that these individuals receive very easy to follow and clear cut instructions. One of the reasons why they may eat out so often is that they simply never learned how to cook. Having the ability to give your clients pointers on how to make food palatable will do wonders for your success rate. By creating a simple cooking how-to guide and recipe book (part of the systems development that I outline here), intervention for these individuals could be nothing more than emailing them a prepared file.

For individuals who believe that they eat reasonably well, it may seem like you would need to provide them with more specific guidance, but don’t start there just yet. If they truly are eating the right foods, they may just be eating too much for their current activity levels. Work with them on proper portion control. Precision Nutrition offers a very simple and easy to use guide here. By using the size of their hand as a reference, your clients can roughly control their caloric intake without having to change the way that they’re currently eating.

These individuals may also need education on why some foods may not be as healthy as they believe. For instance, granola is something that many believe is good for them, but it is often loaded with added sugar. Offer them a list of suitable substitutes (for example, oatmeal or eggs in the place of granola for breakfast) and you have a quick and easy intervention that will lead them towards the right path.

What to do when they insist on receiving a meal plan

Sometimes, you will get clients who just insist on getting a set meal plan. To help avoid the issues listed above, try working with your client to build a meal plan, together. Sit down and come up with 2-3 options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, using foods that they choose. Have an assortment of snacks that they can reach for in between meals, if need be. Now, all they have to do is choose one meal from each option throughout the day. They end up being happy because it’s foods that they have chosen, while you end up happy because you haven’t spent hours of your time creating a meal plan that isn’t being followed.

Whatever intervention you choose to do with your clients, it is absolutely vital that you regularly check in and follow up with them to ensure that the intervention is actually working for them. Constantly reassess and adjust.

If, for some reason, these simple interventions are not working (and you are sure that they are actually trying), then this is where you would begin to get into more specifics like calorie or macronutrient counting. However, aim for the small, easy gains first. Your clients will see success because they are manageable changes that are not invasive to their entire lifestyle. You will be a much more effective trainer because you will have more time to recover, plan, and keep all of your clients accountable.