Subversive Language Lessons
by Steven M. Ledbetter
5 minute read
I bring up language a lot to my clients because the way that we talk and think about things greatly impacts the likelihood that we will do or will not do them. The words we choose can act like a barrier to entry. I’d much rather “take my dogs for a walk” than “go outside and stand around while my dogs decide where to poop then pick it up in a small plastic bag and carry it around with me.” The same is true for how we talk about training. The words we use establish expectations about the experience we are about to have. Tell a 50 year old mother of 3 in the weightroom for the first time that she’s about to do “deadlifts” and watch the terror on her face. She’s much more likely to pick up that heavy thing off the floor if you tell her that she’s about to “pick up that heavy thing off the floor.” She might have expectations about an exercise with the word “dead” in it, but one of my jobs as a coach is to subvert the expectations my clients have which are not useful to meeting their goals. So “deadlifts” are “picking up heavy things.” The Coyote Point Kettlebell Club doesn’t “work out,” it “plays with kettlebells.” My clients don’t “go on diets,” they “change their eating habits.” They don’t “lift,” they “practice.” And they don’t “screw up,” “fuck up,” “or “fail;” they “learn.” It’s hard to enforce because people want the familiar. Familiar words, familiar habits, familiar experiences. But 100% of my clients have come to me because they want to change something. Something about their bodies, their performance, or their lifestyle. So familiar words means familiar habits which means familiar outcomes. “Oh, that’s not what you’re used to? And how’s what you’ve been doing been workin’ out for ya?” It’s Not Work
Last Summer, I was living with Dan John in Utah. A couple of mornings a week, Dan’s former student Stoney would come by and train with us as part of the Cross Point Kettlebell Club. Stoney had put on about 120lbs since his marriage and was working with Dan to help take it off. Stoney got to train with Dan John, one of the world’s greatest coaches multiple times a week for free because he asked if he could and showed up every day. Not a bad deal, especially since Stoney, Dan and I played around a lot that month. One of the most enlightening experiments was when Dan insisted Stoney put on his heart rate before we really got started. Dan wanted a target heart rate of about 150bpm during the session, so he set an alarm to go off if it got above 160bpm. But before we started training, we started playing frisbee. Stoney, Dan and I started tossing around the frisbee in the back yard and a few tosses later, the heart rate monitor went off. Stoney’s heart rate was over 160bpm. Playing frisbee. So what was the workout that day? Playing frisbee. Hardly seems like work, right? Because it’s not.
“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” -Dale Carnegie
If you call something a “workout” people expect two things: They expect to work, and they expect to check out. That’s fine every now and then, but the vast majority of the time, I want my clients to have fun and pay attention to their bodies. If they’re having fun, they’re likely to keep at the habit and if they’re paying attention they’re far less likely to drop a kettlebell on their face. And if they drop a kettlebell on their face, they are most definitely not going to keep at the habit. So when I have clients coming in for a “workout,” I need to subvert those expectations. I’m in the fun-having, skill-building, habit-forming business. If they want to flail around in a puddle of sweat, never get any closer to their goals, and shell out wads of cash there’s a $14 billion industry for that. My job is to keep clients engaged and keep them moving forward.
Coach Stevo’s Lessons in Subversion
My sessions don’t have sections. There’s no “warm up” “mobility” or “cool down.” Per Dan’s Intervention and all the lessons I’ve learned at the CPKC, that stuff’s all baked in; seamless training from start to finish with the goal of better movement at the forefront of every cue. I don’t want them to stop paying attention because “it’s just the warm up.”
My clients roll around on the ground a lot. Nothing makes you feel more like a kid and nothing is more useful than learning how to get up when you’re down.
I don’t count. My mom says it’s just because I don’t know how to, but I’ve learned when my clients have to keep track of their own reps, they pay more attention and can’t mentally check out.
I answer questions with questions. “What are we doing today?” “What do you think we should do today?”
I rap with my nutrition clients about how delicious food is. Look, fried chicken and waffles is proof that life is worth living. The point of learning habits like eating protein and veggies at every meal is so that every now and then you can eat fried chicken and waffles! If you get sick because you at a cookie instead of kale, well that ain’t no way to live.
I use kettlebells. They’re weird. No one knows how much they weigh (24kg is like, 9lbs right?). And no one thinks “that’s something boys use” the way they do with barbells.