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  • Writer's pictureJesse McMeekin

The Right Way to "Steal" An Exercise

Stealing exercises. We all do it. But how you do it says a lot about you as a coach or trainer. So if you're gonna steal an exercise, do it the right way.

Nothing New

Let's be clear: no one's "stealing" anything. My title is entirely tongue-in-cheek. Formal, organized exercise has been around for hundreds of years—anything we "invent" at this point is probably a variation at best, and a monstrosity of needless complexity at worst (see also: "Single Leg BOSU RDL to Curl to Press"). "Stealing" an exercise is nothing more than borrowing, using, or imitating. So who cares how you do it?

Well, hopefully you do. The right way to steal an exercise comes back to safety and effectiveness. Too often an imitated exercise is like a physical version of the children's game "Telephone"—it started out as one thing but has unintentionally morphed into something entirely different.

While I love seeing an exercise I've been using show up in someone else's workout, it's frustrating to watch as the details that made me choose an exercise in the first place get lost in translation. It's not the "theft" that bothers me, it's the bastardization. If you're gonna steal something, get it right! How? Here's a working guide to being a better (movement) thief.

Your Instruction Manual

Each situation will vary—and as such, this list will never be perfect—but the following instructions should help you do a better job of taking an exercise you see somewhere else and making it your own.

  • Answer as many "whys" as you can. Why is the coach using a particular position, load, implement, stance, tempo, or rep scheme? Why did they program the exercise first, last, or somewhere in between?

  • Pay attention to the details. These can include any and all of the examples above, as well as how an exercise is being cued, what kind of client is being given the exercise and more.

  • Consider the prerequisite skills. Your understanding of the finer points of a movement is no guarantee that your client can execute them safely and effectively.

  • Know where they're coming from. What's the other trainer's background, and do you have the knowledge and experience to make good use of that particular exercise? (If you find that you don't, this can also inform where you'd like to grow your own abilities).

  • Filter your audience. At one point or another we've all been guilty of giving everyone that cool new thing we picked up somewhere. The reality is that no matter how great an exercise is, it's probably not going to be the right exercise for everyone right now.

  • Go to the source. When possible, ask! One caveat: rather than asking a blanket "why'd you do that one?", try sharing your understanding of a movement and looking for confirmation or clarification. This saves and respects the other person's time, clears up misunderstandings, and helps you develop a more analytical eye.

  • The final "why". Ask yourself why you're taking an exercise in the first place. Is it to address a specific need? Help a particular client? Or because it looked cool on Instagram? If you find yourself admitting to that last one don't worry—we've all had those moments—but move on and look for a better answer.

Sharing Credit

How and when to share credit can seem like a tricky subject, after all, it's a little weird to announce to a client that you took a particular exercise from this or that trainer, and in all fairness, I don't think that's particularly necessary or appropriate. What does seem appropriate is to treat credit like you would a citation: if there's a clearly defined inspiration for something you're doing, and if you're putting that out there to the world (i.e. on social media), crediting the source allows for your audience to do some digging on their own. If you scroll through my Instagram feed there are plenty of examples of things I've adapted or flat-out taken from friends, mentors, and colleagues, and I do my best to acknowledge their role in the process.

Crime Scenes and Archaeology

Being a good movement thief is like examining a crime scene or an archaeological site; you need to sift through the clues to find the underlying story. What happened here? How? Why? The more questions you can answer, the better.

The bottom line here: while I wouldn't mind getting some credit if you like something I'm using, I'm really more concerned with you getting it right for your clients.

Shameless Plug

While we're on the topic of learning, growth, and development, I'd be thrilled if you'd look into my online training and individual mentorship services. Both are aimed at up and coming trainers, and there's a good bet that if you're reading this you're interested in bettering your skill set. Finally, likes, shares, and shameless endorsements are always encouraged. Links to do so can be found below.

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