How important is an education?

Me and Dustin Pague at my college graduation in June of 2009

A few weeks ago I had a high school junior message me through Facebook to ask if I would take some time to answer a few questions on going to college for exercise science.  OF COURSE I said yes…  And my answers were some things I wish that I had heard before starting college as well.  So, I figured rather than reaching one person, I’ll make a blog post out of this.

His questions were essenially:

I am looking into studying Kinesiology in college and would like to get your feedback on the pros and cons of this particular career path. Do you like it? What do you recommend I start studying to prepare for college? Is it a good paying career? Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Here is my complete response, and then some (Revisions are in red.  I have thought of more since responding, so I will be sending this to him as well):

Alright, here goes!  Before I start, let me say that you are welcome to come over to my gym and shadow, ask questions, and sit down with me ANY time.

Kinesiology.  Yes, I liked going to school for Kinesiology- I feel that it has been very beneficial to my career- but with that being said…

I obtained my first personal training certification and began training people just months after turning 18.  I continued to read every strength training book, business book, etc., shadow in a variety of gyms, and train people all through college.  This EXPERIENCE is by far the most important aspect of my “education.”  School teaches you the science, but very little on the application aspect.  The science is VERY important, but it’s very hard to apply it if you don’t start doing it right away.

The only con to this was that Penn State would not allow me to inern in their facilities without taking some intro level courses that covered exactly what my certification covered.  This seemed to be due to a disconnect in formalities between branch campuses and main campuses.  By the time I found this out, I didn’t have enough time to take those courses to then complete my physical internship in their facilities.  However, their in-house internship program was not vey good I later learned.  In the end, it was probably best that I got out and interned in other performance facilities, corporations, and regular gyms.  I am hoping that since the football coaching staff has turned over, there are better opportunities for PSU students to shadow “modern” training techniques.

Like anything in life, training people is a matter of mastering habits.  You will be in school for at least four years.  Now I know there’s summer breaks, but don’t take a “break.”  Keep learning.  This gives you 208+ weeks to learn non-stop.  That can be overwhelming, but don’t let it be.  Keep a journal through college.  Every single day, write down the things that you feel are the most applicable and profound pieces of knowledge.  At the end of every week, boil these daily things down to 2 action items.  Own these action items.  Memorize them, use them, make them a priority.  That’s 208+ weeks of applying some really powerful stuff.  Even every other week- 104+ “habits.” 

Apply these habits in real-life training situations, and continue this continued growth well beyond college.  You’ll be golden.

If I could do it all over again, I would still go to school for Kinesiology.  However, I would have attended even more seminars on training, shadowed at even more (world recognized) gyms, interviewed more successful professionals, and reached out for a mentor right away.

I wish that someone had told me about the best blogs and websites sooner.  School is great, but you’ve got to read about what the best people in the world are doing.  There’s no simpler platform to “get to know” these inividuals than their blogs.  So here’s my current regular reading list:

  • Tony Gentilcore: www.tonygentilcore.com [Tony is funny, informative, and he gives real information that you can use all of the time.  He is also really good about sharing the blogs of people that he reads.  This is another great way to learn about even more experts.]
  • Kelly Starrett: www.mobilitywod.com [Kelly is a Physical Therapist that owns his own Crossfit gym.  His blog is all about mobility and proper movement principles.  This stuff is huge.  The biggest thing you can do is learn how to assess movement and COACH it.]
  • Dr. Justin Rabinowitz: http://drjustinrabinowitz.com/ [Dr. J Rab is a younger guy in the field, a recent graduate of Chiropractic school, but is by the far the most hungry young professional on the therapy side of the ball that I personally know.  His blog is concise, informative, and entertaining.  He will be one of the most sought after professionals in years to come.  Mark my words.  Read his blog.]
  • Eric Cressey: www.ericcressey.com [Eric's blog is a little bit of a heavier read than these others, but he is one smart dude.  He mainly works with baseball players, but he puts out GREAT info on training in general.  It's definitely more info heavy than it is entertaining.]
  • Dan John: www.danjohn.net [Dan is the simplistic coach.  His books and blog are full of extremely valuable, easy to apply information.  With 1,000,000 years of coaching that he has under his belt, you’d be a fool to ignore him.
  • Precision Nutrition: www.precisionnutrition.com/blog [The brain-child of Dr. John Berardi, Precision Nutrition is a no-nonsense source for nutrition information.] 
  • The RawBrahs and RawSistahs: www.rawbrahs.com/blog and http://www.youtube.com/user/RawSistahs [This one is a newer one for me.  I graduated from Penn State with a girl by the name of Steph Hendel, and she has since gone on to do big things- over 2,000 subscribers to her YouTube page for instance.  The RawBrahs are three brothers living what looks to be one hell and care-free healthy lifestyle.  This one is about the motivation to get out and do what you want with your life.  Steph and the Rawbrahs seem to be EVERYWHERE in the world, literally, on a regular basis spreading the joy of freedom of movement, healthy eating, and lifestyle choices.  You'd be lying to say you aren't envious of the lifestyle.]

Pros:

  • truly change lives
  • real, live human interaction on a consistent basis (you won’t be stuck behind a desk typing away for endless hours)
  • make your own schedule (eventually)
  • following your passion (hopefully this is your passion)
  • you get to wear shorts and a t-shirt every day (as long as you look presentable)
  • you will work with people from all industries, making you a valuable member to the community and sought after for referrals- making it very easy to barter for services that you need in your personal life
  • easy to stay in shape
  • VERY profitable when you become the sought after expert in your area -no ceiling on your income (also no “floor,” see below)
    • This also would imply that you are an independent or own your own facility at this point.

Cons:

  • inconsistent hours (early mornings, late evenings), especially in the beginning of your career
  • at the mercy of your clients’ schedules when starting out
  • hard to make a living early on (I scraped by on barely $2,000/month for YEARS after college- *looking back, I could have done much better- but point being, it’s rare to find a salaried training job- it’s typically based on commisions and hourly pay)
    • You have to be commited, passionate, and push forth with a drive to succeed more than almost any other industry.  Training is not easy for the wrong individual.  Dan John mentioned at his seminar that Chris Poirier of Perform Better told him there is almost an 80% attrition rate in this industry.  Be willing to trudge through a lot of crap to succeed.  The point where most people quit is right before success would have started rolling their way.

Before college, get a reputable CPT certification through any of the following

  • NSCA
  • ACSM
  • NASM

A lot of my friends thought that I was crazy for working as a trainer all throughout college.  But guess what?  None of those individuals are working in the industry today (exactly 4 years after college).  In fact, many of the people I graduated with did not make it.  They may have gone into something “related,” but I do not know many successful strength coaches from my class (I can only think of two off the top of my head).

Point being, start learning the princples today, training TODAY, and apply new concepts to those principles weekly.  No one will be able to stop you.  But if you wait until graduation to try and apply all of knowledge, YOU WILL FAIL.

Read:

  • Movement by Gray Cook, then shadow someone utilizing the FMS
  • Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett
  • Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
  • Any of the New Rules of Lifting series from Alwyn Cosgrove and Lou Schuler- probably best to go with the newer ones

I could reccomend a ton more on training, nutrition, and business- but these are a great starting point.  Read them, apply the principles, shadow someone utilizin this stuff with success.

Experiment on yourself, friends, and family from what you read.

A few final words of wisdom:

  • Don’t listen to anyone who speaks in absolutes.  Their are a 1,000,000+ ways to skin a cat, there is no end-all-be-all. 
  • Shadow and work (if possible) in a variety of industries, not just the one you want to work in.  I got to intern, shadow, and work in some very different settings that didn’t directly have to do with the type of coaching I do now: The Hershey Company’s corporate wellness department, Penn State’s Student Fitness Assessment Center, Penn State’s Professional Golf Management utilizing the myTPI program, Town Center Orthopaedics as a Physical Therapy Aide, etc… EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE IMPACT WHAT I DO TODAY.
  • Set realistic goals often, complete them, and make new loftier ones.  Repeat.
  • Don’t listen to people who try to hold you back.  I had so many people tell Todd Bumgardner and me that we were too young to start our own business.  Age is a number, a degree means you can probably cram for a test, experience can be passive, but passions trumps all…  I’m only 26, I work for myself, I have 60+ current clients and growing

Lift!

Boom Boom Pow

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Chris Merritt

Strength Coach/ B.S. Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University/ FMS/ Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist/ Certified Kettlebell Instructor/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance and Beyond Strength Performance NOVA

1 Comment on How important is an education?

  1. Chris, I will keep it simple. (I dare you to disagree with me)

    Best advise ever!
    Awesome!

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