Interview with Certified Exercise Physiologist, Gavin McHale! Gavin chats with me about his favorite resources, breathing exercises, client stories and breakthroughs, and why training professional and olympian athletes wasn’t for him and what he ended up doing instead. Let’s get started!
Gavin McHale – Certified Exercise Physiologist – Manitoba, Canada
Gavin, thanks for chatting with me! What’s new and exciting?
I am really excited about the increasing amount of really good content and information being shared online in the past year or so.
It seems that, although there is still a negative stigma around our industry, especially online; more and more really great trainers are taking to their keyboards and sharing information (or maybe I’m just finding it).
Particularly exciting is the opportunity for consumers to get pretty much everything they need for free if they know where to look, making fitness more accessible to the general public.
Totally, it’s a really unique time for fitness. What are 1 or 2 of your favorite resources to get great content online?
For business: Business for Unicorns (Mark Fisher and Michael Keeler’s website)
For fitness education: Dr. John Rusin is absolutely crushing it right now
How did you enter into the health and fitness arena?
I actually started my career in a high-performance gym while I was completing my kinesiology degree. At that point, I thought I only wanted to train athletes. I worked my way up to working with NHL and Olympic athletes at our facility but began to realize it wasn’t the right fit for a number of reasons.
At that point, I had the opportunity to start a gym within a physiotherapy clinic and I jumped at the chance to “bridge the gap” between 2 sister industries that seemed miles apart. This was where I cut my teeth in true personal training and working with the general population. Most of my clients had previous injuries, so becoming a Certified Exercise Physiologist was a no-brainer.
I built my own brand within that business over the year that followed and when the owners of the clinic refused to increase my pay, I knew I had created enough “raving fans” to take my business elsewhere.
I contacted an old trainer of mine from my hockey playing days and he was happy to take me on as a private contractor. 12 out of my 14 clients followed me, giving me the satisfaction that I was doing it right.
At that time, I also decided to get in on the online game and start my own website. I have been writing semi-regularly ever since and have learned about a whole new world of online information, products, and services.
Currently, I train about 30 clients out of the same private facility, write regularly for my own and other websites and have a few clients online. That is the part of my business I am now working on growing.
Most trainers would kill to work with NHL and Olympians, would you mind sharing why it wasn’t a good fit?
I thought this question may be coming… and I should have been better prepared for it.
Here goes… When I was playing high-level hockey, I hated working out. I didn’t know what I was doing (which is hell for a control freak) or why I was doing it. I knew it was supposed to improve my performance, but I didn’t really know why or how.
When I got into training (a complete 180 in terms of mindset), I immediately found myself training athletes to do the exact things I hated when I was playing. While I know they enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, I didn’t feel like I was doing what I was supposed to be.
While I was doing this, I was also working with our lifestyle boot camp groups at the same gym. I found that the clients were loving the education and programming I was using. Everything just seemed to click.
Not only was I empowering people to do things they never thought they would, I also felt like I was making a true difference in their lives, not just helping someone make their next million.
I also realized that the number of athletes good enough to pay for training was incredibly small compared to the amount of “regular Joe’s” who knew they needed help.
From a business standpoint, training general population is much more fruitful.
What was an obstacle that you faced and how did you overcome it?
My largest obstacle has to have been my own belief. For the first 6-8 months after making the transition to personal training, I was literally making it up as I went and didn’t truly believe in my ability to assess, regress and progress as needed.
My university degree did not teach me anything about actually standing in front of a client who had never exercised in their life and I didn’t have that understanding, coming from an elite hockey background.
I researched and read blogs like Eric Cressey, Dean Somerset, and the PTDC regularly and literally taught myself my own philosophy.
I’d say it took at least 18 months for me to have a true “way” of training and programming and carve out my own philosophy on the best training methods for my particular population.
What something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I knew that success was as simple as – to steal a line from Jon Goodman of the PTDC – doing a great job and making sure everyone knows about it.
It truly is that simple. Whenever a new trainer asks me about how to get noticed or get new clients or gets mad because they only have one person booked into a semi-private slot, I remind them of this notion.
Just absolutely kill it with every client and make sure you tell the world and they tell their friends.
Become the guy (or girl) that they tell their friends about at a party.
How do you tell or show the world that you’re doing a great job? What has worked and what hasnt?
I think the best and cheapest way to tell the world you and your clients are killing it is social media. Literally, EVERYONE is on there and most people have become addicted to it. While it’s not necessarily a good thing for society, it’s a great thing for a business owner without much advertising money.
In terms of what hasn’t worked, I’ll tell you within the social media framework. As a business owner, your contacts learn this pretty quickly if you’re doing things right. What’s important to understand is that you have to provide VALUE and let them get to know you.
People will get tired of the shtick very quickly if all you’re doing is shoving products and services down their throat with every post. Give them value, give them a glimpse into who you are, give them more value.
People will get tired of the shtick very quickly if all you're doing is shoving products and services down their throat with every post. Give them value, give them a glimpse into who you are, give them more value.
What’s one book that changed your mindset or the way you do things?
I’d like to say 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss because it literally transformed the way I went about doing business, but I’m sure everyone says that. Just make sure you read that one.
Made To Stick – Chip & Dan Heath is probably the most actionable book I have read and one that I’ve even re-read.
It’s very difficult when you’re new to the online space because you feel like you’re writing good content, but you don’t know if anyone’s reading it. Made to Stick gave me actionable steps to make my writing more “sticky” and not only get more people listening to what I had to say, but give them the opportunity to remember it and use it in their daily lives.
That’s how things get rolling online because people share an article or mention it to their friends.
What are you reading right now?
Oh man… the list.
I am a very slow reader so I have several on the go.
Right now, I am re-reading Made To Stick – Chip & Dan Heath (again) and reading Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World – Gary Vaynerchuk as well as Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari (which I have found very funny and interesting, even though I’m in a relationship).
Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?
When I first started taking clients at the physio clinic, my third client was a referral from one of the physios. She had several ailments and was recovering from a frozen shoulder.
After a couple of sessions, she loved it and got her husband to join her for a session. I had him come early so we could chat and then she would join him afterward for a workout.
During our conversation, it was clear that he was a proud man that was not interested in what I was selling. He made it clear he was there because he was told to be there.
I got a good read on him and knew he had a competitive streak inside him so I played on that heavily during the session with his wife. I created some banter back and forth between them and added in a couple of competitions within the workout.
After the session, it was obvious his mindset had completely shifted and he was fully onboard. They both still train with me 3 years later and have referred their best friends, their daughter, her partner, and her partner’s mom.
Needless to say, getting the buy-in from a proud middle-aged man after just 1 hour is one heck of a breakthrough.
Your ability to get a read on that guy and quick thinking completely made that relationship! What are your top relationship building questions you ask new and old clients?
1. Who is the best version of yourself (or who is someone you admire)?
2. What does that person do on a daily basis (what are their habits)?
3. How is that going to make you feel (find their why)?
1. How has this been feeling lately? OR How has habit ‘x’ been going?
2. (when I can tell they’ve had an aha moment with a movement) What was the cue that got you to do it like that? What were you focused on when you hit those reps?
3. What are you most proud of since we started together?
Love those questions, and I am stealing the first 3. It’s a perfect combo. Can you tell me about your proudest moment?
This has to be when I was able to change a client’s mindset from feeling like she needed to lose weight and constantly obsessing over her weight to simply wanting to become stronger and throwing her scale away.
It took a long time and a lot of reinforcement of positive behaviors, but once she saw progress and I celebrated it, there was no looking back.
How has your programming changed since last year?
I am a lot more focused on overall wellness. I have a lot of clients who live hectic lives; owning businesses and having full social schedules on top of high-powered positions.
Some days we just need to take the foot off the gas pedal and realize that moving well will be much more fruitful than getting their ass kicked and frying their nervous system.
I have also added diaphragmatic breathing drills into almost every clients’ program and removed foam rolling for the sake of foam rolling, focusing more on releasing tight muscles and stabilizing their weak counterparts.
What’s your go to breathing drill that works for most f your clients, can you describe it?
I actually wrote an article on this for Tony Gentilcore’s website which you can find HERE.
My favorite drill is probably prone lengthening (second drill in the article). We tend to be so wound up that things get very tight through the entire posterior mediastinum and this drill opens it up, giving some space for everything to relax.
A lot of clients with shoulder issues have said this drill gives them instant relief. It’s also great for firing up serratus anterior before a workout.
Do you have a favorite technique to release tight muscles, since you dropped foam rolling?
Just to clarify, I have not dropped foam rolling entirely. My approach is now more focused on actually getting an outcome. For example, I will test shoulder flexion, then have the client foam roll their t-spine for a few passes before putting a peanut (2 tennis or lacrosse balls taped together) under there in their tightest spot.
I’ll have them do a few reps of shoulder flexion with the peanut in there, releasing any tight sections, then retest. More often than not, they see a massive improvement after about 2-3 minutes of work.
Furthermore, I do a lot more stability work on nearby joints. If someone is having trouble with their lower back, I’ll fire up the anterior core and glutes and that will often give them relief and get them on the right path to ridding themselves of their lower back pain.
Have you done any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?
Back in February, I went to New York for Mark Fisher’s Motivation and Movement Lab. If you get the chance, you have to check these guys out.
I left that weekend feeling better and more positive than I have felt in years (and I’m a pretty positive guy).
I can see why their gym is so successful. They are a wonderful collection of professionals who are genuinely interested in becoming the absolute best they can and helping those around them do the same.
What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?
Programming the five basic human movements from Dan John. It seems so simple but starting where the client is and progressing towards more difficult variations seems too simple to be effective, but I’ve had great success with it.
Push, pull, hinge, squat and plank or carry.
Every single person can get better at these movements, especially people who spend most of their lives sitting.
There is no substitute for strength, and strength in those 5 patterns cannot be understated.
Gavin thanks so much for taking the time to share this with us. Any parting advice before you go?
I will heed the advice of Eric Cressey that I came across about 5 years ago when I first started reading online:
According to Brian Tracy: “One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years, you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.”
Brilliant. How do we get in contact with you?
All of my contact information can be found at www.gavinmchale.com.
Gavin McHale and McHale Strength & Conditioning on Facebook, @GavinMcHale1 on Twitter and gavinmchale1 on Instagram.