In the first two installments of this series found here and here, I discussed how difficult it can be to admit that you’ve been wrong, especially when you are someone whom other people turn to for advice.  I also discussed how important it is to at least *try* and keep an open mind when you are presented with information that is contrary to your current beliefs.  It’s not always easy, but it prevents your philosophy from becoming stale and dogmatic.

I also wanted to note that I am making a small change to the series.  Initially, it was going to be 3 parts with 3 things I had changed my mind about in each part, but I am so passionate about item #7 found below, that it ended up taking on a life of its own and I decided to publish it by itself and let it shine.  So there will still be 9 things discussed, but it 4 installments instead of 3.  Without further ado, here is the 3rd installment!

“Be the best beginner Coach possible.”Jim Wendler (This is what Wendler used to tell my business partner Jim Laird.  They were roommates for a while.  Oh, the stories!!)

What I used to think: Training beginners is the same as training everyone else, you just use lighter weights. They should back squat, deadlift, bench press, do pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, kettlebell swings and all of the other big compound movements that I do, just with less weight.

Wow… looking back now, the above statement seems so ridiculous.  You see, before I started my own Group Personal Training Classes with my partner Jim Laird a couple of years ago, I was mostly training clients online.  The clients I had been training in person were either more advanced than your average Joe, or they were beginners and I hadn’t been doing a great job training them,  simply because I was starting them with movements that were too advanced for them.  I wasn’t setting them up for success.  This was also before I had spent much time with my Coach, Mike Robertson, and really had the opportunity to do the following: watch how he coaches certain movements, learn what he is looking for when someone does a movement, and learn what “acceptable form” really looks like.

These days, between me and my partner Jim, we have 140+ clients that we train each week.  Some of them we train 1-on-1, some of them we train in a small group setting (2-5 people) and some of them we train in a large group setting (10-25 people).  Through lots of trial and error and lots of learning from other really smart coaches, I now have a much better idea of how the body is supposed to move and where on the continuum of an exercise progression someone should start.  For example, this would be my squat progression for a beginner:

Body Weight Box Squat → Goblet Box Squat → Goblet Squat (no box) → Offset Goblet Squat → Front Squat → Back Squat → Cambered/Safety/Buffalo/Spider Bar Squat, etc.


And it’s not like my clients fly through these progressions from week to week.  My client may be doing other squat variations for 6-12 months before they ever squat with a bar.  The wild thing is, I see so many trainers starting their clients off with Barbell Back Squats… say what?!  That’s step 6 in my progression!  Not saying that you have to use my exact continuum or progressions, but starting most beginner clients with a Barbell back Squat will lead to failure and frustration.  Trust me, I know.  I have done it.



What I think now:  The majority of beginner clients aren’t anywhere CLOSE to being able to perform a lot of those movements, at least not with good form.  I have also realized that 95% of the people who walk in our doors are beginners with regards to movement, no matter how long they have been training. 

These days, we make it a point to start all of our new clients off with something very simple and easy.  It’s our goal to leave them actually wanting to do more and leave them with some energy left in the tank.  It’s a great feeling when your female clients are begging to put more weight on the Prowler or excited about using more chain for their Hip Thrusts.  We know that if our clients are asking to do something more advanced or asking to use more weight, it’s because they feel confident in their abilities and they feel prepared, and we are doing our jobs correctly.

For their first few sessions, we may start our beginner clients off with something as simple as diaphragmatic breathing exercises, a short dynamic warm-up, and a couple of super light trips with the Prowler.  For some people, that’s enough to kick their butt!  We have even had beginner clients vomit after doing just that! (Side note: making people vomit is NEVER our intention and in fact, we try to avoid it at all costs with our clients).

If they are ready to do a bit more than just the breathing and the warm-up, we will likely start them off with something that looks like this:

Diaphragmatic Breathing: 1-2 sets of 15-20 breaths

Half Kneeling Diaphragmatic Breathing: 10 breaths each side

Dynamic Warm-up: See a video of our Beginner Dynamic Warm-up Here

Extended Warm-up: 2 sets of 10 reps on Broomstick RDL, Wall Slides, Mini-Band Monster Walk


A1) Body Weight Box Squat x 10

A2) Walk Up (start in push-up position, walk hands back to feet, walk them back out, repeat) x 6-10

A3) Band Pull-Apart x 12

Repeat two more times for a total of 3 rounds (rest as needed between exercises)

B1) Glute Bridge with Mini-Band around Knees x 12

B2) Half Kneeling Band Pull-down x 5-8 each leg

Repeat one to two more times for a total of 2-3 rounds (rest as needed between exercises)

C1) Prowler Push x 30 yds

Repeat one to two more times for a total of 2-3 trips (rest as needed between trips)

Cool Down: Stretch on the foam roller, hip flexor/quad stretch, adductor stretch on the wall


Now I realize to a lot of people that may seem boring or easy, but I cannot tell you the number of people we have worked with who are smoked after a workout like that!  You really don’t have to do much to make your clients get better and to not only avoid injury, but to prevent injury.  Remember, if you’re not actively preventing injury, you’re promoting it.

And it’s not like we are afraid of hard work or pushing our clients, they just have to earn the right to be able to do certain movements.  Everything we do in class sets our clients up for success so that they can eventually progress to another, more advanced movement.  Like I said above, I can guarantee you that the majority of people who walk in your door are beginners, regardless of how long they have been training.  Do yourself and your clients a favor, and make sure you start with exercises that will set them up for success.

How do you train your beginner clients?  Do you think I am being too much of a softie with my clients?  Am I doing things right or wrong?  What do you think?  What progressions do you like to use with your clients?

13 Responses to 9 Things I Have Changed My Mind About – Part 3

  1. Molly, i went to school with you, and i cant recall ever speaking to you through the entire time at Tates Creek. I don’t think it was personal on either of us, but Tates Creek was so cliquey. Anyhow I just wanted to say I’m proud to say I went to school with you. Seems like you followed your dreams and things are working well for you. Good luck in future endeavors.

    As far as too much of a softie on your clients, id be biased because I believe that everyone needs a bit of a push, some more than others. That should be evaluated on a case to case basis.

    Andre Murrell

  2. Rufus says:

    Excellent article. Really enjoyed meeting you and Jim this weekend at IYCA. Dinner was great.

    • molly says:

      Rufus, Thank you! It was great meeting you too! Look forward to seeing you at IFAST next time I am up there!

  3. Taryn Wahl says:

    I don’t think you’re being too much of a softie. After wrestling and playing rugby in high school I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie and feel like I need to destroy myself in the gym to get a really good workout. That mentality can push me to work hard but often burns me out (as I have neck and shoulder injuries to deal with too) and prevents me from training consistently. In the long run your clients will more likely stick with training and will get better results.

    I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been following Girls Gone Strong for about a month now and reading the blogs has helped me get more out of training. 🙂

    • molly says:

      Taryn – I am so glad to hear that! Thank you for your support of GGS!

      Yes, it can be hard to break people of that, “Have to do more… Have to kill myself… have to be sore and in pain” mentality. That’s one of our biggest struggles is trying to save our clients from themselves so they can, “live to train another day.” =)

  4. Gerilyn says:

    Hi Molly! I love this series – the fact that you are willing to change your mind when faced with new facts shows that you are an effective trainer. I’m almost embarrassed at some of the things I thought my beginner clients should be doing (barbell back squats being one of them) when I first started, but have grown by leaps and bounds and can thankfully use those times as teaching points now.

    I’m in complete agreement that beginner clients should build the appropriate capacity, strength, movement patterns, breathing, and CONFIDENCE with progressions leading to barbells. And you know you’re doing well when your clients are begging for more advanced movements instead of looking at the bar uncertainly. 🙂

    I really like Tim Ferriss’ philosophy in ‘The 4-Hour Body’ – Why do more when you can reap benefits with less? Translated, that would be – why make beginner clients do advanced squats when you can reap more benefits for a longer period of time with a lesser stimulus like hip extensions?

    Great article! Keep ’em coming!

    -Gerilyn Burnett

    • molly says:


      Sounds like our philosophies are very similar! My partner Jim always says, “You only have to do enough to get better!” And yes… minimal effective dose. There is no need to kill a fly with a grenade if you have a fly swatter in your arsenal! 😉 Thanks for commenting!

  5. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been thinking along these same lines for several months, trying to think through the most elementary progression of movements for kettlebell work. I am so interested in helping people who really need to start at square one. But I’ve been suffering from a little self doubt about some of my own ideas. Recently I got my first kettlebell certification at the age of 60. I just needed to know it isn’t a crazy, old-fashioned notion that some people really do need to start at the most basic levels of movement. Thanks!

    • molly says:


      It’s not crazy at all and in fact, it’s the basis of our whole program and the reason we are getting ready to move into a building that’s double the size of our current spot! =) We are so busy b/c our clients are experiencing success with minimal work! Great job on your cert! Keep up the good work!

  6. Austin says:

    So I do intermittent fasting as well and it has worked well for me to. My question is do you eat all of or close to your allotted calories for the day in that afternoon and evening time frame?

    • molly says:

      Austin, I eat the majority of them in that time frame. My fast typically lasts 13-16 hours (sometimes I have some heavy cream with my tea in the morning) and then I eat a small meal or two before training, and the majority of my calories post-workout.

      Hope this is helpful!

  7. Pingback: 9 Things I Have Changed My Mind About – Part 4 | Molly Galbraith

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