Five Lessons Learned from Strength Coaching in Small Group Classes

I have been blessed to work as a strength coach full-time for five years. Here are some key lessons I’ve learned teaching small classes:

  1. The more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t know. It is that way in any field, but when you see people three or four times a week, you have a real opportunity to help people make serious changes in their lives. I continue to study, practice and teach daily to help you advance in their strength, movement and to improve your overall health. I appreciate your trust and patience; you inspire me to continue to learn and grow as a coach.
  2. Each person must be addressed individually and kept safe. You bring your movement history with you into class; that may include physical and emotional injuries and experiences that might not have been positive with fitness professionals. Personal attention is required to keep you safe. I am tough and set on my ‘no train with pain’ policy because there is no good long term result when you train with pain. Working with a medical professional to remove pain is always the appropriate course of action before starting a strength training program.
  3. Teach the basics well. People think they want variety, but what they need is to learn movements that will make them stronger and keep them functional in life, sports, hobbies and care-giving roles. Specifically: deadlifts, swings, goblet squats, presses, turkish getups, lunges, plank/pushup/pullup and carries deliver what we need. This is our core program. We can vary these, in many ways, but that’s not essential to meeting our goals of being strong for everyday life. If we do only these three movements well, we are going to see life-changing results: kettlebell swing, turkish getup and goblet squat.
  4. Not every person is a fit as a client. Strength training is a skill that takes years to perfect. It requires commitment, practice, mental focus, honesty and humility about what we can and cannot do. For many of us, proprioception, or an awareness of our limbs moving in space, is not something we’ve developed in our past, so learning to move and lift can take time (months or years). Perseverance, patience and an openness with your coach about how the movements feel in your body is necessary to make continued progress.
  5. Mobility is more important than strength. Moving well is a challenge for many of us because of how much we sit, were previously inactive or injured, or never coached on proper technique. Getting people moving with ease is why I do what I do. Helping people  safely explore a deep squat, learn the turkish getup (and do it gracefully), practice proper plank and pushup form, improve shoulder and t-spine mobility, hang on a bar with confidence, swing a kettlebell, and so on, makes me incredibly happy. I don’t care how much weight you lift, ever! If you are mobile, pain-free and lifting something that helps you leave the gym feeling better than when you walked in, then we are a successful team.

Move strong, be healthy, and never stop moving your body. ~Lori

Strong Member Spotlight: Joanne Spoth

When Joanne joined MoveStrong Kettlebells a little over a year ago, she had also just started a new job as President and CEO of The Breathing Association. I was so impressed that she was willing to commit to a regular exercise program with her busy life, but she wanted to be her best in her new job, and for family, friends, and to do all the things she enjoys in life. She truly believes that fitness = health.


Joanne has progressed in the all areas of movement quality, mobility, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and strength. She doesn't bat an eye when we do Tabata-style workouts and she is expert at listening to her body. 

Her pressing technique is beautiful, as is her swing, and she moves mindfully through all the kettlebell movements, especially the Turkish Getup.

Joanne is an incredibly positive person, fun to have in class, and she is a committed athlete who loves new challenges. She inspires me and helps me be a better coach with her feedback and support.

It has been fun to watch her progress and to hear stories about how what we do in the gym has helped her enjoy the people, animals and activities in her life.

Here is Joanne's fitness journey in her own words:

Why did you start training at MSK?

Training with Lori and MSK was an easy decision.  I wanted to work with someone who was knowledgeable, willing to work with me vs. having a ‘cookie cutter’ approach and was willing to challenge me – safely.  From the onboarding process to the variation of exercises and skills learned in each session; every time I leave class I know I made the right decision.  Since my work is ‘office & schedule based’ I was also looking for a program that complemented my busy schedule. MSK provides that and more.

What improvements have you seen in your body and in your life?

Am I stronger, yes; do I have greater endurance, yes and am I resting and enjoying life more, yes.  Zip lining in Costa Rica last Thanksgiving was a blast; something I likely wouldn’t have tried had I not been working with Lori. I have always been ‘in tune’ with my body; more so since my (former) days as an ‘equine sports therapist’, but for sure I am seeing that my overall well-being has been affected.  Another big improvement for me has been the balancing of my lower body muscle groups in that I came in very quad dominant but I am much stronger and more flexible in my hip flexors, hamstrings etc.

What is the biggest surprise you've seen with strength training?

For me it is the applicability of the breathing, abdominal engagement, hip hinge and TGU; I use the techniques and steps from these movements throughout my daily activities.  They are seemingly basic movements but their capacity for better, safer and stronger movement is transformative whether it is working in the yard, moving packages, cleaning in the barn or throwing a bale of hay.

What are your favorite KB movements / lifts?

Of all of the movements, two-hand swings, Sumo style deadlifts and presses are my favorites.  While the single-arm and double-bell movements are not my favorites; I know that I am getting better with them over time and as my conditioning improves.

What advice do you have for people about strength training with kettlebells?

Kettlebells are for most everyone; no matter your age, condition or strength IF you have a qualified and dedicated instructor who is willing to help you with your goals.  I have worked out with other strength ‘trainers’ in the past and didn’t believe I would ever try again given the experience.  I am so very glad that I found Lori and MSK; it makes a difference when you are coaching with someone whose overall goal is your wellbeing and improvement.  Lastly, if you do choose to start working out; once you have the right instructor and program - stick with it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day (as they say) and the only thing that is constant is change. That means you are building on what you learned, adding strength, and dealing with ‘life happens’ moments every day. 

Having the opportunity to work with a great coach; learn with others and enjoy getting stronger at MSK is one of the best decisions I have ever made. ~Joanne

A Little Play to Get Stronger

Ever since I started teaching strength and movement, I have included play components in personal training and in our small group class programming ... and of course in my own training. I refer to this as Fitness Freedom.

We all need time to explore, learn, be free from reps, sets, time and be allowed to challenge our bodies in new and different ways.

Any movement or lift can be considered a play component -- Fitness Freedom has less structure and allows the individual to make decisions about whether to push forward or pull back.

It needs to be safe, fun, and even a little bit challenging. It may be different than our typical gym programming or it may build on what we do every day.

Read my full blog post about Play on Dragon Door.

So much is gained from play: besides strength and conditioning ... there is confidence and excitement, in addition to the opportunity to develop (or improve) skills.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!


Achieve Pain-free Cleans

The Kettlebell clean is an important and challenging movement that seems to take longer to refine than any other kettlebell movement that I teach. 

Over time, I have developed some cues that help my students land the kettlebell more smoothly.

The end goal is avoid the thump on the forearm and wrist upon receiving the kettlebell in the racked position.

Read my post about the clean on Dragon Door here.

Special thanks to MoveStrong Kettlebells member Jayme Mattimore for her willingness to demonstrate her technique in the video.


After morning classes today, the day before Thanksgiving, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Grateful for so many things in my life ... my faith, my family, my friends ... and my gym members who are also my friends.

I am grateful that I get to do this job every day. I love what I do and the people I get to do it with. It's the best job in the world -- even on those days when I get up at 4:30 a.m.!

I am grateful for how hard everyone works to learn and improve, how they applaud each others' successes, and how they truly listen to their bodies and adjust as needed.

Today, one of our gym members had a real breakthrough.

Joanne has been patiently working to get the kettlebell Swing to the point where she was comfortable moving up to heavier weights. She has listened to her body and progressed at her own pace to prevent firing up any former sports injuries.

She is a model for all of us because she has the gifts of patience, perseverance and joy.

As a coach, it's incredibly rewarding when someone achieves a goal that hasn't come easy.

I wanted to sing, cry and shout for joy today (and so did Joanne and the other gym members!) when her Swing with the 22kg (48 lbs.) unfolded so beautifully. 

Joanne has helped me be a better coach in a lot of ways. Her feedback about how her body responds to certain movements has helped me to program and plan differently for her and other gym members.

I am grateful that our gym members revel in each others' accomplishments as much as their own.

I am grateful that we have built a gym community where we can achieve results at our own pace, focus on both good technique and strength, and provide each person the personal attention they deserve.

Joanne calls our time together 'A Slice of Paradise.' Isn't that cool? That's how I feel about it too.

Give in to gratitude; it feels great!

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” –William Arthur Ward

The Number One Rule of Fitness

The Number One Rule of Fitness is Consistency. And that may be the hardest part.

I posted on Facebook recently that when people think about exercising to make themselves more fit and able to serve others, rather than doing it just for themselves, that can really increase their consistency.


Regardless, getting to the gym day-after-day takes drive, motivation, goals.

People start out full of zeal and then life gets in the way. Accept it when it does, hopefully short-term, but don't let it get in the way long-term. Work, family, travel, illness. It can stump us all for a little while, but we can always get back on track.

But there has to be something that pulls us back. You have to experience all the good a consistent exercise program can bring to your life to keep the train rolling along.

When I was running a small marketing company, there was a period of time where I was so busy, and so excited and interested in the work I was doing for my marketing clients, that I left exercise for 9 months.

My husband intervened. He said so much had changed about me without exercise ... how I moved, my moods, my energy, my enthusiasm, confidence.

Back to gym ... the cheapest, quickest fix anyone could ask for (in my opinion). And we found a really good coach who helped me get on track and even inspired me to do this job (fitness coaching) full time.

So here are some thoughts about how to build consistent exercise into your life:

  • Just show up - your coach (a good coach!) will figure something out for you to do even when you are not feeling it (Turkish Getups and a few swings are my favorite when I am 'not feeling it')
  • A lot going on in your life? Let your coach know to adjust the day's workout a bit. Have a mindset of your exercise time as a break from life -- you'll be thinking about the movements and lifts, so you won't have time to think about your to-do list.
  • Put it on your calendar a week in advance -- plan ahead - your health comes first. If someone misses a week, I call them to see what's up.
  • Insomnia? Zero in on why - working with a medical pro if needed - and this is when you SHOULD NOT exercise -- as you are at a higher risk of get injured if you are not rested. Have your coach give you some stretches and simple movements to do at home. Figure it out, make some lifestyle changes and then get back in the gym. Often exercise helps alleviate insomnia, but proceed with care exercising without proper rest.
  • Motivation waning? Select an event to train for like an HKC or RKC, a cycling event, running event -- or any of the many obstacle races -- Ninja Run, Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, etc.
  • Can only get there twice a week? That's okay. That's the minimum to keep you on track toward goals and preventing too much soreness. Once a week is not enough. Three or four days is even better and working up to that is fine. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Can only go two days in a row? It's okay to train back-to-back with the right programming/coaching and supported by good food choices, rest and recovery strategies.
  • Pain or Sports Injury? Don't let that be an excuse. See us for a Functional Movement Screen. You may need to see a medical professional or you might just need to get your body moving again.
  • Work is too busy? Go light, but still get a workout in. You need it for stress relief. If you absolutely can't get there, let it go! No worries. Eat clean and try to keep all the other lifestyle factors in check so when you get back, it isn't so hard.
  • Impatient for results? With us, you will see lots of encouraging results along the way to your end goals such as technique improvements, understanding of your body, lifting heavier, moving with more ease and grace, less soreness, more confidence in the gym and in other areas of your life. You'll see changes Day 1, but give it at least 3 months, and it really gets amazing after a year of consistent exercise.
  • Not a morning person? Don't let that stop you from trying an early morning class. You may go in feeling less than optimal, but everyone comes out feeling good! I promise! If your schedule doesn't permit mornings, an evening class is a great option. Make sure you add in a small afternoon snack for energy -- it's a long time from noon until 5 p.m. We offer noon classes and 8:15 a.m. classes if your work schedule is more flexible.
  • Not looking forward to your next trip to the gym? It might not be the right place for you ... that's okay, keep looking, there are plenty of options out there.
  • Busy schedule, lots of traffic, hard to logistically get there? Pay close attention to how you feel after your training session ... happy, energized, content, nicely sore. That's what will get you there tomorrow. Explore other time slots for classes if you have flexibility or other routes to the gym to make the logistics easier. Studies show that the most consistent exercisers work or live within 12 minutes of their gym.
  • Need a change? Get outside! Take a day and move in different ways in the park. Or take your kettlebells into the backyard. We mix it up at the gym with indoor, outdoor, MovNat, Nature Runs, Stretching class and more.
  • Traveling? Ask your coach for some workouts to do at the hotel room, hotel gym or outdoors. If you are driving, take a kettlebell and go to it anywhere.
  • Invite a friend or family member join you for accountability. Having a friend assist with accountability is an awesome idea for both of you!
  • Identify the roadblocks preventing you from getting to the gym consistently and address them head on. Are you struggling to learn the movements? Are you always running late and feel rushed, stressed, embarrassed to walk in late? Do you feel too sore later? Not eating optimally and feel this process of getting healthy is futile? Talk to your coach -- these are all surmountable and a good coach wants to help you make exercise a consistent healthy habit and will work with you to find solutions.
  • Find a coach who cares. The best part of life are the people in our lives. Finding someone you like, will keep you safe, challenge you, care about you as a person as well as a gym member, and who will go that extra mile when you need it. Smaller gyms build their business on having knowledgeable, people-oriented, caring coaches.

The bottom line is this ... find a gym with a program that is fun and delivers results with coaches who care. That's what we strive to do at MoveStrong, so let me know if this is what you are looking for and how I can help.

Competitive or Collaborative?

I was interviewed by a news reporter recently for an article in The Columbus Dispatch about competitiveness in the gym. Read the story here.

I felt like I had a split personality as I was talking to the reporter ... because while I consider myself a collaborative person, when I am really honest with myself, I see that my true nature is, well, competitive.

So what does this mean in terms of daily fitness training?

I think it means that we should accept our true nature, but I also think that most people can benefit from a mix of competition and collaboration in fitness.


MovNat is collaborative, but in a MovNat team-building event recently, after working collaboratively, we created some friendly competition by splitting into teams for a little tug-o-war. The group was hungry for it.

Here are some questions to ponder if you consider yourself a competitive person and struggle with that a bit (like me).

1. What is your true nature?

Don't fight your true nature; work with it. But definitely fine-tune it appropriately for the people you are with and for the situation. In terms of competing with my husband, I do that at times where it makes sense -- when it's just the two of us training and with appropriate fitness tools. We don't compete in areas that would be unsafe or there is a ridiculously large difference in our skill levels.

2. How do you use competitiveness for good?

Keep it in perspective. Be safe and progress appropriately. Listen to your body. Have fun and keep a light spirit -- a good challenge can keep you progressing, but don't let it get out of control or someone could get hurt -- when form falls apart, the competition is over.

3. When is collaborative and/or competitive appropriate?

I think collaborative and competitive work together on and off all the time. Helping each other, correcting form, reminding the other to hydrate, stretch, spot a lift ... that's collaborative. Wanna see how many Kettlebell swings we can do in a minute? That's competitive, but in the case of hubby and me, we are competing with ourselves and each is using Kettlebell weights appropriate for our individual skill level.


4. Can you achieve good results without competition?

For sure. We do it all the time. Working together toward a goal is fun. Shouldering a log together ... one day we ran up a hill side-by-side carrying heavy rocks -- fun and challenging -- we told ourselves "this is not competitive," and it felt great to laugh and move fast. Although, I have to admit  ... I was racing him ... as I always do  ... and I can promise you ... he was racing me too.

Do you tune in to your true nature and use it for good?