Gray Cook: Coddled Conditioning

The word coddle is not often used with the word conditioning, but sometimes we have to go back to our dictionary and think about our everyday words.

Conditioning is a method of controlling or influencing the way people behave by using a gradual training process.

Coddled is treating a person in an overprotective and indulgent way.

Think about the difference between these two words: We rarely use them together because we think of conditioning as the process of teaching, training or building, whereas coddled is what we would couple with someone who is spoiled rotten and always gets his own way.

They shouldn’t be used together.

However, we really have to look at the strength and conditioning profession on a larger scale. When we do that, we often see that parents, athletes and clients suggest that they wish to be trained with some coddling. They wish to use a specific type of equipment or wish you to do specific exercises with them. Specific as in “they specify.’

This process likely reduces the trainer’s effectiveness: Doing what people want and doing what people need are often two different things.

When I use the words overprotective or indulgent, I am actually working both ends of the extremes. We have designed an entire fixed-axis, seated exercise field so people can get out of their chairs from work, get in their chairs in their cars, drive to a gym and then sit in another chair for 45 minutes while overprotective people pull pins for them so they can perceive breaking a sweat, getting exertion while exercising their extremities and neglecting their postural reflexes, their core and any type of functional movement whatsoever.

However, they will exercise their left ventricle. They will increase peripheral vasodilation. They will burn calories. They will maybe even tap into endorphins. They can, in fact, become fit.

This “fitness” can be laid right on top of dysfunction. That is one of the terms I use in my lectures – the fact that we are able to add fitness to dysfunction—we can get you to move around in such a safe environment that we do not confront any of your dysfunctions. We do not make you move any better. Yet you can burn calories and that is probably the intended goal of a lot of people, because by not getting onto those dysfunctions, we do not open up the cans of worms.

However, that can of worms is always going to be there. If it’s eventually going to rear its ugly head even if you protect the client, why not screen out a movement deficiency, discover an asymmetry, attack a severe immobility or inflexibility and make that part of the workout?

When working with professional athletes, I have often used the same corrective strategy that their movement screen shows as a need. We do this in such a way that it becomes an exercise package that kicked their butts, which is just what they wanted.

We don’t just need to grab the weights or hit the plyometrics to tap into someone’s energy system. When you find a person’s greatest limitation—their weakest link—and just use a simple corrective strategy, you’ll see that the exercise isn’t so simple for someone having a significant challenge.

Very often, you can make corrective strategy your conditioning program.

Your clients might not be hitting plyometrics like their friends are, but like the tortoise and the hare, let me go slow in the beginning and I will give you a win at the end. But if you expect me to start fast, tear you down and make the training feel like boot camp, you are probably not going to even be here in the end. At the very least, we’re going much slower at the end because you didn’t let me set the foundation and get things right.

Bringing your own agenda to your conditioning program should be more in the line with your goals and not techniques. However, we have the fitness industry to contend with—exercise equipment, exercise programs and exercise packages.

In my gym setup right now, you might see almost everything you’d see in a CrossFit gym. I do not like a lot of mirrors and chrome. I like a lot of floor space and some mats—some rings if possible. I like a lot of body weight apparatus, and probably more kettlebells than in most gyms. I like jump ropes and Airex pads and a Keiser or Free Motion pulley system in the corner and a bar with some bands to do some corrective strategies. I like stall bars on the walls. I like Indian clubs.

I let people cheat on exercises like a pullup or a pushup to empower them. They need to feel what that one repetition feels like, especially if they have never done one before. Would I let them continue to get fit enough to do eight repetitions with poor technique? No. I would allow the one repetition to empower them. Then, we go back and see how long it takes to do a clean one. I use the first just to prove to them they can do it.

Dr. Ed Thomas talks about the principles of designing an exercise program. He talks about variety, but he also talks about precision and progression. Too many trainers don’t honor precision the way they should . . . Often, they are so busy trying to get the sweat and so busy trying to keep the testosterone level up that you would often find their technique and instruction wanting.

We teach proper Olympic weightlifting and proper kettlebell lifting so that under fatigue, the default mode will be impeccable technique—not muscling things out. I don’t want you to struggle it out, bite your upper lip, round your back and pull it through. Nope.

The default mode should not be your client’s own energy system. It should be their technically correct technique. That is going to save your butt time and time again.

They can cheat the last repetition and get an extra number on that repetition package anytime. I am not interested in that. I am interested in seeing if your technique is so impeccable that even your unconscious default—when you feel that first twinge of fatigue—is impeccable technique.

When I talk about coddled conditioning, it can mean I’m being overprotective of the person who is a little soft and whiny, or maybe I’m being overindulgent of the person who just wants his ass kicked. You know what? I can probably still kick your butt, but do it in a safe and effective manner.

I can push you right up against your weakest link and say, “I know you like what they are doing with kettlebells over in the corner, but you have not earned the right to do that. I would like to see you do a Turkish getup without weight before I honor you with weight.”

In certain weight rooms, there are platforms where they lift big weight. Your clients had better not be up there if they have not done a technically correct lift with a certain amount of weight. Your clients need to earn the right to do some lifts.

We should not be practicing coddled conditioning.

Do not make the training too easy.
Likewise, do not make it overly hard.
Your job is to find the balance between those extremes.

Remember, precision, progression and variety. Sometimes we are so busy selling variety, we forget the other two.

[afl_shortcode url=”″  product_id=’2708′]

[afl_shortcode url=”″  product_id=’20638′]

[afl_shortcode url=”″  product_id=’7794′]

[afl_shortcode url=”″  product_id=’3869′]

[afl_shortcode url=”″  product_id=’2837′]

Tap into the Brains of Some of the World’s Leading Performance Experts

FREE Access to the OTP Vault


Inside the OTP Vault, you’ll find over 20 articles and videos from leading strength coaches, trainers and physical therapists such as Dan John, Gray Cook, Michael Boyle, Stuart McGill and Sue Falsone.

Click here to get FREE access to the On Target Publications vault and receive the latest relevant content to help you and your clients move and perform better.