Interview: David Amundson, ACE/NASM Certified [Tips + Hacks]
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. We are continuing our featured series with fitness experts. And today we have David Admundson, a student pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Tampa. He’s also an ACE and NASM Certified Personal Trainer.
So, thank you for joining us today, David. Thank you for your time.
David Amundson: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, well growing up you played football and soccer. How did your involvement in these team sports affect your decision to pursue a career in the exercise industry?
David Amundson: So what really stuck out to me—thinking back about my time—so I played football and I played soccer. And I was, I would say, below average at my football team, but then I was the captain of my soccer team. So it goes to show that you could be, let’s say average, at one sport or something that you still find passion for [it], but then, [be] much better at the other sport. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play the other sport. So you just got to find what you’re passionate about and then pursue that to the best of your abilities.
Schimri Yoyo: You were also in the Marines. First of all, thank you for your service.
David Amundson: My pleasure.
Schimri Yoyo: And what aspects would you say of your active duty life, if any, do you draw from in your current role as a personal trainer?
David Amundson: I was in the Marine Corps for eight and a half years. I had the pleasure of training with so many different individuals. And what motivates one person could be the worst motivation for [another] or just make somebody [else] not want to do whatever I need them to do.
Whether it’s in the Marine Corps—doing a certain mission—or repairing an aircraft—because I was an aircraft mechanic—or you’re doing an exercise, [people are motivated differently]. If they’re like, “Oh I don’t want to do another set of squats,” but you want them, you need them to do it, you got to find out motivates them. What motivates them could be vastly different than your very next client. But then also, just [putting an emphasis on effort], the effort of somebody wanting to [do it]. And even if they’re terrible at squats at first, but [they are] still putting in the effort, that goes a very, very long way to achieving whatever their goal is.
Schimri Yoyo: Have you personally used a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer before you were in the industry?
David Amundson: No, not personally. In my high school career, we had strength and conditioning coaches for the team. So it wasn’t an individual, one-on-one thing, but that’s also where I developed my passion for the weight room. So, we had an overall strength and conditioning coach for football and then a speed coach as well. So they gave generic, overarching, “Here are your exercises. We want you to do squats, cleans, deadlifts” kind of guidance.
But there wasn’t really any specific guidance or cues or like, “Oh, you need to keep your back tighter for this deadlift.” And that’s where I was like, “Oh.” Because I’d go to the weight room and be like an average high school kid. I want bigger biceps. So I’d be doing bicep curls, but then not really making any progress or, well making some progress, but not optimal progress.
And because I wasn’t one of the star football players, it was kind of like, “Oh you can come to the weight room and do what you want.” So I was like, “Oh.” And then further into the Marine Corps, I advanced to be like, “Oh this is what I should be doing.” I began to learn better techniques to help me advance further in my career. “Oh, these are the staple [exercises] you need to stick to” and “Maybe a heavy row is going to get you better biceps or pull-ups are going to get you better biceps than doing curls with 10 pounds weights.”
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. So as you matured physically, you also matured in your knowledge of-
David Amundson: Oh yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: Proper techniques and which exercises were more beneficial to your goals. That makes sense. Now, do you currently have a mentor in the sports performance industry or someone that you can bounce ideas off of, to help you as you’re developing in your business?
David Amundson: Yeah, my direct boss, I talk with her virtually every single day. And then if I have new clients, I’ll bring her a program and ask, “Hey, how does this look for these three brand new clients that I have training altogether?”
All of the training staff we have here at the gym, we constantly talk and bounce ideas off of each other. Or one of the other trainers just recently got a post-pregnancy female client that had a lot of complications. So it was a case study where we all got together and were like, “Here are ideas to do with her to try to give her the best training outcome as possible.”
Performance Training Approach
Schimri Yoyo: Well that’s good. We got a little bit of background on your personal history and what gave you that passion to pursue this career as you were progressing in this industry. Now, we want to kind of transition a little bit to talk about your training approach.
So now, if you could describe your philosophy and methodology in one word, what would it be?
David Amundson: I would say experimental. And to elaborate on that fuller: what works for one person might not work for the other person. Prior to [taking on] any first-time clients—I’ll have them—we’ll have a sit-down goal session where we’re not exercising. I’m just trying to figure out their goals. And how I describe is, “We’re going to conduct an experiment.” Because I’m also in the master’s program. So it’s, “We’re conducting an experiment to see what works for you specifically.”
Whether it’s what training style you like or what nutrition is going to help you achieve your goal, whether it’s weight loss or gaining muscle. We’re going to test this thing which works for the majority of people.
My hip compound exercise is a big exercise or super sets or trying to get you in a calorie deficit. But that’s [just] a try. Dividing your plate into protein, vegetables, that puts you absolutely miserable. Don’t want to do it. You’re [going to be] like, “Oh, I can do this for a couple of days and then I’m back at McDonald’s or ordering out.”
So it’s like, “Oh, this plan didn’t work.” Or maybe we’re going to shift to intermittent fasting or we’re going to shift to tracking everything in MyFitnessPal or whatever. Just if it works, great, we’re going to keep doing this until it doesn’t work. And then we’re going to shift to a different thing to see if this works. And then if that works for a while, great. Keep doing that until that doesn’t work. So it’s all just an experiment to find out what works best for each individual person.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh, experimental. That’s a unique answer, but I like it. Your explanation made a lot of sense. So in your opinion, what is your best quality as a trainer?
David Amundson: I feel like my best quality is my desire to get better. So I assume a lot of trainers when they first start out, they get their certification and then they’re like, “Oh, this is [not enough]” because it’s not super in-depth.
When you [first] get your training [cert], [reality hits]. I was like, “I don’t know how to design the most perfect program.” And I would be listening to the podcasts of people with 30 years in the industry or PhDs in Exercise Physiology. And I’m like, “I don’t know as much as them. Oh no, how am I going to give everyone the perfect workout?”
And then I started training here and I followed a couple of other [training podcasts] and I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s, there are overarching principles you need to follow.” But my desire to get better from that point kept me going.
My end goal is to be a personal trainer, but I’ve gotten my bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology and now I’m going after a Master’s in Exercise and Nutrition Science because I want to get better for myself and then to be able to better help clients. That leads me to request feedback from the clients, which then gets me to know what they want better. So it helps me to achieve their goals, whatever their goal is. As long as we’re working towards their goal, we’re getting better [together].
Schimri Yoyo: Well said. Your desire to constantly be improving and for further professional development is evident in just the education that you’re continuing to pursue. So in keeping with that, is there a class that you have taken or that you’re currently taking, that excites you the most and why?
David Amundson: Ah, so I can’t, I wouldn’t say I have a specific class that I am super excited about. I’m excited about all the classes because this is my first semester in the master’s degree program, so I’m excited about all of it. While I was in the Marine Corps, I figured out this is what I wanted to do. And just being able to narrowly focus and just diving deeper and deeper into nutrition.
Because when I first started, I was working out and I was making regular, understandable gains. And I read this one book all about nutrition. And it’s, it was very basic nutrition stuff like protein has four calories, carbs have four calories, but I never knew that beforehand. And it was just like a light bulb went off like, “Oh, there’s actually a science to this.” And then that was when I knew that I wanted to know more
So I’m currently in the Theory of Exercise and Nutrition Science, where we were learning how to break down studies and do that. I love this class, but then my next semester I have Sports Nutrition and I’m thoroughly looking forward to that because I want to be well-rounded in everything I know. Because if you could design the best program but you can’t work on the psychology of the person of getting them into the program, then is it [really] their perfect program? So, I want to know everything there is to know. I’m excited about how it’s exercise and nutritional science, so it’s covering all the topics I’m passionate about.
Schimri Yoyo: Your passion for fitness and exercise and wanting to better yourself is evident in the way you communicate about it. So now you’ve been pretty open about some of your medical conditions in your bio. And a couple of websites mentioned you’ve been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and type 1 diabetes. So how did those conditions impact you physically, in terms of how you take care of yourself, and then also how you train others?
David Amundson: So it happened while I was still in the Marine Corps when I got diagnosed with all that stuff. And then it just illuminated the fact, “Oh, I can’t just push myself harder and farther. Oh, I’m just going to will myself into this.” But basically, my internal organs were not agreeing with what my mind was telling it. So I better understood, “Oh, I need to rest.” And I would say another major thing I came to understand is the importance of nutrition.
Because the worst it ever got was on my last deployment where I couldn’t control any of my food, and it was also a pretty high-stress environment. So it compounded everything. But now that I’m back home in the States, I can control what I eat, and it has been a night and day difference when I can eat a large number of fresh vegetables. So I emphasized that.
But [I also came to understand that] there are limits on other people—whether they have internal digestive problems or if they’ve had knee surgery—and having to take it easy, not just pushing through the pain like it used to be.
Schimri Yoyo: What proactive steps have you taken to incorporate healthy nutrition into your training methodology?
David Amundson: So, I would again go back to, it’s experimental. So testing what works, what doesn’t. Oh, and then just being aware of, “Hey, I ate this whole ice cream cake. Now I feel terrible. Let’s probably not eat this whole ice cream cake.” Or, “Oh, I ate this whole bag of spinach and had an orange with it and then I felt amazing the next day.”
Let’s stick more eating things that make you feel better and try to avoid the things that feel bad. Because there are no necessarily bad foods, but I would say, you should be eating foods that are more in align with your goals.
Schimri Yoyo: That makes a lot of sense. And with that, it seems that with your experimental approach, constant communication and open communication is crucial. And so what are some ways that you encourage yourself and your clients to keep that communication open, to keep monitoring that progress?
Do you encourage note taking? Is it through emails, text messages? Is it self evaluation? What are some of the ways that you are encouraging that constant communication and progress monitoring?
David Amundson: One of the major things that has helped me a lot is a short form that I have my clients fill out, about five to seven sessions into it. It asks, “What are things that you like that we’re doing? Things that you dislike that we’re doing? And what things do you wish we were doing?”
So it’s a simple printed out form I give them to [get some feedback] like, “Oh, I really liked the fact that we were super setting so many exercises; however, I didn’t like whatever, wall sits.”
A common [critique] I got at the beginning of my programs [was directed at] ab exercises because I would do unilateral loading, so it’d be working your abs, but there were no direct sit-ups where they felt their abs burning. So I was like, “Oh, so many clients asked for more ab exercises. So I’m going to include some.” I wouldn’t [just add a bunch of] fluff to a workout, but it’s giving the clients what they want, to keep them motivated.
But also during the initial interview with my clients, I encourage them to ask questions. I absolutely love questions. Any exercise or nutritional questions you have for me, send them to me. I don’t promise to know all your, the answers, but I’ll look it up and get back to you if I don’t. And any feedback, I love feedback.
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Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. It seems your experimental philosophy allows you to display your expertise without being or coming off as a know-it-all, as well. I think that shows great humility on your part to elicit and ask for that kind of feedback.
Now, what adjustments, if any, do you have to make to your training style or to the techniques that you use when training someone who is able-bodied versus someone with a chronic ailment versus someone who may have a physical disability?
David Amundson: So for virtually everyone, regardless of their [physical capacity], I mean I would train them up to their ability and whatever their goal is.
My little brother had type 1 diabetes early on in his life. So then when I got [the same diagnosis], thankfully I had some experience with it and I knew what to do. From the medication [standpoint], I knew what I was doing, but then I still researched, “Oh, is there any special things I need to be aware of?”
Last semester, it seemed like everyone had ACL surgery, that I was working with.
Schimri Yoyo: Me included. Shoutout to Dr. Alan G. Posta!
David Amundson: Haha, yeah. So it was like, “Oh, I need to look up things about ACL surgery.” So just looking at, researching things I should be aware of. [Learning] things I definitely shouldn’t do or things that I should. “Oh, we need to work on quadriceps strength and hamstring strength to make it even.”
So it’s more of just finding out their specific issue and looking into what they can do or what they can’t do. But then also being able to start slow and then ramping up to be, “Oh you can, starting easy.” So it’s building confidence in, let’s say, their knee if they have the ACL surgery.
So they start with confidence. Obviously, they’ve been medically cleared to do exercise first, but they just don’t feel safe using that knee yet. And just starting with a body weight squat, making sure everything’s aligned and then working that progression. Not just going, “Oh, you’re good. Let’s go do some high bar back squats.” But no, starting low or easier and then as they build confidence, then going progressively harder and harder.
Schimri Yoyo: So in your opinion, what is the relationship between strength and conditioning, injury prevention, and rehabilitation? And how do you help athletes or clients to be proactive in training and in recovery?
David Amundson: So for that, I would say it’s goal dependent. If their goal is strength and strength is going to be our focus, then making sure they’re not doing anything dangerous to themselves.
Knowing the biomechanics of the body like, “Oh, your spine being in a lot of flexion, which is typically bad to apply a lot of torque when you’re doing a deadlift, so you want to keep your back flat.” We can’t just avoid a deadlift if their goal was to increase their deadlift, but we just have to be careful to monitor them as they do it.
And that’s why I thoroughly enjoy one-to-one personal training and I haven’t done much of the only online training—[the online training that] I’ve done, it’s been family and friends when they were asking for programs—because I like to be there to see [and point out], “Oh, you didn’t know that your knees were caving in during that squat, where we want to keep them out” or “Your back was rounding during that deadlift ” or “I wanted you to keep your elbow in for your goblet squat.”
So just being able to constantly monitor and knowing the best alignments for your body. You want all your joints stacked or your spine in neutral, and you want to keep your core tight. And then getting feedback from the clients where did [they] feel that exercise we just did or did they experience any pain while performing an exercise. “Can you describe the pain to me?” Just, again, getting constant feedback from the people.
Schimri Yoyo: Good. And so it seems that you put a heavy emphasis on teaching the proper techniques and making sure the forms are correct as they’re performing the exercises. So how do you continue to measure progress and success for your clients and for yourself? What do you consider success?
David Amundson: So for success for my clients, it’s very goal-dependent. So what’s successful for one client, might be unsuccessful for the other client. Last semester, I had a client who was new to the weight room and it was perfect because I got him fresh and brand new. So, we got all those newbie gains and he was gaining weight and gaining muscle. So for his goal, I would measure his body measurements with a tape measure and then also doing weights to monitor his weight, making sure that’s going up, so he’s eating enough calories.
But then for another client of mine, a female client, that would have been an absolute failure because her goal was to lose weight. So it’s very goal specific and just monitoring everything to be like, “Oh, we’re on the right path, so we don’t need to change it.” If their goal is to lose weight, making sure they’re in a calorie deficit, and then losing weight. And then finding out, trying to find out why they’re not if they’re not losing weight. Try to find out why.
I had a client whose goal was to lose weight and I was talking to him after his, his numbers didn’t go down like they had been. They had plateaued for a little bit and he was like, “I don’t know what’s going on. All I’m eating is chicken, broccoli, and rice.” And I was like, “And?” He was like, “Oh and some eggs.” And then I was like, “And?” And then he kept going and he kept listing other healthy foods. And then I was like, “And?” And then he was pausing for a little bit and was like, “Oh yeah, I did have some Chinese food last night.” And I was like, “There we go. Chinese food is typically high in calories, high in sodium, so it’s going to cause a lot of water retention.”
So it’s very goal specific, whether it’s losing weight, losing inches on their hips or gaining biceps or triceps or whatever exercise or getting stronger, too. Because I had one client who wanted to work on their deadlifts, and so the goal was deadlifts. So it’s finding out early on and even, I’ve had clients where we’ve shifted from, “Oh, I want to gain muscle, but now that it’s summertime. So I want to start cutting.” So we’re going to have a new focus.
And then for my personal, what I consider success, is I still love learning, so I’m glad I’m learning. I’m having fun doing everything so, and then I’m making money doing what I love. So I consider everything a success so far because I’m making-
Schimri Yoyo: That is a great perspective. You’re making money doing something you love. So yeah, that’s successful. That’s a great perspective to have. So in what ways do you push your clients to maximize their physical potential without risking injury?
David Amundson: So with that I would say, starting low, then ramping up, but then always watching it. But then, also sometimes for, if we’ve been training for a while and I can tell that they’re a competitive person, to try to increase their motivation, I occasionally will have a challenge for them of, we’d regularly do outside track workouts, where I’ll bring a kettlebell outside for them to do exercise.
But then after they do a superset of whatever exercises they do, then it will be a hundred-meter sprint. And it’ll be a challenge where I’ll be carrying the Kettlebell and so it’ll be a race, me versus them for that hundred-meter sprint. And I’m carrying a Kettlebell so it’s more even. And then whoever loses that has to do 10 burpees. And I don’t mind doing extra burpees. So it’ll motivate them because [they are motivated to beat me in the race].
So they’re trying their hardest and they’re still having fun because I’m carrying a Kettlebell, so I’m probably going to lose a hundred-meter dash. And then they’re going to watch me as they’re resting, just bang out some burpees. Or I do that same thing with other exercises. I’ll do a box jump where it’s twice as high as theirs. So the time it takes me to come down off the box, they are already up and down from their box and I know that I’ve just lost right away.
I was like, “Oh gosh, this is terrible.” And then I’m, “Alright, more box.” But they’re having a blast because now they’re [watching me struggle]. I like to have fun with all my clients where it’s enjoyable, so they’re not like, “Oh, we got to go train with David again?” It’s more like, “Alright, we get to go train with David again!” They might be exhausted at the end of the workout, but the next time they’re still excited to come to see me and to train because I try to have fun.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah. You make it enjoyable and they’ll want to return and continue pushing more. So that’s good. Well, thank you again for your time, David. One final question.
So I know obviously you’re a student, you’re a personal trainer, you’re very busy, but are you coming across any resources that you’re taking advantage of that you want to share with the audience? Any good books, magazines or podcasts that are really impacting you in what you’re learning and in your practice?
David Amundson: So a podcast that I love and they have courses along with it, it’s called Lift The Bar Podcast. It’s by personal trainers, for personal trainers, and it’s so it’s very specific, but they cover a wider variety of topics. Podcasts are kind of my thing. When I’m vacuuming or cleaning my apartment, I’ll be just constantly listening to podcasts. And let’s see, Iron Culture is a new podcast that just came out, that I love.
And then from those, they suggest books that, I have a laundry list of books that I have to read or want to read, not have to read. But it’s, I add them to my Amazon shopping cart and then put them in the save for later. And I’m like, so many books. But there’s Deep Work by Cal Newport is a book I’m reading right now, which is finding your passion and then diving deep into it. And I absolutely love that book and it, because it got suggested on one of the podcasts I listened to, so many times. And I was like, “Alright, buying this book, reading this book.” But yeah, just reading. Any book that gets you going, I think, is a good book.
Schimri Yoyo: It shows how much you are serious about improving yourself and in growing personally and professionally that you’re taking advantage of many different resources to continue in your education so that you can better serve your clients. So that’s exciting.
Thanks again, David, for your time.
David Amundson: Alright, perfect. Thank you.