Lessons learned: A Q&A with fitness expert Joy Victoria following her week at the ALTIS

Joy Victoria looks on during the ACP week
Ellie Kormis

Ellie Kormis

ALTIS Director of Education

A former S&C Coach, Joy Victoria found her passion for fitness early on in life. Currently working as a personal trainer at Equinox Gym, Toronto, Joy’s love for the field and obsessive drive to seek out the best minds has made her a trusted source of information in the world of fitness. This drive to seek out the best is what recently brought the former competitive Powerlifter to Altis, where she recently attended the last in this season’s Apprentice Coach Program. Known for her work ethic, and no-nonsense attitude, we decided to sit down with the straight talking Mother of two, and find out more about her philosophies and take homes from the ACP week.

Joy – thanks for joining us. In your recent blog, you talked about “sophisticated simplicity” as a descriptor of your observations from the methodologies and practices used at Altis. So, what does “sophisticated simplicity” look like to you in practice, and how was that manifested in what you saw being done at Altis?

You always hear about how the mastery of a subject or profession is a broad base of knowledge, plus variety of experience plus time. Seems a bit daunting, especially when you are young in your profession, unsure and information-stuffed. Seeing the coaches in action at Altis gave a live example of what mastery in action looks like. I got to see that blend of incredible attention to detail which respected the complexity of the person and the sport, yet it was still simple in principle and action. It was wonderful to see how they put it all together on a day to day basis. There was a real flow to everything. Nothing was rushed, or frenetic or not well-thought through. Everything done had a purpose, and the purpose was known, and that purpose was re-evaluated constantly.

There was a lot of fluidity and flexibility within the overall plans for training, schedules, therapy etc. The knowledge and expertise of the coaches was deep, in many areas, but their explanations, their “whys” and their daily practices were very simple in essence. I think of two Einstein quotes that reminded me of the Altis coaches; “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler” which I equated to the sophistication of practice I saw, and “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well” which I equated to the essence of simplicity which was embodied so well.

“Everything done had a purpose, and the purpose was known, and that purpose was re-evaluated constantly.”

Joy Victoria

With this fluidity of practice you describe, we often hear people talk of using a holistic methodology – which by necessity requires a fluid approach…but in your eyes, what does a holistic approach truly look like in practice?

Actually caring about, and addressing all the variables you know matter and taking responsibility for the awareness and education of your clients (athletes). You are not standing over someone reminding them it’s their bedtime and to get their sleep. But you can impress on them the importance of sleep and keep tabs on it. You can keep their sleep quality and quantity in mind when programming, or adjusting their training for that day. You can’t shove vitamins down someone’s throat, but you can help them get access to quality nutrition plans, and nutritional supplements. You can’t plan for when their boyfriend breaks up with them before a big competition (example given), but you can be there with a Plan B, do what can be done, and what needs to be done to keep them on track as much as possible. You can’t control their attitude per se, but you can create a training environment and team that supports and encourages the right attitudes and mentalities.

A holistic approach is just about responsibility, I think. At Altis you saw the coaches take on a ton of responsibility for every aspect that could affect performance. They take their job and influence very seriously. Everything from being mindful of attitudes and specific cueing to knowing their athletes in and out physically and psychologically. I think the main question to take away for my own coaching and making it more holistic all the time is: am I seeing all I can? Am I taking responsibility for their training with me and in the education I pass on, and the variables I consider, as much as possible in order to have the biggest effect possible, on this person’s success?

Great answer Joy. So what can people working with sub elite and general populations learn from the methods and philosophies being used at Altis?

Everything. As you get lower on the totem pole, it is both impossible and unnecessary to apply certain specifics, but I don’t see the principles being any different. Very specific results and performance require very specific plans and needs. Elite competition is elite. But it all has the same base. People are still people. The human body is still the human body. Anything you apply needs to be filtered through the individual and their needs, where they’ve been and where they want to go. All the stuff you heard the coaches talk about was often just a heck of a lot of common sense! Well-thought out and tried and proven common sense and best practices. Does a newbie to exercise need special sprint sessions for fat loss? Heck no. Do their bodies adhere to the same laws of physiology? Yes. With athletes, performance is their job. That’s not the case for your average fitness client, so stuff is actually easier.

So coming back to what you alluded to in terms of clients / athletes taking responsibility for their own well being, we cannot out-program or out-coach a bad lifestyle. When dealing with athletes and clients, how can we best educate them to understand the impact of the other 22 hours in the day post training / workout?

Keep talking about it. Make it a part of your coaching. If you know that you can only have a truly minimal impact in a couple training sessions a week, but you want to get your client maximum results, than it’s your job to make them aware of their share of the responsibility which is much more than your share, especially in a fitness context. And, when possible, to keep tabs on and include coaching in those other areas as part of their plan. A lot of coaches offer nutrition coaching, habit building goals, supplementation recommendations etc, and create an environment in their gym or coaching communities where “the bigger picture” is the only picture. There is no option to think otherwise. I don’t understand why it could be any other way really if you know anything about how the body works. Heck, I don’t want someone wondering why they are not making any progress in their training and blaming me for it, when I know it might be their nutrition, lack of sleep, or being a stressed-out-whiner. It’s not only covering my butt, but it’s my job. And since I know it matters, than I am obligated to talk about it, address it, educate them on it, help them take responsibility for it. Dan, the master of one-liners said it best; “You can’t be their coach, and then shut them out for the rest of the day.”

So what do you do specifically to instil belief in your clients and athletes?

You can’t just be like, “You are stupid, I am smart, believe in me and my methods”. Building belief is communicating what they need to do to get what they want. If you encounter resistance from them, respond to it and remove their argument. Leave them with a hole that needs to be filled. Then fill it with what needs to be done. Condition them to connect their actions with their success and show them the actions you need from them to get the results they want. Break it down. Cause and effect. You can see pretty far down a road without walking it. So for a coach, showing the road is what gets them started on walking it. Remind them of the plan and the goal when things get wonky. Trusting a coach, and having faith in the process before it gets them personal results comes from two things, I think 1.) Having a plan 2.) Getting results over time. You can’t have one without the other. Part of getting results is keeping data on your measures of success. Key performance indicators, as Dan calls them. For the average client this will be strength, energy levels, sleep quality, psychological well-being, fat loss, muscle gain, etc.

In my coaching I have weekly homework readings for my clients that cover a lot of common questions, issues, and confusing topics about diet and training. It’s hard as a coach sometimes, because you know how long really good results can take. You need people to buy-in to your process so you can actually do it! I instil belief through education and results. I share before/afters of my clients, and I am open about my methods and how to find out more. I encourage people to research, question and think critically. You have to get someone involved in their own process and stay honest. If you are willing to find what works, you will find it. And if it works, others will want to try it. Unfortunately this works both ways sometimes, which is why belief the most powerful factor.

As a successful female coach, what is your advice to others working / aspiring to be successful coaches?

– Educate yourself from the best. Books, blogs, podcasts, seminars. Get the classics. Get some proper textbooks. Stop reading blogs until you know how which ones are better than others.

– Find a way to work in your field somehow. Get your hands on people to coach them. Volunteer at the YMCA. Hang out too much in a gym and talk about lifting (that’s how I got noticed at the high school where I got hired). Respectfully contact people you are learning from and talk to them. For instance, boxing and strength coach Ross Enamait graciously declined my request to intern with him in return for free labor from me. I wrote him out of the blue when I first got into training. He was the closest trainer I could find when I lived in Vermont, but he didn’t have his own facility to accommodate interns at that time. The point is…put yourself out there. If you are young, healthy and want to coach, *pimp* yourself out to get into places where good coaching is going on. This will certainly fast-track your education and help with you build your network. I don’t see any reason for someone who is young, unattached and able to work, for money to be an issue.

– Be ready to fail, look dumb, and make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones over and over. If you make a mistake, find out why. Ask lots of questions. Work at thinking. Think about everything.

“Be ready to fail, look dumb, and make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones over and over.”

Joy Victoria

I’d also refer people to this blog post by Stu – although his comments are directed to S&C coaches specifically, they apply across the board to any coach.

Final question – can you tell us your main take homes from the ACP week?

1.) Instil belief in your athletes: that is what it comes down to. Will your athletes believe in what they are doing?

2.) Know your endpoint, but you have a lot of different tools to get there. Good coaches know how to get the product a lot of different ways.

3.) Read as wide and broad as possible, study and network. I would warn against tunnel vision as a young coach. Find a really good mentor, and jump in on their network. Look at the productivity of the network, and the person over time. Time is a tremendous litmus test.

4.) Know the outcome, have that in your mind. But focus on the process. Outcome driven at the end of the day. It’s a results business. Don’t get blinded by the process, as much as getting overwhelmed with an outcome.

5.) Master the basics. Great performance is merely a result of excellence repeated in practice.


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