Mark Buckley from FMA Strength Training reveals the skills it takes to be a successful coach

The boys had their white lab coats on in this episode, and feature guest Mark Buckley unexpectedly hit a raw nerve when talking about the skills to be a successful coach.

The creator of the FMA Strength Training Certification revealed more than ever about his past.

Mark goes into:

  • The psychology of coaching
  • The concept of self-parenting, and
  • How as a coach we can only teach what we have experienced.

 Also in this episode:

Mark discusses key fundamentals for hypertrophy and three ways for developing strength.

Going back to basics re-establish your clients’ relationship with food.

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Learn from Mark’s mistakes

Mark likes to share what he’s learnt over the years with students to allow them to avoid the same mistakes as he feels he made.

Mark believes one of the biggest responsibilities that someone can entrust on you, is to coach them towards their goals.

However, he says a lot of the trainers don’t understand the responsibility of what a coach is, and how to actually coach a client to that end-point.

He says when you teach someone to coach, you’re teaching them a very important concept, and that’s how to self-parent.

Basically, you’re teaching someone how to make choices and how to be accountable for the consequences of those choices whether positive or negative.

My role as a coach is basically how to teach my clients how to self-parent – Mark Buckley

The concept of self-parenting

Mark learnt a lot from John McMullan, who pretty much introduced him to the concept of self-parenting.

Mark says it’s a powerful concept, not only something that will improve every area of your client’s life, but it’s going to improve every area of your own life, and every relationship that you have with business people and relationships with others.

Knowledge, experience, wisdom

Mark is a big advocate of Trivium model for education, which is basically three components:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Experience
  3. Wisdom

It’s a model where it’s all about teaching someone how to learn or how to make choices, so they can go off and teach themselves, or self-teach.

They don’t become dependent upon a teacher.

Defiant, or compliant?

Mark sees the role of a coach is to teach someone how to start making the right choices for themselves and how to parent themselves.

Most clients don’t know how to self-parent, so they’re going to have a relationship with their trainer that’s going to be either defiant or compliant.

When this happens clients will try to establish co-dependancy – they want you to be accountable for them.

Mark gives an example of a client coming in saying, “Oh, I broke my diet,” and expecting to be told off and wanting you to train them harder.

You can’t share what you haven’t experienced

Mark sees the worst part of the fitness industry is coaches staying in like a child-like phase, trying then to coach other people on how to self-parent; yet they can’t self-parent themselves.

He stands by the ethos “You can’t get what you don’t have, and you can’t share what you haven’t experienced.”

He encourages some pretty honest self-examination and asks, “How did we become a coach in the first place?  What led us here?”


Because all we can do is share what we’ve experienced with our clients.

In retrospect Mark clearly sees how his violent upbringing and past influenced his ability to coach in the early days – he says he became a “low road trainer.”

Are you taking your clients down The High Road or The Low Road?

When it comes to the end-point in health and fitness, Mark says, there’s only two roads that lead to Rome:  one’s the high road, and one’s the low road.

The low road is the quick way, but it pretty much is the way that will get you there really quickly, but you’re kind of throwing yourself under the bus long-term.

The high road is a lot slower, but it’s a much healthier way to get there.

Mark freely admits when he first became a trainer he was a low road trainer.

He would bring his clients down the low road – the quick way. He would get his emotional needs met by getting them strong as quick as possible, even if it meant recommending silly things to them.

In retrospect he sees that he got his emotional needs met by being needed by his clients.

I would get my emotional needs met by getting them strong as quick as possible…and I got my emotional needs met by being needed by my clients. – Mark Buckley

Motivated by fear

Mark tells his trainers straight off the bat, how he became a trainer wasn’t glamorous like a lot of people thought.

Mark grew up in a violent, abusive upbringing with a father who was very aggressive. He says “My upbringing created a lot of fear in me and when people have a lot of fear, they often try to find a way to resolve that fear.”

Mark says for most guys, when they see themselves as a victim, in order to stop being a victim they develop the mentality that they need to get bigger and stronger.

He says he went to the gym with a defiant relationship with his father. His goal for being there was to get as big as possible so he could no longer be bullied.

My goal for being there was to get as big as possible so I could no longer be bullied. – Mark Buckley

Pushing away – physically and emotionally

Mark recognises that people who are often locked in a stress response, like being abused, do a few things, and one is they get closed off in their emotions.

They tend to get very locked into logic and reason, or intellect, and they stop feeling.

Mark notes that as the more closed off we get, the easier it is to push and say “No,” than to pull and say “Yes,” or bring people into our physical space.

This is also reflected in the gym, Mark says, where we can get very obsessed with pushing-type movements.

He says that most guys like to bench-press, which is a pushing movement.

At a metaphysical level, that represents what we call the exclusion principle – it’s your ability to say No. It’s pushing away, versus pulling movements are more the inclusion principle.

From Mark’s point of view this is why guys tend to gravitate more towards fighting and those types of sports.

Unfortunately, the father validates a guy by how strong he is, by saying, “Men don’t show emotion.” Men learn from an early age to close off or to close their hearts and stop feeling.

Mark says because men usually have a compliant/defiant relation with their Dads.

He says, “We go out here, trying to exert our dominance and say “No” to the things around us, and that’s striking and pushing and trying to build our armour.”

Taking The Low Road

Unconsciously, this is the mindset that motivated Mark to go to the gym, with the desire to “kick the shit out of” his father and no longer be bullied.

So when someone approached him and offered him steroids with the promise it would get him big and strong real quick, he leapt at the chance.

He got really big, really quick.

Marks says he went down that path and it served his objective. But as a trainer he could only share the experiences he’d had. He became known as someone who could get people big quickly.

I was known as the person that could get people big and strong pretty quick, and that’s how I started getting my emotional needs met. – Mark Buckley

Now he says it was unfortunate that there were people entrusting themselves to him to coach them, and he was taking them down the low road, because that was the experience that got him into training, and it was the only experience he’d had.

It was the only experience he could share with my clients.

Heal the parts of yourself that are fragmented

Mark says “You’ve got to look at yourself first, and you’ve got to heal those parts of you that are fragmented and need healing, before you even start trying to take on the responsibility of coaching someone else.”

Until you know how to self-coach and self-parent you’re not really in a position to start coaching someone else and sharing that wisdom with them.

Until you know how to self-coach and self-parent you’re not really in a position to start coaching someone else – Mark Buckley

Coming to peace with your childhood

Mark believes it is important to to understand the role of the mother and the father in the upbringing of a child.

The role of the mother is to inspire the child, and the role of the father is to validate the child.

Mark didn’t get the initiation into manhood that a boy should get from his father. In fact he thinks most boys don’t get validation from their father. This is the day the father acknowledges them as a man, and they take on the responsibility of self-parenting.

My father never gave me the right of passage into manhood, which is initiation that every boy should get from their father. – Mark Buckley

He sees an industry of trainers who come in with their own sort of compliant/defiant type relationships with their fathers.

These boys have never been validated by their father.

They have never been initiated into manhood, and are still competing for the father’s validation and attention.

They have stayed in a child-like phase, trying then to coach other people on how to self-parent; yet they can’t self-parent themselves.

That’s the other big thing FMA teaches their trainers – it’s teaching people how to self-parent and not need you, right, versus having them dependent upon you and wanting to have that father- or mother-type relationship with you.

Whether your clients achieve is up to the choices they make

When a client tries to establish a co-dependant relationship with you, the solution is bringing it back to self-awareness and feeling. It’s a matter of always allowing them to be accountable for their choices, whether positive or negative.

Mark’s wife has a great strategy. She has the mindset of “What you choose is of no consequence to me; it’s of consequence to you,” and she’ll just ask them one question, and go, “Well, how did that feel?” and get people to connect with the feeling of their choices.

Then they start to have an awareness of how they feel when they ate that way.

Mark says, we have no ownership over people’s choices and feelings, and we can’t take things personally as a coach. He says, “We don’t go, “Damn, this looks bad on me,” We just keep supporting them in the process of, “Well, how does that feel?”

You can find out more about Mark and FMA on Facebook 

What do you think? Can you relate to what Mark says? Are you a low road or a high road coach??

Let us know in the comments below.