Compassionate Training


Well. This page is staring at me and I owe it words. And I’m scared in a weird way.

I’m scared that I am not a good enough writer. There are writers who are giants of talent compared to me.

I’m not scared because I can’t write. I can write a little bit.

I’m scared because I don’t think I’m that interesting.

Will my words compel a stranger to want to work with me? They could work with an Olympic gold medalist. They could work with someone with more industry cred than me.

That’s why I’m writing this. Each time I face the page I build my resilience. Bit by bit. Word by word. Each time I do this I build my self-compassion as well.

Here’s something I don’t want you to know.

Trainers are often super-nerds or super-jocks. Sometimes both!

But often you’ll see super-nerd trainers that know everything about anatomy, fascia, biomechanics, psychology, nutrition and so on. Or you’ll see trainers that are former or current athletes. Sometimes professional athletes go this route. Gary Roberts, former NHL pro, is a great example of this. And if you’re a hockey athlete in or around Toronto, he’s a guy you should talk to. (

So trainers often have a lot of academic credentials. Or they have impressive athletic resumes.

I have neither.

I have a degree in English from a great school. I’ve done certifications in movement, nutrition, Olympic weightlifting, coaching and so on. I’ve competed in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. I’ve even won a national title in powerlifting. But I’m no gold medalist or pro hockey player. And I’m no PhD.


Why have I worked with hundreds of clients?
Why do people trust me to guide their progress?

That word “trust” is a clue.

A few years ago, I asked some of my clients what they got from training with me.

The results surprised me. I assumed they’d say that I was a good trainer because I knew lots about exercise. Or that I helped them lose weight. Something like that!

Instead they said:

I make them feel safe.

I have compassion for them.

I care about them.

That’s what I offer my clients. I do know a lot about exercise and how to get in crazy shape. I can show you how to get strong.

But before I can get a chance to show what I know, I have to show that I care. That I have compassion. That I won’t let you get hurt.

The first time I heard, “Before you can show them what you know, you have to show them that you care”, it was from a co-worker at a gym.

And I teased the shit out of him for saying it.

I guess I thought I was a tough guy for pretending to not care. I do care. But I was in an environment where I thought I had to act tough. Anyway I was a real dick to him about it. I threw him under the bus to get a cheap laugh. Not too compassionate, right?

And I was wrong to do that.

Andy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry man. I was trying to fit in. Instead, I just acted like a jerk. I had a lot to learn.

Compassion is an important ability.

But too much is as bad as too little.

For example, you don’t want a surgeon to be too compassionate. That person needs a certain amount of clinical dispassion — some would say targeted sociopathy — just to be able to cut into people with confidence.

But before and after the surgery, a bedside manner goes a long way. It’s the metaphorical spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Compassion is a skill that we develop as we grow up.

Our empathy for others grows with our growing understanding of life. Some kids pick it up quickly. They understand that punching a person might seem fun in the moment, but getting punched doesn’t seem fun at all. They start to realize that other people are the same as them — they feel. If you cut them they bleed. We have more in common than not.

That’s a microcosm of compassion. But the same principles are at work as nations across the world develop empathy for each other.

Like the children in the above example, whole civilizations start to realize that the “barbarians” they once feared and decried have a lot more in common with them than previously thought. The world can change as a result of this empathy. (Check out this awesome RSA video called Empathic Civilizations –

Compassion can help my clients get in shape. The right amount of compassion can help a surgeon save lives. And developing empathy can even change the world.

Long story short, I don’t feel so bad about not being a PhD or a professional athlete these days. I’m still all about self-improvement.

But I’ve begun to realize that my own unique ability for compassion might be the most important tool at my disposal.

So it doesn’t matter if I’m the coolest guy in the room.

The key to my success is what’s in me.

Ron Dykstra
Co-Owner Iron Lion Training
1485 Dupont, #312, Toronto, ON
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