Barbells and Back Again (Part 1): A Husband’s Tale of Coaching His Wife’s Return to Barbells

I implemented all I was learning and saw lives change and stagnant programs suddenly receive a shot of progress! My wife was excited that I was excited. She celebrated my victories and—as a student of kinesiology herself—helped me work through various training hiccups. But I mistook her excitement for an invitation to get her training the same way. Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

Barbells and Back Again

A Husband’s Tale of Coaching His Wife’s Return to Barbells

By: Colin Fannon

I met my wife, Kristen, in the summer of 2013. It wasn’t love at first sight. We were friends that bonded over shared passions: fitness, faith, and adventure. Those passions eventually sparked romance, and that romance led to a few months of dating and an even shorter engagement. We were in love, fully persuaded of the destiny we’d share together. Fast forward through three years of highs and lows, and like any good husband with marital issues (sarcasm emphasized), I found myself writing into a podcast for relationship advice. But first, here’s a brief summary of a long back story:

I had been a personal trainer and gym manager. After reading the books and listening to podcasts, I was introduced to the concept of linear progression. At first, I was skeptical, but after attending a training camp with Sully, I was a self-asserted expert and proselytizer. I implemented all I was learning and saw lives change and stagnant programs suddenly receive a shot of progress! My wife was excited that I was excited. She celebrated my victories and—as a student of kinesiology herself—helped me work through various training hiccups. But I mistook her excitement for an invitation to get her training the same way.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

As you may have guessed, my misinterpretation didn’t bode well for me or our relationship. These newly-established dogmatic training beliefs had taken a shot to the heart. How could she be supportive—acknowledging the benefits, seeing the results—and not want to try it with me? My enthusiasm for her participation was met with hostility and antipathy. I felt unsupported and hurt, and she felt pressured and disapproved by me.

So what’s a guy to do? Yes—Matt and Scott to the rescue (kind of)! Episode 220: Matt and Scott discuss the misnomer of weight training making women bulky, which was prompted by a question I submitted for Q&A, “How can I get my Kristen to strength train?” In the podcast, they discussed common body image issues for women they’d seen—the effect of social media influence on women and the scale, among other things—but most importantly, they left me with some simple advice: “Colin, just love your wife and encourage her in what she’s already doing.”

I had to face the ugly truth: my insistence wasn’t love. It certainly wasn’t encouraging. It was arrogance, totally devoid of empathy. I had expected that this was how we were going to train, never considering the possibility she’d have other ideas. My expectations weren’t part of a shared vision; they were just my personal, dogmatic ideals.

The realization forced me to ask hard questions about my marriage and even my coaching practice. I began to wonder: How often am I doing this with my own clients? Do I really listen to them, or do I just implement my plan? For months I had ideas and questions bouncing around my head over this. I was making a better effort to love my wife, but I was still feeling salty over the hostility she displayed when I’d bring up barbell training for her. I still didn’t really understand her apprehension, and because of that, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.

Months down the road, Barbell Logic began fleshing out the idea of their client-centered and model-informed methodology. This gave me a directional push to specify abstract ideas by asking clarifying questions: What are my VIPs (Values, Identity, and Priorities), and am I living in harmony with those VIPs?

As I was going through this exercise, Kristen and I began to explore similar questions in the form of building a family code of priorities (partly inspired by an article from Brett McKay: How and Why to Create a Family Mission Statement). Together we formed six phrases that embodied the standard by which we wanted to live and raise our children. This gave us a set of mutually agreed-upon values that we would push each other to live by and seek to form our lives around.

As we formed our family mottos, the one most impactful toward the conflict of training was “kindness before rightness.” Making the commitment of kindness wasn’t one of thoseslap the easy button changes. We had to work—hard. To quote Dr. Jordan B. Peterson: “You’re going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don’t do. You don’t get to choose not to pay a price. You get to choose which poison you’re going to take. That’s it.”

Kindness Before Rightness

In hindsight, I now understand that my insistence on “being right” was at the cost of unity in my marriage. My pride needed to start paying the price so my marriage wouldn’t have to. By doing the harder thing in the moment of not becoming so emotional in my perceived rightness, I protected what really mattered most to me—my marriage. The need to be “right” wasn’t as strong once the consequences of that choice were realized.

This kindness brought a new level of trust into our marriage. In time, it allowed my wife to trust me with the darker reasons behind her hesitancy toward barbells. Her experiences as an NCAA Division 1 Cross Country running had been riddled with injuries from overtraining and caloric restrictions. After finishing her running career, she got a job as a personal trainer in a toxic environment where she experienced immense pressure to do a bodybuilding style of training. This pressure made her feel uncomfortable in her body, bulky in appearance, and insecure. My kindness toward my wife paid the price of admission for understanding how these previous experiences reinforced and exacerbated her body image issues. Barbells agitated her; they correlated with dark and hurtful times in her life. She had a fear that lifting heavy would hurt her and change her body for the worse.

When I started following our family motto of “kindness before rightness” and holding to it when my pride wanted to feel insulted, her demeanor toward the issue began to lighten. When angst would arise, I stopped reacting defensively and leaned into empathizing and choosing kindness despite feeling attacked.

I’m still no saint, but the improvement in this area of our relationship helped her feel safe enough to communicate her apprehensions to me. The old adage really is true: no one cares what you know until they know you care. When Kristen felt my conversations no longer had an ulterior motive, trust was restored. That didn’t immediately mean I had the green light to start coaching her. Instead, I chose to keep supporting her in what she was comfortable doing.

This is what needed to happen—not only so that someday I could coach my wife and make her strong, but because she needed to know that I loved her no matter what. She needed to know she’d be supported and loved even when we disagreed. She needed to experience my love for her, not just when the sun was shining, but when the hidden darkness formed from jaded life experiences pushed back against that love. There is much more to this story, to be told in part 2.

Personal Practicals

These were the practical rules that helped seal the deal:

  1. Clear expectations
  2. Don’t get her hurt
  3. Convenience
  4. Fun

I needed to communicate clear expectations on training days/times and which lifts she would do. We agreed to closely monitor how she felt physically to avoid injuries. The training had to be convenient; she didn’t want to spend more time away from our family. The training had to be fun for her. As her coach, I knew I needed to program her training based on those goals and not what my ego may have wanted for her.

Setting expectations meant she would know when she would train and that it was her time. We would protect it, not letting external pressures or circumstances rob that time.

“Don’t get her hurt” was mostly psychological. She didn’t want her training in any way to mimic her past experiences unless she was choosing to do it and understood the reason. The goal for her is not adding weight to the bar but enjoying (or at least not hating) her time barbell training. I knew I needed to program based on that goal, not what ego may tell me. She wouldn’t have to do any exercises she didn’t want to, and we’d focus her training on the lifts she liked most.

For convenience’s sake, we put up a garage gym. This was a game-changer. Knowing that she could come home, not feeling rushed to get to the gym, and having her own space helped make training enticing again. Also, I make a point of setting up equipment for her (J-hooks, warm-up weight, collars on, spotter arms), so she can come home and jump right in when she’s ready.

Lastly, another one of our family mottos is “have fun together.” So when my wife is lifting, I bring our daughter into our garage gym, and we cheer her on while playing games in between my wife’s sets. This isn’t always easy to manage, but it’s something I know (as her husband and coach) will motivate and encourage her.

I titled this article Barbells and Back Again as an homage to Lord of the Rings, but also because it fits for my wife. Barbells signified a dark time in her life—a time she never wanted to revisit. Through our motto of “kindness before rightness,” she experienced the unconditional love and support she needed to eventually face that darkness. This was her battle, her victory, and her story. But this is also a husband’s tale. I realized my own internal struggle with ego and the cost to our marriage. By raising up the sword of our motto, “kindness before rightness,” I stepped into the husbandry necessary for building up the most significant relationship of all, my marriage.

It’s exciting to be coaching my wife, but the most beautiful thing to me is that my wife trusted me—and I was able to honor that trust. I’m proud to be married to a beautiful woman who models courage for our daughter and has made me more of the man I want to be. What a righteous woman! Hashtag Blessed!




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