About Me

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Hi, I’m Iain. I’m the coach and owner of Highlander Strength and Fitness, a private gym which I run with the help of my wife Isobel. We’re originally from Scotland, and emigrated to the Annapolis Valley Nova Scotia in 2013.

I’ve competed in sports since the age of 9; I was a decathlete until my mid-20s, when I switched to American Football. I played for 9 years and won a british Championship with the Stirling Clansmen.

I’ve been a coach for around 20 years now; a team coach, and a fitness coach. I started my own coaching business in Scotland in 2008 because I was so frustrated by the generic fitness options available. I wanted to give the benefits of sports training knowledge to the general public – no fads, gimmicks, supplements or up-sells, just quality training that gets results.

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Iain Smith

Founder & Coach

Rather than write out an article all about myself, we thought it might be more interesting to put together this section as if it were an interview. So my wife Isobel asked me some questions, and noted down my answers!

Let’s start with some basic information; how old are you, and where are you from?

I am 47 years old, and I’m from rural Perthshire in Scotland

How long have you lived in Nova Scotia?

My wife and I emigrated here in 2013.

Why Nova Scotia?

We were looking for a more relaxed lifestyle, somewhere we could live in the countryside and afford to buy a home. Somewhere that was quiet and friendly.

How long have you been involved in coaching?

For around 25 years.

What qualifications do you have?

I have an MPhil (Masters Degree by Research) in Sports Studies from the University of Stirling,  and I’ve been a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach (CSCS-NSCA) for 17 years.

Did you play sports when you were younger?

Yes. I competed in track and field from about 8 until I was 24. Then, although I’d represented Scotland a couple of times, I realised I was never going to quite make it to the Commonwealth games as a decathlete (I was about 6” too short!) so I switched sports and played 9 seasons of American football. As a multi-eventer in track and field I’d always been a good all-rounder so I played many positions on both sides of the ball on the football field. My main position was outside linebacker.

How long have you had your own fitness business?

I opened my first fitness business in Glasgow in 2009, and continued it when we arrived in Canada. Before that I was a personal trainer for 4 years at a big box gym in Glasgow.

Why did you start your own training business?

I started my own business because if you really care about coaching a big box gym is a soul-crushing environment to try to work in! These gyms are designed for people who don’t know much about coaching, and they’re run for business profit over anything else. They’re designed for physical activity, rather than training and coaching. They are filled with lowest common denominator machines (fixed path equipment) which don’t require any degree of technical ability, so inexperienced /poorly-qualified fitness instructors can seem knowledgeable and highly qualified and experienced trainers can’t demonstrate their expertise because everything is boiled down to the lowest common denominator. I wanted to escape this kind of environment, to have the freedom to put the kind of equipment in a gym that would allow me to deliver the best possible training experience for my clients, and to control the environment to a degree where every client who came in receives an optimal training session and aren’t limited by the unpredictable attendance levels you get at a big box gym. There’s nothing worse than devising a training plan only to have to throw it out when you get to the gym because the equipment you need isn’t available because it’s cluttered with people taking selfies, updating their social media and generally socialising, not training, in the area you need to do some actual work! It’s not fair for the clients and it’s not good for a real coach’s mental health.

What annoys you most about the fitness industry?

The fitness industry is arguably the most corrupt one I can think of. It’s unregulated nature makes it a complete wild west that draws con men, snake oil salesmen, confidence tricksters and charlatans.  There is so much misinformation, false truths about exercise and nutrition, and outright lies that are peddled by the aforementioned people to make a quick easy buck that it’s very hard to break through and have people hear genuine advice.

What is the best single piece of advice you could give someone trying to choose a fitness plan to follow?

Simplicity beats complexity every time. It’s better to minimize what you’re doing, take away the moving parts ,you’ll get more out of doing, for example, a triple extension exercise for your lower body, a push exercise exercise for your upper body and a pull exercise for your upper body, mastering the technique on those basic important movements and then persisting and maximizing your effort over a long period of time. You’ll get more of doing that kind of thing than you will out of any other training program.

You need to understand some of the basics about rep ranges and intensity and the weight you’re lifting but there’s a very simple interplay there. Whatever rep range you’re doing, you should be looking to lift enough weight to make it a challenge. Whether you’re lifting for 3 reps or 23 reps the weight that you choose should make that a challenge.

The lower the number of reps it’s about strength, and the higher the rep range the more it’s about muscular endurance. And it’s a really simple thing, you should basically pick three good exercises – so you might want to do a squat, a bench press and a pull up. And you take those three exercises and one person might want to become stronger so they’re going to work on lower reps, while someone else might want to increase their fitness, so they would work on higher reps. It’s a very simple recipe, and it’s not complicated, but uncomplicated is hard to sell when you’re trying to scan people. It has to be complicated you have to dress up. So if you see something and it’s not simple, ignore it. If you see something and it is simple, if it’s really basic and it’s really stripped down then that’s the kind of thing you want to follow.

Do I need expensive equipment to see progress?

No! You do not. You need to be able to load your body, and your body doesn’t know the difference between a precision machined plate that weighs 10lb, and a rock that weighs 10lb. It makes zero difference. The added bonus of the rock that weighs 10lb is it’s awkward and you have to fight with it more, which brings about a better training adaptation. If you want ideas about good transferrable strength that works in many situations you should look at The World’s Strongest Man. The stuff they do; picking things up, carrying things around, dragging stuff, flipping things over, loading things on to stuff, that’s the kind of training you want, whoever you are. Any exercise where you’re sitting down, and moving through a range of motion that a machine dictates, that’s not real-life. You want to be picking something up that’s heavy. You want to be lifting something that’s hard to lift. If you work out good technique for all these things – and there is good technique that you can learn – that’s what you should be doing.

What is your training philosophy?

Honestly, I don’t really have a philosophy. Things are changing all the time. I’m always looking for a better way, a more efficient way, to get the job done. Whatever that looks like. I’m not a slave to any particular method, I’m governed by principles. If I can come up with a way that makes it easier or more likely that you’re doing to get the result you want then I’m immediately going to flip to that process.

Why should someone come and train with you at Highlander?

If they want to. People should come and train with me if they want to. Because the fitness industry is so full of charlatans it’s difficult to sell yourself on your qualifications and your experience, because it’s really easy in the fitness industry to lie about these kind of things. So I have the experience and qualifications I have, but more importantly I know that I’m a quality coach, and I know that I can help you get to where you want to get to. The only way for you to get comfortable with me as a coach is to come down and try me out, and see if I’m the coach for you. The one thing I will promise you is that I am more loyal to your goal than I am to your mood. So if you tell me you want to do something, like lose weight or build strength or strengthen a knee that isn’t 100%, then everything I do is aimed at getting you to that goal. Sometimes I will have to tell you things that you might not want to hear, because they align with the goal that you told me you wanted. And I’m OK telling you these things. If you decide you don’t want to hear these things, then that’s cool, but you’re probably not going to get to your goal. You have to accept that your goal, by it’s very nature, requires some degree of change from you, and if you’re not willing to make those changes then you’re going to struggle. But that’s not going to affect my desire to keep telling you to make those changes.

Do you have any pets?

We have a cat, she’s called Puck. She’s the dog I always wanted! She’s very affectionate and friendly, and she’ll chase sticks, and she’ll roll around on her back and let you rub her tummy, and she’s full of character, and she’s awesome!

What’s your dream car?

If someone were to offer me a Chevy Nova I would be happy. Either a 2nd gen, 3rd gen or a 4th gen. I will confess to having a weird soft spot for a 1978 4 door beige Chevy Nova with a brown cord interior. I grew up watching TV shows like Starsky and Hutch so American detective cars of that era seem to be my thing!

And finally, 5 films you never get tired of watching….

  • 300
  • 13th Warrior
  • Swordfish
  • Dodgeball
  • Pacific Rim
  • (and Gladiator makes it 6!)

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