The trend in the personal training community is for trainers to demonstrate their vast knowledge base — nutrition, rehabilitation techniques, supplementation protocols, functional medicine, etc. — with the intention of accelerating clients’ results.
Furthermore, there’s been an increased push from companies selling sales techniques and marketing strategies, all promising that you’ll have no end of new business.
Now all the above are extremely useful and can help a personal trainer distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd. But too many young personal trainers have become wrapped up in all the complexities of personal training that they’ve missed a key point:
How to successfully coach exercises.
I’m not referring to the basic conditioning exercises that many trainers have in their training arsenal, which leave their clients sweaty and lingering around the gym’s puke bucket — that’s easy and can be done by anyone with eyes and a mouth.
I’m referring to the most basic exercises of strength training — squats, deadlifts, presses, etc.
These exercises yield the best results for most clients due to their ability to recruit the most muscle mass, which can be very helpful when fat loss is the goal.
Even those working in a rehabilitation setting must ensure they’re able to coach perfect technique for corrective exercise, as any deviation away from perfection may prevent their patient from fully stimulating the weakened/injured muscle group, thus delay their return to full health.
What sort of trainer are you?
Following the assessment procedure with a new client, the next step is usually to take them through their first session. At this point you reach a fork in the road — do you A) take the easy option and fill the program with useless Mickey Mouse exercises that have little to no learning curve, or B) do you show your worth and expertise by taking the more complex exercises that produce results?
However, even if you take latter path, it’s not merely a case of saying, “This is a deadlift (or squat, bench press, power snatch etc.)” and then hoping that the client is able to successfully replicate what they’ve just seen — during their first performance, they likely won’t be able to effectively coordinate the appropriate movements for making the lift technically sound.
Without correction, this poor technique will never disappear and the risk of injury and/or ineffective training runs high.
The ability to correctly coach exercises is slowly becoming a lost art in the training world, despite that it’s the most fundamental component of being a personal trainer/coach.
This may be due to one of three reasons:
- Trainers haven’t been properly coached themselves.
- Trainers haven’t been properly exposed to any real training experience.
- Seminars that teach people how to coach don’t sell as well as other popular Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses.
I’d argue that the majority of trainers struggle more with how to coach the squat than they do on their marketing techniques.
Why is good coaching important?
- Proper lifting technique, with appropriate weight, will drive our clients closer to their goals. This is why we’re prescribing the exercises in the first place — do we really want our clients to be unsuccessful in achieving their goals?
- Proper technique allows our clients to lift safely – do we really want to injure our clients?
- Proper technique also allows for the maximal weight to be lifted — do we really want to put a limit on our clients’ strength gains?
In essence, proper technique can allow for specific training goals to be achieved by allowing the individual to use the greatest weight possible in the safest and most effective manner.
As personal trainers, regardless of the goal, the bulk of our clients’ training programs will revolve around weight training exercises, and in many cases our clients will be brand new to lifting.
Even if our clients aren’t brand new to heaving heavy loads, there’s a strong chance that they’ve had poor coaching — so you’ll now be the lead authority for correcting their technique and guiding them on their path to the peak of gym expertise.
Fundamentally, there are five key exercises: Squat, deadlift, standing press, bench press, and chin-up. Every other exercise available is essentially a regression or variation of these, save for a few exceptions.
You’re likely going to be coaching these exercises and their variations/regressions every single day — can you honestly break them down mechanically and understand how functional anatomy plays a role?
Do you know why one client’s back may round when they set-up for the deadlift or why another client can’t squat to depth with an empty barbell on his or her back?
Would you know how to appropriately correct these situations in a matter of minutes or regress the exercise to the point that your client will build the capacity to successfully correct these issues further down the line?
Don’t you think this might be more important than being able to brag about your encyclopaedia-like knowledge on how stimulating certain acupressure points can increase activation of the serratus anterior?
Taking the time to develop a knowledge base that enables us to answer these questions and solve these problems immediately when they arise is what makes us better “in the trenches” and will also make you a much more reputable coach — much more so than being able to name every different type of magnesium chelate and how they function in the body.
3 Steps to Making Yourself a Better Coach
Hopefully by now, regardless if you’ve trained one person in your life or 100, you’ve accepted that being able to correctly coach exercises is extremely important and will only make you a better trainer.
So here are my three steps that you can implement immediately to help better yourself and your clients:
1. Analyze and learn the key exercises
Studying Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe would be a very good place to begin, as well as scouring the internet for well-written articles and well produced videos on some of the more complex lifts. Relying on basic exercise science textbooks won’t provide you with enough useful information that you can take to the gym floor.
Also, pay particular attention to how anatomy can have influence both the set-up and execution of the exercise — since all our clients are likely to be built differently, it’s important to know how to fit the exercise to the client.
From Jon: Here are some great articles to get you started. If you have any suggestions to add, please add them in the comments below and I might add them here:
Squat – Mike Robertson
Deadlift – James (Smitty) Smith
2. Reassess your current training programs
Have you taken the easy path of prescribing easy exercises that will make your clients tired or have you gone with more technical lifts that are capable of enhancing your clients’ strength?
If you do already use the fundamental strength training exercises, are your clients performing them with safe and effective technique or are you just letting them do the exercise without any respect to proper form?
3. Make it a goal to have all your clients following the exact guidelines for perfect technique.
Wherever a client show signs of incompetency, try to understand from an anatomical and biomechanical perspective why they’re struggling — either coach the issue away or change the exercise to something more suitable.
By putting these three steps into action, I can guarantee you’ll not only feel like a better trainer, but you’ll also become one as your clients will get better results from their time spent with you.
Just remember that the reason you took up personal training was to help people achieve results in their fitness endeavors. If you’re unable to coach the core lifts, you’re missing an absolute key part to becoming a successful coach.
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