Are you a trainer, a coach… or a trainer who coaches?

     I’m always looking for that next training cue, that line that provides a client with an “Aha” moment. If you’re a fellow trainer you know what I’m writing about. What I’ve come to observe is that everyone learns differently. You have those that you explain or demonstrate an exercise once, and poof… they got it. And when I say got it, I mean they can perform the exercise exactly how you demonstrated it. Sometimes better. Then there’s the other 90% of the time. Either they don’t understand how to do it, or worse, they think they got it, but in reality they don’t. Now in regards to the latter that is when you need to peel the onion back and start to coach them up on the area they need work. Also I must mention, hopefully you have picked an exercise that is a good fit for them. For example, if you’re working with a person with big asymmetries in regards to lower body strength, maybe split squats with dumbbells are a better option than rear barbell squats. Remember my mantra when picking an exercise “for what & for whom”. I truly don’t believe in bad exercises, just bad exercise selections.

     One of the things that I’ve learned is that people typically want to please. So when you put an exercise before them, they want to perform it correctly for you. It’s almost like a challenge for some. This is where movement prep, doing a warm up or preparatory movement prior to an exercise to assist in the mind /muscle connection is so important. This acts as a test run typically without load. This is huge specifically when dealing with high skill (kettlebell snatches or swings, barbell cleans or front squats, and many TRX exercises) type movements. The next thing is that you need to make your coaching cues brief. Workout routines are just like sports. In sports the last thing you want is someone thinking too much. This can cause people to slow down or stop. Does the term paralysis analysis sound familiar? The problem that many trainers have is that we want to “throw up” everything we know about that particular exercise on the client. We want to show our worth. I think it’s a bit of insecurity, I’ll admit… I was that guy. Just remember they asked you the time, not how to build a watch. I believe the best exercises are those that you sometimes have to say the least. But on the other side of that coin, there are times you have to explain a few things before they even pick up the weight so they are fully aware of the objective. Like a sports coach, there is a time to speak, and then a time to be quite.

     So for my fellow trainers out there be aware of whom you’re training. Treat every exercise like eating the elephant… one bite at a time. And remember that less is sometimes more. Being a good personal trainer is more than demonstrating an exercise. It includes coaching the person up so that they can perform the movement exactly how it was suppose to be done, and feel confident while doing it. This is not always so simple. Keep your instruction simple and find the cues that work best for each person, and you’ll be a productive trainer that coaches. And for those of you who work with a trainer, be patient. It may take more than 3 sets of 15 reps to get an exercise down. Compare it to baseball. There’s a good chance that you didn’t hit a homerun the first time you swung your bat at a pitch. See you in the gym.

Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial could have been a good trainer

Do you remember that Life cereal commercial in the 70s? I know I may be dating myself. It opens up showing 2 boys pushing a bowl of healthy Life cereal back & fourth. Finally one of the boys gets this ingenious idea to give it to his younger brother Mikey. “I got it, give it to Mickey. He won’t try it, he hates everything”. The little boy looks at the bowl after it’s pushed in front of him, proceeds to pick up the spoon, and starts to chow down on the cereal. The commercial closes with the older boy saying in a shocked voice… “He likes it, hey Mikey”. Reflecting on this commercial made me think of many personal trainers & strength coaches. Frequently when a new training concept, theory, or piece of equipment enters the fitness world, many of us (including myself) tend to condemn it before truly giving it a chance. I look back on my 23+ year career and think about how I misjudged so many things initially (TRX, kettlebells, the benefits of the Turkish get up, etc). I will say that with experience and age I’ve learned to hold off on making quick judgments before I truly spend some time with the idea or piece of equipment. I’ve said this before, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. Recently I reflected on how many trainers embraced balance training in the 90s, with very little research and data. Interesting enough we didn’t question that. What we did know was that it made people work harder. Many of us overstated the carry over effect in strength training, only to later admit, maybe we were wrong. This isn’t to negate the improvements in posture and balance that can be gained from balance exercises. I frequently will hear a trainer knock kettlebells, followed by admittance that they have never used them. I will agree that many fitness gadgets can come off as gimmicky, if that’s a word. But it all goes back to those two questions we always need to ask, “For what & for whom?” For those who follow me, you probably are aware, through my social media & blog post, that I use kettlebells, the TRX, and sandbags when training my clients. That doesn’t mean that I stopped using dumbbells, barbells, cable pulleys, or bodyweight. All it means is that my toolbox got a little larger, and the trunk of my car just got heavier. I still perform rear barbell squats, dumbbell presses both horizontal & overhead, and mix in work on the cable pulleys. I think the variety is good, and learning new exercises is a good stimulant for that muscle between the ears. I think that what some strength coaches and trainers fear is that by giving credence to a training philosophy or piece of equipment outside of their realm, devalues their gold standards. What helped me to come clean was listening to legendary strength coaches (Mike Boyle, Dan John, JC Santana) say … “I was wrong about that”. What this has done for me is too broaden my awareness to new things. And the current stance I take is that I’ll listen to you, experiment for myself, and then come to my own conclusion. And we may not agree. What works for you and your training protocol may not work for me. I’m not a kettlebell, or TRX, or bodyweight guy. I’m a guy who will do what works for his clients. If performing Turkish get ups naked (that means without the kettlebell, this is not that type of blog) provides my small groups a great warm up, I’m in. If performing kneeling movements on the Bosu, yes I did mention that forgotten balance tool, helps improve posture awareness to someone performing a traditional strength exercise such as overhead presses or barbell curls, and I’m doing it. Bottom line is that we all need to take a step back from casting judgments on other training styles, and be a little more open minded. So maybe Mikey was on to something years ago. He didn’t have preconceived notions of what a “good” cereal should taste like. He didn’t hear about other cereals that were a waste of his time or worst … would make him fat. What he did know was that he was hungry. Being hungry for me is improving someone’s strength or dropping body fat. “He likes it, hey Mikey!”

J & D Fitness
4180 South Fort Apache Rd,
Las Vegas, NV 89147