Key Principles For Coaches, Trainers And Gym Rats
by Dan John T-Nation
Articles about goal setting are hardly new, especially in January when it's another year in the books and another calendar in the recycling bin. This article is also about goals, but specifically for the coaches and trainers that clients entrust to help them achieve their goals.
It's a rare workshop that I don't start with goals and goal setting. It's a rare day when I don't ask the basic questions of "What is your goal?" and "Where are you on the road to this goal?"
"Where are you?" is so basic that it's the first question God asks Adam in Genesis. God and I agree, obviously, on the importance of ongoing assessment with your goals.
The flipside of goal setting is simply ongoing assessment. I usually point out that Point B is your goal and the big question is what is your Point A – literally, where are you now?
This requires ongoing assessment, and whether it's FMS (functional movement screens), strength tests, blood tests, body comp test, flexibility tests, or timed drills, it gives us an idea of where we are today.
The first day I did the Olympic lifts, Dick Notmeyer told me that the bare minimum for a lifter was a bodyweight snatch. At my first meet three weeks later, I did that and Jim Schmitz told me that, very soon, I would snatch what I clean and jerked (231) that day. And I did it in nine months. This history lesson reminds us that clear standards are an efficient tool for guiding you from here to there.
What Keeps You Going?
I'm a big fan of resolutions and goal setting, but what keeps you coming back? One of the keys to my success as a coach, I believe, has been my ability to see that ongoing adherence to goal setting seems to need three additional points:
Don't make me look stupid!
When I talk about "results" at a workshop or gathering, I have to hold back the urge to say "obviously." Yet results are often overlooked in fitness and health discussions. Spend five minutes on the various chest pumping sites on the internet. There have been wars with less macho posturing than some people's discussions about their combination of squats and push-ups.
We see numbers, times, unwatchable videos, and all kinds of avatars with various warriors from 300 or some blood lust film. Yet when I go to a gathering and meet these same internet warriors, it's often hard to tell if any of them lift weights or even train in some manner.
Training comes down to results. It's so obvious, it's hard to type it. That's why I love the sports that have made my career, throwing and lifting. If we add this or that to our training and I throw farther or lift more, whatever we did was right. So, here's my question to you:
How Do You Measure Results?
If you're here to impress the ladies, to look good nekkid as an email stated to me, are you actually impressing the ladies? I'd suggest better hygiene, better dancing ability, or learning how to talk without sounding like a total fool would help most guys with the ladies better than a six-pack. (For some of you, yes, having her drink a six-pack will make you look better. )
For body comp goals, where are your before and after pics, your measurements, and your fat loss measurements? Don't guess, do. That's the key here.
If you want to be a Navy SEAL, have you joined the Navy? If you want to be in the NFL, are you playing for a team now? It's that clear in my head. Beyond that, are you getting results?
If you're making a living in the fitness industry, your clients are your best advertising. That's why before and after pictures are so important for selling your skills. John Berardi, Josh Hillis, and many others have made the use of these pictures mainstream, but it really is a radical idea – here's where I am, and this is where I was. If I'm making progress, things are working.
I use results to test programs and programming. After a review of my journal, which I've kept since 1971, I realized that the two best programs I ever did for pure strength and preparedness for throwing, consisted of only two workouts a week. My friend, Pavel, came to this same insight with this program:
I switched the deadlift out for cleans or snatches and made the best progress of my life. Of course, as we all know, it worked so well, I stopped doing it.
The next key to ongoing progress is something I missed for a long time: "Don't make me look stupid."
Putting a 14 year-old girl in the Varsity football weightlifting class is going to make her look stupid. As hard as she tries, she'll always stand out in the class because of her gender and the obvious need to lighten the load.
Making an overweight mother of three do something very public that she fails at usually isn't going to keep her coming back for more.
This is why I constantly discuss the need for mastery of movements and a certain amount of grace in training. You know it when you see it, like a great baseball player moving towards a ball. I would suggest reading the fiction work, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach for some really interesting insights on just this topic. When I coach mastery of movement, I actively work against the problem of "Don't make me look stupid."
It doesn't mean I don't challenge the athlete, the middle age woman, or the 14 year-old girl. Certainly, I do. But with proper coaching cues, enough repetitions, and appropriate regressions and progressions of movement, everyone can look masterful while training. Ignoring this, in my experience, kills progress, and the person quits and moves on to something else.
This is why I believe in the "Killer App" approach to using equipment. There's a great show about how the computer went from being something only NASA would use to literally being my sole form of entertainment and work.
It came down to a simple thing: spreadsheets. An accountant saw this and said, "I hire 200 people to do this forty hours a week and you're telling me I only have to push one button?" That's the killer app.
For the kettlebell, it's the swing, the goblet squat, and the get-up. The TRX and various rings give us the horizontal pull, the one-arm pull, and the various T, Y and I's for the upper back.
For the barbell, it's the deadlift and the press (all varieties). Mastery of this simple list will give any athlete all they need from the weightroom and any person the body of their dreams. Mastery walks hand in hand with simplicity.
The third quality that supports goal achievement is appropriate community. Whenever I advise a new gym owner, I talk about safety, cleanliness, and a vision of training that will keep people coming back. Then, I talk about community outreach, from canned food drives to push-ups for charity and anything else that will get the name of the gym out to the public in a positive way. But there's also the need for internal community, too.
One of my best memories of coaching is taking two hurdlers and fourteen throwers to a track meet. I'd just finished a book that emphasized that rich people cheer on the success of other rich people. It struck me that this is a tool that we used at Skyline College and Utah State on our teams.
"Team" is the key here, and many may have forgotten that some of us were trained to put country, church, team, and family ahead of our own needs and desires.
So, my idea was to encourage the kids to cheer for each other madly to get personal records that day. It was magic – not only did we take the first six places in the girls discus throw, but every athlete scored lifetime bests that day. I treated the team to a fast food banquet and the memory is among the top five memories I have of my teaching and coaching career.
It's easy to recruit to a team after an event like this – my athletes became the best ambassadors I could ask for after this meet. So building excellence also seems to breed an interest in more excellence.
I've often told visitors to my facilities that the key to building an outstanding program is that you need to empower your athletes and clients to become your assistant coaches. There's no higher calling than to teach and when you explain something to someone else, the "winner" tends to be you as the clarity comes through.
I like training alone, but a training partner or my team, the Hercules Barbell Club, always brings the best out of me. I've made lifts in meets simply to not let down my team. Community can bring out the best in us.
Goal setting is crucial. It's the base of the training template. Goal setting gives one a chance to clear away the clutter and focus on "this," whatever the goal is.
Ongoing assessment is often forgotten. The old standby joke, "When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's nice to remember why you drained the swamp," is always useful in assessment. I've lost nationally ranked athletes before the nationals to a church basketball game and a fraternity flag football game. Obviously, we weren't following proper ongoing assessment tools.
So let's put all this together into some key principles to make you better at your craft today:
The Five Key Principles for Coaches and Trainers (and All Gym Rats)
1. Your athletes and clients' goals are the most important.
Yes, we all know that this personal trainer is the former Mr. Greater Midvale and the skinny PT over there used to be a ballet dancer and a gymnast. That's great. Your people want to lose fat, feel better, and improve the quality of their lives. Focus on that. Put your client's goals first during any training session and professional time.
2. Your athletes and clients, overall, want results.
Yes, there are other things, but no matter how fun, fantastical, stimulating, and wonderful your gym setup has become with all the toys and electronics, people, over time, want results. If you have a lean and mean setup with boring music but your clients are the talk of the town because of their results, you'll be extremely successful.
3. Your athletes and clients don't "want to look stupid."
Some of the best instruction in gyms historically is from other gym members. There's a tradition of helping the new people with the movements and equipment. If, however, you decide to constantly change the movements and workouts so that it's always "Day One" for everyone, your people will feel like they "look stupid."
Mastery is a lost art in the fitness industry, but people crave mastering movements and improving their efficiency. If you have the courage to do a lot of repetition, your facility will be full.
4. Your athletes and clients want community.
There are dozens of excellent DVDs on the market as well as television fitness shows, yet people come to train in a facility. It's part of human nature. We all know that we can train harder when the people around us are moving, too. We also seem to enjoy donating time, energy, food, and clothing to help others and having a fitness component to this charitable drive seems to make it a "win-win" for everyone. Foster community and the community will foster you.
5. Your athletes and clients are your best press agents.
You can blind us with dazzling ads in all kinds of media. You can post, print, and package all kinds of materials that will make us feel that we need to open our wallet and send you money.
This rarely lasts long. Your clients are your "truth." Every time a client refers a person to you, be sure to step back and see what you did right. In fact, ask. Then, repeat what you did.
Go Forth and Prosper
As fitness pros, most of you have probably established personal, business, and fitness goals to make the most of the upcoming year. However, don't forget about your clients, and how you can successfully guide them along their journey from Point A to Point B.