5 Coaching Tips for Up-and-Coming Fitness Professionals
by Eric Cressey
1. Always coach at 90-degree angles.
You’ll never see everything you want to see from a 45-degree angle, so you’re better off directly in front and/or to the side of the one performing the exercise. Imagine what happens when you are coaching deadlift technique, for instance.
From the side, you can observe neutral lumbar-through-cervical spine, whether the athlete is pushing through the heels or toes, and whether the movement is turning into too much of a squat.
From the front, you can watch for hip shifts, knock-knees, turning-out of the toes, and grip width (in the case of the conventional deadlift and sumo deadlift).
From a 45-degree angle, you can see some stuff – but never with as “unobscured” a view as you’d prefer.
2. Never cross your arms.
This is the single-best way to say “Don’t talk to me; I’m in a bad mood.” The problem is that you might not even be in a bad mood, but that’s the way clients and athletes perceive it. ”Open arms” equals “open to interaction.”
3. Don’t sit down.
The only way you could make yourself any more unappealing as a strength coach or personal trainer is to rock a turtleneck like the one the guy in the photo has. Standing up gives you a better view of the training room and makes you more approachable.
That said, a lot of coaches and trainers may get cranky knees and lower backs from standing on hard training surfaces for hours and hours on-end. If this is the case, you’ve got a few ways to break the wear and tear:
a) Demonstrate more exercises – simply getting moving will help things out, especially if you are doing a lot of ground-to-standing transitions
b) Put a foot up on a bench or weight rack here and there – going to single-leg stance can redistribute your weight and give you breaks in the action (while keeping you standing)
c) Play around with footwear and training surface – In a given day, I might coach in two different pairs of shoes and even go barefoot for a bit. I think our lower extremities like the variety (and I generally feel best in my minimalist footwear or barefoot). It’s also helped me to bounce back and forth between the harder rubber training surface and the softer astroturf we have at Cressey Performance.
4. Find out whether clients/athletes like “demonstrate” or ”describe.”
Some people are visual learners; you need to show them what you are asking them to do. This is especially true among beginners, and those who don’t have strong athletic backgrounds (as well as those who are very forgetful).
Other people just need to hear the “what” and a few coaching cues, and they’ll go right to it and be successful. They’ll actually be annoyed with you if you slow things down too much and get in their way when they are ready to train. These are generally the more experienced exercisers who may have already mastered some derivative of the exercise in question (for instance, learning a 1-arm DB Bulgarian Split Squat from Deficit after they’ve already learned a regular Bulgarian Split Squat).
As an interesting anecdotal aside to this, last year, we had a professional baseball player come to us who had previously trained at a large facility in a group with more than a dozen other players who were all doing the same program off the same dry erase board. He spent much of his first day with us bad-mouthing the other facility, saying that all they did was “grab-ass” and “stand around,” never getting anything done. After his first session, he made a point of saying how much better he liked our business and training model. The reason was very apparent: he was a “describe” learner in light of his previous training experience, but he’d been plugged into a “demonstrate” model with a lot of less experienced athletes. All they did was get in his way.
It’s important to identify what kind of learner people are early on in their training with you – but also to appreciate that their learning style may change when they’re presented with unfamiliar exercises.
5. Find different ways to demonstrate energy.
Many up-and-coming coaches worry that they aren’t “Rah Rah” enough to be successful in this field. They seem to think that the only way to win people over is to be over-the-top excited all the time. The truth is, though, that the majority of the most successful people in the industry aren’t in-your-face yellers, non-stop clappers, or bouncing-off-the-wall coaches. Guys like Todd Durkin and Dave Jack who have seemingly endless energy and great coaching ability are actually rare exceptions in our field (and I learn a lot about coaching each time I watch those two).
In reality, a lot of the other high-energy guys I’ve encountered use that enthusiasm to cover up for a lack of knowledge, and athletes eventually see through it. Plus, it’s impossible to be high-energy all the time, so when these individuals are having rough days, they often lose their #1 coaching asset. You simply can’t have bad days as a coach or trainer.
That said, there are a lot of ways to show enthusiasm without yelling all the time. Having a spring in your step is an extremely valuable asset in a trainer or coach’s toolbox. If you were to watch me at Cressey Performance, I never “amble” around; I always have spring in my step and am getting from Point A to Point B quickly, as it allows me to do more coaching (and interact with more people) in a given hour.
Being excited about what you’re coaching is also paramount; tell athletes/clients what it’s doing for them and why that’s important.
Creating relationships should be a means of building excitement as well. Ask clients about their backgrounds, how they’re doing, and what their goals are. People get excited and motivated when they find out that you are interested in them.
There are countless other ways to demonstrate energy on a daily basis: picking the right music, clapping your hands, creating competition among athletes, sending emails/Facebook posts/Tweets to athletes before they come in to train, or pairing up certain clients who you know will push each other. The only limitation is your creativity – and you’ll find that it’s easier to create energy once you know clients well, as you’ll know exactly which buttons to push to get the reaction you seek.
5 Coaching Tips for Up-and-Coming Fitness Professionals | Eric Cressey | High Performance Training, Personal Training