18 Years, 18 Things
The month of May marks 18 years that I’ve been coaching. Luckily I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are a few things that I find important but in no particular order.
- Relationships: I’ve come to realize that no matter what we do in life, it’s about the relationships. Early on I didn’t grasp this concept well, but I think I was lucky enough to have had good parents. This allowed me to have many clients long term without even truly knowing that I was doing a couple things right.
- Context: It’s easy to just judge others without context. Whether they are other coaches or members of a gym. Everyone has a story so, while not easy, it’s best not to judge without getting more information and then forming a more educated opinion.
- Logistics: Context can often be driven by logistics. There might be many things you want to do, but the reality is, based on the situation you’re in, some of those things may not be an option at all, or will have to be rearranged to some degree. You have to be adaptable based on the current situation. I’ve worked in a big corporate gym, training gyms under 1,000 square ft and another that was 20,000+ sq ft. All of these have different benefits and drawbacks. Nothing is perfect. Be able to make adjustments based on logistics..
- Pragmatic vs. Dogmatic: You’ve got to be open to both learning and to change or you’re in trouble. Sometimes you won’t have a choice! (see above) Don’t get stuck in the “this is the only way” or “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset.
- Everything Is Important, Nothing Is Important: I may have the best 12 week workout program, but it’s not that important. Perhaps all you’ve got is 9 weeks. Deadlifts might be important to me and they’re a valuable exercise, but other things work great well too. I need to train, be able to demo exercises and know what things feel like but at the same time, my workouts aren’t so important. Everyone should probably train 3 days a week, but if someone misses a session, life gets in the way, it’ll be fine. Don’t freak out. We don’t always know the burdens others may be carrying on any given day. Sometimes the workout gets done but in and of itself, it’s not the most important thing. Communication comes into play here. Do I want to empower people? Absolutely. But am I going to get mad at someone because they can’t remember which hand to hold the dumbbell in or which foot goes where on that stretch we always do? No. Is it important? Enough for me to make the correction, absolutely, but on the whole, it’s minor.
- Communication: It’s a skill. It’s not always easy but learn to read the room and ask the right questions. Other times the best thing you can do is remain silent.
- There Is Always Something You Can Do: Everyone is going to deal with aches and pains as well as injuries. It may take some creativity or simply some critical thought but there is always something you can do. Always. Keep moving, never settle.
- Thinking Long-Term: When you’re young or new to working out and motivated this can be tough. It’s easy to get wrapped up in one workout, missing one day, dealing with a setback of some kind or even rushing to more advanced training. The key is thinking about the larger picture or long term.
- Progression – Regression: I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing what the next step is, what the proper step back is, or how to simply do something different but very similar cannot be understated. This is the equivalent of having a game plan and being able to smoothly make mid-game adjustments. It takes time to accumulate the knowledge and skill for this but it’s critical.
- Movements Not Muscles/Full Body Training: This seems so obvious now but years ago I didn’t always think this way and I’m fully aware that it’s still not the predominant way of training at your local health club/gym. Most people and/or athletes only train 2-3 days a week, schedules change and other variables come into play. It’s to everyone’s advantage to train the whole body each time in the gym and think in terms of movement patterns rather than simply muscles.
- Less is more: If you do it right, you can get a lot done with much less than you think or others would have you believe. Stimulating adaptation doesn’t demand 5, 6 or 12 sets. Whether it’s a little bit but often or less often but with higher intensity, progress can be made with less than you think.
- Consistency: Pretty simple. The ideal is to be in this for the long haul. Being consistent helps everything. Inconsistency prevents many good things from happening.
- Murphy’s Law: Cover all of your bases. What seems obvious to you, the person that lives their life inside of the gym, may not be so obvious to the person that hardly knows what’s going on. Much of this comes down to communication.
- Recovery and/or Zone 2: For many years I thought recovery meant sleeping and being inactive. Now I’ve learned that movement and actually getting the heart rate elevated drives recovery. I personally engage in many more cardiovascular activities now, not only for my heart health but to stimulate recovery so that I can continue to train and feel even better than simply resting on the coach.
- Posture: Extension Compression Stabilizing Strategy “ECSS”: I wish I learned this concept about 15 years sooner. It would have saved both me and some of my clients a fair amount of back pain. I still think most people only see “bad” posture in terms of slumped forward. Come to find out it’s just as big an issue in the opposite direction. For close to 17 years I would arch my lower back to squat, deadlift, hang clean, single leg deadlift, kettlebell swing and almost anything else you can think of, in an effort to “protect” my lower back and prevent the dreaded rounding. As a result, I overcompensated and taught my lower back to crank on essentially at all times. Turns out this doesn’t feel great over the long haul. It’ll work to lift the weights for a while, years even, until it doesn’t.
- Breathing: There can be an unbelievable amount to unpack here but in short, how you breathe both while training and not, is incredibly important to your health, posture, strength, etc. Don’t neglect it.
- Foot Tripod: This was one of the most mind blowing concepts for me over the years. Since I first entered a gym I’ve heard people encourage sitting back on the heels, or in some cases focusing on the mid foot. Both get the job done per se but not to the extent of the tripod. Yes, it’s a slightly advanced strategy but in the right situations it’s a game changer for people. I’ve seen so many movements clean right up when people execute a good tripod and focus on better weight distribution through the whole foot. The other moving parts tend to fall right into place so well I still chuckle to myself every time it works.
- Degrees of Freedom: The importance of having the availability to move with a single limb or move the limbs individually in a movement only increases as we age. TRX Rows, Cable Rows, Dumbbell Bench Presses, Reverse Lunges all can allow for some asymmetry. Pull ups, barbell bench presses, barbell squats and the like are far less forgiving. That hurts people’s feelings but it’s the truth. Understanding this bit of leeway given allows people to lift in a more joint friendly manner.