The Human side of training

December 1, 2009

On the weekend, I met up with my friend and mentor Pat, who I haven’t had the privilege to converse with on a daily basis since I left SST 6 weeks ago. We chatted for quite a while (which usually happens anyways), and our conversation eventually went to training. And it started getting pretty philosophical — which ended being a great benefit to both of us as we were both able to gain some insight from our unique perspectives.

One thing we talked about was getting results in clients — be they the young athletes or the soccer moms we worked with at SST or the personal training clients I have now. And we agreed that there are basically two general aspects to getting results. There’s the technical side — referring to the training program which is designed for a specific result. On the other hand, there’s the human side. This refers to that old saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. The best results we have seen in our careers have been in people who not only show up to do the program, but also have that experience where things just click. Where a person switches from a sort of faux motivation to a genuine real motivation to succeed. The thing is this happens at different times for everyone.

Of course this is something that can’t be found in a textbook either — its all learned through experience, so as a young coach in the field, it is an area where I stand to improve extensively as I continue to coach.

Anyways thats just a tidbit from our conversation, but its one of those Ah-ha moments because results aren’t just about the exercises, sets, and reps written down on a piece of paper.

With all that said, its December and getting colder, which can only mean one thing: SPRING TRAINING BASEBALL IS GETTING CLOSER!!!!!!!!!! (this is actually how I used to think between ages 11-18…scary…)


I really believe that coaching adds an individual’s flare and personality to what I do because training is textbook; its just applying scientific principles. Coaching adds that extra degree though — how do you keep motivating a client to keep pushing in a workout? How do you get a client to understand what you had to go to university for and (usually) multiple certifications?

The longer I am in this line of work, the more I believe that coaching is that X-factor — and something I want to be the best at simply because it will equate to greater success for both my clients and I.

I learned this lesson during my first personal training certification evaluation over 3 years ago: at the end of the eval, the evaluator (the head trainer of the YMCA I was taking the course at) talked to me about how I explained the conditioning part to the “client” (him). He said that I should speak in simple terms because most clients don’t know the science  part of what we do — and they don’t need to. 3 yrs later, when I’m coaching an athlete or adult client, I still think about this every time I instruct an exercise, give a client feedback on form, or talk about nutrition!

This doesn’t mean I won’t talk about the science behind why they are doing a particular exercise a certain way, just that I won’t unless they ask me. I love the KISS principle: for those that don’t know, KISS = Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Its the same quality I admire in good teachers and mentors: the ability to make complex concepts sound simple.

Also it was Thanksgiving up here in Canada this past weekend, so I hope all my fellow Canuck readers had a good one!

This is in reference to coaching, be it a large group or a single client. I know this is something I am always working on — just being brief and clear in any exercise or drill instruction I am giving. I find that at times, especially when explaining a more complex exercise (think a deadlift vs. a step up), that I will begin to explain more than just what the client needs to know. Fortunately since this has been something that I’ve had to work on since I started training two years ago, I’ve learned to read people as well as just catch myself in the act which gets me back on track to just get the client doing the exercise.

Another thought I have now is that if a client needs more explanation about an exercise or drill such as if they don’t understand my initial explanation, is to switch to another mode of teaching. So instead of trying to explain it further, I will switch to demonstrating the exercise or putting them in the position I want them to be in. I have found this to be more of an experience thing as I get better at recognizing people’s learning styles with each client I work with.


Now that I’m back from school and starting to get involved again with training at SST, it has become apparent (as it did last summer) that I need to brush up on my training and coaching. Being away at school for 8 months where I’m only training myself and one of my friends, if I have a workout buddy at all, gets me away from the skills I acquired during the previous summer. I guess its like when returning to school and it takes a while to get into the groove of going to school and preparing for classes. Now all I have to do is come up with another analogy since I’m no longer in school…

Short and sweet today folks!


Earlier today at work, I got into a discussion about how different biomechanics is viewed in a practical location (ie. a gym) and an academic institution (university in the case of the conversation).

Anyways, we were discussing how at a gym like SST, we think of improving our biomechanics knowledge as improving our knowledge of how to teach technical aspects of exercise and movement, as well as the correction of any deviations from the optimal movement pattern.

In an academic institution (the one I attend anyway), my biomechanics classes have focused not on movement execution, teaching, etc in a practical sense, but in a research-oriented approach. Basically, to prepare students for possible further academic research in the area.

Last summer after interning at SST, I was expecting a more practical approach to biomechanics at school, and I ended up being rather disappointed for it. The practical model of biomechanics is something I find much more interesting (obviously, since I work in a gym). But it just reinforces the difference between an academic education and a practical one; a university degree doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the practical world out there.


Such a large part of training and coaching is the ability to communicate with clients well! Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all communication style that will work with every person. Different clients have different learning styles so what I’ve been learning to do is present instruction and feedback in various ways to accomodate this.

Yesterday I was working with an athlete who’s been training with SST for over a year, and for a while now his program has included a steady dose of deadlifts. There’s just been one issue: his deadlifting form is not the greatest, and it seems that bad habits have been developed due to repetition of improper form. Because of this, fixing the problem has not been a quick process. And I’ve spent time DISCUSSING with this athlete the changes I would like to see in his form, I’ve spent time SHOWING this athlete what the changes should look like in comparision to what he is doing…and other coaches have been doing the same. To show for all this effort on everyone’s part, only minimal improvements have been made.

So yesterday I decided to try a different method: record his sets on a digital camera and let him watch it afterwards while discussing what HE sees.

After the first set, he watched the clip and he realized what us coaches have been telling him for some time now, and the funny thing was all this time, he FELT as though he was making the correct changes! From the clip he saw that this wasn’t the case.

Now we didn’t fix the problem on the very next set, but now that he sees the changes he still needs to make, he is getting closer to the right track.

In summarizing, I have noticed as I’ve been improving my ability to communicate with the clients at SST, that the ability to effectively reach people with different learning styles has been both a challenge but also something that has gotten easier the more that I recognize and adapt to these situations. And I am always surprised at how much the clients continually teach me, when superficially the flow of information would appear very one-sided (me to them).



July 1, 2008

As a coach, my job is to motivate clients, teach and reinforce good exercise technique, and ensure a safe training environment. Now these are just what I do when I’m on the floor training, and the reason I brought them up is because of one small question:

Can I go too far??

That is can I do these things TOO MUCH??

I believe I can. It’s called overcoaching.

I believe this is especially easy to do with new athletes/clients. For example, I teach someone a new exercise that requires some technical proficiency (ie. teaching a deadlift), and I may give all the right instructions but they still are not able to perform a “perfect” rep in the first set. Is it helpful for me to continue to bark out all the instructions I mentioned, or should I watch them, say something minimal about a certain technical cue, and let them learn to feel the movement?

Provided the athlete isn’t doing anything dangerous, I think the latter option is the preferred one.

Now this does have some leeway depending on how new they are to training and like I said earlier, safety, but for the most part I believe less is more.

Overcoaching doesn’t allow their body to learn the movement; they learn to correct the movement because I cued it, not because it doesn’t feel right or look right in their own eyes. I don’t think that would make a very good coach.