As much as I would love to get each of my clients to do every single rep of every single exercise perfectly, things happen. People forget what joints are supposed to move where, and sometimes they come through the front door moving like a rusty hinge when yesterday they were fantastic. That’s one of the challenges in working with people, no one works perfectly all the time. Such is life, and as much as I may want to take them to the wood shed for the hour, we have to step it back and work on getting stuff going that we’d worked on a few weeks ago.
Now while this would dissuade lesser trainers and make them throw a conniption or simply push through and make their clients deadlifts with spines resembling question marks, I’m more than happy to step it back and work on some of the simple things in life.
Drop your butt.
Crush your underwear at the top of that squat.
Knees out. HIPS!!!
Does this smell fresh to you?
I’ve had some sessions where I’d planned max lifts, and instead had to drop it back to teaching sessions to get them to re-learn their hip hinge because something happened over the weekend and they now look like a train wreck when they try to lift anything off the floor.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received regarding training came from the godfather himself, Mike Boyle during a seminar I watched him present a couple years ago.
You only get so many coaching bullets. Use them wisely.
In regards to teaching, people tend to have the ability to only remember so many cues at once. This is called the serial memory effect, also known as the cocktail party effect. If I threw out 50 peoples’ names to you, you would probably only remember the first 2 or 3, and the last 2 or 3. The ones int he middle would be lost in translation.
If we take this over to the training world, that goes for the cues we use to get clients to do things right. By giving someone 50 million different cues, they can easily forget everything and wind up paralyzed because they can’t remember what to do with their left big toe or their right shoulder blade, or whether their hair is parted on the right side to promote optimal breathing mechanics.
As a result of this, I try to minimally cue a client during their learning of any skill. Despite what I put up earlier (except whether that was fresh or not. That’s vital information), I try to only give people 2 or 3 cues to focus on with any movement. Once they master those, I throw in one or two more, but only as long as they can maintain what they had before I introduced their new cues.
When I first started training I tried to make every movement absolutely drop dead perfect before I had a client even do a single rep with any resistance at all or for any volume. This meant I had a lot of confused people who weren’t making any progress.
Giving rapid-fire instructions to anyone and expecting them to understand and remember any of them is typically going to result in less than desirable results. To give you an idea of what this was like, take this short video clip that showcases a dramatic re-enactment of my initial advances on my now wife:
Now instead of doing something like this, the ideal would be a bit simpler, which is showcased in this dramatic re-enactment here:
SEE WHAT HE DID??? HE “PICKED HER UP!!!” AT THE GYM!!!
I started to focus on what was important at this very moment to make each movement BETTER. This could have been as simple as giving a simple cue, moving a limb, touching a muscle and saying “make this tense,” or what ever. Once they had it and could do it on their own without me cueing them again, we moved on to the next point. This was essentially helping them learn the movement from the ground up.
For pretty much every single client I work with and for every exercise they do, I always ask myself a simple question: “How can I make this just a little better than it currently is?” If I have a client with major knee issues, the squat won’t look perfect, but how can I make it look a little bit better than it currently is? If I take someone from a squat depth of 30 inches off the floor and pain in the anterior knee, and by the end of the session they can get to 28 inches from the floor and have marked reduction in pain, it’s massively better. It can still improve, but it’s better than when they walked through the door.
Additionally, in some instances the exercise just isn’t going to work, no matter how I cue it, so I’ll occasionally switch out what I have a client doing in favour of either a completely different exercise or a regression or progression of that movement. I made the program, I can change it just as easily. That’s how I roll.
My primary objective for each and every training client is simply to make them better than when they came in. This can be minimal gains in a squat depth or it could be dropping 60-80 pounds of body fat, or running a PB marathon time, but the goal is simply to see improvements. The best way to do this in any venue, whether it’s training, cooking, playing video games, or whatever you’re in to, is to teach someone how to do something, and then teach them how to do it better.
The old axiom “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” always rings true to me. I would rather have an army of people who were self-sufficient in the basics than 50 people who needed me there to walk them through each exercise and each set.
Now this doesn’t just have to stop at training. We could adapt this thought process to anything in life. Want to make more money? What can you do right now to do that, or to simply spend less? What about lose weight? What immediate dietary changes can you make to start the process? The act of beginning is typically the biggest hurdle, so beginning with a small and easy change that can get the ball rolling is often all that’s necessary to see changes occur.
By not focusing on trying to find “the best way” to do anything and becoming paralyzed by analysis, getting a small change that moves closer to perfection is typically a better alternative and produces greater short term and long term success. Don’t worry about making it perfect, just try to make it better. You get more done that way.