The mark of good coach or trainer is their ability to modify their coaching cues to suit the individual. What works for one person often won’t work for another. So the flexibility of the metaphorical tool box that each coach carries with them, of physical and verbal options for assisting their clients to ‘get it’, will strongly dictate the breadth of the client’s success. Sure, you may have a lot of success with one specific population or personality type if you employ the same approach with everybody. However, sports teams, crossfit boxes, personal training facilities, gyms and bootcamps are full of people who will all respond slightly differently to different cues.
The skill of effective verbal or spoken cues is something that most coaches, trainers and clinicians take a long time to develop. There is lots of trial and error (and many confused looking clients) before you start to build the size of your repertoire to the point where you can quickly change approach when you start to see the confused expressions start to appear on your client’s face. How can this process be fast tracked or combatted in order for you to get the most out of your training or coaching without the extensive experience? Look to what people have in common.
What do I mean by this?
Well something that nearly all people have in common is the ability to feel the difference when the position moves from bad to good. Think of the process we go through with a baby’s development: at first they are only able to lay on their back and flail their arms around but can’t lift their enormous heads off the floor. So what do we do in order to improve their neck and spinal control? We put them on their stomaches (tummy time). This places them in the starting position for the progression to lifting their head, then learning to roll over on their own from their back to their front, then to crawl to squat, to stand to walk then finally run.
Who wouldn’t love to squat like this? Well we all did at one point in our lives.
The baby can’t understand the verbal cues we give them. So what do you? You help them feel
the position, realise its safe, realise they can achieve it and feel what and where they need to focus their attention in order to achieve it on their own. You put them in position with support, then reduce the support, bringing it back and taking it away (so on and so on) as they become increasingly familiar with and strong in the right position.
I’m not saying you need to treat your clients like babies, I’m saying use some the knowledge that we know occurs in the human neuro-developmental processes of physical and skill development of babies and apply it to your adult clients learning new skills.
A classic example is the squat. At some point between the age of 5 and 18 (school) most people completely lose the ability to sit in the bottom position of a squat with an upright torso. Babies and toddlers, even most young children, do it perfectly. Then we sit them in a spinal torture device, aka. the chair, for the next 13+ years of their development and ruin most of the amazing natural postural and movement control they develop during the first 5 years of their lives.
Exercising the brain, while destroying the spine.
So when a 30+ year old desk jockey arrives at the gym looking to get back into shape and you try to teach them how to squat after sitting 8+ hours a day for the last 25+years, chances are they are going to struggle to remember what it should feel like, right?
So when you are stuggling to cue someone into position, save yourself a little verbal diarrhoea and use the various physical tools in your gym to manipulate position. Think things like bands, weights, kettlebells, physio balls etc. These can really help your clients (or yourself) get into a better position and then get used to what it should feel like once you are there. Spend some time in your warm up or prep routine using these tools to assist your position awareness and you will be surprised how quickly you can see improvements.
Try this quick (but not easy) squat patterning exercise to help get the feel of an upright position in the bottom of the squat.
The key for this exercise is to transition from the assisted position (arms out) to the unassisted or less assisted position (arms in close) with as little change in body position as possible. You need to work really hard to maintain the upright torso and lumbar tension that you create with extended arms as you draw them back in and stand up.
Complete 2 x 5-10 reps of each of the 2 variations as part of your warm up. A little word of warning; this is harder than it looks, you don’t need a truck load of weight to be challenged.
As a guide:
– strong male 10-15kg (~25-35lbs) plate or kettlebell
– average male 5-10kg (~10-25lbs) plate or kettlebell
– strong female 8-10kg (~15-25lbs) plate or kettlebell
– average female 5-8kg (10-15lbs) plate or kettlebell