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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Individualizing a Standardized Industry Part 2: Be a Better Coach

Being a trainer is an interesting job. You work directly with poeople who pay you significant money for your services. Your services are never EXACTLY the same for each client.

Some people need more guidance and motivation. Others need the science, while some hate to hear it. Some clients have great movement patterns from years of sports and only need tweaking, and other clients look like one bad move from blowing a spinal disc on every move.

No matter what the situation is you need to do the big 3! Be a Friend, Be a coach, and Be a trainer.

Last week I took the time to explain what I mean by being a friend. If you didn't catch it you can read it here !

Now it is time to discuss part 2. Being a Better Coach

Coaching is a maliable profession. There is no ONE correct way to coach.

Do you have a system in place like Phil Jackson did for so many years and ensure you have the pieces in place to run it? It sure as hell worked for him seeing as he won multiple championships with Michael and Kobe!


He's Always Watching

Do you scream and yell and get people fired up and make them willing to rush into the battlefield and "die" for you because they believe in the cause? It worked for Braveheart (movie I know, but it is a great example of "pit-fire" coaching).

Do you let your players sort of do their thing and be there to organize, decision-make, and install specifics? Hands-off if you will. Many baseball managers are like this. They let their players do their own thing in terms of prep and skill development, but are always ready to make decisions when the time comes. Organize and watch! My boy Buck Showalter does it for the Orioles. (P.S. Orioles are having a magical year and I love it).

All of these deal with sports and movies, so how do we coach as a trainer?

Well...sticking with theme of the whole thing...we individualize. Each athlete, client, or group is going to have a different response to different styles. Some people like getting yelled at a little, or appreciate a stern voice. Some need you to stay light hearted and fun in order to stay committed to skill development. Regardless of the disposition it is on us as trainers to sense this, adapt to it, and create an environment for success!

Yet, there is one thing you MUST do regardless. You NEED TO BE A MASTER OF YOUR CRAFT.

This comes from doing, studying, and observing as much as possible. This means coaching as much as possible too!

For example, your client is doing deadlifts. You've never done deadlifts, but read about em' once in a book that you studying for your certification. You have a friend who does it, and you generally understand that you shouldn't use your lower back, and that you should lift with your legs.....

Does this mean you are ready to effectively coach a deadlift? Hell No! You are about as prepared as a hungover college kid for finals. Sure, you know some stuff...but you aren't ready for the real thing, and your certainly not on top of your game!

You should know:

1. Chest drives up first, aids in keeping back flat and glutes engaged

2. Set-up is everything, too far/too close, too far down, bad angles....

3. Push the floor like a squat, hinge like a KB swing at the finish.

This article isn't about the deadlift though, but those are things that a good coach knows when teaching the deadlift. They come from spending time doing it yourself, studying various experts, coaching friends, and playing with your cues over and over to find the ones that signal the result you want!

Simply put, you can not expect your athletes and clients to get the results desired by all parties involved unless you know what the hell you are talking about. Don't give nutrition advice to a client if you only know half of the equation. Don't blindly recommend cardio to your clients as an off day workout if you don't know how it fits their program....

Only do what you are good at, and if you aren't good at something you should be...then take the time to become great. It is often said that Arnold hated his calves and felt like they were his weakest area back when he was doing bodybuilding. He worked week-in-week-out on them and they ended up shining above his competition. Sometimes our worst aspect becomes our best when we apply the right amount of effort!


Well Done Sir, well done!

So there is that! Do the minimum that is expect of you and always be prepared! Let's move on from the obvious now...

3 Ways YOU can be a Better Coach in 30 Days!

1. Develop your cues. Have lots of them.

Cues are a trainers way of teaching. The same way a teacher sounds out vowels and words for children is the same way that we communicate with our clients. Break movements down to their parts, be short, concise and on point.

A good cue tells a client to do something. For example, when coaching squats a trainer may say: Push your hips back and keep your chest up.

A GREAT cue would be telling the client to sit on an imaginary chair that is placed about 6 inches behind them, or keep their chest up like they are squatting in an elevator. These cues may sound odd, but they've worked for me in the past. They paint pictures for the trainee, instead of just telling them what to do.

Many individuals do not have great awareness of their bodies. They don't understand how to "push" their hips back when you tell them to do so. They don't always get what you mean when you say pinch your scapula. Yet, when you say pinch that peanut between your shoulder blades...they get it!

Lastly, cues are like magic tricks. Throw em all out there with a client and see what works best for them. Some people respond to card tricks, and others want rabbits out of hats. Whatever the client needs is what they GET!

Build your cues, use your cues, hone in which ones work best, and never be afraid to "paint pictures".

2. Know something about everything (Generalize)

When I started training I'd dog anything I didn't understand very well, because clearly, I wanted my clients to think my product was the best. I wasn't decieving my clients, but I wasn't being informative either because I didn't know the right answers.

I picked on yoga, pilates, high rep lifts, etc. I didn't know enough about them to support them. Needless to say...this isn't a great way to be a trainer.

As I've grown I've learned to know enough about everything so that my clients can gain a fully rounded training protocol. I have utilized elements of pilates in sessions recently to help clients gain control over their transverse abdominals. I have used a miniture yoga flow as a stretching routine at the end of my group classes. I've incorporated olympic lifts, power lifts (singles/doubles/triples) and crazy high rep burn outs on myself and my clients.

Why? Because that is what we need to do. As trainers we need to be able to have a wide array of knowledge that we can pull on to ensure that our clients are always progressing. Sometimes a lift isn't progressing the way you want it to because smaller muscles aren't doing their job, or that client doesn't have proper mobility.

Now, SCOPE of Practice. This still matters. Do not claim to be a Yoga instructor if you've only taken one class, or speak beyond your qualifications. I, for one, am a Olympic Lifting Coach. I am certified by USAW to do so. I am safe when I state that I can coach the olympic lifts safely, effectively, and progressively. I have taken two pilates classes recently. Therefore, I can not claim to be a Pilates instructor or have a high level of knowledge on the subject.

Generalization is scary in today's world because the world wants you to be the best at something (which you still can be), but that doesn't mean you shut it down and don't worry about the other things that can make you an amazing coach.

3. Know everything about something (Specialize)

To the contrary, you should be an expert at something. Eric Cressey is a master of shoulders and baseball players. Bret Conteras is the Sir-Mix-Alot of training; he knows glutes inside and out. Guys like David Jack are amazing motivators and have a talent for getting more out of you by igniting your spirt.

The list goes on...

While it is critical to make sure you know a little something about everything (see above), it is almost more critical that you are known for knowing something well!

Whether it is a modality such as yoga, pilates, running, lifting, or resistance bands, or simply being great at teaching a squat, or a deadlift. Maybe you have an uncanny knowledge of the hip chain and are really good at correcting postural imbalances in the region.

Whatever your speciality is...specialize in it. Know everything there is to know and become the greatest in your gym at it, then your state, the nation...and eventually the world (if you so choose).

If you do not know what your speciality is, or could be, then simply think about what you are most passionate about teaching. Personally, I love teaching the major four barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press). I love showing people, especially women, that moving that barbell correctly can make you strong, and strong-looking! I'm no where near "expertise" in the area, but I will say that I constantly work and strive to be better in all four lifts!

Needless to say, you need to be known for something. As a coach you need to be known for being great at something. Look at mainstream sports. Some guys fail as head coaches, but immediately get hired to other positions with other teams because they are one of the best at what they do. (Gary Kubiak of the Ravens makes a great example!).


Being a great trainer means being a great coach. Your job is to get the most out of your athlete, or client and pave the road for them to run, walk, or crawl. Cues, broad knowledge, and a damn fine speciality can set you a part from your competition and ensure your clients are constantly satisfied by your service.

This was part 2 of my 3 part series. Remember, first you need to be their friend, then you need to be their coach, and next week we will discuss being their trainer (what does that even mean?)



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