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  • Writer's pictureKevin Mullins

Coaching Excellence: Simplicity is Consistency

Anyone who has ever spent time trying to recreate a recipe has at one time or another muttered to themselves, “Damn, this doesn’t look/taste/smell right.” It could be your grandmother's famous soup, your first Thanksgiving turkey, or trying to recreate a delicious plate from a five-star restaurant for half the price at home - the result isn't matching the intention because of the increased complexity of the process.

Now, throwing together some mac and cheese from a box, or baking a few lightly seasoned chicken breasts; just about anyone with a functioning brain and a kitchen can do that. The simplicity of the intention and process does not fog the pathway to the desired result.

In the first example, there is a noted desire to create, or in this case, cook something special that matches a memory or experience that was enjoyable. The reason a particular meal stood out in your brain, and to your taste buds, is due to the increased complexity of the recipe and cooking instructions. Moreover, an increase in variability in the products used to create the meal, such as the stock for a soup, or the freshness of the herbs in a blend - makes it harder for even a trained chef to repeat a taste profile.

Thus, no matter how much you care, or how hard you try, it is significantly harder to recreate such an intricate dining experience. You may only try this complex of a recipe once in a blue moon.

In the second example, you'll find a lack of emphasis. Maybe you just really want some mac and cheese, or maybe you don't give a damn what your chicken tastes like; you just need your protein and it takes thirty minutes at three-hundredish degrees to get some.

There is no process to follow except the simple instructions to boil water and add pasta, or put the chicken in the oven long enough it doesn't poison you. There are no expectations of grandeur; just a simple motivation to eat food.

Thus, no matter how much you don't care, or how little you pay attention, it is significantly harder to screw up such a bachelor-like dining experience. You could cook like this every dern night.

OK, you are thinking, enough with the analogy - what is your point?

The point is this:

"It is imperative to keep the processes you employ simple and repeatable to ensure consistency."

Whether you are training clients, giving advice to a loved one, or even pushing yourself to actualize a healthier lifestyle - Don't sign up to climb a mountain when you've never seen the top of a hill. There is no sense providing the recipe to the greatest dish in history when the cook in question has never cooked a three course meal.

Coaching Programs

Often times clients will ask for things to do on their own, homework if you will. As a coach it can be incredibly tempting to design them a program with all of the appropriate exercises and necessary volume to elicit the changes they seek. Every set and repetition can be scrutinized repeatedly until you settle on the "perfect" plan.

Once the client is in charge of that plan, however, how likely are they to create the sort of result that you intended? More likely than not they will butcher form, skip the things they don't understand, or waste time texting and finding their favorite song.. Sure, there are those studs that work out alone with the same quality as they do with you, but they are incredibly rare.

Thus, a "perfect" plan goes to complete waste because the trainee is incapable of mirroring the expectations. Sure, there will be sweat and possibly some sore muscles, but more likely than not no real progress was made. The proverbial needle did not move.

A great coach will understand the gap between what their client can perform when under their watch, and what that same person can probably do on their own. This coach will question themselves, the client, and the program with equal intention.

  • Do they understand the exercises?

  • Can they do 'X' exercise safely?

  • Do they ENJOY working out, or do they just do it because they have to?

  • Do they push themselves or tend to slack?

  • Hell, do they even know what a dumbbell is at this point?

  • Do I want them to do this exercise because I want them to, or is it best for them, now?

Over programming exercises or putting together complex repetition/set schemes does more to inhibit this client's progress than it does to benefit it. Like a recipe in a kitchen this complex plan can not be repeated easily.

Simplicity, then, is the best method to improve a client's performance when doing their own workouts. There are so many ways, all dependent upon a client's abilities and goals, that a coach can better program "off-days".

  • Removing a compound lift from the program and focusing on accessory work is one option a coach could do.

  • Emphasizing mobility, stretching, and cardiovascular work

  • Keeping sets simple, and utilizing visual cues to emphasize HOW they should feel

  • Forgetting the gym altogether and putting something together that can be done anywhere.


Personal Note:

I've recently had a client come back to after her first pregnancy. She still has time away from work, but a newborn baby doesn't exactly allow for two hours of personal gym time. Instead of prescribing her a complex workout that will absolutely drop the weight and get her feeling great - I gave her my "Nappy-Kitchen" workout.

What is it?

It is all the moves she could do in a kitchen, quickly, with body weight in those beautiful moments that the baby sleeps peacefully. She can still see her daughter, but will be able to elevate her HR, burn some calories, and feel better. That's a freaking WIN.


Coaching an Exercise

As a coach you can also make the mistake of being a bit too complex in the way you teach a particular exercise. A client might barely understand a hip hinge, but you are talking about dialing in your feet, taking the tension from the bar, and breathing dynamics. All of these points are valid coaching cues, and are necessary at some point to excel at a deadlift. However, are you coaching simple enough for them to make progress - today?

One Step at a TIme - with minimum distraction

If you keep your cueing simple - knees out, tall spine, big chest, push the floor away - then, you'll see a quick growth in ability, and a consistent application of quality effort. At this point you can think about layering in the advanced cues.

But keep it simple silly!

Coaching Nutrition

Similarly, with diets - are you prescribing your clients to eat specific macros right off the bat? Are they counting carbs, and fasting, and doing paleo/atkins/dietoftheweek?

Or, can you simply coach them to make one improvement a week. Eat more vegetables, make sure every meal has protein, and avoid alcohol in non-social situations are great stepping stones for those who may struggle with the particular focus.

If you keep your tasks simple, then a client doesn't feel overwhelmed. They won't feel like a failure for not meeting your ridiculous standards. They'll lock in on a few specific things and make sure they crush that shit like a 3-1 fast ball.

They'll do their best when they can consistently focus on something simple!

Wrapping it UP

This post could have easily ran on for a bunch of non-essential words to only further validate the position of the text. I could have used more illustrations, or gave more personal examples. However, what point is there in writing a post about simplicity if I'm not going to keep it simple myself?

A coaches goal is not to make a client perfect. It is to properly progress a program in a way that is appropriate for that individual. For most clients that progression will be simple. One step in the right direction. You don't need to try and run a marathon when you haven't even tied your shoes.

A great coach understands that it is a long process to get a client to achieve a specific training goal, no matter what it may be. Therefore, it is the small stepping stones - and not the whole path that deserves the most focus. Keeping a program, or a cue, or a dietary intervention simple is going to lead to consistent progress for that client, and a consistent stream of business for you as a trainer.


Keep Reading with Kevin's book - Day by Day: The Personal Trainer's Blueprint

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