4 Steps to Effectively Coaching Exercises

One of the most important things we do at IFAST is teach.

It goes further than just teaching our clients; we’re convinced that teaching our interns and starting them on the path to becoming a great coach is part of what makes us great at what we do.

A few weeks back, I was grilling our current crop of interns on the various soft-tissue, mobility, and acute corrective exercises we use. One common mistake they made was failing to properly introduce a new exercise.

When coaching new exercises, I think it’s imperative to follow a four-step process.

  • Step #1 – Name the Exercise
  • Step #2 – Describe the “Why”
  • Step #3 – Show It
  • Step #4 – Coach It

Let’s examine each of these points, along with why each one is critical.

Step #1 – Name the Exercise

The first thing you should do when introducing a new exercise is to tell them the name of the exercise. If you have a typed or written program, pointing to the name while saying it will really help the visual learners in your gym.

This part is pretty simple, but telling them the name (and showing it to them, if possible) will help them remember the exercise in the future.

Step #2 – Describe the “Why”

This may be the most important part of our equation. Furthermore, this is a critical component of the selling process.

(Keep in mind whether you’re selling your services in a gym or selling your program to athletes at your school, this always applies – you’re always selling).

When you write a program for a client, each and every component of said program should have a rationale behind it. You don’t just randomly pick exercises, sets and reps, tempos, etc.

Instead, every component of your clients’ program has reasoning behind it, and it’s your job to explain how this specific exercise will help them achieve their goals.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t always need to be incredibly in-depth or technical. 98% of your clients don’t care about their psoas, thoracolumbar fascia, or lateral pterygoid!

Instead, they want to know why those muscles in the front of the hips are causing their back pain, or why they shouldn’t stretch the big muscles on the back of their thighs.

Describing the “why” in a down-to-earth and easy to understand fashion is a critical component to your success. I firmly believe the more you coach and educate your clients, the more they will trust and respect you!

Step #3 – Show It

Once you’ve named the exercise and explained why it’s important, the next step is for you to physically perform the exercise for them.

This is where you need some modicum of exercise proficiency yourself!

If you work with an elite or professional athlete, you may not need to perform the exercise with the same amount of load, but you need to be able to demonstrate the exercise correctly and with solid technique.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years back with Carolina Panthers strength coach Joe Kenn. He told me that his goal was to be able to power clean, front squat and back squat 135 until he was 60 years old, because that would keep him in the game and show his athletes he could still walk the walk.

After demonstrating the exercise, you need to highlight a few of the key points or things to focus on as well. The goal isn’t to overwhelm them or give the 101 things to think about. Instead, give them a few big focal points, and then let them give it a shot.

Step #4 – Coach It

You’ve name the exercise, you’ve stated why it’s important, and you’ve demonstrated it.

All that’s left is actually watching them and coaching them on the lift!

I like to focus on one or two big cues per set. Obviously, if they are doing something that is blatantly injurious, that’s the first thing you need to fix! The last thing you want is someone getting injured on your watch.

A big issue I’ll often notice with interns once they start to “see” what’s going on is overwhelming the client with cues, like:

  • “Your right foot is turned out 2 degrees too far,”
  • “There’s the slightest hint of hyperextension in your lumbar spine,”
  • “Your neck is 3.73 millimeters away from neutral,”

and so on. Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but not by that much. 🙂

It may help to think of coaching exercises as a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the big-ticket items that absolutely must be correct in order for them to execute the exercise correctly.

These are the things you want to focus on and address first and foremost.

From there, as your client improves the quality of their movement and technical proficiency, you work your way up the pyramid and you start to fine-tune the little things you want to address.

But if you try and build the entire pyramid at once without prioritizing, you’ll not only overwhelm the client, but you’ll reduce their likelihood of success as well.


Coaching new exercises is something that we do as coaches and trainers every single day.

If you’re not already using the method outlined above (or one similar to it), give it a shot for the next 3-4 weeks. I think your clients and athletes will really like this streamlined approach to coaching!

All the best,



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  1. As always your information is great and very succinct. Any coaching cues for a new trainer would be much appreciated. I have been a follower of yours for years and finaly decided to leave the corporate world and follow my passion. Your new mentoring program looks very intriguing. By the way you can tell Joe Kenn that I am 65 and I can do all of those lifts -probabaly not in the same training session but I can still do them.

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