4 Ways I’m Evolving as a Coach


I’m a big believer that there is no such thing as staying neutral.

Either you’re getting better, or you’re worse. Period.

As a coach, I’d like to think my core philosophy is in place. But while the big rocks are pretty firmly placed, there’s a lot of room for evolution and growth.

After all, in our world there is no “final destination.” Instead, we’re constantly on the journey, trying to figure out the most effective ways to make our athletes monsters.

Here are four ways that my training and coaching has evolved in the recent months. I don’t expect any of this to be revolutionary, but I do hope it gets you thinking about your own approach, and what you can do better.

#1 – More Focus on Reaching

I would say one of the biggest shifts or evolutions in my career has been a move away from purely bench pressing and into more reaching exercises.

I cover this in-depth in my Physical Preparation 101 DVD’s, but reaching is critical because it trains the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior is a game-changing muscle because it does a ton of good stuff for us:

  • Upwardly rotates the scapula(e),
  • Helps restore a natural kyphosis to the thoracic spine, and
  • Repositions the rib cage and gets our diaphragm over our pelvis.

As such, reaching has been a huge focus in the programming of my athletes.

The biggest reason I include reaching exercises is to give my athletes their abs back.

We know that many of our athletes have incredibly strong lower backs – so strong, in fact, that they overpower the abdominals.

And when we lose our abs, we effectively lose control of our rib cage, pelvis, and lower back.

To remedy this, incorporate more reaching into your programming. I use it in basic exercises (i.e. push-ups, landmine presses, ab work, etc.) but also tie it into lower body sessions as well (plate squats, reaching split-squats and Bulgarian split-squats, etc.).

In no way, shape or form am I telling you not to bench press, or that bench pressing is bad. However, it wouldn’t kill you to get some more reaching exercises into your programs.

I guarantee your athletes will be stronger and healthier to boot.

#2 – Hacking the Split-Squat

If you’ve watched any of my videos over the years, you know I’m a huge fan of split-squats.

In fact, the 90-90 split squat video (featured below) is one of my most popular coaching videos to date.

But just because something works well doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that it can’t be better.

Nowadays, I will start most people in a 90-90 position and then have them dorsiflex the front ankle slightly so they can feel their whole foot.

Feeling the whole foot allows my athletes to “push,” which keeps their pelvis underneath them and allows them to extend the hip and knee simultaneously.

I’m also less anal about someone staying in that 90-90 position. After watching enough people struggle in this position, it’s obvious that some don’t have the hip flexor length on the trailing leg to get into this position effectively.

Others struggle with the ability to separate their hips – i.e. to flex one hip while extending the other.

And finally, those who live in sway back will do anything in their power to get into a swayback posture!

To remedy this, I will simply narrow their base of support front-t0-back, or even allow a bit more torso lean.

However, when the torso is angled I still like to keep the back leg in-line with the torso. This way we’re still getting hip flexor lengthening along the way.

At the end of the day, I still think the split-squats are one of the best exercises you can perform. However, instead of rigidly putting each and every athlete into a fixed position, I’m working harder to make this awesome exercise work for them, versus against them.

#3 – Less “Programmed” Work

When we’re first learning about program design, we labor over the perfect set-rep scheme.

Four sets of six?

Five sets of five?

Six sets of four?

And the same goes for energy system training – how do you know when enough is enough?

Or that you’ve given adequate stimulus that will give you the adaptation that you’re looking for?

I’ve evolved a lot in this regard lately, giving fewer and fewer “prescribed” workouts. Instead, I know what I want to accomplish and base the training session around that goal, along with the current state (and physiological response) of the athlete.

For strength training, many of our workouts are based around the freshness of the athlete, and the RPE I want them to work up to for the day.

RPE works well in our setting, as I typically have a more private clientele and I can grow a strong relationship (and high degree of trust) with my athletes.

In the future, however, I’d love to get a Tendo or GymAware to back up what I’m seeing with a little more objectivity.

With regards to energy system training, my current focus is basing everything off of heart rate.

Instead of programming 10 sets of explosive repeats, we’ll go based of their heart response to the training session. Somedays it may be six or seven rounds, while on others it may be 12 or 15.

By training in this fashion, we have immediate feedback on how the athlete is responding to our training, and make sure to give the optimal “dose” of exercise.

#4 – Dialing in Center of Gravity

The more I think about our role as physical preparation coaches, the more I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our athletes is truly understanding their center of gravity.

Too often, you see athletes in the gym and they’re all over their place.

On squat variations, they’re up on their toes.

On deadlift variations, they’re falling back on their heels.

And on their split-stance and single-leg work, their foot is simply all over the place!

I think one of my key roles as a coach is to give my athletes the ability to understand their center of gravity, as well as to load it efficiently and effectively.

(The above comment is instructive – and the second part is a lot harder than it may seem!)

As I’ve gotten better and better at this, it’s been scary to see the changes in my athletes. All of a sudden they’re getting faster, stronger and more explosive than ever before.

And while all of that is fine and dandy, I think the most important thing is that I’m building an incredibly resilient athlete along the way – one that is far less likely to breakdown.

Regardless of the exercise, have your athletes work to feel their entire foot throughout. I guarantee this is going to make a huge difference in their training.


So there you have it – four things I’m doing to evolve my training and coaching.

What about you? What are you working on, changing or evolving to make yourself better?

I look forward to your comments below!

All the best



Leave Comment

  1. Hi Mike,
    i follow more or less a similar strategy with my clients, plus i like to include more breathing pattern awarenesss

    BO de la Haye

    • Can’t go wrong here. If you like breathing stuff check out Lucy Hendrick’s – she’s got some good breathing info

  2. All 4 are good of course but your on the money with point one. I remember ( maybe it was you) that women need more upward rotation of their scapula. I’ve always remember that. I need to put more reaching exercises into my programs.

    I’m with Bo, I like to start with breathing and getting my clients in neutral.

    I’ve found that less is more and to keep my programs simple, straightforward so clients understand what is required of them.

    • Great stuff Shane. And as I mentioned above, paring down and simplifying is a sign of coaching sophistication. Keep it up!

  3. 1 I’ve really been trying to pare down my exercise selection in my workouts for clients. They love variety and I love coming up with plans that hit every movement and challenge them in every different plane of motion but realize you just can’t do it, at least in one workout.

    2 I’ve also set aside a few minutes of most workouts to teach everyone some aspect of movement. Whether it’s perfecting KB Swings. breathing and bracing in positions or reaching at the top of a push up. They like to feel like they now know more than most people and it is far less coaching for me during the actual workout.

    3 Also reading your blog Mike!

    • 1 – Smart move here. I think every coach goes through this, and paring down is a sign of sophistication.

      2 – LOVE this. Great idea!

      3 – And of course, you can’t go wrong with this 🙂

      Thanks Jake!

  4. https://robertsontrainingsystems.com/blog/back-on-track/
    December, 2008

    “Always keep the chest up when lifting. This is extremely important in all lifts if you care about your low back health. Whenever you lift, always work to elevate your rib cage and keep your chest up.”

    (What the heck, is this going to be some kind of nasty critique? Heck no! No, not at all.)

    Mike, oddly enough I wandered back to your page after doing a search on “sternum pull ups”, which led me to one of the pics in this 2008 article, which led me to re-read this article, and then to check back in to your main page.

    I took 6-months off from reading all S&C media to preserve my tenuous grasp on sanity. Because it starts to mess with your reality. Things that you “know”, from reading as nauseum over and over, within a few short years become upended, and now common sense becomes uncommon sense. There are so many “hot takes” from respectable sorts that one starts to become an overthinking, catatonic, indecisive wreck.

    Eventually, folks seem to just find one camp or another: Rippetoe, Pavel, Westside, Starrett, Boyle, Cressey, etc. You are one of the few that I ever read, that is humble enough to UPFRONT say, “We got this wrong….I got this wrong.. I’m learning more all the time.” I always have appreciated how you have acknowledged where you may have gone astray, as when you revised your push up cues, and the spinal hyperextension cues, etc.

    Others will obfuscate until the cows come home to cover their positions.

    Mike, without a doubt, you are one of the smartest, yet humble and honest guys, that I’ve followed.

    Thank you for that, Mike.

    I always consider this: What will change in the next 8-years? And will somebody possibly be saying that right now, but be disregarded. Yes, and yes.

  5. Hey Mike

    Excellent article. I’ve revisited this article many times and always pick up on something new. In regards to point #2, how are you cuing athletes into more of a torso lean as I see them in the “swayback posture” in the starting position and when finished at lockout.

    Thank you Mike

Leave a Reply

Back to All Posts