A Quick Coaching Rant

“Exercise X is hard to coach.”

“I don’t have time to coach Exercise Y.”

It’s strange – the more I read about coaching, the less actual coaching seems to be going on!

Depending on what websites, blogs or forums you frequent, any of the following could be on the list:

  • Back squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Olympic lifts
  • Bench pressing
  • Overhead pressing
  • Bent-over rows
  • And a host of other exericses.

Take a moment and review that list.

Doesn’t that list constitute a TON of fantastic exercises, that can help virtually anyone achieve their goals?

I don’t care if you want to build muscle, lose fat, or get stronger, those exercises are basic, foundational movement patterns.

Why aren’t we coaching them more, versus less?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve been doing this long enough to be pragmatic in my approach. Most people aren’t going to start off, Day 1, performing back squats, bent-over rows, and heavy conventional deadlifts.

But over time, using an intelligent progression, and while working to address any dysfunctions they might have, doesn’t it make sense to get them to a point where they could do these exercises if they choose to do so?

Rather than simply ranting, let’s figure out why some people say this.  There are a few issues here, if you ask me:

  1. The goal of the trainer is simply to maximize cash. Load up as many people as you can per session, pick the lowest common denominator exercise, and have at it. I’m not here to judge – I’m simply noting that this is how some people choose to do business, putting their bottom line in front of the well-being of their clients.
  2. The coach/trainer at hand simply can’t effectively coach the exercise, or doesn’t have the coaching toolbox necessary to make it look good. After all, if you don’t have the skill set to coach the Olympic lifts, you’re going to find reasons to not include them, right?
  3. The coach/trainer doesn’t believe that this is an appropriate exercise, or doesn’t feel it’s appropriate from a cost:benefit ratio. Of course this is the great debate – what’s a great and fantastic exercise for one client is Kryptonite for another.
  4. The coach/trainer is flat-out lazy. And yes, I have seen this plenty of times. Why actually work? I’d rather tell you about my weekend and discuss the last episode of Oprah.

So when it comes down to it, it’s not that you don’t have time – you have the same amount of time that any of us do. Think about the deeper-seeded reasons you choose not to use a lift, versus simply using time as an excuse.

But please, stop saying that coaching a specific exercise is too difficult.

Are certain exercises more challenging to coach than others? Sure.

Are certain exercises beyond the scope of what certain clients need? Absolutely.

But with time and dedication, it’s amazing what your clients and athletes can do if you take the time and effort to actually coach them.

Stay strong and coach well



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  1. Couldn’t agree more, Mike. I actually ranted about something similar in my latest (yet to be released) t-nation article. It seems a lot of trainers are there to collect money rather than actually coach.

    Now, speaking personally – I don’t have a lot of experience with the OLY lifts, hence I wouldn’t feel comfortable coaching them. BUT, like you, I’m still flabbergasted (yes, I just used the word flabbergasted) that there are a lot of trainers out there who feel coaching a proper squat pattern is beneath them. Fuckers!

  2. Great post, Mike. This is one of the reasons I prefer to work one-on-one with clients, and no more than two at a time.

    It may sacrifice the amount of money I make, but I know I can provide full attention and the best coaching when I only have one or two people to work with at one time. I’ve trained three people at once, and I just felt the quality of coaching each person received was minimized, so now I train no more than two people at once.

    I’ve seen it dozens of times at commercial gyms – some “coach” leading a boot camp with people doing bat-shit crazy exercises with terrible form. All the “coach” has to do is say, “you’re doing great, keep it up” and walk around the room.

    Thanks again, Mike, for your insights. You’re truly an amazing coach. : )

  3. Why ANYONE should be making ANY excuses when a guy like the one pictured above is doing things like that is beyond me. Certified badass.

  4. I’d say it’s primarily #2 – ignorance. Not many people know the fundamentals of coaching any of those lifts that you listed. Hell, they probably can’t even perform most of them on their own. They ARE the toughest lifts to learn and teach. They’re also lifts that have huge benefits… if you do them right. If you do them wrong, they have the potential to F#CK SH#T UP. I’ve spent years trying to learn them, coach them, and eat/sleep/drink them. I’ve studied and tried to learn from the best (Cressey, yourself, Rippitoe, The guys/gals over at EliteFts, Greg Everet) and still I find it’s a neverending path of learning, practicing and more learning.

    Spread the knowledge. Keep it coming. Maybe go over to that guy that is on his 15th set of POWER LEG EXTENSIONS and ask him to join in on your deadlift workout.

    Kudos to the lifter in the photo! I love seeing people who use their body to it’s fullest potential no mater what.

  5. Great post Mike!

    I actually heard one of the personal trainers at the gym say that he didn’t like the deadlift and said that a back-raise would give more strength and muscle mass……
    Yep, it’s true!

  6. Nice point Mike.

    I used to see trainers work with people for years and never coach any serious lift at all….and the thing that drove me crazy is that they would have tons of clients.

    I figure they just attracted the people that didn’t really want to train seriously…the people who wanted a someone to talk to for an hour or so rather than actually be challenged.

    Take care!

  7. I’m a throws coach (shotput/discus/hammer) and I was talking to another coach and he refuses to teach O-lifts. His rationale was that learning the throws is complicated and so are O-lifts with all the technical work something is going to give which leads to injuries. I looked at him oddly and just ignored him I knew there was no changing his mind.

    He’s an advocate for power lifting, which is great but they require technical work too. Like you said, don’t teach snatch, cleans, squats and dead lifts all in one day but over the course of 4 years these should be commonly understood lifts.

  8. Awesome article, couldn’t agree more. It’s pieces like these that keep me motivated to work a bit harder than other trainers and put the effort in to teach these movements.

    Thanks Mike!

  9. Good post sir.

    And to make sure that I stimulate additional comments I will say something polarizing – I don’t like O-lifts…

    Well, personally I enjoy them, but at my gym its hard to justify them with fat-loss clients (99% of members). If you have 2-3hrs/wk to workout and you have a dress that doesn’t fit, I don’t have the time to teach you.

  10. I’m 57 years of age, a software implementation specialist, and planing to become a CPT. As a “boomer,” I know there is a need for training and rehab in my age group. Your rant is justified, and I can tell you my age group will not stand for lazy, dollar driven trainers. I’ve been in gyms where I was blown off when asking questions. (Treat me poorly, yet you want me to hire you? Hmmmm.) I’m no longer lean and mean, but I can still bring it (within reason). I look forward to working with professionals of any age. For all we know, there is much to learn.

    • Michael, I totally understand your point, however if you think about it you can’t be lazy and dollar-driven. (Well, not if you are intelligent.)

      You can be lazy and be thinking about money, but you can’t be lazy and get money (well, not for very long unless you are very lucky). Those people are greedy – want something for almost nothing.

      The people who work the hardest to be the best – like Mike Robertson, are the folks who’ll get the dollars.

      By the way, I work with a lot of folks in your age group and I think you (and your clients) would get tremendous value out of an FMS certification (I & II).

  11. Nice post Mike! I’ve even heard number 2 from some pretty well known folks in the industry. With the amount of info that is readily available to them, I just don’t understand. Maybe they’re just not humble enough to go seek help from others?

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