The Coaching Progression

The other day I was working with a new(ish) client, and I was cuing her to get into proper position.  Upon completion of the set, she turned to look at me and said:

“How come you never told me that before?”

And my response was simple:

Because you weren’t ready for that before!

I describe training and coaching as being on a “need to know” basis.  It’s not that you don’t need to know something – that’s not the case at all.

But here’s the dilemma: Let’s say you have no less than 10 things we need to fix for you to properly execute a lunge/split-squat correctly. If I try and tell you every single cue, tip or trick on your first workout, you leave overwhelmed. You feel like a failure.

And let’s be honest, that’s just not fun for anyone!

Instead, we have to focus on one (or maybe two) things to address at each and every training session.  Really dial it in and bring them to your attention, so that the next time you show up, these are a little bit better.

And then we move on to the next issue.

We had a girl who trained at IFAST for several months who had some of the most amazing body awareness I’d ever seen. She was a former dancer, and was currently training for track (where she was an absolute beast).

This girl was fun to train because she picked everything up so quickly. Many times I would simply demonstrate the exercise and she could do it as well (if not better!) than myself with no cuing at all.

Needless to say, I enjoyed training her because she made me look like the best coach ever 🙂

On the other hand, let’s say someone comes to you and their split-squat is atrocious.  You find the biggest issue to address first, and then work your way out from there.  A progression could look something like this:

Day 1 – Don’t fall over – Seriously, just work on balancing in split-stance and not falling over. Maybe put them in a power rack to give them something to grab on to just in case.

Day 2- Improve 90/90 – Now that they are getting their balance down a bit, have them focus on maintaining their 90/90 alignment.  Don’t let them shift their body weight excessively forward or backward – make it a more purely up and down motion.

Day 3 – Stay tall – No more pitching forward – keep the torso upright throughout.

Day 4 – Stomach tight/glutes tight

Day 5 – Pelvic control in transverse plane

And so on and so forth.

Again, if we tried to address all of these issues in one workout, the client would leave overwhelmed and frustrated.  Not to mention the fact that you, as a trainer or coach, would feel like a failure because you couldn’t get them to look perfect immediately.

News flash: Not everyone is going to move perfectly day one!

It’s a process.  If they look a little bit better today than they did yesterday, you did your job.

Keep in mind this isn’t giving you the a-ok to slack off on your coaching, especially if something they are doing is potentially injurious. All I’m saying is that you can’t fix everything in one day.

When coaching your clients moving forward, make it a goal to really fix one or two big things on every exercise in their workout.

At the end of a month, I think you’ll be shocked at how much better your clients are moving and feeling.

All the best


(Lead Photo Courtesy of DrJimiGlide)


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  1. Great post Mike. This article put into words what I have been feeling. Many of us try to be too perfect in our teaching.

  2. Outstanding, Mr Robertson.

    I progress this way, myself, when lifting.

    Even though my form’s perfect, I still try to focus on shoring up something every time.

    It may be pinching a coin with my glutes, keeping my shoulders down and back or keeping my abs tight.

    I hope to one day teach that to my future clients.

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