You Don’t Coach Exercises

A few months ago, I was bored with coaching.

I know, I know – exercise coaching and technique is one of the things I’m well-known for in our industry, but it’s true.

I was bored and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.

I’d assume anyone who does things for an extended period of time needs new challenges, or at the very least, a unique perspective or outlook.

My issue was a few layers deep:

  • I had worked with a lot of people, so I had a fairly good idea of the common compensation patterns and how to fix them.
  • My progressions and regressions were really dialed in, so there wasn’t a lot of creative thought involved in the process. If someone was too good at an exercise, bump them up a progression. If it’s too challenging, bump them down a progression.
  • Lastly, I’d been coaching people of all shapes and sizes for 11 years. Now I’m going to sit here and tell you I know it all or that I can’t get better, but my 11 years was full-on, hardcore immersion into the world of training and coaching. I may not be the best, but I’m pretty darn good at what I do.

At the end of the day, I felt like I could teach just about anyone how to perform the exercises at hand. Whether it was a squat, hip hinge, push-up, core exercise, whatever, I felt like between my coaching systems and my coaching cues that I could get the job done.

The issue was it was becoming incredibly un-fulfilling. I mean, how exciting is it to go in each and every day and just drill home exercise after exercise?

Now don’t get me wrong: Teaching people how to move more efficiently is an amazing thing, and at least part of the issue was my own ADD.

But over the last couple of months, something has fundamentally changed.

We had a slew of young athletes come into IFAST, and middle/high school age athletes are the demographic I’m most passionate about working with. After working with these awesome kids for a few weeks, it finally dawned on me:

You don’t coach exercises; you coach people.

For the past year or two, I was busy plugging away at the mechanical side of coaching, really dialing in the X’s and O’s each and every session.

I’d forgotten about what originally made me successful. More importantly, I’d forgotten why I originally got into this industry in the first place.

To help people.

When I first started out, I had a fairly high degree of success for a young coach.

And this is without all the skills and knowledge that I have today.

Let’s be really open and honest here; when I got started, I didn’t know shit.

I didn’t understand what good technique was, how to deliver a great assessment, and I’m sure my programming was a joke, too.

So how did I get by?

How was I successful?

Because I built amazing relationships with my clients and athletes.

I may not have known everything, but they knew I cared for and believed in them, and I feel that made all the difference in the world.

Think about it from a different perspective. We’ve all seen the trainer out there that has no clue what he’s doing.

He never assesses his clients beyond their body comp and Par-Q form.

His programs are a joke. In fact, you can’t tell the difference between his programs for a 14-year-old kid and the 70-year-old retiree.

And his coaching skills? Let’s not even go there.

Yet this guy is packed, doing session after session every week. How can this be?

Simple: His clients truly believe that he cares, and that he wants them to be successful.

This is where you come in…

There’s a balance here we can’t forget about. Do you need to become the best coach you possibly can?

Do you need to learn as much as possible about assessments, program design, and coaching?

The mechanical skills of coaching?

Yes – without a doubt.

But you can’t forget about the human side of coaching.

The art of coaching.

Don’t overlook the people who you work, the ones that are standing there right before your very eyes.

What makes them different and unique?

How you can help them improve the quality of their lives?

And most importantly, what are they hoping to get out of training with you?

Because again, I can’t say this strongly enough…

At the end of the day, you don’t coach exercises – you coach people.

That subtle shift in mindset has made the last few months the most fun and prolific time in entire my coaching career.

All the best



Leave Comment

  1. I hear you Mike. I lost that fullfilling feeling after 9 years as a trainer. Im still on the journey to discover what im truly here to do.

    Thanks for this post.


  2. Great post. Much like you I have lost that excitement for coaching exercise and have got back to coaching the person. Many years ago before I was a trainer I was a coach for a wrestling team and a youth soccer team. My wrestling team was kids as young as 3 and as old as 16, I was 19 at the time and I loved coaching, it was fulfilling. I am glad I had that experience when I was uneducated with all the S&C knowledge and was able to let my passion dictate my interaction, I feel it helped me become a better Personal Trainer and Strength Coach in the long run.

  3. Great insight, especially about young athletes. That population almost forces you to coach more because they generally come to you with unique issues related to poor posture, below average coordination and (lack of) strength. Plus, the fact that they are constantly changing via puberty means a flux in emotional and physical well-being. If any age group needs the ART of coaching, it is teenagers :).

  4. Thanks Mike,

    This really hit home hard big time! Had to hold back the tear as i was reading this in a public place w/ ppl around!

    There is this one kid who’s totally deficient non movement-stud in my weight room where no one would go near and all they do is shout cues at him from like 20ft away. Obviously that strategy was not a winner at all. Ergo, I decided to take on him as challenge to satisfy the ego/id in transforming him into the so desire movement stud. That was the mechanical technician in me speaking!

    I didn’t expect to strike no conversation at first…but then I just started talking to him and him being the shy, quiet, introvert he is started to respond a bit. I just felt that a trust had formed. Not sure where this will lead to but now i know my job will be a lot easier due to the humane effort.

    This is what I love about your blog. Not just for the training, just that other thing to remind us all “WHY WE DO WHAT WE LOVE”

    And I will be also sharing this w/ my other colleagues as well.

    • Thanks Martin!

      Yeah, it’s often the shy/introverted/quiet kid that needs us the most. They get lost by the wayside, but you can watch these kids literally transform in front of your eyes if you’re willing to take the time and energy necessary to make them great.

      Keep up the good work and keep us posted on your kiddo!


  5. Mike,
    Thanks for that post. It came at the right time for me to bring me back as I was beginning to get lost in exercises & forget the person.


  6. “We’ve all seen the trainer out there that has no clue what he’s doing. He never assesses his clients beyond their body comp and Par-Q form. His programs are a joke. In fact, you can’t tell the difference between his programs for a 14-year-old kid and the 70-year-old retiree. And his coaching skills? Let’s not even go there.”

    So, so true! I just saw this last night, again, at my local gym. The trainer was having his new client perform a single-leg RDL but the client’s upper and lower back kept going into extreme flexion, his knee was caving in horribly, and his heel was coming off the ground. Things got worse as he progressed through his sets, yes, “sets.” Plural. The trainer showed no interest or attempt to regress the client back to a more appropriate exercise or suggest working on mobility and stability in the knees and hips. I have no formal biomechanics training, but it really bugs me when I see something like this happening and, as such, I am not in a position to point this stuff out…

  7. Dear Coach,
    I just wanted to say thank you. I have been reading your website and following you for a few years now and you provide such an outstanding service. You are inspiring to me. I’m very grateful for all the stuff you put out into the community.

  8. Hi Mike,

    I loved this entry for a couple of reasons. I’m a private gym owner, fraut with the trials of maintaining my business. It’s the passion for what I do that keeps me in this race. But the most impotant”do” in what I do, that’s always been the fire in my belly, is my relationships with my clients. Helping them define their goals, and create a new vision for themselves, motivating them toward their small successes, guiding them through their frustations and certainly being there for the ultimate hard earned accomplishments. To me this is it…why I do what I do.

    I always strive to be a better coach. God knows we have an abundance of opportunity for that now a days, webinars, seminars, on-line courses, many claimed experts (glad I found you and my few outstanding mentors) I agree. But if you don’t have the soft skills, that special ability to genuinely connect with all your clients, your doomed.

    Developing a balance between knowledge gain and our enhanced ability to articulate this to our clients between a heartfelt connection for their wellbeing to me really defines outstanding coaching.

Leave a Reply

Back to All Posts