The Best Coaches Teach Fundamentals

As a trainer and coach I tend to read a lot of stuff written by other successful trainers and coaches in order to try to make me better at my job.  Throughout the years there has been one main theme I have seen that I thought I’d point out to the rest of you, trainers and potential clients alike.

Newer trainers and coaches tend to think they need to reinvent the wheel in order to make themselves more marketable or stand out among the crowd.  They try whatever the latest fad trend is with the hopes that it will cause the client to be impressed.  Eventually (with any luck) they realize that a coach is only as good as their results.  Doing something showy and flashy in order to create a temporary response is usually a sales tactic – anyone can push someone really hard, as I wrote about previously HERE.

This means whatever the client goal is they need to be working towards it and making constant improvement.  For my strength clients, this is being able to generate more force or move more weight.  For my running clients it is being able to run greater distances, faster or both.  If you coach a sports team, then they should be increasing their skill levels at whatever position they are performing in and also hopefully using that to win games.

So what is the key?  Throughout history of successful coaching, it really comes down to one word:  fundamentals.

Successful coaches can make people better at things that they should already be doing well.  For a strength coach, this can mean the basic lifts like squatting, deadlifting, pulling and pressing.  For an athletic coach this can mean things like power, agility and coordination.  For my runners, it means being more efficient with every foot strike, which in some cases means starting over again at the beginning.

Throughout the sports world, high level athletes will tell you that they spend hours upon hours practicing fundamentals.  Basketball players practice foul shots.  Cyclists ride their bikes for hours a day.  Swimmers swim lots of laps.  Baseball players take batting practice daily for hours.  Often this has no major goal beyond building the fundamental mechanics or strength they need in order to improve.

weighlifting meme

Just two months ago I started working with a post surgery client who had recovered but had shin splints daily.  When her basic walking gait was corrected and she started to use the proper muscles again the shin splints disappeared.  The same thing tends to happen for back issues when the person learns how to deadlift and squat properly.  Some trainers would call this “correcting an imbalance”.  I’d rather call re-educating the client (and their tissue) on something they already know how to do.

Your body is a very smart thing.  It learns based on the input it is given.  As I always say, crappy information IN means that you will generally get crappy information OUT.  If you overwhelm your nervous system from the get go it doesn’t have a chance to adapt and make improvement.  This means spending weeks (for some people) practicing simple things until they have them down.

So what are the fundamentals?  Well, it really depends on the person.  For some people, walking properly is hard enough.  Throw in a few activities of daily living like sitting down, picking things up and climbing stairs and they might be done.  I’ve had to reteach these things to hundreds of people over the years, and more often than not when they are practiced and put into place little painful issues tend to resolve very quickly.  Same with high level performers.  Often with my athletes they simply need to be coached on how to perform a movement they have forgotten how to do properly.  This can be as simple as a squat (for a powerlifter) or as complex as an ankle mobility movement for a soccer or football player.

Most movements can be broken down into basic primal movement patterns, which is echoed by both movement gurus and athletic trainers alike.  Deadlifting.  Pushing and pulling.  Spinal flexion, extension and rotation.  This is generally what 95% of my clients start with, even if it is completely de-progressed like a basic box squat within a range of motion their hips, knees and ankles can perform at without deviation.

In fact if you’re a reader of fitness magazines, you can see this plain as day.  Any program that tells you how to get a BIG LEGS has a squat in it.  BIG CHEST means lots of bench pressing.  Not a one armed dumbbell press on a Swiss Ball.  Stick to fundamentals and you are guaranteed to see progress.  Another of my mantras is that you EARN THE RIGHT TO DO MORE.  This means if you can’t do something basic you have no business doing a progressed version of it.  Most high level coaches adhere to this.

If you have run into a coach or trainer who tells you that you need to perform some sort of elaborate system in order to improve a simple movement, maybe you should think twice.  There’s a time and a place for breaking down movements to isolate weak points, but it should not be the primary focus of any workout.  There always needs to be a goal, and in my opinion that goal should be centered around the fundamentals.

So the next time you read about some amazing NEW system that is going to explode your gainz please put down whatever article you’re reading (unless it’s mine) and go deadlift.  Or do some pullups.  It’s probably what any decent coach would tell you to go and do anyway.

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