The fitness industry is a hot market right now and there are a ton of new coaches entering into the field.
While I think this is great, it’s important that fitness coaches understand the impact and influence they have on lives of the people that will be under their care.
We deal with people, and if you want to be in the industry for a long time, there will be many people. I don’t know about you but I do not take that responsibility lightly.
I want to make sure every client or athlete under my care has an amazing experience while also maximizing their results and outcomes. I want this so I can affect positive change in the area of health and performance in the lives of as many individuals as I can.
Also, if you want a successful business, client retention is absolutely key and the only way to achieve this is to maximize results and experience.
My goal for this blog post is to introduce you to the x’s and o’s outside of exercise science that will help you become a better coach for your next session. Now let’s get to it.
Are you a ‘Coach’?
I have been fortunate in my short career to be mentored by some great coaches.
When I first decided to quit my previous career, I thought that growth and learning in the x’s and o’s in exercise science would be the number 1 thing that would dictate my success as a coach in the industry.
While it’s important, I learned that these two things are only a piece of the pie for becoming a successful coach who truly wants to have a successful business and make an impact on the lives of my clients, athletes and other coaches. I quickly learned that
Becoming the coach I need to be, takes a special level of detail further than training philosophies and periodization.
There is a good chance you have had at least one teacher or professor where you thought “damn they are brilliant in this subject, I just wish they could teach it better!!”
You are at danger of becoming ‘that teacher’ if all you focus on is the science portion of fitness, strength & conditioning, rehab, medicine, etc.
To help me avoid this I have made the choice to approach my career as a ‘coach’, and if you are currently a trainer trying to improve your service, my biased advice would be for you to approach your career in the same way.
So what is a coach? That question has many answers and definitions but here are two that I resonate with.
‘It is helping them learn rather than teaching them’ (Gallway, T. 1986)
‘Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance’ (Whitmore, J., 2002).
So what does that mean in a real-life setting of being a strength and conditioning coach?
If we want to increase the performance of our athletes, help our clients achieve their fitness goals, help someone through rehab and return to play from injury, you need to put as much emphasis on learning the science and applications of how we pass information and facilitate learning to our clients.
If you have focused your learning on the science in your field and you now have the tools in your toolbox, great! However, now you need to learn the best ways to utilize those tools to get the job done.
That’s fine and dandy but how can you start to become a better coach? Let me introduce you to three important strategies.
Create a better environment to help facilitate better learning.
Improve how you communicate with your clients.
Utilize strategies to build rapport, trust and buy-in with your people.
Each one of these strategies could easily be a separate blog post or research review, but for the scope of this blog, I will give you an introduction into each of them to help get the ball rolling for you.
Create a better environment to help facilitate better learning.
Let’s look at a scenario to set the table.
You want to learn Spanish and have decided to hire a tutor to help you with this task. It’s your first day and you enter the establishment and there is no one there to greet you.
When the tutor finally makes their way to you they greet you with a cold introduction and take you into a room where the session will be held. The room is filled with dirty plates from lunch, the temperature is cold, there is Metallica playing, and the tutor has the vibe of being uninterested and bored.
Do you think the session is going to be as successful as it could have been?
No way, the environment and energy were not conducive to maximize learning. All you are going to focus on is how cold it is, the messiness of the room, but also thankful that there is Metallica playing to keep you awake from the lack of enthusiasm being exuded by the tutor.
If you want to create a better learning environment you need to do your best to create your athletes and clients their third place.
What I mean by this is usually a person will spend the most time at their work and their home. Creating a better environment with more positive energy will establish your service/ facility as somewhere they enjoy and look forward to spending time in.
We know that adaptations in training take consistency over time, so it’s important to have an establishment and service that they enjoy coming to. Here are some factors to consider.
What type of music is playing? Does the music create energy and synergy amongst clients in the gym?
What is the age demographic and range currently on the floor? Are there lyrics that could be offensive? Do you know what your client’s favourite genre of music even is?
There is no right or wrong answer, it simply depends on who is on the floor. For example, Lil Tecca might not be the right choice when 65-year-old Barbra is on the floor, but who knows maybe it is… ask!
Is there dust and mud all over the floor? Are the bathrooms disgusting? Is equipment put away in the right spots and easy to access?
It is pretty tough to learn in a messy environment, have a clean place for your people to come to.
ENERGY AND VIBE
Are you giving the vibe that you want to be there? Does your energy display your passion for coaching? Is your body language open and positive? Are you greeting or acknowledging them as they enter the building?
To have your clients keep coming back and enjoy their time they have to enjoy being in your presence.
It will be hard to get clients to trust and follow you while you have your hands in your pockets, you have a crappy and unenthused tone, you do not look excited to be there, and/ or it sounds like you do not even believe what you are saying.
There are a number of strategies you can adopt to make sure you are displaying the right vibe for each session.
Something that I learned from Luka Hocevar that has stuck with me is approaching every session like it’s your first client session ever.
I bet on the first session you were excited and wanted to do the best job possible. You wanted to make that client feel good and put your best forward to show that you were the coach they needed to help them achieve their goals
I also want to bring up a tough topic here.
We are human, there are going to be tough times in our life, but at the end of the day, we still need to go to work. It is our duty and job to make sure we do not take our personal problems and dump them on our clients in our sessions. They are paying for our service, it’s about them.
Improve how you communicate with your clients.
Learning how to communicate will help to facilitate trust and buy-in with your clients and athletes. Once again this is a deep topic but let’s get into it a little bit.
Ditch the ambiguous cueing.
I still struggle with this, and this takes practice.
You are an expert, you have a high training age and have an advanced movement library. Your client comes to you because of your expertise, remember they are not an expert yet.
Where we might understand inherently through personal experience what ‘squeeze your core’ means or ‘straighten your back’ Guess what, they probably do not have any clue what that means.
No, raising the volume of your voice and increasing the frequency of which you say, BACK STRAIGHT or SQUEEZE YOUR CORE as they struggle through a set of deads for the first time will not get the job done, if they have no context to what the hell it even means.
Perhaps you want your client to ‘squeeze their glutes’ during a plank. If they have never “squeezed their glutes” this is going to be tough, create frustration and confusion, and not have the desired outcome.
Perhaps maybe “tuck your belt buckle to your chin and squeeze a piece of paper in between your cheeks” might be a little less confusing and more effective.
This is just one of many examples, the main takeaway is thinking about what task you want the client to achieve, based on the desired outcome of that movement and the ask yourself what is the easiest most specific way I can cue to achieve the outcome.
This is also where providing more context can help. Such as relating tasks to sports or hobbies they already do (relating landing position to triple threat position in basketball) and use of everyday activities as metaphors (Push your hips back like you are trying to close the car door with full hands)
On this topic of cueing, realize that sometimes good is good enough.
Giving too many cues, constantly stopping them in the middle of sets, and making them think about too many things at once will not help them facilitate long term learning, causing overthinking and frustration, and possibly facilitate long term reliance on a coach with less self-autonomy.
If we want to be world class coaches, we need to shut up from time to time. Outside the scope of this article but very important to mention, this is why it is important to understand how to utilize constraints led approach. 
Improve the language and messaging you use.
Guess what, semantics matter. Words are extremely powerful.
As coaches, we sit in a position of authority and the language we use with clients can help or hurt progress when it comes to performance, pain, confidence, beliefs etc.
We want to make sure we are influencing our people to have the belief that they are strong, resilient, independent and in control of their bodies. As an example per Stick and Stones avoiding words like 
“Instability, Wear and tear, don’t worry”
…and replacing with …
“You need more strength and control, these are expected normal age changes, everything will be okay;”
Will help your clients to think in a healthier and more positive way which will help lead to better results down the line.
How to frame critiques, corrections, and regression in exercises execution matters.
Remember it is hard for a lot of clients to put themselves out there, try these unfamiliar movements in a new environment, with someone they barely know critiquing every movement they do.
You need to learn how to softly critique and regress to help your client keep confident and positive
Something I learned from Luis Huete and Ed Mylett about critiquing was to execute it like this.
Example: Client finishes a set of trap bar deadlifts.
“Wow that is improving a lot, I really loved how you were able to slide your hips back and get a good hinged position with the hips, on the next set though I want you to think about lifting the logo on the front of your shirt towards the roof so you can keep your upper back a little more engaged, but that its do not change anything else. That weight was looking light for you!”
Options are endless, just remember to be patient, and be kind. You will not build loyalty and trust if you are a tyrant and do not provide a safe place for your clients to learn.
Utilize strategies to build rapport, trust and buy-in.
If you want your clients to keep coming back, have trust in you, loyalty to you, and to build lasting relationships with them you need to build rapport and trust.
I believe the corny line goes “they will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If you decide the title of coach is for you, it can not solely be based on a love of fitness or performance.
You must genuinely care about people. It is going to be a tough road if all you present yourself as is a walking text book in every session.
Establishing a real human connection is paramount. Where it gets tricky is you will encounter so many different archetypes of people.
All who have different interests, personalities and ethics. So how can you establish better connections with all these different types of people? Well a good place to start is something that my current boss and mentor Chis Collins taught me.
Be interested, not interesting.
Ask yourself right now, what do you know about your clients?
What could you tell me about your clients right now, could you tell me 5 things?
What is their spouse’s name? How many kids do they have and what are their names? What are their hobbies?
What is their favourite music? What current events are they interested in?
The list goes on and on. Take an interest in your client’s lives, be an active listener, it will go a long way in building connections and trust.
This is just scratching the surface of the topic if you want to dive deeper two great books are Ignite the Fire by John Goodman and Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew.
I hope this has helped spark an interest in diving deeper into the ‘art of coaching’.
The science and art coaching fitness and performance are not separate they are intertwined and equally important.
Making the topics discussed in this post top of mind and also implementing some of the strategies and tactics will help you in your next session with a client.
Be patient with yourself, it takes effort and practice. Start investing in books that go past the science of exercise and performance.
Three great books that I would recommend to start with are
Ignite the Fire by John Goodman
Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
I hope you found value in this blog post but, please dive deeper and do not stop here. Never stop the pursuit of bettering yourself as a coach.
There is always room to grow, your business and clients will thank you.
By Nathan Obrigewitsch @hoopstrengthkelowna on Instagram
Nathan is a former collegiate basketball player and current strength and conditioning coach based in Kelowna British Columbia. During his time in post-secondary basketball, he began to realize that his true passion lived in strength and conditioning. He now strives to provide effective movement and performance coaching to help as many athletes prepare, feel, and perform at their best.
Stewart, M., & Loftus, S. (2018). Sticks and Stones: The Impact of Language in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 48(7), 519–522. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2018.0610
Bartholomew, B. (2017). Conscious coaching: the art & science of building buy-in. Omaha, NE: Bartholomew Strength.
Barnegie, D., Carnegie, D., & Thomas, L. (2019). How to win friends and influence people. New Delhi: Pushpak Publications.