Learning new skills is never easy, and sometimes we feel a natural, unbidden resistance towards being told what to do. Or is it just me? ;-) I am a natural-born rebel. Even when I know it’s good for me, I still feel a bit defensive in that kind of situation. I don’t know why. I love to learn and get other people’s perspectives. I guess it’s my ego that gets in the way at times as is common.
As I was heaving a loaded barbell up to my collarbone for the umpteenth time yesterday morning, I had a thought --- man, this is not easy. I should be able to do this flawlessly, right? I’m a veteran lifter. Been there, done that. But nope, there were so many moving parts and cues to think about that it was a bit of a struggle. It was humbling.
I just started doing an Olympic lifting class at my gym once or twice a week. I’ve never done this kind of lifting before. Sure, I could have figured out the basic clean and snatch movements from videos online, but I didn’t want to risk picking up bad habits that I would later have to undo. Better to wait until I was taught by a good coach in person. Now that I have that opportunity, I’m back in that unfamiliar novice-student role. I haven’t had an in-person coach in a very long time, so it’s taking some getting used to. In a good way.
It’s easy to think that we have it all figured out and that we know proper form and technique and all that. Especially as a trainer. I know how to do a freakin’ squat. But I’ve been reminded of all the nuances that go into that one seemingly simple movement. There are always things to be cleaned up or tweaked, no matter how experienced one is.
The coach of the class has proven to be worth his weight in gold. Not only does he know his stuff, but his coaching is spot on. He knows when to throw out just the right cue and which details to focus on and what to ignore for the moment. That kind of coaching is what separates the mediocre from the great. I know in the past as a newbie trainer I was guilty of giving my clients way too many tips and cues. I would tend to nitpick everything, as I thought I was supposed to do. I learned quickly, however, that that kind of coaching overwhelmed the client and didn’t always help them improve or make them feel like they were getting it or having any kind of incremental success.
And once again this morning, this coach gave me a simple cue I’d never heard before but made a huge difference in my squat. We were working up to a heavy 2 rep max (meaning you can do 2 reps at this weight, but not 3 or more with good form). As I added more weight to the bar, I was coming out of the hole a bit slowly. This is to say that I was rising up out of the bottom position a little slower than is optimal. He said, “When you’re coming up, push up the bar with your hands. That’ll create more tension in your core to help you get out of the bottom faster.”
What’d ya know, it worked like gangbusters. I felt the immediate difference in the way my torso stabilized and the reps went more smoothly and the weight felt easier. Then I added 10 more pounds to the bar. This was a weight I hadn’t done in years. I’ve been focusing more on hip hinge movements (deadlifts and glute bridges) and lower weight (but still heavy) goblet squats.
Bam. Two smooth “easy” reps banged out. I felt like a beast. Ego stroked. ;-P haha!
That right there is a fantastic example of the value of a good coach. It’s not all counting reps or writing up workouts. It’s the perfect cue at the perfect time that gets results. It’s the right amount of push and encouragement. It’s the objective eyes on our form. It’s learning something new that makes everyday life in and out of the gym better. You really can’t put a price on that.
Just last week I was doing sets of 5-rep back squats, and struggling with 115 pounds. Today I did 145 with relative ease. Not only did that feel great, but now I have that simple cue to use for the rest of my lifting career to help me continue to see progress. Who knows how long it would have taken me to get to 145 without it?
When it comes to coaching, you’re not just buying an hour of a trainer’s time. You’re getting their expertise and knowledge. You’re getting an objective perspective and a safe yet effective program. You’re getting troubleshooting assistance. Not to mention a little bit of accountability to show up and work hard, usually harder than you would have alone.
And that can make all the difference.
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