The following is a guest post by Justin Kompf.
Neomania is a term that describes obsession with the new. For example, each year people want a new cell phone. We get excited for the new model but when the new becomes the old or pleasure dissipates, we need to re-up.
I’ve been working my way through the book Antifragile and find myself nodding my head in agreement with the authors point of view. Towards the end of the book Nassim Taleb discusses neomania.
He presented the hypothesis that however long something has been around, will predict how much longer it will be around. If a song or a book has been popular for 20 years, odds are it will be popular for another 20 years. On the contrary, if something has been around for a year, odds are it will only last another year. The longer something has stood the test of time, the longer it will be around.
Undoubtedly,there is a point in each fitness professionals career where they want to soak up as much information as possible and expose themselves to many ideas and methods of coaching.
Any coach who has made it past this point can easily recall instances where they spent exorbitant amounts of time and money on products and seminars that didn’t stand the test of time. There are numerous certifying bodies and even more certifications you can gain after a weekend or day-long seminar where your return on investment over the long run is very minimal.
Out of fitness neomania, I fear that people could be spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on certifications and areas of study that will fail to stand the test out time. This is far from saying I am against investing in your education. Rather, I would like to present a simple heuristic, or decision making shortcut. If a new trend fails to change how you program for or coach a client, it is not worth your time or money.
None of what I am going to discuss will innovative information. In fact, it’s more of a reductionist approach so I intend for it to be the opposite. I would rather see a coach be a master of the basics. I would hate to have a coach spend 1,000 dollars on a mobility or pain seminar when they don’t have the skills to coach a bodyweight squat.
I would encourage coaches to become masters of the three following areas:
2. Teaching exercise technique
If you have gaps in your knowledge in any of the areas, or if any of the terms I present are unfamiliar, I would suggest that you save your money and avoid $500-$1,000 programs that focus on microscopic niches in the fitness industry.
The concept of periodization and progressive overload has been around for over half a century. If it has been around for over 50 years, odds are this concept will outlive all our fitness careers. It is time tested and evidence based.
Athletes and clients who follow a systematic plan that introduces progressive overload fare better than those who do not.
There are a variety of ways to manipulate training variables, a plan should work to introduce exercise variety and increase training volume, intensity or both. If exercises are selected within a client’s comfort and control (they can safely go through a full range of motion with good technique) and progressive overload is employed the program will likely be successful.
For the sake of brevity, here is my favorite way to program:
– Design a three to four-week cycle with exercises the client can perform within their comfort and control
– Vary the rep and intensity scheme on a week to week basis (i.e. week 1 is 3×12, week 2 is 3×10)
– At the end of the cycle decide how you want to overload the program. You can use any of the following (1) change the exercises, (2) add more repetitions and keep the weight the same), (3) add one more set for each exercise and keep the weight the same or (4) increase the weight and keep the reps and sets the same
There are other methods but if logical progressive overload is employed the client should do well.
As a final note of programming, I think we can say with 100% certainty that there are several forms of exercise that are not going anywhere. Resistance training, running, swimming, and even combat sports have been around for longer than any of us. They will stand the test of time. Clients will want to do this now and in the future.
There is variety in each of these exercise styles, so it goes without saying that exposure to different styles of each could benefit the coach. I can’t say with certainty that Zumba (merely a generic example) will outlast us but I can say that people will be doing some form of resistance training long after we are all gone. In my 10+ years of exercising I can say with certainty (for me) that no form of exercise beats a challenging strength or hypertrophy routine. In terms of aerobics nothing for me has been better than sprints or fast runs. Everything else is just noise.
Teaching Exercise Technique
I fear that despite being experts in movement, the discipline of motor behavior is understudied by fitness professionals. A couple years back I wrote a paper in the strength and conditioning journal on this subject (feel free to email me for access). I have also written about the subject here. Coaches must be aware of focus of attention and when it is appropriate to use different kinds, frequency of feedback, and the language that they use with clients.
It would be implausible to go into depth on these topics (again feel free to email) but focus of attention can be external to your body or internal to your body. In the case of resistance training this is focusing on what the resistance (i.e. bar or dumbbell) is doing versus what your muscles are doing.
External focuses of attention are great for performance and learning. People can pick up on a movement more quickly and get more reps in when they focus externally. Internal focus of attention is great for bodybuilding or for people who want to get bigger muscles.
I think both are very important to teach clients as a prerequisite for loaded movement. Recently I partook in a steel mace training seminar. We learned a concept called irradiation which was essentially an isometric contraction.
We isometrically “pulled apart” the mace while doing the deadlift. It was a great way to teach clients to turn their erector muscles “on”. Both proper technique and proper muscle tension are necessary for a client to safely overload their program.
In that vein, it is important to find ways to cue clients to increase muscle tension outside of saying “activate your lats” or “squeeze your glutes”.
For example, one of my favorites for lat tension is to tell people to imagine that they have oranges in between their arm pits. Squeeze those oranges to make orange juice. Or if you’re like my colleague at CLIENTEL3 in Boston, Patrick you can tell people to pick up a 100-dollar bill with their butt cheeks while doing hip bridges. Patrick is from Wales, so he can get away with saying anything with his accent.
Lastly, over-cueing is one thing I see novice coaches do. It’s extremely important to let clients work on the movement without feedback. Constant feedback causes reliance and impedes learning. If the client has minor errors and you can see they are working on it, just let them.
I would highly encourage coaches to get coached in a new skill. Take a lesson with a different resistance training modality or take a lesson in Jiu Jitsu or rock climbing. Listen to what the coach says. If you do well quickly think about how they coached, you. If you really struggled think about what they did that didn’t help.
Be a Great Coach
Once you have gained a solid foundation with programming and teaching exercises you should be able to improve greatly just by getting more experience. After you get to that point I firmly believe that you should spend the bulk of your time focusing on being a great coach.
After a few year of training, doubling your knowledge of programming and teaching technique will have minimal impacts on client outcomes. On the other hand, for client outcomes, I don’t think there is a ceiling effect on improving your coaching abilities. That is, the better you are with people, the better your client outcomes. This is where I spend the bulk of my improvement efforts. An important skill that I work on, and have written about, is simply listening.
Self-determination theory is a broad motivational theory that has been around for decades. So, once again it is safe to say that it will outlast our careers. The same idea with social cognitive theory. This is exceptionally brief, so I would encourage you to do your own research, but motivational environments are ones in which the client feels (1) autonomous, they aren’t being forced to do things they don’t want to do (2) related- they feel cared for and (3) competent- they are doing things they feel are within their skill set.
Self-efficacy is a similar concept to competence and refers to perceived confidence in one’s ability to do a task. Being a great coach means you listen well, show your clients you care about their goals and them as a person, enhance competence and confidence with movement and health skills, and don’t force clients to do exercises or habits they don’t want to do.
Again, this is a relatively deep topic which I have courses on here.
I’ve been training people for almost a decade now and I’ve found the heuristic, only invest if it will change how I train my clients to be exceptionally helpful. I don’t spend my time diving into breathing drills or complex mobility drills that surely aren’t better than any other form of full range of motion resistance training.
Rather I spend my time on being a better coach which means exposure to different training styles and cueing, improving my listening abilities, giving thoughtful feedback, studying and implementing behavioral psychology. I would encourage all coaches to focus on the large skills they need, which are often are free or cheap to acquire or are acquired with experience.
Justin Kompf is a certified strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer. He is currently pursuing his PhD in exercise and health sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Prior to this he was the head strength and conditioning coach at SUNY Cortland. His primary area of interest is in health behavior change. You can follow Justin on Facebook and reach out to him with questions via his Facebook page.