For more than twenty-five years, I’ve been one or more of a hockey coach, ultimate coach, ski instructor, ski guide for disabled skiers, and personal trainer. And because I’m a nerd, I’ve gone out of my way to learn as much as I could in each role, through attending courses, reading, and amazing discussions with other coaches, trainers, and participants. In other words, I’ve picked up a thing or two.

While walking this morning, I thought about how much attention we put into teaching and correcting form and how much encouragement we offer. This has been bouncing around my head this week, I think because I’ve been spending extra time coaching while one of the (awesome) trainers at Custom Strength is on vacation.

Specifically, I think most coaches and trainers, including me up until a few years ago, make two mistakes:

  • Too much correction for people who are inexperienced or not super athletic
  • Not enough encouragement for people who are experienced or are very athletic

Whether or not this diagram helps clarify my point is up for debate, but it did a great job of charging my nerd energy level, which makes it a win in my books.

Here’s what I mean:

Mistake #1: People who are new to working out or who don’t feel a strong pull toward athletic pursuits tend to lift weights with less precision than those who are more experienced or more athletically inclined.

A trainer or coach:

  • with a good eye and understanding of movement will see this, and the natural reaction is to want to correct it.
  • without a good eye or understanding of movement won’t see this and so won’t do anything.
  • with a good eye and understanding of movement and a good understanding of people, will see this, think about how many other corrections they’ve made today, assess whether this form error needs to be addressed today or whether it can wait until next time, and will either correct it today or make a note to correct it next time.

It makes me think back to something the ski school director at Camp Fortune said when I was an instructor there: “Shut up and ski“. So simple. And so true. We as coaches and instructors get so enthusiastic about helping people become better on the ice, on the slopes (which hopefully isn’t like being on the ice!), and in the gym, that we sometimes overdo it on the corrections.

There are worse things, of course, but there are also better things. Like recognizing people need time to absorb and practice the corrections we’ve already given them. Like recognizing that too much correction can leave some people with a negative feeling about their ability.

Thankfully many coaches and trainers who make this mistake are also enthusiastically good at offering encouragement, which I think helps in overcoming any negative self-perception from receiving too much form correction.

Mistake #2: People who are experienced at working out and feel a strong pull toward athletic pursuits tend to pick up movement very well, often needing very little correction. It can be very easy for a trainer or coach to see great movement, assume the person knows their movement is great, and thus not offer any encouragement for their great movement.

The truth is, or I guess my opinion is, everyone needs and appreciates encouragement. It doesn’t need to be over the top, but it should be.

I’ve got another skiing analogy about this. I finished a drill as part of my instructor training, and the head instructor gave me feedback about how to improve my pole plant. I gave some thought to how I would implement that change when another senior instructor came up to me and said “If you’re getting comments about your pole plant, it means everything else in your skiing is excellent.” That put a smile on my face. And for a long time after that, I adopted that approach in my teaching and coaching: If I didn’t make a correction or only made a very minor correction, it meant you were doing great. Then one day, I heared myself telling a client they could tell their deadlift form was great because my only comment was about their head position.

A lightbulb went off and my internal dialogue was something like this:

Wait, what???

Why am I expecting my clients to deduce that they are doing well based on how minor a correction I’m making?

Why don’t I just tell them they are doing well???

I love moments of clarity like that. Once you get it, you get it! Now when I see a great deadlift, I let my clients know it’s a great deadlift. Depending how much correcting I’ve done that day, I may or may not comment if I also see a minor form issue.

Did this post just make you think “I really should start working out, but I’m not really sure what to do”? If so, I think you will enjoy my new ebook, How to Start Working Out.

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