1. Teach and demonstrate the exact form/technique you want people to use.
Do this before, during, and throughout the training session as much as necessary.
If somebody doesn’t know what the movement you’re having them perform is supposed to look like (at full speed, with the exact technique you want them to use), how are they supposed to know what to do or how to execute it?
If you can’t demonstrate it yourself (which you should be able to do unless you’re sick or injured), you can use other more advanced clients to display to them how it’s done, or as a last resort, show them a video you like.
2. Explain what the cues you’re using mean, look, and feel like before you have clients implement them.
For example, imagine you have somebody deadlifting. During their set you say, “arch your lower back more”. Let’s say you’re definition of arching means to extend.
Now, imagine this person deadlifting believes the definition of “arch” means to “flex, round, or bend” like an archway.
In this case, the client and coaches definitions don’t match up, and the client would do the exact opposite of what the coach wanted.
Know what I mean? With this said…
3. Use all different types of cues to help people, but not too many, and not to confuse them.
Use internal cues (e.g. you should feel this in your hamstrings), external cues (e.g. push your butt back to the wall), kinesthetic cues (e.g. grab someone’s elbows and pull then up during a front squat) etc.
But when you start giving too many instructions, many folks will forget them all and just feel frustrated or confused.
Instead, give people one to two cues at a time, so they actually learn something. Once those stick and they “get them”, move onto adding one or two more cues, and repeat. Most things aren’t and don’t need to be perfect first try. Just practice with the objective to get better.
4. Choose appropriate exercises for people and for group settings.
This alone would fix a large portion of people’s poor technique.
For example, let’s say you’re having a group of people perform deep barbell front squats.
If somebody can’t physically get into a full squat position because they don’t have enough mobility, no cue or technique is going to help them. They’re either going to compensate somewhere else (like there lower back), not be able to do it all together, or worse, increase their chance of injury.
Instead, if we change their full front squat, to a box squat of some sort, even if you need to change the loading position (goblet, etc.) it will not only look, but feel much better to them. On top of that, it will actually train the movement and muscles you want to.
5. Not every person has to perform the same exact thing.
Point three pretty much covers this, but I want to reiterate/explain this a little more.
People will join group training sessions at different years, months, or days etc. than others. Unless you have certain systems in place, classes will be composed of all different ability levels.
If you want people to get the best results they can, different movements, weights, and training parameters (volume, intensity, frequency, etc.), will need to be implemented.
6. Say the person’s name before you give a coaching cue.
The individual knows you’re definitely talking to them. Other people don’t get confused and do something you don’t want then too. They recognize you’re paying attention to them.
For example: Imagine you have two people bench pressing at the same time. Jason’s elbows are flaring more than you would like, and Dan’s elbows tucking more than you would like.
In this situation if you just yell, “tuck your elbows more”, you will probably cause Jason’s form to go more towards where you want, but Dan’s to go in the opposite direction of your goal.
By simply saying the person’s name first (e.g.“Jason tuck your elbows a bit more, Dan press the bar towards your face”) you make this less likely to happen.
7. Have one person go at a time.
Especially when it comes to complex movements like squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc., or problem areas people have.
In reality, a set just doesn’t take that long. By watching each client perform an exercise separately, they get much more individualized coaching.
In the long run, their form will look and feel much better, and you can just revisit “one person at a time training” once in a while if wanted.
If you’re worried about boredom of other clients, you can either have them do something else while they’re waiting, or have them watch you coach the other people, explaining to them out loud what you’re trying to accomplish with them so everyone learns. This never seems to be a problem in my sessions though, and I’ve been coaching small groups for over ten years.
8. Walk around more.
By moving around and being present in more areas of the gym, you’re accomplishing a bunch of good things. I’ll list a few below.
Getting closer to the clients you’re coaching seems to helps them remember cues almost instantly, without saying a word.
By bringing your body around the gym, clients can tell that you care about everyone in the room, and feel like you’re paying attention to them. This in turn, might help them try to be more aware of what you’ve already taught them, and perform at a higher level than if you stood in one spot.
You’ll notice more things you may not have, allowing you to give better guidance. This can make you a higher quality coach, and lead clients to getting greater results.
9. Don’t give up.
For example, let’s say someone is having trouble learning the front squat, and it’s taking too much of your attention away from other paying clients. Let’s also pretend they just don’t understand how to rest the bar on their shoulders
In this situation, you can either give up and change the exercise (they will never learn to front squat) force them to do it anyways (they will probably struggle, feel super uncomfortable, and get a terrible training effect), or…
Do both. Since they won’t receive a training effect from the front squats (b/c they can’t load it on their shoulders with enough weight to get a good quadriceps stimulus) you can have them…
Work on the positions their struggling with, with light weight for a limited amount of time (let’s say 30 seconds), and then do another movement right after with an easier learning curve that targets the same muscles you want (in this case it could be a goblet squat, leg press, etc.). in a challenging manner.
10. Get another coach for an extra set of eyes, or cut down on the amount of people per class.
When it comes to training large group classes (I’d say about 6-8 or more), your attention can only be so many places at once.
A lot of coaches don’t want to hear this (for financial reasons), but by making classes smaller (6-8 people or less), or hiring more coaches (1-6 people per coach) clients will learn quicker, get more individualized coaching, and benefit tremendously.
It’s also the right thing to do, even if it’s just temporary until people are more comfortable with what you’re teaching.
11. Turn down the volume.
Have you ever turned down the volume in your car to focus when you’re driving or parking?
I’ll be posting a more in depth article on this soon, but things like music can limit people’s ability to hear your voice, concentrate, and implement cues you’ve taught them as their focus goes elsewhere.
By training in silence, it can make you more aware of your environment, give you a different experience/results, and eliminate distractions which can drain your energy.
I know some of you might be thinking, “I would get bored”, or “I need something to motivate me (like music, videos, podcasts, or people. etc.)”, however this can explain a lack of presence and focus.
There are benefits to lifting both with and without intentional stimuli.
However if you notice people struggling t catch on to things, turning down the volume once in a while can help. Think about golf, Olympic lifting, and other sports that require silence for mental attentiveness.
12. Perform 1 on 1 evaluations on of every single person before they join group training.
Probably the most important point of all.
If you don’t know the mobility, training/injury history, or circumstances of each individual trainee, it’s difficult to select training parameters and movements that are best for them.
A proper assessment will lead to more appropriate training program design, less chance of injuries occurring, and more often than not, better form by default.
Email me at email@example.com for any questions regarding online or in person coaching.
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