When I first got into the industry, I was introduced to the concept of the “neutral spine” and what it means to lift with good form.
The thought process I was taught was:
Neutral Spine = Good Form = Healthy = No Injury/Pain
Not Neutral = Bad Form = Unhealthy = Potential for Injury/Pain
I liked the idea of “fixing” people’s posture by having them lift weights with a neutral spine, so I tried to make everyone look like a PVC pipe when they did every exercise.
Even though I had the best of intentions, thinking this way brought its share of problems.
When form is seen as a binary thing—it’s either right or wrong—the client will tend to overthink when they exercise or move outside the gym, which can lead to unhealthy fear and wrong ideas about their body.
It’s a mistake to develop too-strict standards when it comes to coaching and lifting. The last thing you want is for your clients constantly worried if they’re doing the right thing and scared they’re going to hurt themselves.
As I expanded my knowledge around pain, biomechanics, and coaching, the way I coached didn’t really change, but the way I talked about it did. Fast-forward to 2020 and I’m known in the industry for the amount of detail that goes into my coaching and the consistency of my coaching standards.
The next article is going to cover how to build a consistent training model that doesn’t see lifting as a binary activity. Before we dive into the how, let’s review the why you’d want to build a consistent training model, one that has nothing to do with pursuing good or bad form.
5 Reasons to Develop a Consistent Training Model
1) Consistency within your team
Imagine going to a chain restaurant and only getting the service you want when a certain chef is working. How would that change your view about going to that restaurant when other chefs were on duty?
A regular problem I see occurs when staff and owners share clients: there’s too much inconsistency in coaching standards. Trust me: coaches notice and, more important, clients notice.
There’s a lot of “Well that’s not how Jon told me to do it!”
Different training styles and personalities are inevitable, but if Coach #2 gives a client an entirely different experience from the one they had with Coach #1, clients will gravitate toward certain individual coaches for a consistent experience.
Clients shouldn’t postpone their training if their preferred coach is on vacation. A team should be consistent enough that each member can provide a service that produces the same quality training experience over and over.
If you have a consistent approach, one where all coaches follow the same standards, an entire team can still be a unique “coach,” different from other teams, but all the members of that team will be speaking the same language and following the same principles.
Another benefit of developing uniform standards is that the different levels of expertise within the team will become less obvious. Of course, it can be obvious that someone who has been coaching for 10 years will be better than the new hire who has been coaching for only one, but if they’re both following the same principles, the client experience shouldn’t be that different.
Developing coaching standards and a consistent model means that new hires will be able to follow a protocol that doesn’t require your personal experience to work. Most leaders or “veteran” coaches hope that new interns or hires learn just by observing, but the majority of students can’t learn just by watching.
We’re failing a lot of new trainers by not giving them a model to study and follow.
In other words, as a gym owner or team leader, if your plan is ever to have people take your spot, a plan where all clients are happy with all your coaches, a consistent approach is a must.
2) A one-on-one experience in a group setting while providing a vital human need
This might be the best added benefit. Our semi-private clients get a one-on-one experience because they each become independent.
As coaches, we can focus on facilitating clients’ training sessions while also paying attention to each client personally. A vital human need is connection. Sometimes we provide the only non-work-related adult conversation they’ll have that day, especially if we’re dealing with busy parents.
Because clients are taught our exercise standards from Day One, once they’re a month-plus into their membership, they don’t have to be babysat. A few cues and a quick demo of what they need to do, and that’s about it. We can now ask clients about their weekend or listen to what’s going on in their lives.
Producing that kind of client independence allows us to focus on connecting with each client during each training session, even though we have three other clients going through their own personal program.
Once I show someone how to do a split squat . . .
. . . adding a variation for the next program should take seconds. There are times where I’m so confident that a client understood my instructions, I walk away without seeing their first few reps.
The client interaction we get to have because we don’t have to do much coaching results in a positive experience for all our clients. The gym or their training session is no longer just a time for them to be coached on exercise; it’s also a time to make some human connection.
3) Consistency within the regressions and progressions
When low-level exercises can look like higher-level exercises, you’re able to train the most underserved populations in the fitness industry: the deconditioned population, persistent pain clients, and/or those who are terrified of lifting weights.
Consistency empowers clients to believe their body is capable of doing certain movements without hurting themselves. It shows them they are able to do a specific “level” of an exercise, which means one day they’ll be able to move on to the next level—a harder variation.
When someone is half kneeling, I like to ask, “Have you ever done lunges?”
And with a certain population, the answer is usually along the lines of, “Oh no! I don’t think my knees can’t handle that!” or “I tried them once and they hurt me!”
Then I ask them how the half-kneeling position feels. When they say it feels OK, I point out that they’re already doing a lunge, because half kneeling is our Level 1 lunge. I reassure them that because what they’re doing now feels OK, they’ll one day be able to do a genuine lunge that also feels OK—because it’s basically the same movement.
4) The intensity is scalable
What if you could train people on their bad days as well as their good days?
Most coaches can boost the intensity. Like the picture on the right with a client pressing 100 lbs over his head. But what happens when the client doesn’t have any more intensity to give?
We live in a world where shit happens. People go through tough periods in their life when they don’t have much left to give. They have demanding work deadlines, their kids are going through something, their sleep gets disrupted, a crisis happens, an autoimmune flare-up or mental struggles occur, etc.
Now what if you could provide a training experience in which you bring the intensity down, yet the client still finds that session to be valuable? What if you could give them the ability to move their body without adding stress that they can’t handle on that particular day/week? They’d still be able to come in and see everyone, even though they’re barely sleeping. They can still come in and have a positive experience despite their life outside the gym being crazy.
When you can scale down the intensity, you can provide a safe place for people to come to the gym even on their stressed-out days. Which means they won’t cancel their sessions just because they can’t train hard.
5) Consistency builds tissue tolerance
Do you know how fitness professionals get stronger? They train more than twice a week. They repeat motions in different exercises with different variations of the same move to develop tissue tolerance in those moves.
Increase tissue tolerance -> Increase strength
The way you increase tissue tolerance -> Load/stress certain tissues consistently
General-pop clients, who are most of the clientele coaches work with, are lucky if they consistently get in two training sessions a week. If you want your clients to make serious strength gains, you have to keep things the same.
But the problem is, if the program doesn’t change after six weeks, they’ll start getting bored. Clients need regularity and the ability to experience novelty within their program.
A consistent approach can give you that. A goblet-hold step-up can look very similar and load very similar muscles as an offset set-up. Even though it’s a different exercise, which gives clients that novel experience, the way they’re taught to do that activity is similar to the way they’ve been doing it for the past six weeks, which can help clients increase their tissue tolerance for that movement.
Without this kind of strategy, every six weeks people will do very different moves and load very different tissues. Sure, they might get a great workout in, but their ability to get strong over time will be very difficult.
The goal is to get clients to do work consistently in such a way that they can make straight gains without their having to do the exact same thing over and over again.
To summarize why you should develop a consistent training model for you and your team (or future team):
- Your team will be under the same umbrella, speaking the same language, following the same principles, and sharing clients without major issues.
- You’ll be able to train clients to be extremely independent, who no longer need you to show them everything or be babysat throughout the whole session. This will allow you to focus on interacting with each client in a group setting without the quality of the training going down.
- Among the most underserved populations are those who are in pain, deconditioned, and fearful. Consistency within your exercises ranging from low to high levels empowers people to think they’re capable of exercising like any other client.
- That same consistency between your higher- and lower-level exercises also allows you to bring the intensity down when clients are having bad days/periods. No client can escape stressful and detrimental periods in their life. Being able to provide a restorative training session can help your clients continue to exercise even when they’re not capable of much intensity.
- Meatheads don’t mind doing the same thing over and over again. They also get a lot more training and consistency than general-pop clients. By creating consistency in how you coach certain lifts, you’re able to give your general-pop clients a novel experience while simultaneously loading similar patterns and tissues, which develops strength even though it’s a “different” exercise.
Hopefully you’re now wondering, “How do I develop a consistent approach?” Especially, “How do I develop a consistent approach where I don’t make it seem like there’s only one way to lift weights?”
I’ll be covering all that in my next article.