Coaching, Strength and Conditioning, Strength and Conditioning Research, Strength Sports

More Questions than Answers – How to avoid the two most common traps new and experienced coaches or trainers fall into all too easily.

The fitness industry, strength and conditioning, sports science and nutrition industry are funny places they straddle science and bullshit almost like no other field or industry.  On one side we have those who are bound by science and won’t lift a finger unless it’s been shown in at least one peer-reviewed study to be effective.  On the other side we have whole sections of people who deliberately muddy the water and pedal complete and utter bullshit like Herbalife or bulletproof coffees.  Only in the field of nutrition could someone become a millionaire by telling people to put butter in coffee and have them under the pretence that it’s in some way “healthy” if you can spin the right words people are absolute cretins when it comes to diet and exercise.

I think if you want to be effective or able to affect people at the elite level or help beginners or advanced lifters realise their potential with the minimal of effort or training stress than you need to have both theory and experience under your belt.  For me any trainer who is too much in one camp always ends up in one of the following traps.

More questions than answers.

This is a big problem I see with younger trainers or coaches who don’t have much of a practical background.  They put a lot, if not all of their stock in peer reviewed research or what can be shown objectively with metrics.  This can lead to a whole host of problems when it comes to putting together a world class coaching practice some of which you may run into if you lean too much in this direction

  • An Inability to just run with it – a lot of young S&C coaches who have access to a lot of good metrics like GPS, RPEs or heart rate outputs will let these run their programme for them. The GPS might be telling you that x player or person has reached your limit for the session but they haven’t achieved close to what is required of them from a technical perspective.  There is always a line to be tread when it comes to using metrics to feedback into your training.  Your programme should be based on strong principals of physiology and periodisation a lot of which has to be based on the science, however the best coaches will base it on experience in the sport and the best of the best will base it on their experience of the individual athlete.
  • Letting the numbers run your programme – some young conditioners or strength coaches will have a plan but then deviate from it completely because a couple of variables that they have singled out are telling them to do so. The best coaches aren’t reactionary but they are flexible.  You need to know what you want to get from each session for a physical perspective and know what they means from your objective measures if you have them.  What you don’t want to do is know what you want and then consistently not get it when your measures are telling you what to do.  The numbers should inform your programme to make it better and more optimal it shouldn’t run it.
  • The tendency to be too soft – people are capable of a lot more than you think when it comes to training. Now this isn’t to say you want to apply the maximal amount of training you can to get the same effect quite the opposite.  To become outstanding at something or to become extraordinary at something you’re going to have to do training that is out of the ordinary.  Sure the experts online are advising you to squat 1x per week, bench 1x per week and deadlift 1x per two weeks however if you expect to be better than anyone else you’re probably going to have to explore your boundaries.  That means you’re going to have to push yourself or the people you coach close to breaking every now and again just to see where that boundary lies.
  • Collecting Data to bring more questions – Probably the biggest issue with people who rely too much on objective feedback or peer reviewed research is that they use it to bring up more questions. What GPS metric should we use?  What Bar speed is optimal for this movement? Should we use average speed or max speed for this movement?  How much sleep do these athletes need to get optimal recover?  The questions are great but it’s the lack of answers that eventually stick in the craw of the lifters, athletes or coaches that you serve at the end of the day.  The job of a coach or mentor is to answer questions and provide leadership not to constantly shift goal posts and refuse to stick your line in the sand somewhere.  As much as you might not like it training is way more art than science when your starting to work with a population.  Eventually with enough factors controlled you can run a hugely scientific and well-controlled programme.  However when it comes to working with armature athletes or large teams your gonna spend more time treading water trying to get there than you will making progress if all you do is have your head stuck behind a screen rather than out in the wild interacting with and training your athletes or lifters.

More Answers Than Questions 

The other side of the spectrum is the coach who is either so successful or experienced that they have stopped to seek challenge or try to progress their training practices.  It can be very easy as a coach when you get comfortable producing a certain amount of success or results and can do so repeatable in distinct time frames to believe that you have nailed it and don’t need to worry about what the pencil necks or new kids are doing.  What can be even worse are the coaches who are former lifters or athletes who think they know the sport inside out and don’t need to reference the science or objective feedback.  The sort of coach who thinks that what they did to be successful 10 year ago is going to work for a different lifter or athlete with a different psychology, mentality and taking part in a sport that has moved on 10 years further from when they played or lifted.

  • Can’t see the Forrest for the trees – some coaches get so good at one aspect of training or they get their results from one method for so long that they can’t see the merits of other training methods or more to the point they can’t see the pit falls of their own methods. One of the most common pitfalls you will see from a lot of coaches who are former athletes is their over reliance on the sport or training that got them where they were.  It’s all too easy to find weightlifting coaches who think it is the best way to develop explosive power for sport, powerlifting coaches who think lifting heavy shit slowly and then doing a bit of jumping or running is going to cure all your ales or sprinters who think that everyone just runs with shit form and they should get that right before they should even think about lifting weights.  You’ll see strength and conditioning coaches using Westside barbell for team sports athletes, using equipped powerlifting methods that have questionable carry over into unequipped powerlifting to train multi-plane, multi energy system, primarily skill based athletes.

  • Actually convinced that the sun shines out of their own ass – you’ve met the coach or lifter who you know is really good at what they do because they will let you know before you have even asked. I for one am always wary of the coaches who are so quick to tell you of their accomplishments or the lifters who want to tell you about all the tin trophies they have one or “all time” records they have broken in completely soft and different conditions.  This my friends is just good old-fashioned insecurity.  If you really are that good trust me you won’t have to tell a soul about it, word of mouth is the best driver of business in a service based industry (which is what we effectively are) if you are good and you deliver the goods you will create a tribe of evangelicals who will spread the word for you.  The kind of lifter or coach who has to rattle off their list of accomplishments is the sort of person who needs constant external validation for their own existence.  They are also the sort of person who won’t seek objective or critical appraisal and so are highly likely to remain stuck in their own ways.  They are destined to remain the same level of competency until they break out of this vicious cycle or remain a shithouse for the rest of their coaching or athletic life.
  • Only use objective measure when it suits them – a good coach will look for when the data or the feedback fly’s in the face of what they are doing. When some stat or feedback tells me the direct opposite of what I am trying to achieve from my training then I sit up and take notice.  When RPEs tell me that people are tired during a conditioning block then I am getting information, I already know.  When it tells me that a session I thought would put these blokes in a hole barely touched the sides then I know there is something I need to dig deeper into and that I will probably learn something.  A coach who is stuck in their own ways or doesn’t have a growth mind-set will just look for metrics that are positive so they can once again show everyone what a good job they are doing.  Like a good scientist who looks to disprove a hypothesis a good coach or strength coach should be constantly trying to pick holes in their programming as it’s the only way you will get to the stuff that works and chuck away all the needless fluff.
  • The coach who has more answers than questions – these are the guys who make all kinds of money either as trainers or online experts because they have all the answers. They are also usually bullshit artists or snake oil peddlers.  You see there is a whole raft of shit that we do currently as strength and conditioning coaches or lifters that is a complete and utter waste of time.  For my money the vast majority of the rehab/prehab/activation/train your weakness movement in training is hogwash.  There is something to it no doubt but we are nowhere near to teasing out the useful information.  We are currently back stroking in a sea of meaningless bullshit and once in a while we catch onto a useful practical stick floating around in this cesspool of misinformation that we hold onto.  The folk that have went, head-long into this space spouting all sorts of mumbo-jumbo have went on to become very wealthy yet haven’t went on to produce world-class performers. 

I will finish this article on one of my favourite quotes


We want an open mind but not a mind so open our brains fall out. – Prof. Walter Kotschnig 1940




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