It’s a massive understatement to say that things have changed this year… And the health and fitness world is no different. With so many gyms still closed and people spending more time stuck inside, a lot of things have shifted online. There seem to be countless free training programs, workout plans, miracle exercise programs for instant killer abs, and more, all available at the click of a button by downloading an app or watching a video. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Why would anyone need to hire a coach when they can find two-minute instructions on YouTube for how to get the perfect butt? It’s really not that simple. All these free programs might look enticing, but a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for everyone. A generic training plan you download can’t tell what your current abilities are or anything about you, for that matter. There are numerous benefits a coach can provide that a one-size-fits-all program cannot, and I’d like to share my views on some of these.
Individualized plans and avoiding injury
Everyone is different, and we all have specific individual limitations, imbalances, and weaknesses that a computer can’t see and doesn’t care about. Diving into the wrong training program could potentially exacerbate existing muscle imbalances, aggravate old injuries, or lead to new injuries that prevent you from being able to reach your fitness goals. I’m sure we have all seen “that person” in the most prominent part of the gym, showing off doing biceps curls with way too much weight, demonstrating terrible form and using the whole body to compensate for lack of arm strength. You don’t want to be that person! This is where a coach comes in. A good coach will assess your current abilities and build a custom progressive program for your unique individual needs. Posture assessments, biomechanics, and your exercise/injury history should all be taken into account. An app can’t tell if it’s hurting you, but a coach should spot this right away.
Your coach should discuss goals with you, and these goals should be little building blocks that build you up to your desired outcome. For example, someone that wants to run a race would progressively build weekly mileage and incorporate all the usual workout and long runs. Each week would have mini goals that might include the week’s mileage or targets for the workout runs, all of which lead up to the big goal of running the race.
The whole person
When you arrive at a training session, you don’t just bring your body with you and leave your fatigue from lack of sleep, financial worries, or relationship problems at home while you do your training. You arrive with all the good and the bad bits as a whole package. A good coach can help you to get the most from a particular session by taking into account the state you are in when you arrive. If you’re not feeling 100%, you have a couple of options. You can still do a good quality workout, maybe of lower intensity, and feel really good after it had achieved something positive – or you can make a half-hearted attempt at what your one-size-fits-all plan suggested you do, and then feel down because you didn’t manage the whole workout. I know which one I’d choose!
The whole person encompasses many things, including stress levels, sleep activity, nutritional choices, and emotional state. Stress accumulates from various sources: physical activity, work, less than optimal nutrition choices, and lack of sleep, to name a few. Stress damage is repaired mostly through sleep and in part during active recovery time. If you don’t sleep well, you get stuck in a vicious cycle of accumulating stress and not giving your body time to repair and grow more resilient and stronger. By looking at the whole person, a coach is better able to guide you towards your goals by considering all of these complex factors.
Coaching is more than just your training plan, and you should be treated as a complete and individual person, with individual limitations, abilities, and probably also some biomechanical issues that need to be addressed. Feedback and open communication with your coach is an essential part of the process. How does the average one-size-fits-all plan take all of that into account?
Motivation and accountability
If you are the type of person that needs some extrinsic motivation, then a coach can help with this too. Having that external accountability can make the difference between getting out the door on a wet day for a run and just staying home and ordering pizza. On that subject, if you do your run on a wet day, then you probably earned yourself the pizza, so that’s a win-win situation!
Understanding clients’ individual goals
I’ve worked with a client in the past who had a previous personal trainer, who had never climbed a big mountain, tell him how to train for climbing a big mountain. This just doesn’t sound ideal to me. If you were training to be a surgeon, would you want to be trained by someone who had never operated on anyone? The same principle applies here. This is why it’s a good idea to have a coach who understands your goals through first-hand experience.
As another example, I had a client come to me frustrated that he was an expert at the superman pose on the trails, but the landing was a problem. In other words, he face-planted into the dirt too frequently and wanted some help figuring out why he fell more often than the others he ran with. After discussing his needs and other goals, we got to work on some initial assessments. Things looked mostly ok at this point, but as soon as I had him run on the flat or a bit of a decline, his running form changed dramatically into what we called a hip shuffle. I immediately noticed the lack of knee/foot lift, no dorsiflexion in the foot, and landing out in front of him. This was the perfect setup for the front of the foot striking rocks and roots on the trails. We worked on some mobility and strength training for the foot muscles and joints and spent time working on improving his running form. It might sound obvious, but if I wasn’t a runner myself, I might not have figured out what was causing him to trip so often. My client fairly quickly corrected these things over a few of our coaching sessions, and he then noticed his speed increased, and the effort to go faster dropped dramatically. Free speed! Is that not what, as runners, we all strive for?
Selecting a coach
So once you decide to work with a coach, where do you start? What should you look for in a coach? Anyone can download an app that gives a day by day workout or training program, but if that’s all a coach seems to offer you, then it’s time to explore more options. Firstly, you need to select the right coach that’s a good match for you as an individual and who also has some experience in whatever field you want to improve at. Having someone that you get along with well makes a huge difference to your outcome, and rapport is a huge part of working with someone. A team that gels as a team are much more productive than a group of individuals striving towards a shared end goal. Coaching is the same, and working well together can make a massive difference in your likelihood of succeeding at your goals.
You have to have some sort of idea of what you want to get out of your investment in coaching sessions. Everyone has a different outcome they want to work towards. A recreational runner, for example, would most likely have different target goals than one who races multiple times in a season. They both have valid reasons for running, and they both have valid reasons to improve, but how that would be coached might be totally different for each of them.
Access to your coach and program
How the coaching and programming are delivered is important too. This is something that needs to fit into your own schedule. Some coaches offer options to cover this and allow flexibility. Make sure you are happy with how your program is delivered and be clear at the beginning about what access you have to the coach throughout the program.
Three of the common options for training session delivery are in-person, remote, and virtual.
Another option is the hybrid model, which can be a combination of all three options above. This can be an efficient method, and you still get individual attention and feedback. The main consideration when selecting how you get your program delivered is that it fits your needs and abilities and that it’s clear what you are paying for.
With the proper coach, you should get far more value for your investment in time and hard-earned money than what a phone app can give you!
Now having read about the advantages of working with a coach, it’s up to you to balance what you want to achieve, your own skills, and your safety and longevity in your chosen sport.
Hope to see you out enjoying the trails in 2021 and beyond.
You can reach Cameron on his website.