“Before I studied the art, a punch was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I studied the art, a punch is no longer a punch, a kick is no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick is just like a kick.”
— Bruce Lee
The difference between a good, highly experienced strength coach and a C-level, inexperienced one is that they can make complex subjects seem simple. They know enough not to overwhelm beginners with too much information and not to shout out too many coaching cues during the first few sessions.
The last thing you want to do is confuse or overly stress out a novice lifter when he has just started training. There’s no way he’s going to master the complexity of a power clean his first time. So don’t expect that. Good enough is good enough as long as he’s not at any serious risk of injury.
When you know very little about a subject it seems fairly simple. It’s all black and white. Then when you start to learn more about it you discover that it’s really more complex than you once thought. Or at least that’s how you make it seem in your own mind and when discussing it with others.
To the average guy on the streets a bench press is just a bench press. You lay down, grab the bar and press the weight up. Once you start learning about the bench press it becomes so much more than that. To really master the lift and press as much weight as possible it becomes a full body exercise. You need to have the perfect grip width, shoulder blades retracted, all your weight on your upper back, back arched, leg drive, lat flare at the bottom, triceps engaged by ripping the bar apart, breathing timed perfectly, the precise bar path etc.
Armed with your new enlightenment it’s tempting to show the world how smart you are. Many coaches or trainers will do this by treating their clients or athletes like they have a powerlifting meet coming up in two weeks and are going to be the next Ed Coan. They will coach, coach and over coach the ever living shit out of the lift to the point where training is no longer fun.
Case in point:
At a gym I was training in recently I watched a guy take a 21 year old kid through his first workout. He gave more coaching cues in one hour than I would normally give in a month. It was just non stop. After about twenty minutes I could see the despair and confusion in the kid’s eyes. He was obviously getting frustrated yet the trainer couldn’t see it. He was teaching the kid to arch excessively which ended up hurting his back and causing pain in his hip flexors, forcing him to shoot up from the bench in intense cramping.
After their last set I was crossing my fingers that the trainer would let him end on a positive note and simply say, “Great job. That set was perfect.”
But my hopes were crushed when he told the kid that he just needed to work on letting the bar sink down a bit while keeping his elbows locked before lowering it. That’s an advanced concept that guys with ten years under the bar still struggle to master.
All the kid wanted to do was get a good workout in and get some positive reinforcement. He may, in fact, one day decide that he wants to enter a powerlifting meet. But that was not the day to prepare him for it.
On day one a bench press is just a bench press. You lay down, pull your shoulder blades back, squeeze the bar and press away. That’s all there is to it. If you give more coaching cues than that you’re just trying to impress people. What you will really end up doing is losing clients. If you turn a workout into and advanced SAT study session I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s gonna suck. And it’s very unlikely that you’re going to keep that client for too long.
There are world class powerlifters who have been training for decades who are still trying to improve their bench press technique. So why would anyone think that a newbie should be required to master it within their first week? Don’t even worry about leg drive and arching until at least the second or third month.
And if you teach the arch it’s not necessary to have your clients resemble a 114 pound member of the Chinese elite bench press team. That’s completely unnecessary for anyone who doesn’t plan to compete in powerlifting, and pretty risky. A slight arch in their lower back is more than enough.
If you train athletes remember that lifting is nothing more than GPP for them. It is NOT their sport.
They’re not going to get scholarships or a bigger contract based on their technical skills in the weight room. The same can be said for most average dudes who just want to get bigger and stronger. Mastery of every lift may not always be their goal so don’t force it upon them.
Decent form is great form for beginners.
Intermediates can get away with very good form.
Their deadlift may never look like Andy Bolton’s nor their bench like Scot Mendelson’s, and that is perfectly fine. I can guarantee you that nobody in the NFL has that kind of technique mastered, yet the league is full of some very strong, jacked dudes.
So to all the upcoming coaches and trainers out there my advice is this… sometimes it’s better to show people less of what you know than more.
Keep it simple, keep it safe and keep it fun… That way you’ll keep your clients.
PS. Being a good coach is one aspect of keeping your clients. For more on this subject check out The Client Retention Blueprint.