Monday, December 16, 2013

I've Seen The Future And The Future Is... Coaching (or possibly cleaning, one or the other).

"The quality of a man's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field or endeavor." - Vince Lombardi

We are in a golden age of gym equipment. A few years ago you were lucky if you could find a gym with a basic power rack and an olympic bar. Standard health club gyms consisted of resistance machines, some kind of terrible key system and cardio, and if you were lucky the dumbbells went up to 20kg. The management were afraid of 'hardcore' lifters and were trying to attract some mythical exerciser who was willing to pay £60 a month for the chance to sit on a stationary bike; except that person never turned up in large enough numbers to build a viable industry.

Nowadays, some of the biggest chains have power racks and bumper plates and functional rigs. Crossfit* gyms and micro gyms opened and they all had Olympic bars and ropes, sleds and prowlers and minimal if any of the standard cardio and resistance kit. A few years ago bands and chains and specialist bars were rare, they existed on the internet in Westside. Now the average 16 year old gym goer may have seen a safety squat bar, football bar, cambered bar, pushed a prowler, tried to break his leg by jumping on a stack of plyo boxes and build his biceps with a thick grip barbell.

Its is only 5 or 6 years ago when I went on an Olympic weightlifting course, it was hard to find, it was the only one I could find and they didn't even call it Olympic weightlifting (BWLA weightlifting for sports course to be exact) and I think one of the guys who opened Crossfit London or Manchester was on the same course. And I couldn't find any videos on the internet on Olympic lifts or how to do them. My, how times have changed, suburban housewives are doing Oly lifting as part of their daily WOD and the Reebok shop in Covent Garden sells Crossfit branded Olympic lifting shoes (there was one website that sold them in the UK when I purchased a pair).

Equipment is not enough.

But. It is easy to become enamoured by gym equipment. More people are Olympic lifting than ever before, but very few people lift heavy or come close to being national level. There hasn't been a sudden rush of world records or big powerlifts. Quite a few people have got their 10,000 hours in, but we're not suddenly giving China or Eastern Europe a run for their money. There is a possibility that it takes more than practice, that 10,000 hours has become over emphasised. The same is true in endurance sport: triathlons, 100 mile ultras and weekend 10k's are fully booked, barefoot running is mainstream but as a nation we are less competitive than we were 30 years ago in Marathons - take out the one runner we have and we have no one. People are running slower marathons than they were in the early 1980's.

And however much equipment there is, there is always someone who wants more, if only your had Eleiko bars or a monolift - then they would be a champion, despite the fact people were lifting heavy and winning for eons without any of this stuff. And some guy in a Bulgarian basement is lifting with a rusty barbell and kicking their ass.

Rocky 4 - back to basics, it's not about the equipment

But I digress, the point is, if it was only about equipment and facilities and participation we would see way more people competing at a high level. But we don't. Of course, many people doing these activities have no desire to compete, they just enjoy them, and they like training and being fit.

"the best teacher is repetition, day after day, throughout the season." - John Wooden

And the other point, is having the equipment is not enough. You can have a room full power racks and performance equipment, but if the gym culture is still embedded in body part splits, it will all be empty apart from the bench press and the adjustable benches closest to the mirrors. And there is a fear, a lot of guys and even more so women, who have been using gyms since their rise in the 1990's default to what they know. Why try something if you risk looking like an idiot, its pretty hard to go wrong on the cross trainer or doing a bicep curl, but get the glute ham raise wrong and not only could you end up being rescued there is a chance your hamstrings will explode.

So without coaching and a change in culture all this new equipment (which is really a return to the old0 will stay unused.

"The more I coached the more I became convinced that the mind, the will, the determination, the mental approach to competition are of the utmost importance." - Brutus Hamilton

What do Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, every professional football team and all of British Cycling have in common? They all have coaches.

"'The main thing about Percy is that he coaches your spirit' Elliott believed 'The body itself may only need two months training to get fit, the rest of the time you're building up your spirit - call it guts, or some inner force..." Herb Elliott on coach Percy Cerutty

Health Commitment Cop Out.

If you go to a small micro gym, studio or Crossfit facility there is a good chance you will get some coaching (the debate about quality is for another day) due to the format these facilities use - small group training, one on one, you have to book in. These facilities also have an advantage that certain populations would have self selected and excluded themselves. People arriving at Crossfit or an olympic lifting gym know what to expect, they know what the deal is, the chances of the obese grandma with a dodgy knee and blood pressure pills turning up to take part in the WOD are slim.

In a health club or leisure centre the system is set up differently, anyone can turn up and expect to do anything. Many clubs in the UK have now adopted the Health Commitment Statement produced by UK Active (the governing body for the fitness industry in the UK??!). It is designed to replace the Par-q which was too medicalised. For example, the first line on the HCS is

"We will respect your personal decisions, and allow you to make you own decisions about what exercise you can carry out. However, we ask you not to exercise beyond what you consider to be your own abilities."

Now, we are treating people like adults, which is a good thing, and not expecting the coach to start delving into medical history. In another section it states

"You should not exercise beyond your own abilities. If you know or are concerned that you have a medical condition which might interfere with you exercising safely, before you use our equipment and facilities you should get advice from a relevant medical professional and follow that advice."

Except, firstly people ignore what they have just signed and still ask you what to do about their bad back or achilles or what is best for blood pressure. And secondly, what both the Par-q and HCS fail to address is that most people don't have medical conditions that restrict them, they just have appalling movement patterns, poor mobility and have no idea about how to make an informed decision about what the best exercise to do is or how to it correctly.

And certain exercises will be unsafe for them at this stage, they don't have the knowledge to decide, their judgement of their own ability is flawed. Its like saying, go into the supermarket and buy healthy food, some people will get it right, some people wont. Or like asking someone if they are a bad driver, most people are going to say no, ego is a powerful thing. If someone has a warning light on the dashboard of their car, yeah, they could keep driving and hope nothing happens or they could go to a mechanic and find out what it is. The HCS is kinda like saying to the public, you might have some warning lights up, but we'll let you decide if you can keep on driving the car, we don't want to get involved. We don't want to put up barriers.

And yes, if you work on the premise that most gym members are going to do 10 minutes on the cross trainer and then do a few resistance machines, then they will probably be okay. Except the game has changed, they could turn up and start doing high intensity intervals or body attack or box jumps supersetted with thrusters.

Just Say No.

So what is to be done? Well don't be afraid to coach. And don't be afraid to say no. And knowing what is appropriate and not appropriate requires screening, unless someone has been screened in some fashion, how do you know what there is ability is? This is where Crossfit and the general fitness industry fail, screening is virtually non existent and no one gets told 'actually this is not for you'.

Consider the short burst fast classes and HIIT classes that are all the rage. In a large health club anyone can turn up. The coach on the gym floor has to make a decision, the person turning up has signed the HCS form, but there is a good chance the person signing has no idea what a tabata interval is, there decision is based on incomplete information. So the coach has several choices, scale the workout (it's not high intensity anymore, you are not ready for high intensity), let them do it and risk the possibility of them literally stroking out Andrew Marr style or say no. Sometimes coaching is about pushing people, sometimes it's about saying no.

Somewhere along the line, the industry got desperate, it needed to make the sale, we lost faith in ourselves. Don't be afraid to say no to the client, there is always another choice for them. And this could work in your favour sales-wise:

"The minute it was clear that we weren't desperate, the moment we started to lead instead of beg, the sale was made." - Seth Godin

Coach & Differentiate.

"Let all know that you expect them to possess the highest level of expertise in their area of responsibility." - Bill Walsh
The way to differentiate is to coach. Anyone can buy equipment but can they use it? Anyone can shout at clients and make them do 1000 burpees. But can you affect change, can you get results? Is anyone even measuring your results? Coach everyone all the time in your facility, this is a world away from personal training.

Nearly every elite athlete, every team, has a coach or a whole team of coaches. And yet, the public expect to turn up and get results with no help. They are scared and disappointed too. Scared of looking stupid and disappointed by an industry that let them down on numerous occasions. Be different, start coaching everyone and the atmosphere will change, you will change the game from the inside out. Suddenly there will be a buzz about your facility.

Have a training philosophy, have a deep knowledge about everything your are doing and not doing but then realise that coaching is not always technical. It could be simple phrase or word or look, it could what you leave out that matters.

"Teach 'connection and extension'. An organisation filled with individuals who are 'independent contractors' unattached to one another is a team with little interior cohesion and strength." - Bill Walsh

Be aware of the prism you see everything through. Maybe you personally favour hypertrophy, or strength or kettlebells or whatever. But be ware of processing all your clients needs through these prisms. Start blank, see it through the prism of the client, what they really need and then pick the right coaching route. Your philosophy of coaching should be bigger than the tools and methods you use. Coaching is flexible.

Does Louie Simmons Put The Hoover Round?

But what if no one cares about your coaching. There is a good chance that if you work in a commercial facility the management has never even asked you about coaching or measured it, there is a 100% they have measures your ability to clean. The scenario could play out like this:

The health club see all this stuff about small group training and functional training and thinks this is a bandwagon we need to jump on. So they buy all the kit and tell the instructor he/she now teaches fast classes. The instructor is teaching the class and someone complains about the cleaning. The instructor is then conflicted, they are being measured on the cleaning, not the  coaching, and all this stuff could be a fad anyway. The instructor then realises they are actually a cleaner, which is not a bad thing, except they then discover that the actual cleaner gets paid more than them. They then figure out that the studio instructors are getting paid three times as much for teaching a class as the fitness instructor is for teaching on the gym floor and no one asks the studio instructors about cleaning. Yes, its a way of having all these classes on the schedule without paying the instructor more than minimum wage. The instructor gets demotivated, the kit stands empty, everyones doing what they always done. Of course, some clubs pay the instructors a decent rate for coaching, but show me a manager who didn't panic about a cleaning complaint and I'll show you a....

Of all the people, whoever left a gym , it seems no one ever left because they failed to achieve their goal, they left because they didn't have time or it wasn't clean enough.

Which makes me wonder, does Louise Simmons, Eric Cressey and Mike Boyle have the same issues. No one ever released a fitness product on how to keep your gym clean. Does Louie put the hoover round first thing in the morning, do lifters complain that Westside is too dirty or there is too much chalk around, do people tell Rippetoe to get better air conditioning at Wichita Falls. Does Louie just catapult any complainers out the door with a purple band? This topic seems sorely unrepresented on fitness forums.

I can't help but feel the likes of Boyle and Cressey are missing a trick here, how about 'Shoulder health while dusting, avoiding anterior glide of the humerus when cleaning cardio equipment' or 'Advances in mutli-tasking in the gym environment, how to re-tune the TVs on the CV equipment while dealing with a complaint about the music'.

The game has changed.

"'That's the way we've always done it' is the mantra of a team setting itself up to lose to an organisation that's not doing it that way any more." - Bill Walsh

The large chains still pursue a supermarket model, they are trying to cater to the masses. They think they can be all things to all people. But if you try to market to everyone, you have a product aimed at no one. And you end up with some pissed off members, because your product was never really for them in the first place, you just told them it was.

"Don't try to make a product for everybody, because that is a product for nobody." - Seth Godin

Much like coffee shops, you could go to Starbucks and get an insipid cup of coffee that doesn't really offend anyone, but at the same time there is a rise in independent coffee shops, its the same for pubs and micro-breweries. It's the same for gyms, except the way to differentiate is with coaching. Except way more people go to coffee shops than go to gyms, going to the gym is a niche activity, whether you like it or not. Going to the gym is more akin to collecting vinyl or vintage cars, it's a niche that wants to be mainstream. Once you accept this marketing becomes easier, you are not trying to please everyone.

There are really only 2 or 3 big players in cardio and resistance equipment, most gyms look the same. Anyone can buy some dumbbells and weight plates. It is what you do with it that counts.

Somewhere along the way, personal training became the antithesis of coaching. It became number counting. No one wants to be associated with the personal trainer moniker anymore. The fitness courses didn't teach people how to be coaches. How to motivate, how to inspire, how to innovate, how to individualise but still have a system. So, the trainers aspired to be coaches, but you'd be shocked at the level of knowledge in these courses.

And the coaching course are stuck in another era, if you've ever been on one, its more about how to control large groups of people and make sure no one falls down a hole; basically a health and safety course. That's what we did to coaching in this country, we turned it into the lowest common denominator health and safety course pitched at kids. It is more akin to an old school PE lesson, which is okay if you are teaching kids. But most of us are coaching adults, grown ups, professionals, who need professional coaching.

Coaching is not about holding someones hand or shouting, its about teaching them a skill, knowing when to instruct and when to not. Knowing when to let someone make their own training decision, and giving them the information to do, but also having the confidence and guts to say when someone should not do something, when to push and when to say enough is enough.

The game has changed, the big health clubs just don't know it yet, or like most large industries with layers of bureaucracy are too slow too react, suffer from inertia or try to copy something really half arsed.

The best gyms have a system, they coach everyone and they have results they can show you. Not one off aberrations, but consistent results with clients across the board.

I could be wrong, maybe all health clubs should bin all their instructors and employ 10 permanent cleaners and everything will be fine. Or possibly there should be a new REPs level 4 cleaning qualification.

The answer is to coach and coach some more, or get out like alot of people are doing these days. Open your own facility, be picky with the clientele, it takes guts for sure.

Have confidence, the equipment is secondary. It could be just me standing in a room with a couple of kettlebells and a bar, and its worth the money because of the coaching and the atmosphere.

Build the gym, but then coach, and create the atmosphere and the reputation. Build it and they will come is only half the answer, the building is just the first part, the people is the second part and the most important. People get results.

Be 'consumed by the process of developing the ability of others. You do it because you really care for it, you do it because you have to.' ( Bill Walsh)

"Concentrate on what will produce results rather than on the results, the process rather than the prize." - Bill Walsh
Coach, the alternative is to be the same as it ever was, which is no choice at all.

Bill Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself. My Philosophy of Leadership.
Gary M Walton, Beyond Winning. The Timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches
Seth Godin, Purple Cow & The Icarus Deception

* Without wishing to get drawn into the eternal crossfit debate, here's my 2 cents worth. There is a puritanical element who seem to think crossfit are responsible for all random training shit. As if before crossfit everyone walked around with a copy of Supertraining under their arm and everyone periodised properly and everyone trained properly and it was all logical and despite powerlifting, olympic lifting and bodybuilding being the most minority of sports - it seems everyone in the gym was competing in these disciplines despite never actually competing; and all training programs had a clear goal and purpose. And of course, everything was logical like splitting your workout into bodyparts, and no one ever did anything illogical like working chest and arms everytime they went to the gym. And all sports are logical like swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 100 and running a marathon, and 22 people kicking a bag of air around a park, and back flipping on a beam and bench pressing in a triple ply denim shirt. Of course, all pro athletes train using a completely systematised approach and no one ever coasted on their genetics, and how someone trains for football or baseball or powerlifting should be the basis of all training, because the gym is only full of serious athletes. And you can't copyright circuit training, in the same way you can't copyright dancing (Zumba) or yoga and pilates (Bodybalance), but goddam they cornered the market and created a tribe with minimal equipment and we all wish we had thought of it first. And its dangerous, because I've never seen a powerlifter or bodybuilder who had to get their pec re-attached or their bicep rupture repaired, and no endurance athlete ever had to have knee surgery and no football player ever had an ACL repair, and every year thousands of people get rescued off of mountains after throwing themselves down them on skis after no actual training or practice and everyone in the world now knows what rhabdo is, and I've never seen anyone get it even in ultra endurance events. (and I can't do a handstand press up or a kipping pull up and there is no way I'm wearing long socks).

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