A common flaw I see with fitness instructors is giving too much instruction. It is prevalent among new trainers who are eager to use their knowledge.

People Don’t Process That Much Information

If you are coaching people in anything, whether it is how to drive a car, how to perform Olympic weightlifting or even a lunge, you need to pay attention to how much instruction you give.

This is a quality vs quantity problem.

New trainers will always tend to want to regurgitate the information they just learned. It makes sense. These guys are excited to have learned it and made sense of the body and how exercise helps people. They want to help people and share their knowledge. You’ll sometimes get a full, word-for-word repetition of exactly what is in their textbook.

But people don’t need to hear all of that.

In fact, it is too much information to process at one time, while trying to perform the movement.

Your Clients Don’t Understand the Terms You Say

Aside from the amount of information, you can also confuse people with the terms of your field.

While they may physically be in a gym, they aren’t necessarily a gymnast or a bodybuilder. There are terms specific to each trade, whether you are a banker, lawyer, salesman, ship builder or a clown. Just because someone walks into your domain, don’t expect them to be at your level.

I’ve had clients go months without knowing what a hamstring is before I finally figured it out when they did something funny. I said, “Now let’s work your hamstrings.” And she nodded and put her hands on her quadriceps. Assume nothing with your clients. I’ve trained students from MIT who understood concepts of cold fusion inside and out but didn’t know that you should have a spotter on the bench press.

So be careful about what terms you use and be aware that people just haven’t studied everything you have. You’ll find that they have big areas of “haven’t ever heard of that” and it is your responsibility to fix that for them if it gets them to their goals.

That’s why they hired you in the first place. Do your job and just meet them at a lower gradient of knowledge. Teach them some terms but don’t be condescending about it.

You’ll then be a shining star in your field.

A Sign of an Experienced Coach

As a coach gains experience, things change in his coaching.

See, we learn a set of rules on how to perform a set of movements. That data is rigid. Then we go out and apply it and we get a third dimension on how it is applied in different scenarios and to different people.

Then the data becomes more flexible. It isn’t so stuck and “Thou shalt always…”, but then becomes more based on who he is training and how it applies to them.

The new guy will repeat the paragraph out of the textbook to every client he trains. The experienced guy will say a few words based on that paragraph.

I’ll let you figure out which client gets the point.

Some Clients Don’t Take Criticism Well, So Be Smart About It

While we’re talking about the subject of coaching, you’ve got to be careful how you instruct people.

Some individuals take “instruction” as “criticism” and respond negatively. You’ve got to deliver your instruction with validations on what is being done right and how to make it even righter. Tell them (if it is true) about the progress that they have made and what the next coaching point is now that they have progressed this far.

With some people I just ask, “Can I give you a small point of instruction or do you just want to keep rolling?” They may just not be in the mood. We’re not all perfect pillars of sanity so just go with it. If you see someone on edge, validate them for just making it in.

Sometimes people go to the gym to burn off some steam. It has nothing to do with exercise, fitness, health or any of that crap. They’re going there for their own mental therapy. Let them. Don’t be surprised when they explode on you for correcting them on something small.

If you weren’t able to spot their mood when they walked in the door, work on it. It’s no one else’s fault but yours for missing it.

Less Is More

Repeat after me: Less is more.

If you are a new fitness trainer, look in the mirror and say the above statement, over and over, for three hours. “Less is more. Less is more. Less is more…”

Hear this:

The mark of a truly great coach is someone who can spot something from across the room, walk over and say 3-5 words, and have it completely straighten out.

If you’ve got a coach like that, keep him.

If you see a coach looking at a group doing deadlifts, Olympic weightlifting or any other movement – and he gives a lecture to the group after seeing one repetition from one person, ditch him.

A good coach will watch several repetitions to make sure he’s not coaching you on something incorrect. He tries to find the underlying reason for the error or errors he’s seeing. The coach is adjusting his sight to take in your body type, dimensions and capabilities within those parameters.

He understands the weight of his words and that altitude that he has over the people he’s training.

Once he’s pinpointed a coaching point, he will then relay it in a few words or visually. He will then watch several more repetitions and the trainee will know for certain what needs to be worked on. Or it will all fall into place with high fives all around.

Check out the article on Coaching Cues for more on this point.

Great Coaches Don’t Give False Compliments

Giving a false compliment is like a slap in the face. It much worse than saying, “You f***ed up.”

Telling someone they did something good when they know they did something bad is condescending. It says that you didn’t deem them worthy of an honest assessment.

People pay a coach for their honest assessment and to get them from Point A to Point B. When the coach becomes dishonest and hasn’t gotten them to Point B, things start to sour.

Training One Point at a Time

There is also a tendency for a new fitness trainer to coach everything at once.

They’ve recently dissected a movement in its entirety and they should be able to tell you everything wrong about that movement without a moment’s hesitation. If I were certifying someone, I would make sure that they had that skill.

But that doesn’t mean that you coach your clients on everything at once.

You’ve got to find the biggest departure from good form and hammer that out. Then you do the next one, and the next. You don’t bombard them with 15 coaching points. It’s rude, they don’t get it and at that point you’re just trying to show off your knowledge.

Sometimes I’ll see someone who has so many things wrong, I just ask them how they are doing that day. Actual response: “I’m totally hungover and I got 2 hours of sleep last night.” The correct thing to do at that point is to take them away from anywhere they could hurt themselves or others with weights because that person is a safety hazard.

Tell them to go home and rest. If they really want to be there, have them sit on a bike and go at a very easy pace.

A good coach will send someone home when necessary. It becomes a liability when you don’t.


Amazing coaches don’t blabber on needlessly.

When they talk, each word is specifically chosen and should be listened to.

There is no perfect coach. Each coach is different and has a different mix of their own specialties and experiences with their clients. The perfect coach doesn’t fit in any kind of a model.

I’m just saying that a great coach only gives enough instruction to get the point across.

And he uses his eyes, ears and all other forms of perception to get in the head of the person they are training. Once he does that, he knows what to say to get the product.

Good instruction also contains a heavy dose of good perception.

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