By: Barbell Logic Team
A coach as your expert provides insight, helping you avoid or overcome hiccups to your training, bringing their long hours of study to bear on each repetition of your squat and each day of your programming. Coaches also provide literal perspective, being able to see your lifts as you perform them, providing correction for issues you may not be able to identify, and helping you train safely and effectively.
Coaches Add Value
Earlier this week, the Barbell Logic YouTube Channel featured Dr. Jonathon Sullivan, MD, Ph.D., SSC, Emergency Physician, and co-author of The Barbell Prescription. Dr. Sullivan is a multi-faceted expert who has focused an ocean of experience into making people stronger, helping coaches to be better at what they do, and showing all of us the importance of strength for long-term health. He teaches that we don’t have to just survive into old age, but that everyone can beat back that once-conceded attrition and thrive, becoming an athlete of aging rather than a susceptible dependant. Dr. Sullivan’s impact on strength training shows the generative power of an expert, adding value to many people’s lives.
Expert knowledge is the closest thing we have to an oracle. We cannot see into the future, but hindsight often provides a sobering picture of our missteps, our occasional hubris, and the strokes of seemingly impossible luck that have made us who we are. Anytime you decide to start something new, all of the possible mistakes are in front of you. Your first goal should be to get a big-picture view of what you are undertaking, a kind of map that points you in the right direction.
Strength as a Journey
Strength training is a journey. Your feet were put on the path—either by necessity, desire, or coercion—when for some reason, you decided that strength would add value to your life. Then, you figured out that barbell training is the best way to get stronger. The next step is to seek out guidance, usually a program or resource that helps you get started and gives you a path to follow.
But, almost immediately, there are questions. The biggest one, “Am I doing this right?” can be the toughest one to answer. If you are following Starting Strength, you may come up with other questions: “What if I can’t power clean?” “What happens when I go on vacation/ get sick / don’t sleep?”; or doubts: “This feels too easy,” “This feels too hard,” “The gym bro says I should ‘look up to go up’”; or even roadblocks from your own success: “I can’t add 5 pounds anymore,” “I failed my lifts today,” “I feel like I’m strong enough. What should I do next?” There’s nothing strange about any of these questions. The best plans anticipate problems and plan for success. To quote The Hobbit, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
Lifting is hard. There are challenges that you must meet head-on. You must learn to squat, press, bench, and deadlift correctly, and you must lift heavy weights to get stronger. But, there are also unplanned obstacles that can derail you. You will face the constant possibility of interruptions, ineffective training, safety issues, or stagnant progress. Educating yourself is the first step toward avoiding the pitfalls, detours, and outright blindsides to your training.
Help Along Your Way
There are a lot of resources available out there to help you. There are the maps: Starting Strength (3d ed), Practical Programming for Strength Training (3d ed), and The Barbell Prescription. These books make the arguments for strength and give you the most thorough “How-To’s” to get started and to avoid the most common problems. There are free resources: Starting Strength and Barbell Logic are continuously consolidating the wisdom of Starting Strength Coaches and sharing it for free. Then, of course, there are the professionals. While everyone, almost without exception, will get stronger with these methods, everyone, almost without exception, would also benefit from an expert perspective on their training. Because you are a person—with history, a life, a job, a family—you cannot be a training automaton. That’s why Starting Strength Coaches coach people, not programs.
An expert can interpret you, as an individual, through a lens of experience and knowledge. While they cannot predict the future, they provide insight or wise counsel. Experts educate, either as teachers or by our coming into contact with them in their capacity as an expert. Perspective and knowledge are, perhaps, the main reasons to seek out expert help.
In daily interactions, this might be a doctor who interprets the signs and symptoms of your health, a psychologist who gives perspective on your thoughts and emotions, or a religious or spiritual advisor who gives perspective to your choices—each perhaps providing a course-correction that keeps you from some future danger or trouble. Authors, musicians, and artists do this as well, sharing their own perspectives in ways that might change your own.
Mark Rippetoe is one of the greatest knowledge experts on barbell training, not just for his perspectives on why we train, but for the instruction he’s given for how to train. The greatest thing an expert can give you when you are trying something new is the ability to get started. Starting Strength has developed methods that help you get started, right now. Anybody can walk into a Starting Strength Gym or meet with a Starting Strength Coach and start training today.
The more individualized your needs, the more an expert can add value to your training. For example, Dr. Sullivan uses the concept of The Sick Aging Phenotype to describe the collection of syndromes he has observed in “people who age poorly” and has put forth the concept that barbell training is big medicine. These new ways of looking at aging and medicine have transformed how we think about at strength and health. Dr. Sullivan’s work to describe barbell training as medicine and his work with Coach Andy Baker to describe the prescription for that medicine have added value to countless people’s lives, affecting those who read their work and decide to train and changing the trajectory of coaching for many coaches coaches who now focus more and more on training masters athletes.
A coach as your expert provides insight, helping you avoid or overcome hiccups to your training, bringing their long hours of study to bear on each repetition of your squat and each day of your programming. Coaches also provide literal perspective, being able to see your lifts as you perform them, providing correction for issues you may not be able to identify and helping you train safely and effectively.
A good coach understands the principles of training and can adjust programming variables to keep you on track when life demands otherwise. This isn’t secret, unobtainable knowledge. But the coach already knows what you need to learn, and this saves you time and potential problems.
If you consider that strength training is a journey, a long-term pursuit of value, then expert knowledge is like the archetypal wise old man or wise old woman who can help you along your path. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes this person as being present near the beginning of the Hero’s journey:
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.
Your path to getting stronger, beyond the very short term, requires some heroic efforts. In this, expert help can
- Save you time
- Build your confidence
- Help you avoid setbacks
- Give you the tools to keep getting stronger
You could do this on your own. You are the hero of your own journey into strength training. But there are some dragon forces out there that will take you away from training, distract you, and make it difficult to continue at some point. Your coach—the Merlin to your Arthur, Ariadne to your Theseus, Gandalf to your Frodo, Obi-Wan to your Luke—is there to guide you, to keep your feet on the path and give you the tools you need to succeed.