How to Get the Most Out of Online Coaching
By: Brooke Haubenstricker, Director of Public Relations, SSC
Give your coach updates on how you’re doing physically and mentally, even if it seems unrelated to your lifting. If you’re feeling depressed, telling your coach may result in them not being as nitpicky with your form as usual. Or if your elbow has been nagging you outside of the gym, making your coach aware will alert them to keep their eye out for anything that looks even a little off with your lifting technique. Negative emotions and nagging injuries tend to snowball if not identified and dealt with immediately. They often lead to longer-term problems that could have been resolved with simple communication and slight changes to your training. But the most important emotion to relay to your coach, especially as it pertains to your training, is frustration.
How to Get the Most out of Your Online Coaching Experience
Online coaching is a much different experience than in-person coaching. Mainly, it is a more collaborative effort between you and your coach. You’ve decided to take control of your strength pursuits and hire a knowledgeable coach to help guide you along your journey. There are also unique opportunities with online coaching, such as the ability to work with a coach who may live halfway across the world and connect with a community that shares similar values, goals, and struggles. But to get all the benefits from online coaching, communication and your active participation are crucial.
1. Be straightforward.
Your coach is there to help you better your lifting and achieve your goals through customized coaching and programming. But what does that mean? How is that done?
Customized programming is The Plan: The exercises, sets, and repetitions you do every day that lead to your goals. There are basic stress, recovery, and adaptation principles that lifters must follow in order to get stronger, but how to best apply that stress will vary slightly depending on the individual lifter: Your physical and mental capabilities, what your body responds to best, your lifestyle, your goals. A longer-term programming vision is laid out based on these variables and tweaks are made on a weekly basis depending on recent performance.
Customized coaching is what makes sure you execute The Plan correctly and safely, mostly by helping to teach or refine your lifting form using a variety of coaching tools and techniques. Coaches are skilled at determining their clients’ physical and mental needs, but we’re all human and online coaching has its own set of complexities. This particular kind of coaching relationship requires a more blunt bidirectional information flow, with direct information going to and from the lifter and coach. In other words, you’ll need to be straightforward about expressing your needs, but that is what our coaches value and expect.
To start, tell your coach what you worked on during your workouts and what cues are and aren’t working for you, and ask for clarification where necessary. With in-person coaching, a coach can see right away if a cue is doing anything to help fix your form because they’re getting feedback in real time. With online coaching, a coach doesn’t know if a lifter forgot to use a certain cue during a workout (which is very common), if a cue was remembered incorrectly, or which cue was the one that worked (was it the last one that was given or one from a previous workout?). This information will help your coach avoid cues that don’t work for you and develop new cues in the future that are similar to the ones that have worked in the past. In turn, this makes their coaching more effective, and you’ll avoid the frustrations of trying to apply cues that aren’t clicking for you.
Give your coach updates on how you’re doing physically and mentally, even if it seems unrelated to your lifting. If you’re feeling depressed, telling your coach may result in them not being as nitpicky with your form as usual. Or if your elbow has been nagging you outside of the gym, making your coach aware will alert them to keep their eye out for anything that looks even a little off with your lifting technique. Negative emotions and nagging injuries tend to snowball if not identified and dealt with immediately. They often lead to longer-term problems that could have been resolved with simple communication and slight changes to your training. But the most important emotion to relay to your coach, especially as it pertains to your training, is frustration. Your body will experience lots of new and different growing pains as you start to train consistently. Learning what’s a problem and what isn’t is part of the journey and your coach can help you decipher that. After identifying what’s going on, you’ll find that some things are issues that need to be resolved, but most will be perfectly normal parts of training that you will be able to push through. Either way, share it with your coach who will help you with anything that they can control.
Lastly, if you think of anything that your coach can do to enhance your experience, talk to them about it. Maybe you need more encouragement in your feedback, shorter workouts during the week, or to learn a couple of new exercises. Whatever it is, communicate it to your coach. Chances are, it won’t be a problem for them to make that adjustment, which will make your training that much more enjoyable.
2. Make requests.
It can feel weird asking for things, but when it comes to your training, remember that your coach is there to help you. They genuinely care about your training experience, and there are a few requests that you should make both for your own benefit and so your coach is better able to coach you.
One request you should get really comfortable making is to let your coach know if you’d like more detail about something, whether it’s about a programming adjustment, a lifting technique or cue, or advice on how to coach yourself. (If you have a lot of training questions, be sure to check out Barbell Logics materials.) In particular, If an instruction or cue isn’t really hitting home with you, let your coach know so they can try to communicate it a bit differently. At our core, coaches are teachers, and we love talking about training. Your coach also likely has a library of resources to share with you to help answer your questions and improve your training.
Finally, keep a list of things you want to talk about with your coach on your phone or Skype calls. Give your coach a heads-up about these topics when you’re getting the next call scheduled. Sometimes it’s more convenient to talk things out than have a long written conversation, and having some time to discuss what’s happening in your life and how your training is going can strengthen your relationship with your coach as well.
3. Learn more about training.
One of the biggest downsides to online coaching is your coach isn’t there to give you real-time feedback on your lifting. While you’re given feedback after-the-fact to work on the next time you’re at the gym, it can be difficult to tell if you’ve successfully implemented it or not. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to better your self-coaching.
The best place to start is to read the Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training book. This book outlines the basics of the Starting Strength weight lifting methodology that are utilized at BLOC and gives detailed breakdowns of how to correctly perform all the basic lifts. It can be a challenging book to read, so the best way to go through it is to read FAST. Don’t stop to jot down a bunch of notes or try to digest all the nitty-gritty details. Try to get through the book as quickly as you can, slowing down only for section introductions, teaching progressions, and common form errors. This will give you the foundation to identify and correct the most obvious errors you could encounter. If you’d like to understand more of the material, read through the book again at a slower pace later. You can also learn more by reading the other Starting Strength books or sifting through Starting Strength and Barbell Logic materials online.
Obviously, even with this newfound knowledge, you can’t coach yourself in real-time either (at least not beyond your kinesthetic sense), so you’ll need to rely on videos too. It’s best to film your last warm-up and all of your worksets, even if it’s a light lift. That way you can look over your set while you’re resting and make adjustments for the upcoming set if needed. Specifically, try to identify recent and recurring form errors. If you need help seeing the form error, ask your coach to help you out when you upload your workout videos.
A less obvious way to improve your lifting and self-coaching is to follow Starting Strength coaches on Instagram, for two big reasons. One is that coaches are proficient in the main lifts and watching people perform the lifts correctly will help you to understand the lifts better and perform them better yourself. (Bonus if you find a coach with a similar body type to yours!) Secondly, many coaches add coaching and lifting advice to their Instagram posts, which means you’ll learn from the experiences, perspectives, and different communication styles of many coaches.
4. Review metrics and goals.
Every lifter should have goals because goals are what gives our training direction. Goals guide our programming and motivate us inside and outside of the gym. (To learn more about how to set effective goals, see this video. https://barbell-logic.com/smart-goals-for-strength/) Remember to revisit these goals later to remind yourself of the purpose of your training and to check to see how close you are to hitting them.
General lifting progress and progress toward goal completion is largely measured through personal records (PRs), sometimes called rep maxes (RMs). You should track the basic RMs, which would be 1RMs, 3RMs, and 5RMs for the main lifts, as well as any additional measurements that would motivate you. This may be other RMs, like 2RMs, or even different rep x set schemes, like 3x5s or 5x3s. You could track other exercises like chin-ups, and choose to track such exercises either by the greatest number of reps completed in one set or the greatest amount of weight added for 1 chin-up. You could also track body weight measurements such as body weight, body fat percentage, or waist circumference. Whichever measurements you choose, be sure to review them a few times a year for accuracy and to evaluate the effectiveness of your programming in different areas of your training.
5. Be a part of the community.
Even though lifting itself is very much an individual sport, being able to share your experiences—the triumphs, the failures, the key learning moments—with other people makes the lifelong journey more enjoyable. This is why BLOC created the BLOCFamily Slack. It’s a place where all BLOC clients can come together to discuss all things related to their lifting—like their favorite lift, their go-to meals, the equipment they’re using, or in-depth Starting Strength discussions—and even some things unrelated to their lifting like pets and hobbies! You may be alone when you’re lifting, but you’re not alone in your lifting.
But there are other places to go to find that community atmosphere as well. Check out the links below for other opportunities to connect, and don’t forget to check out accounts for individual SSCs and SS affiliate and franchise gyms.
BLOC coaches also organize meetups of their own to give lifters the opportunity to workout and build relationships with like-minded people. Lastly, you can sign up for a Strengthlifting meet through the United States Strengthlifting Federation (USSF) (https://usstrengthlifting.com/), which is one of the ultimate displays of strength in a competitive but incredibly welcoming and uplifting environment.
While you can join BLOC, keep your head down, do your sets and reps, and still find success, we have designed this to be much more than just a coaching service. We are your training partners to help you set and reach your goals, your teachers to impart our knowledge and experience that you can take with you for life, and your community to share all of it with.