The Qualities of a Good Coach
The fitness industry has undergone a renaissance in the last 10 years. More people than ever are lifting weights and using barbells, trying to get stronger and improve their performance, instead of focusing solely on achieving a certain predetermined look. This is amazing. But it’s also created a new problem that the industry has never had to solve before: How do you know who to hire to learn how to do this from a competent coach who will teach you both safely and effectively?
The longtime industry paradigm that still reigns today is that you seek out people who look the way you want to look, and assume this means they can help you look this way. While logical on the surface, this approach misses an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to barbell training.
Unlike visual based programs like “ten week to terrific triceps” or the “champions’ chest chiseling workout,” intelligent strength training must have a logical, systematic approach to both the teaching of the movements themselves, as well as the arrangement of exercises, sets, reps, and load to yield maximum results, safely. It’s a long term process that requires intelligent management of complex physiological and psychological processes, as well as adjusting to lifestyle factors and issues that come up along the way. It requires coaches to step outside of themselves and coach YOU, not just copy the same thing they do. In short, it’s a real profession requiring skills that must be developed over time, based on an understanding of anatomy and physiology, close observation of many lifters over time, and some empathy or sympathy to be able to coach YOU instead of a generic template.
Coaches with this skill-set are not something you’re likely to find by accident. So what do you look for?
First, you need someone who has gone through the process themselves. A personal, deep-rooted perspective in what it’s like to feel crushed to the earth by a loaded barbell, but to overcome that and stand back up again, is absolutely crucial to be able to help you through that process when the day comes. Knowing what goes wrong when the weight gets heavy and how to stay focused to overcome that, and keep good technique, is essential. Experience tackling the ups and downs of the entire linear progression: from the honeymoon period of easily adding weight and improving technique every workout at the start, to slowing down, to failing for the first time, to eeking out the last bits of progress is necessary to guide you through that process.
In short, personal experience with the process of getting stronger and tackling and problem solving the issues as they arise, is required to become a good coach, so you need a coach who has walked the walk and not just talked the talk.
Unlike the industry paradigm, however, you do not need the best lifter as your coach. Because the other side of the coin is that without having personally gone through the struggles, your coach is less likely to be able to help you get through those struggles. Someone for whom technique and strength increases came easily is less likely to have spent time working his way through the issues that only other, less athletic people have to deal with, and finding solutions. “Just squat more,” or “stand up!” are the kind of cues and advice I’ve seen from this kind of natural athlete. Not very useful for a 35 year old soccer mom lifting for the first time in her life, or a 60 year old Executive who hasn’t done anything except sit at a desk for the last 20 years.
There are always exceptions, so don’t automatically rule out top lifters, but that’s not what you’re actually looking for. You’re looking for someone with:
1. The knowledge of anatomy and physiology necessary to understand good technique and basic programming.
2. Experience lifting and successfully getting stronger, but also problem solving their own issues, so they understand and can help you get through yours.
3. The ability to see your lifting mistakes in real time as they occur, and communicate with you succinctly and immediately, to make the very next rep better.
As of the recording of this video, the Starting Strength Coach – SSC – credential is the industry’s only certification that tests for these competencies. It’s no coincidence that the passing rate is very low, about 15%, because the standard is very high. And Starting Strength Online Coaching is the world’s single greatest repository of SSCs. All of whom can brainstorm and talk to each other daily on our internal company messaging app, to collectively share our experiences and expertises with each other to raise the level of discourse even higher. Independent coaches exist with these competencies, too. But the only certification that tests for them, ensuring a very high floor of competency, is the SSC. And the only place where dozens of SSCs chat with each other, daily, about their lifters and experiences, is SSOC.
So we think we’re a great place to go when looking for a coach: a Starting Strength Coach if you’re looking for in person coaching and SSOC if you need online coaching. Individual Starting Strength Coaches offer great online coaching services as well. Just remember the main things you’re looking for: basic scientific literacy and application, experience lifting and working their way through the process themselves, and excellent communication skills to deliver that accumulated knowledge and experience to you, to help you meet your goals.