Being a coach is more than developing a badass excel spreadsheet and being able to quote this research paper you read to validate your training philosophy. A real coach has to not only have the education from academia but also and more importantly from under the bar. Experience goes a long way in becoming a good coach. Being able to work in person with clients so you can see their mannerisms as they walk through the door and tell if they had a shitty day or not and adjust on the fly. Anyone can write a program these days but very few can actually be a good coach. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I wanted to pass on what I have learned from being in this industry a little over a decade.
In order for your program to be successful, you must first take in a few considerations about the athlete. Things like lifestyle, work conditions, sleep, nutrition, and personality. Beyond that you also have to see how the athlete moves, in person this is easy but being an online coach now and going through video it gets to be a difficult task, so make sure you have a criteria you want the athlete to meet as far as filming goes so you can properly assess the athlete. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but if you are an online coach or an athlete looking for a coach you must evaluate the lifters videos and if you find a coach that doesn’t get your money back immediately. I’ve seen a great lifter recently work with a coach and never once did he ask for a video or provide any type of analysis of weak areas or technique improvements and you know what happened that athlete lost 40 plus pounds on his squat and had a mediocre day on the platform. Please don’t be a lazy coach that relies on just statistics alone to program for you and have some pride in what you do.
As a lot of coaches can attest being a coach is more about being a people analyzer than an actual coach, anyone can write out a program that is the easy part. What if your client is in school and has 4 exams the next week are you going to give that person the hardest or longest workouts of the training cycle, probably not. Getting to know the client and their lifestyle is important and you can’t impose your beliefs or wants on to them. They will do things the way that best suits them and how they live and as a coach, it is your job to work around that and still provide them with a great plan that they progress on. Knowing things like your client works all night as a bouncer on the weekends, so giving them an accessory day on Monday that is not too demanding is a great way to not pile on top of their crappy conditions or even giving them a rest day. You have to figure out what works best for the client's situation and not what works best for your program. That is the difference between a paper coach and a real coach.
If you are working with individuals that work a manual labor job or have a crappy sleep situation which in powerlifting is a very common thing you must know their ability to recover is going to be small. So you won’t be able to overload them with volume upon volume and expect them to be able to recover for the next workout. Sure you can provide them with tips on how to improve sleep and to help with recovery but those things won’t overcome poor programming because you are running them into the ground. Start them off at a low point with volume and each week get feedback on how things are going, find out which days are the hardest and which days you can push a little more and slowly add things in, but be sure you ask the right questions because an athlete will always tell you they are good and ready to go. So make sure you are able to get real feedback like how did warm ups feel? Do you feel like fatigue is hindering you more than strength? Things looked kinda slow this week how was work and sleep? You have to dive deep with questions to get the right answers out of the client so you can write out the following weeks plan so they are able to succeed.
I can not stress nutrition enough, if you have an athlete who’s idea of proper nutrition is McDonald's breakfast you will have some issues with their ability to recover. Sure getting in enough calories, which most powerlifters do, or used to nowadays everyone wants to diet down to a weight class, is of the utmost importance the type of calorie does matter for performance. Mainly thinking of things like digestion, gut health, and peri-workout nutrition can go a very long way in improving body composition which can create better leverages to lift more and it will strongly impact their ability to recover to keep pushing hard every session. Now if you can’t get an athlete to buy in or an athlete who is always dieting this is a huge consideration to their programming. Be sure to understand your client's nutrition and their nutrition goals to make sure it falls in line with their lifting goals. If not briefly explain to them the contradictions and see what route they want to go. Either way, the athlete's nutrition plays a big role in how you set up their training so ask about it.
The last thing I want to cover is dealing with an athlete's personality. Now I know this is not often thought about but getting to know your athlete beyond the training and nutrition is equally as important in order to set up an effective training plan. Finding out their personalities and what/how they enjoy lifting. I’ve noticed a lot of extroverts do better with a more conjugated approach and before you say it doesn’t work for raw lifters please do some research on what conjugated training actually is. I’ve also noticed the opposite for introverts they can do the same thing each week and just put in work more of a grinder mentality. Giving the athlete what they enjoy will create more motivation in the gym for them to train hard and training hard is very critical to maximizing your gains.
I hope after reading this article you will take a bit more time getting to know your athletes and truly doing your job in creating a program. Being an online coach has become a real easy way to rip people off, don’t be that person. Spend time doing video reviews, ask questions about life outside of the gym and build a rapport with your athletes to help them reach their goals.