I turned 34 over the weekend which means I’ve been doing ‘this’ for over 10 years with great clients like Adam above…tough love is required sometimes!

It’s been an amazing journey through personal training, large group fitness camps, premium group training, strength and conditioning for teams and individuals, hosting fitness retreats in Africa, building courses for other fitness professionals and now working online.

I’ve learned so much from so many other coaches in different areas of ‘the game’ that I won’t list them for fear of missing anyone out!

What I can do is give you 16 things I discovered along the way that have made me a better coach.

Quite a few of them would have been thrown in the ‘No not me’ pile early on when you think you know everything, largely because you just haven’t worked with enough people!

In no particular order, here they are…

1 – Meet People Where They Are

I used to see learning as a journey to acquiring more things to be glued together and chiselled into one system that would guarantee amazing results.

At first, you think you’ve discovered THE method and then it’s like trying to get a dog to jump over a river when they’re scared to.

The key is to really understand where someone is at mentally and physically and applying the best method for the next day, week and month, based on rock solid principles.

I guess at first my message was “You’re going to have to struggle until you fit into my way of doing things”.

Now I’ll go get them from their side of the river and carry them across until they have the mental and physical confidence to swim on their own.

There is no right or wrong, just “What will work right now to move us forward one or two steps?”

You must have the ability to throw plans out the window, understand stress and appreciate the rapidly changing dynamics of real life.

People are rarely in the same place on different days.

2 – Ask Better Questions

Before I start planning workouts and diets, my new coaching clients fill in two questionnaires.

One delves into history, lifestyle, stress and goals, the other assesses personality traits which is used to determine likely neurotransmitter and hormonal profiles as a basis for choosing the methods to be used.

It can take a bit of time and usually opens up more and more questions, but that’s how you get to the root of things and discover what’s really required to increase motivation, excitement for exercise and joy in life.

I feel a lot of coaches ask questions but don’t really listen because they’re too excited about TELLING people things.

3 – The Thing Is Not The Thing

I credit my friend Dax Moy for this little gem.

Whether we are talking about physical dysfunction or mental blocks, what you or your client THINK is the problem, is rarely the root cause.

Knee problems are often ankle problems.

Back problems are often hip problems.

Shoulder problems are often thoracic spine problems.

Body composition problems are not food problems but thought patterns and/or hormonal problems.

I now rarely take things said or seen on the surface to be the obstacle that needs attention.

If you or your clients aren’t willing to keep digging and want to just ‘workout’, you can expect a lot to stall and quit repeatedly.

Learn about stress.

Learn about hormones.

Learn about people as people not collections of muscles and bones.

4 – Look For The Minimum Effective Dose

I get excited about fitness and expect everyone else to be!

This often led me to see how much I could get someone to do in a week.

This MAY work as people are often fired up at first to be changing themselves.

The problem is that as soon as something else demands more time and energy, like family or work, the program starts to break down.

The client feels they can’t get it done fully or properly so might as well not do it at all.

My focus now is finding the Minimum Effective Dose of training and effort applied to nutrition to move in the right direction at the right pace.

I want people to come and ask what else they can add when life allows and I want them to have a plan they can do even in the busiest times of their life.

5 – Stop Fighting For One Corner

We all like to be part of something bigger and to fight for that cause.

As a coach this can make you closed to other options and by extension, your clients can miss out on what they really need.

More and more people sell their soul to CrossFit, Bodybuilding, Paleo, Vegan, Powerlifting, Kettlebells, Yoga, Bodyweight Only, HIIT and so on and find themselves fighting their corner against the guy or girl in the other corner.

All of the above are useful tools in certain situations, but the best ‘fixers’ have a toolbox, not one golden tool.

The temptation is to make everything look like a nail when all you have is a hammer.

This is partly a ‘belonging thing’ but mainly lazy coaching.

The key is to understand that many systems work and you should be prepared to use whatever your client needs.

That said, only use what you believe in or you are much less likely to communicate the details and requirements effectively.

6 – Know That Workouts Won’t Work Out If You Don’t Work Within

Exercise works when the right amount of stress is applied to the mind and body.

This means that there are times when certain exercises and workouts are too much.

“Go beast mode” and similar phrases can be really damaging to certain people in certain situations.

You have to understand people and situations in real time.

What may have been a wise choice last week to stress the individual enough to elicit results, may be the workout that tips their stress bucket and causes a cascade of psychological and physiological issues.

As a coach you have to help people minimise the impact of events in their life to ALLOW them to benefit fully from hard training, more controlled nutrition and so on.

There are days when a hard workout will push them forward and days when it’s better to just take a breath and step back.

The skill is in knowing the difference.

7 – Accept That Most Programming Is An Educated Guess 

I know you want to think you have a guaranteed system or you can build one but it’s just not true.

You are making an educated guess and part of being a great coach is getting better at guessing by getting better at collecting clues from the start and during the process.

One of the reasons that the fitness industry has such a poor success rate in terms of the percentage of people who get where they want to be is that clever marketing makes them think they simply cannot fail.

The reality is that many have failed using the method they are choosing because they weren’t willing to take that educated guess and then keep studying and observing and tweaking according to their personal progress and reactions to that method.

8 – Follow Fewer People

I pay attention to 4-5 coaches on social media.

The more people you follow, even if they are great coaches, the more opportunity cost there is in sticking to what you know.

You see more and more methods that you’re NOT using and get tempted to move away from what was already working due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)!

Learning is paramount, as is being open to knew methods.

However, being exposed to 100 different approaches on a daily basis will often leave you paralysed, second guessing what you’ve already made work in your business.

Now I try to engage with one method at a time and once I’ve taken what’s useful and updated my methods, I look into something and someone else.

9 – Use Chaos Less

I got dragged along with the whole high intensity thing that really gained momentum in my early days as a coach, largely because it coincided with the rise of bootcamps and CrossFit hitting mainstream channels.

I still LOVE high intensity training and random, ‘shock and awe’ sessions but I also know that it’s part of a bigger picture.

The value of heavy strength work was forgotten as it’s not as entertaining.

The power of more tension in your reps was replaced with just getting stuff done as fast as possible to beat other people or the clock.

I’ve reached a happy point of knowing how to merge it all and progress it all through Cyclic Prioritisation in programming as opposed to random chaos that makes people feel like they’re on the verge of unconsciousness.

10 – Use Fewer Pre-Coaching Physical Assessments

I went down the road of wanting to know how to assess people to within a millimetre of their kyphotic posture and slightly rotated hip.

Rule one should be to do no harm, but the reality is that people are beautifully erratic, fucked up and randomly built, and always will be.

Constant assessments due to arrogantly thinking you can perfect posture created from 8 hours a day of sitting in three hours of gym work is misguided in my opinion.

It’s also a lot like a kid thinking because they know how to play Call Of Duty, they are ready to go  on to the front line in a war zone.

No plan survives contact with the enemy and I’ve often found that cautiously approaching full body workouts and adapting from there through careful observation brings about results and improvements more so than 12 weeks of not letting someone near a barbell for fear that their tight ITB may cause a little knee flick on a deadlift.

The same can be said of nutrition. 

Educate people on the basic 7-10 things that will make the biggest changes then adapt as they go.

Get moving!

I became a fan of jump then figure out how to fly on the way down.

11 – Be Honest If Someone Isn’t Ready For Coaching

I used to want to ‘save’ everyone.

The truth is that some people just aren’t ready for coaching even if they are asking.

Trying to get these people to snap out of the despair they are in will often drive you nuts and you aren’t helping them by pretending that by losing a few pounds the world will suddenly look like a magical place.

If they aren’t willing to do some soul searching and make some big changes, it’s going to be a pointless, frustrating process for both of you.

Learn to say no to the money.

12 – Start With Environments

Toxic relationships, cluttered houses and offices, unhealthy social circles and negativity internal environments can all prevent progress.

I became a more effective coach by questioning and addressing my clients’ personal environments as a priority at the start.

Failure to do this often leads to breakdowns in progress further down the line.

Whilst this can lead to resistance at first, it often leads to major leaps in ability to apply the practical action steps, like releasing the breaks in a fast car.

13 – Make Sure Coaching Is a Joint Effort

I stopped putting more effort into my clients’ lives than they do.

If someone doesn’t want to think about their own situation and do some difficult things, you will never coach them to do anything meaningful.

If someone complains about the time it takes to fill in a form so you can find out more about their situation, that coaching relationship will go nowhere!

If you’re spending ages creating great workouts and nutrition plans, only for clients to show up late to sessions, drink fifteen pints at the weekend and keep hanging around people who lead them to undo what you’ve taught them, give it up.

You’re not a babysitter.

Make sure your clients understand this.

14 – Clients’ Feelings Are Not Your Responsibility

It took me a while to realise I am not here to give my client a ‘feel better’ fix.

I am not a packet of sweets that puts a smile on your face for a few minutes.

That might make me sound like an asshole so let me explain.

If your client only feels good when they workout and spend time with you, you’re creating something with sand for foundations.

You job is to help them think differently not feel differently.

Their feelings are their own responsibility.

Once you both accept this, happiness at all times of the day and week can increase not just when you help them get an endorphin hit and a PR in the back squat!

When they can think differently to what they used to in the gym, in front of a mirror, in social situations, away on business and faced with boozy client meetings, they will feel differently about life.

Workout effort will also increase without forced motivation and cracking your personal trainer whip.

When you start creating coaching methods that change people’s thinking, you’ll be amazed how results improve – sometimes overnight when they’ve been stuck for years!

15 – Get People To Do What They Already Know

If you’re like me, you REALLY want to help everyone you meet and don’t want to leave anything out that could be useful!

That is an admirable quality but can actually STOP progress.

More often than not, people know they should drink more water, eat more vegetables, avoid sugars, eat protein every meal and get to bed earlier.

They don’t need you to start quoting complex calorie calculations and suggesting thirteen supplements.

They need to understand why and how to increase the consistency of applying what they already know.

Start from where they are at and what they know already.

This will be surprisingly effective and easier than giving them a 100 page bible of fitness.

16 – Stop Moaning About The Fitness Industry

Yes, there is a lot of ridiculous stuff that cons and makes money from the people we want to help.

Constantly moaning about it and trying to bring it down with one Facebook post is no different to thinking that posting a meme about Donald Trump will turn the juggernaut that is American politics.

It amazes me when 20, 000 people share something in the hope of stopping people from falling from it.

If people are desperate they will check it out, see what they want to see because they wear a different pair of life filtering glasses to you, and often engage with what you are fighting against.

You’re just making the problem worse.

Spend your writing and social media time, producing your own content.

It might not cause as much of a stir, but if everyone did this, we would start winning more.

If something has gained traction (rightly or wrongly), they are doing something right in terms of getting people to pay attention.

So you don’t like the way CrossFit does some things.

Great, I’m the same.

However, they do A LOT right in terms of engaging people.

What can you take from their ideals regarding challenging people, building community and creating something bigger for people to be part of no matter what level they’re at?

Go And Be Better!

I disagreed with or acted in the opposite way to all of the above points at one time in my career!

Experience is the best teacher and I can guarantee if you take these approaches, you’ll attract better clients, improve the results you help them achieve and enjoy your role as a coach much more!

Don’t be afraid to change.