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Tag: fitness

The Art of Coaching: The Push Up Edition

I shot this video a while back and have sat on sharing it because the exercise technique outcome isn’t great. I think, however, this video shows a good example of coaching on the fly.

  1. Watch the subject perform the exercise and identify what is wrong.
  2. Try to think of a cue that will fix everything. If not, fix the issue that will give you the greatest progress.
  3. When that doesn’t work, try something else. For example, you can show them what is happening, or, as I did in the video, grab them and put them in the right position.

So why does his back still look so stiff at the end?

Well, Ben has been working out for a long time. During his years in the gym, he has heavily cemented his push up pattern (the one you see in the video) over this time.

Maybe I could have made it look perfect, but at what cost? Providing too many cues ensures that no long-term progress is made and puts the client in a stressed out psychological state. They’re either frustrated with you, the trainer, for not being able to help them, or they’re frustrated with themselves for not being able to do what you are asking them.

In my experience, I won’t fix Ben in one day. He has too much neurological stiffness to overcome. He’s quite coachable, but he’ll still be resistant to adopting a new pattern.

What I can do, however, is remind him every time he does his push ups to finish with his arms long like they’re reaching through the ground. I could also have him bring his sternum to his spine, as I tried in the video. Or I could try a million other cues.

Then, I’ll probably notice his “reach” is actually just a crunching motion around the level of the 8th thoracic vertebra, T8. That’s that rounded hump in his back that I mention in the video. You’ll notice that the angle here increases after I cue him. He doesn’t want to turn on his serratus anterior muscles to give him the reaching motion, so he makes his arms longer by crunching them forward.

So then, I have to fix the damage from my previous cue. “Try to stay long through here like a board or piece of wood.” The problem is that it’s really difficult to get someone to differentiate levels of the spine like that. Maybe I get out a PVC pipe and put it on his back to help me. Maybe I give him a different exercise. Maybe I leave it alone and see if it gets better next time.

I will remind him every day I see him, and eventually his brain will learn the new pattern. My cues will change in the time being because there may be a better one for him next week. I’m not necessarily striving for perfect form, just better form.

I know all of this might seem like random babble, but the art of coaching is honing in your thought process and sprinkling in creativity. I’m just trying to give you an example.

Client Show Off

I just wanted to share with everyone some hard work from one of the morning clients at IFAST over the last week.

Squat. Bench. Deadlift.

Maria has always been fun to train since she’s very physically healthy. She works hard and just needs to be pushed on some occasions. Her technique is usually flawless.

I swear I don’t just beat her up all the time, but sometimes you should push the envelope a little. She went heavy on her last two sessions, now we’ll back down and let her recover.

Great work, Maria!

What My 9-Year-Old Sister Taught Me About Exercise

Have you ever been uninspired to go to the gym?

Maybe the gym isn’t the place you should be going.

Yesterday, I convinced my siblings to go to the nearby school with me and play soccer. Then I made them pose awkwardly so I could tell the internet about it.



I wanted to exercise, but I didn’t want traditional gym stuff. I needed something fun and unpredictable.

Stuff like this 2v2 soccer game gets undervalued by the analytical-minded. I’ve fallen into this trap before. But if four unskilled Goykes can go play soccer and get their hearts pumping, maybe that’s a viable substitute to structured training.

It doesn’t matter what skill level you are; it’s still fun, and you still get a workout. So feelings of incompetence are not valid excuses. NOT IN MY HOUSE!

Take my youngest sister, for instance.

Rylie very much dislikes exercise. She’s even told us, “Face it, guys. I’m just not meant to exercise.”

If you want to ride a roller coaster of emotion, listen to your sister tell you that. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.

This was her last night at my Team Training group class (yes, we got her to get up and move around twice in one day).



The fact that she’s capable of that fake smile while doing a plank shows how far she’s come. Someone who has never liked exercise is started to think maybe it could be okay.

My goal for her is NOT perfect exercise technique, but enjoyment of the exercise experience. Does technique play into that? Yes, because I need to manage the pain she feels. This negative emotion combats the positive emotions I want her to have. Otherwise, technique is on the backburner.

We’ve got miles to go with her, but we’ve come lightyears.

Next time you’re feeling like Rylie, try something new. All you need is a bike, a ball, and ground.

How Often Should I Change Exercises?

The short answer to this question is: “It depends.” The long answer is what follows.

Reasons you might change an exercise:

  1. There’s a better exercise you should be doing.
  2. You want to vary your training.
  3. To prevent boredom.

Reasons you might NOT change an exercise:

  1. You’re still seeing progress.
  2. It’s a very specific lift for your sport.
  3. It’s a fundamental movement (like a squat or a hip hinge).

Let’s break it down.


CHANGE: There’s a Better Exercise

This is the art of coaching. Being able to ebb and flow with the changing tides of training is a huge determinant of your success. I encounter this one all the time with my clients.

If I want someone to do split squats, but they just can’t maintain any semblance of good form, then it’s time to try a half kneeling cable chop instead. This is an example of an appropriate regression.

Now if I want someone to do a squatting bar reach to learn how to keep their pelvis underneath them, I might have their program written out for the next month, but if they get this down in a week, it’s time to move to a goblet squat. This is an example of an appropriate progression.

Play it by ear. If you’re training alone, use both objective (film yourself and watch the tape) and subjective (did that feel correct?) measurements of your progress.

Picture the lift. How did it feel?

Picture the lift. How did it feel?


CHANGE: Training Variation

The goal of training is to progressively adapt to stressful stimuli while maintaining the variability necessary to carry out any task you may need to perform.

“Progressively adapt to stressful stimuli,” means lose fat, put on muscle, and gain strength.

“Maintaining the variability necessary to carry out any task you may need to perform,” means don’t get hurt in the process.

So if I do the same exercises overandoverandoveragain, I get good at doing those exercises, but move me out of those exercises and I start to crumble.

My favorite way to maintain variability is to play games (like soccer tennis). If you need a more specific approach, you’re going to need to get a knowledgeable trainer or see a good physical therapist.


CHANGE: Prevent Boredom

Prevent boredom and you keep clients physically active. That’s one of the reasons you see my clients playing games during our group class or their own training.

This is an even bigger issue for kids. How can I accomplish what I need to accomplish while they have fun? Don’t criticize a child for not being interested in the squats you’re giving them. Instead, minimize the structure. Games are great for this, and as we just talked about, they’re also good for introducing variability.

Let the kids play!

Let the kids play!

Even simply loading an exercise in a different way, like holding the weights up high instead of down low, can keep someone interested in working out.

So now you know when to change your exercises, but when should you leave them alone?


DON’T CHANGE: Still Seeing Progress

This is the most obvious of reasons to keep something in your program. If the four weeks of your program are up, but the weights you’re using for your front squats are still rising, DON’T STOP. Ride those gains for as long as you can. Only then do you want to consider switching things up.


DON’T CHANGE: Specific for Your Sport

This one depends on where you are in your training cycle. The further out you are from a competition, the more “general” your exercises should be. This period is good for introducing variability.

If you’re eight weeks out from a powerlifting meet, however, you had best be squatting, benching, and deadlifting. You need to re-groove the patterns for those lifts.

If your sport is not a lifting-based one like powerlifting or Olympic lifting, you do the same thing, only different. If I’m a hammer thrower, I’m going to spend less time with a barbell and more time with a hammer. As I get closer and closer to competition day, I depart from “general” training and move toward more “specific” training.

Hammer throw

Yes, I’ll stay here safely behind the netting, please.


DON’T CHANGE: Fundamental Movement Pattern

For every program, you want a bend, a squat, an upper body push, and an upper body pull.

The bend, also known as a hip hinge, is any form of deadlift exercise. Examples include a Romanian deadlift, a rack pull, and a trap bar deadlift. These exercises teach my hips how to extend, and, performed correctly, are huge lifesavers on the low back throughout the day. If I only had one lower body exercise to load, it would be a bend pattern.

Isa Olsson deadlift

Get those hips through, Isa!

The squat is great for training knee extension. I may not choose to load the squat with a bar on my back, or maybe I won’t even load the squat at all, but this movement pattern is great for maintaining mobility across all joints. If nothing else, I can use a squat to train myself to control flexion across all joints, which is an essential trait if you want to maintain a high level of system variability.

I might not load it, but I want to be able to do it.

I might not load it, but I want to be able to do it.

An upper body push can be horizontal or vertical. My favorite version is the push up, but bench presses, floor presses, landmine presses, and cable presses fit in there as well.

An upper body pull can also be horizontal or vertical. A one-arm dumbbell row stays in most of my programs, but cable rows, bent rows, and pull ups are also solid choices. Rowing exercises may be the first thing to go if I have a new client with shoulder issues.


End Note

Reasons you might change an exercise:

  1. There’s a better exercise you should be doing.
  2. You want to vary your training.
  3. To prevent boredom.

Reasons you might NOT change an exercise:

  1. You’re still seeing progress.
  2. It’s a very specific lift for your sport.
  3. It’s a fundamental movement (like a squat or a hip hinge).

If you still aren’t sure, you should hire a professional. If you don’t know how to work on cars, you wouldn’t try to fix one on your own. Why would you do it on the most important vehicle you will ever own?

Quick Video on Improving Your Squat

Hey guys!

It’s been a crazy few weeks in Indy! Tons of new assessments coming through IFAST that I’ve been handling and I start filling in as the front desk girl this morning. I wanted to get something out for you guys, so I figured I would share a short video I shot on improving your squat. There will be a long post that details this process better sometime next week, so stay tuned and send me an email if you want to get on the reminder list. This thing is turning out to be a 2000 word monster.

Without further ado, check it out below!

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