Two Athletes - One Workout
3 min read
May 19, 2022
A coach can provide a pathway towards your goals, but they cannot walk the path for you- you have to make the change happen.
Younger or less-experienced weightlifters love obsessing about the program. Is x or y the right choice? Are blocks or hangs better for fixing this problem?
It’s good to pay attention, but it’s also important to take some ownership of the process - and not get stuck in the plan, when the doing is the important part.
It’s easy to worry that your coach is missing the secret sauce exercise that will make you better. But unless your coach is an absolute moron (not unheard of), you probably need to ruminate less and work more.
What really happens is these athletes think their coach is there to fix their technique. An easy mistake to make, considering it’s half-true.
Rather, a coach is there to provide you with the proper education and exercise selection to improve yourself. The coach’s job is to teach you what you should be doing, and how - your job is to make that happen in the real world.
What’s a Coach For?
Coaches typically have 3 major roles in your training - and they’re also steps that they should be helping you get familiar with and practice:
- They know what a well-executed snatch, clean, or jerk should look like.
- They spot problems in lifts where you deviate from that model of good execution.
- They know how to cue and program a solution into your training.
The problem is that step 3 is a joint effort.
It’s not enough for your coach to provide a good solution. That solution is a pathway from bad technique to good technique - or “okay to better”, if you’re a sensitive soul. The coach cannot walk that pathway for you- you have to make the change happen.
Conscious effort is the ‘secret sauce’ that takes you from point A to point B in technique. A coach’s guidance is exactly that - it tells you what to change, but it doesn’t change anything for you. That’s where you have to be an athlete and practice the changes your coach is looking or.
Coaching Vs Athlete-ing: Exercise Selection vs Execution
This is all to say that there’s a huge difference between choosing the right exercises and executing them properly to get the benefits. A coach could give two different athletes the same exercise - something as simple as a power clean - and get wildly different results.
Let’s say that athlete 1 is there to put in the work and go home. They’ve got a tendency to hitch under the bar instead of staying over, bend the arms to get it into the hip, and then pop it up to the chest. It’s working for them on light weights and - as they practice - it continues, getting more pronounced with weight.
Then, athlete 2 has the same problem but is using the power cleans as an exercise where - with lighter weight and more focus on turnover -they can improve this problem. They warm up carefully, keeping the bar back and weight through the whole foot, and it goes well. Despite only using 65-70% of their max, they’re developing the technical feel and the positional strength to fix the problem.
Here’s the (really obvious) twist: they’re the same athlete. Those are just two different sessions based on the way that they approach an exercise and the opportunity it represents in the training program. Is it just another power clean workout, or deliberate practice for the things you’re already doing wrong?
It might be that a different exercise would make this change easier, but the ‘athlete 2’ approach helps you improve in that session. You can’t control what your coach wants you to do, but execution leads the day and ensures you’re improving in the things you do control.
This is the urgency, commitment, and sense of presence that makes a weightlifting program work. It’s a way of training that demands proper attention to detail and the humility to know that you’re doing something wrong - alongside proper coaching and education on technique.
Outro: Keep It In Perspective
Coaching is useful - and an essential part of getting the absolute best from training - but it’s not everything. You have to take responsibility for yourself in training, in your nutrition, in your sleep, and when working on mobility problems.
Coaches offer a framework but it’s on you and me, as athletes, to pour as much smart and hard work into that framework as possible. Being deliberate and coach-able is an important step in getting better. Exercise selection and other variables are important, but they’re not the most important- that’s down to how you comport yourself in training and approach the process.
Coach or not, improvement comes when you turn up to train with a weakness or improvement in mind for each exercise. Every rep - warm up or top set - is a chance to improve - focus your energy on identifying and improving technique a little in each set. It’s that simple.