Coaching Etiquette: The Grey Area of the Commercial Gym Setting
I’m lucky that I live in a strength and conditioning bubble that allows me the ability (and luxury) to control pretty much everything around me. With the exception of the music – which is a never ending battle of techno vs. rap vs. country vs. metal vs.
Katy Perry my ears are bleeding – as a coach and part-owner of my own facility I have a large say in the everyday shenanigans (for lack of a better term) that goes down.
Between myself, the other two coaches (Eric Cressey and Chris Howard), and our interns, every warm-up drill, every sprint drill, every exercise, every set and rep, EVERY PROGRAM is supervised – meticulously. While I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing sunshine up our own ass – although that’s exactly what I’m doing – seemingly, we’re doing something right, and I like to think we’re doing our part in cementing proper exercise habits and techniques along the way.
One of the best compliments we can receive as a staff is when other fitness professionals stop by to observe and they go out of their way to commend us on how well coached our athletes and clients are.
It happens all the time. And I’m proud of that fact.
People squat to proper depth; their deadlifts don’t make my spine start hyperventilating; they know how to perform a push-up correctly; they know that a chin-up really means sternum-up; there’s absolutely no cell phones allowed on the gym floor; and there’s certainly no curling in the squat rack. Unless your last name rhymes with Smeshshmentilore. In that case, it’s totally pimp.
Like I said, I live in a pretty sweet bubble where I can control things, and people, more often than not, do things right….and get strong and swole to boot.
And then, I go to a commercial gym, and I’m immediately reminded how much I want to throw an ax into my face.
Now, before I continue, let me just say that I’ve been trying to make more of a concerted effort to stop drinking the haterade.
Busting on commercial gyms is easy, and in a lot of ways played out. It serves no purpose than to feed the fire and make me come across as kind of douchey. Besides, not all commercial gyms are created equal, and I know of plenty who do it right (ahem, Dean Somerset), actually take some pride in their craft, and go out of their way to actually help their members and demonstrate that they care for their well-being. In my experience, however, those are few and far between.
Because I live in the city, I have easy access to numerous commercial gyms. As such, on the off chance that I don’t go into CP on any given day – like this past Tuesday for instance – it makes it convenient to still get a lift in.
It’s inevitable that I’m going to see stupid stuff while I’m there. I’m prepared for that. There’s the woman who hangs upside down off the bars and then proceeds to perform some sort of core training/circus act. There’s the guy performing 1-legged DB lateral raises – off a BOSU ball. And there’s the two meat-heads performing 57 variations of chest presses.
As a coach I can’t help myself but observe. It’s ingrained in me. Still, I realize that (most) people don’t know any better, and in any event, at least they’re doing something. I just shrug it off, turn up my iPod, and move on with my life.
It’s when I watch some of the trainers in action that I get furious. Half the time, I feel as if the client would be better off taking their money and flushing it down the toilet.
Almost always, technique is just AWFUL! I don’t care who you are, or how many letters you have next to your name, if your client is deadlifting with a rounded back, and you don’t correct it, you lose all credibility in my eyes.
I watched one trainer actually demonstrate with a rounded back, and then proceed to allow his client to do the same. Encouraging him along the way.
Moreover, I watched a female trainer take her female client through an entire session using nothing heavier than a ten lb dumbbell. Jesus, I’m willing ot bet the woman’s purse is heavier than ten lbs!
Really? 10 lbs?
I don’t know, maybe they were training for the National Paper Weight Carrying championship. Specificity, right?
Or what about this exchange I overhead from a female TRAINER getting trained from her male counterpart.
Dude Trainer (putting her on the Smith Machine to perform RDLs): Okay, so now we’re going to target the medial hamstring.
***I have no idea how performing RDLs in the Smith Machine somehow targets the medial hamstring. Whatever.
Female Trainer: okay, so what are we going to do after this?
Dude Trainer: Walking lunges
Female Trainer: You mean, with weight?
Unbelievable. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and scream…….”YES, with weight!!”
But I didn’t, of course. It wasn’t my place to do so.
When I got home that afternoon, I posted a ‘status’ update on my Facebook Wall describing the above exchange, and someone responded with:
How do you feel about critiquing people? Especially because of your expertise in the field?
To which I replied:
I don’t offer ANY unsolicited advice when I train at commercial gyms. I get asked questions all the time, and when that happens, I’m all for giving my opinion. Of course, as a coach, I can’t help but observe (and shake my head sometimes), but I’d NEVER go out of my way to openly chastise someone. Especially another trainer.
This isn’t to say I’ve never helped someone out. On numerous occasions I’ve been approached by other patrons, and was more than willing to offer some insight or words of encouragement. Several times, I’ve actually coached people through their deadlifts or squats. But then again, they asked. It’s not like I walked up to them with an “holier than thou” attitude and started drilling them.
Sure, there’s ways to be subtle, especially if it looks like someone is going to break their back in half……
But it brings up an interesting conversation: what’s crossing the line?
When is it acceptable to step in and offer unsolicited advice? For me, it’s a VERY grey area, and something that’s more or less a case-by-case scenario.
What are you thoughts? I’d be interested in hearing them.