Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum is a strength coach. Here are his basic guidelines for working with trainees.

TL;DR: Good coaching is the opposite of how drill sergeants “teach” recruits.

Basic Coaching Review Principles

1. Remember you are coaching a human being, not a machine.

This is a person who has previous experiences, successes, fears, struggles, and ideas.  You probably do not know all of these, so take a moment to ask a few questions, to look at the demeanor of the lifter, to see how they are talking about themselves and their lifts. You can in fact do this online and with a video.

This practice tells you a lot about how you can proceed.  I can yell forcefully (or write very direct cues without always noting all of the positives as well) at some people and that’s effective.  For others, they would shrink and immediately become less confident or their overall anxiety about mistakes or problems can increase.  For some, they are assured with some affirmation of a positive before they can really hear a correction or problem.

A lifter might have some long-held habits and ideas about a lift and I won’t get very far if I immediately contradict those unless we have a chance to communicate about this first. For example-a guy who has been benching for YEARS usually thinks he’s an awesome bencher.  He and the bros have been maxing out forever.  I can usually find things to improve, but if I make him immediately feel like I think he’s “not a good bencher” or if change something that he has been doing for years without explanation as to why the change might be helpful, chances are he’s not going to hear or accept what I have to say.

Someone else might have long-standing knee trouble and hold quite dearly some ideas/narratives or fears about a squat.  I want to know a bit about this before I yell cues about going deeper or cueing the knees at all.

2. Be patient, step back, and be quieter than you might want to be.

Coaching is not about filling someone’s brain with feedback, words, and corrections.  It’s not even about praising them as much as possible. It’s about providing fitting feedback at the fitting time and in a fitting manner.  You’re not a better coach because you have something to say right away or can fill the time with words.  Remember this is not about the coach and all you can write or say to fill the rest times, it’s about the lifter and what you can do to help them.

3. Aim to take in the whole picture: their entire movement, confidence, control, speed, balance, and all that.

Do not fall back on those “handy cues” that are easy to hyperfocus on and miss the more important things.  You’re a better coach when you can step back, see the overall movement, consider THIS lifter, and offer coaching cues to improve the most impactful problems first.  Think about things like this lifter’s confidence with this lift, with this weight.  Look at overall balance, control of the bar, range of motion, and bar speed.  These are the places to start, not necessarily their fingers, an exact toe angle, and even their head position.

4. Be careful with your words.

You might not share a coaching language yet, and you certainly can’t assume that you’re going to have one way to coach everyone. Simply offering short cues without any shared understanding is ineffective and incredibly frustrating to a lifter.  Imagine trying to execute a lift and someone is now using phrases that mean very little to you, yet they expect you to do something with that information WHILE you are moving.  Ack!  Also, this is why short cues posted to videos on Facebook generally drive me crazy.  No one needs a series of one-liners, they need a cue AND an explanation on what that means, unless you know that lifter and share this language already.