Do you take a Procustean approach to coaching?
If you do, you’re putting your clients’ safety at risk, explained OPEX CCP Coach Kevin Don, a man with 20 years of coaching experience.
By Procustean, he is referring to Procustes, an ancient Greek mythological figure and the son of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea.
Procustes’ story goes like this: He abducted travelers and forced them to fit in his iron bed, either by stretching them, bashing them into shape, or cutting off their legs.
While nobody’s suggesting coaches are chopping off their legs, the metaphor is a powerful one as it highlights the biggest mistake Don sees in the industry today when it comes to fitness or nutrition prescriptions: A lack of respect for individual differences.
“A Procustean coach will ignore individual morphological differences to make a client fit into their own model of good or bad movement or program design,” Don explained.
Bottom line, to avoid being Coach Procustes, here are 5 mistakes you need to avoid:
Deciding what movements are appropriate for your clients can be challenging: It involves taking into consideration movement patterns, volume, intensity, capability, among other things, and it’s easy to get it wrong.
OPEX Coach Georgia Smith said one of the biggest mistakes she sees are coaches who prescribe movements that are too complex for the client (or the client selects movements that are too complex).
“For example, a back squat when a goblet squat is more appropriate,” she said.
Another great example is overhead movements. Ask yourself this: If your client can’t pass a shoulder flexion test—meaning they can’t lift their arm or arms overhead with straight elbows all the while maintaining a neutral spine—should they really be pressing a barbell overhead, let alone doing it with speed, such as during a jerk or a snatch?
When it comes to movement selection, one thing coaches often fail to consider is what the client is trying to achieve, explained James Fitzgerald in this video.
One movement selection example he gave in the latter video was for a client who needs to improve movement patterns:
“You should provide as much variation as possible when the context of what you’re doing for the person is motor learning. So, if want to to improve movement…for someone in exercise selection, then variety is key,” Fitzgerald said.
His overall point, however, is less about specific example and more about getting coaches to consider the individual person’s needs.
“I would ask you to stop thinking about what the program should look like, and think more about what’s the overall goal and intention for the client, and that will lead you to the right kind of exercise selection for that person,” he explained.
Watch the full video here.
A second big mistake Smith sees is “giving speed strength exercises—like a clean and jerk or snatch—when the (client) doesn’t have a good base of absolute strength,” she said.
What do we mean by strength speed?
Strength speed is the ability to absorb and transmit forces rapidly. The daily application of speed strength is very limited because of the sport-specific nature. In a program, speed strength training would involve movements such as plyometrics, medicine ball throws, and barbell cycling. Read more here.
In short, Smith and Fitzgerald agree too many coaches prescribe speed strength work to clients who aren’t ready, putting their safety in jeopardy.
In this podcast, the host asks Fitzgerald: “Strength speed and how to incorporate it into programs. You’ve got an hour. Go.”
He replies: “Only two percent of you should ever touch this. There we go. Close it down.”
What do you mean too much warm-up? How can that be?
Consider this: If a lifestyle client needs to warm up for 30 minutes in order to be prepared enough to get into the correct positions during the training portion of the program, there’s probably something wrong with the program you wrote for them.
Though we’re arguably obsessed with warming up today, it wasn’t always a human priority. Our ancestors didn’t warm up to go hunting or gathering, nor do we warm up today before we run up the stairs or bend down to pick up a heavy suitcase.
The reason we place such an emphasis on warm-up today is because research shows warm-up is needed for performance. The key here being performance. The research on warm-up has all been based on elite athletic performance, not for general health folks.Thus, Fitzgerald asks coaches to ask themselves:
Do we warm up before we go up the stairs at home? Do moms warm up before picking their child up from the ground? Do construction workers warm up before packing around lumber? You get the point.
“If one wants to learn how to move for life through exercise, they most likely should be doing things that are just in front of their abilities and should require no warm-up, per se. …It would make sense if the goal of the exercise session was to possibly reach further than expected in the session, as does happen in sport performance, but for fitness, it simply does not make sense,” he said.
In other words, the main reason the lifestyle person looking to get fit for life should need a lengthy warm up is if they’re about to embark on an inappropriate training program that’s outside of the scope of their current capabilities.
But if the program is an effective one for their abilities, then warm-ups should be kept at a minimum.
Similar to how we all think we need to warm up for 30 minutes because high-level athletes need to, another common mistake that does our clients a disservice is “attempting to utilize training techniques—exercises, progressions, set and rep schemes etc—that were originally designed to be used in an advanced sports performance setting, for everyday people,” said OPEX CCP Coach Dylan Staniec, the owner of Sea2SummitTraining.
An example of this is plyometrics (which also happen to fall under the speed strength mistake).
“Plyometrics have the capacity to be a very powerful and effective training tool. And when applied correctly can provide a significant performance enhancement,” Staniec said.
“However, coaches and trainers often overlook the fact that plyometrics were intended to be used with trainees that already have a significant strength base and training history. Utilizing plyometric training with a trainee that hasn’t taken the time to develop their strength base can easily lead to injury,” he explained.
To a large degree, this comes down to meeting clients where they’re at, which is the final point.
Another final mistake Staniec said he sees is not recognizing the importance of meeting clients where they’re at.
When he stopped prescribing workouts blindly and started to sit down and really listen to his clients’ wants, needs, priorities, and goals, he became a more effective coach.
“Really talk to them about what they want to accomplish and set clear expectations about what it will take to get there,” he said.
From here, progress them gradually.
“Gradual being the key word,” he said. “All too often people try to take short cuts in their progressions and give clients too much too soon. To really understand where someone currently is and what is appropriate for them, a physical assessment is a very important tool. Perhaps even more important though is really taking the time to dive into a client’s goals and examine them closely.”
Examining them closely involves looking beyond the gym, beyond the training itself, to what else is going on in the person’s life. Staniec does this through monthly consults, where he can focus on other important factors that affect their training, such as nourishment, sleep and stress levels.
When Staniec switched to this model, his client retention was 100 percent the following year. Read his full story here.
Bottom line: Consider the individual first—their wants, needs, goals, strengths, weaknesses, priorities in life, injury history, movement pattern deficiencies, training history etc. Once that’s all taken into consideration, prescribe movements and intensity accordingly.
So how do you consider the individual and determine the kinds of movements will get them results and keep them safe? You need a system to intake, assess, and design smart training programs. Learn just that in this free course, the Coach’s Toolkit.