Don’t Confuse your Physical Strengths with Expertise

First let me apologize. I am no writer or social media expert. I am a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach and I won’t pretend to be anything else, so please keep that in mind as you read. This post has been weighing on my mind for sometime now. I was reading an old Crossfit article written by Lon Kilgore last week and he discusses what he thinks people believe being a coach entails and what we actually do (exert below).

You can read the full article about the complexity of training here (http://journal.crossfit.com/2008/05/dissecting-the-fish-plotting-p.tpl)

But this article lead me to finally write this blog as I believe most people have the wrong idea about what being a coach is. It has not become uncommon for people to believe they know a whole lot without having any real idea of what they doing. Actually, just today while I was writing this a friend mentioned she knew someone thinking about offering CrossFit classes out of their garage with no Strength and Conditioning education or experience. As sad and as frustrating as this is for professionals to hear, it is fully understandable. The idea that someone thinks they are capable when they clearly are not is explained by the Dunning-Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect). «The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.»

Don’t kid yourself, CrossFit is not the only place in the world of health and fitness this happens. I meet people constantly that tell me their previous «trainer» was a body builder or fitness competitor or boot camp instructor but they had no qualifications to be overseeing someone’s well being. My Strength and Conditioning colleagues have been discussing this for years. It plays out in many areas of life because people believe their opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. Let me tell you it’s not. My opinion that the carbon tax here in Alberta will be ineffective is not as valid as an economist who says it will. Why? The economist has more information/education (hopefully anyway) to base their opinion on. This is the whole point of paying a professional for their educated opinion/direction/services etc. So as someone who has spent the better part of a decade working full time as a coach, here is some advice.

Don’t confuse your muscles with knowing the mechanisms by which your muscles grow or the physiology behind the multitudes of other types of training people do and understanding why or when to use them. Having big muscles does not make you an expert in anything. It is very common in the body building world for 220 pound guys with 5% body fat and usually body dysmophoria (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/body-dysmorphia/Pages/Introduction.aspx) to believe they know every thing about fitness. If you don’t understand anything about physiology and you happen to get your muscles to grow, it doesn’t make you an expert, it makes you lucky and not everyone needs or wants to be bigger. From personal experience it definitely doesn’t make you any more fit. Just so everyone is on the same page, there is no big secret to building muscle, everyone in the S&C world could be a «hypertrophy specialist» if they saw the necessity in it. In reality most athletes want to get stronger WITHOUT adding size.

Don’t confuse your Snatch weight with actually spending thousands of hours watching people move or understanding the biomechanics behind safe and efficient movement. I’ve worked with some of our countries best coaches (maybe the world’s best) and none of them are better than average lifters. Why? Good coaches spend their time learning, applying, experimenting, analyzing. Lather, rinse, repeat. They spend less time practicing these things themselves and more time helping their clients. If you went to a high performance weight room and lined up the coaches you would see some skinny, some overweight, some really old, most would be unshaven and sleep deprived. For the most part they are not world class athletes. You probably would think you were looking at a group of homeless people.

Don’t confuse your Fran time with an understanding of motor learning. I can see when your hip doesn’t fully extend, or when you pull early on your snatch, or when you lose your neutral spine in your overhead position. I know it frustrates you when I tell you to start your snatch from the high hang instead of the floor, but I have reasons for this. I choose purposefully when to mention specific things and when to allow you to do certain things because I know providing too much feed back is not going to help you. We don’t want to be mowing the lawn while the house is on fire!

Don’t Confuse your ½ marathon time with understanding running mechanics or work to rest ratios for developing various energy systems. I’ve watched people who run distance races and the majority of them need a good lesson in how to run and some focused strength training. Just because they have managed to do it without injury doesn’t mean they won’t sooner or later have one, or even develop metabolic issues. I was recently having a beer with a S&C friend. I mentioned someone I know who has a variety of chronic issues. He was in shock and said it all sounded like over use issues. I assured him that is what I informed this person, but they didn’t want to take my advice. As Gray Cook says «move well, then move often» otherwise you will end up sitting on the sidelines with injuries.

Don’t confuse enjoying working out with an understanding of hormonal responses to various types of training. There is a reason why we don’t do your favourite kind of training everyday. CrossFitter’s crave their AMRAPs, endurance junkies are addicted to those long runs and the male ego tends to love lifting heavy weights! Those workouts however, are only part of a general fitness program and just because you are good at one area doesn’t make you an expert in it. Anyone can make people sweat. I won’t lie, I like most young S&C coaches fell into that trap many years ago, but I’ve learned there is a huge amount of planning and knowledge that goes into making a program that helps prevent injury and gets long term results. I plan a PROGRAM which means the workouts are meant to complement each other. Showing up for the the ones you think are good is a great way to not get the results you want. Here is a great post about being addicted to a certain kind of workout/feeling and how it is not in your best interest. Addicted to fatigue.

Some light reading for my day off.

Don’t confuse your Instagram likes/views with knowledge. Good coaches aren’t on insta posting pics of their abs, or videos of their Fran time, or any of the other things I’ve mentioned above. They know all that stuff doesn’t matter (I am well aware of the irony as I write this blog post!). Good coaches are in a weight room, or reading papers, or preparing programs, or analyzing results from programs or a dozen other things that good coaches do.

As one of my mentors Matt Jordan always says regarding this subject «We need to know what matters, measure what matters, change what matters». Do you know why that person can’t safely squat lower? Do you know what to look for and how to test various possibilities? It is absolutely astounding the number of people I work with who tell me their previous trainer told them to «never let the knees move past the toes in a squat». If you do not know why this is absolutely ridiculous you need to take a biomechanics course before you work with anyone. Yelling at them to work harder is not part of the equation, and knowing 14 variations of bicep curls isn’t going help either.

Returning to Kilgore’s article, people seem to think being a coach is easy. «Oh, you only worked 2 hours today.» Actually, I spent 2 hours coaching, 2 hours reading about sleep and hormone production, 3 hours planning for next week, and another hour trying to prepare some worthwhile social media content. Oh, and then I wrote this blog post.

I’m not saying to stop enjoying whatever type of activity you are involved in. I’m just saying don’t pretend you are anything more than someone who is good at and enjoys that activity and leave the coaching to people who are actually qualified (being good at it doesn’t count). If you are really serious about getting the results you want, listen to what your coach is saying and put some effort into it.

Before you go and start teaching CrossFit out of your garage or sign up with your friend who is ONLY going to charge you $ 50 a month to train you, remember just because some guy has been to court a bunch of times doesn’t mean he is qualified to be a judge.

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