We’d like to think that all personal trainers and strength coaches do everything perfectly when guiding your workouts. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Over the years, we’ve seen some crazy things from coaches who made mistakes that left us totally face-palming.
Often, mistakes are totally harmless. A mistake might take away from your workout a bit, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Other times, careless mistakes can drastically reduce the effectiveness of a workout and even put athletes at risk.
To help you be aware of some of these situations, we compiled a list of 17 common mistakes based on our own observations and input from five STACK Experts.
1) Being an Expert Conversationalist
People pay trainers good money for their services. So it’s infuriating when a trainer spends more time chit-chatting with their clients than actually coaching. The result is a half-hearted workout with little or no guidance. And people wonder why they don’t see results.
2) Overly Complicated Programs
I am 100-percent guilty of this. I look back at some of the programs I formerly created; it’s a total face-palm situation. Like many people, I tried to include as many great exercises as I could in the program—there are so many good options! This resulted in workouts with too many exercises and no specific focus. It’s better to spend your time on fewer exercises and get the most out of them. Some great programs have as few as five exercises.
3) Not Writing Down Progress
This is one of the most basic principles for success in a workout. If you don’t know what you did in your previous workout, how can you make progress? If a trainer isn’t keeping track of your progress or hasn’t given you a system to log your results, you are being set up for failure.
4) Progressing Too Quickly
When I was first getting started as a trainer, I tried to progress clients to more advanced exercises way too fast. I’d get amped up to have someone perform Back Squats when they’d just learned the Goblet Squat, or try to switch to a Deadlift from the floor before they had mastered a Romanian Deadlift. I eventually realized you can milk those beginner exercises for all they’re worth and still load them pretty heavy to get a good training effect.
5) Not Taking Time to Set Up Beforehand
It’s awkward when a group of people get warmed up and ready to rock, then they have to wait 15 minutes while the coach walks around moving equipment, figuring out how the flow will go. This is definitely a lazy rookie mistake. An experienced coach does not take the time to set up your entire workout. My rule of thumb for trainers is that they have their entire day of training written out neatly on paper long before the athletes even hit the door.
6) Choosing Complicated Movements for a Large Group
I am totally guilty of this. Early in my career I wanted to have the new and cool exercises to stand out from the other trainers. I found out the hard way that complicated is not cool. My first session, I had four ladies in their 40s doing Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squats with their feet strapped into a TRX. It was a disaster. They kept falling and getting angry with me and I had no idea what to do. Rather than swallow my pride and regress I insisted that they do the exercise, and man did I look like an idiot!
Luckily I had the great mentor Justin Grinnell watching me and letting me make the mistake. Immediately after the session, he told me that in big groups, it’s always better to go simple and coach the hell out of them. He was right.
7) Making the Warm-Up Too Long
Of course the pre-training routine and warm-up are essential parts of any well-rounded strength and performance program, but the overreaction to warming up in the last decade has gotten a little out of control. For most athletes and lifters, their work capacities aren’t at a high enough level where they can sustain extended warm-ups that take the better half of an hour. When preparing to train or play, there is a sweet spot for warm-up durations. Obviously, a well-rounded warm-up primes the central nervous system, increases tissue temperatures, enhances mobility at lagging joints, and hones movement patterns that may need a little remediation. I know that sounds like a lot of stuff to cover in a warm-up, and that’s a pitfall for most strength coaches. If you do your homework and prescribe movements and exercises that are appropriate without all the fluff, the perfect warm-up can be achieved in around 10 minutes for most athletes. Think about that the next time you spend 45 minutes before performing your first work set.
8) Neglecting Technique
The single biggest mistake I see with strength coaches and trainers is turning everything into a numbers game and neglecting technique and muscle function. Strength coaches often feel overly compelled to increase the numbers and weights their athletes are using simply as a way to display to the athletes and coaching staff that their training is producing results. Although this may produce a quick yet temporary increase in numbers, unfortunately it leads to dysfunctional movement patterns, injuries and training plateaus.
One method I see used consistently in weight rooms and gym settings that encourages this problem is the use of what I refer to as “assisted spotting.” In essence, the trainer or strength coach spots the athletes by actually helping them lift the weight, since excessively heavy loads are greater than what the athletes are capable of handling. It’s very common on the Bench Press as well as the Squat. It is often done to increase morale and ego of the athletes; however it does little to stimulate strength and size gains.
9) Poor Instruction on Technically Challenging Movements
A common issue, particularly in high school and collegiate strength training settings, is incompetent teaching of technically difficult movements such as Olympic lifts. Olympic lifts are great movements, but because they’re fairly complex, they need to be taught properly or they shouldn’t be taught at all. I’ve lost count of the number of athletes I’ve worked with over the years who informed me that they were efficient at the Olympic movements from having been taught them in high school and college, only to find out when I examine their form that they’ve reinforced faulty movement patterns and dangerous lifting technique. Besides placing the athlete at a high risk for injury, flawed biomechanics can take quite a bit of time to correct.
10) Neglecting the Smaller Muscles
One scenario that’s prevalent among strength coaches and personal trainers is crushing large muscles but neglecting to target smaller muscle groups and stabilizers. For example, most strength coaches now understand the importance of training the hips, since they are pivotal for all sports. Unfortunately, most of these coaches fail to address foot and ankle mechanics, which greatly short-changes the results they are trying to produce in terms of hip function and power. Similar issues are seen in the shoulder region and spinal stabilizers. If any of these smaller areas are weak, undertrained, or neuromuscularly inefficient, this creates a strong likelihood for leaking energy and compromising force transmission, no matter how strong the primary muscle groups are.
11) Relying on Familiar Training Concepts
A common issue that’s seen frequently in strength and conditioning settings is strength coaches having their athletes train a certain way simply because that’s how they were trained when they were an athlete. The best strength coaches think outside the box. They obviously use aspects of what they learned from their own coaches; however, they also explore, analyze and implement other forms of effective training techniques that they may not have been directly exposed to.
12) The “Rep Counter”
What’s particularly annoying are what I refer to as “rep counters.” This describes a training situation where the trainer or strength coach ignores what the athlete is doing from a technical or mechanical standpoint, but simply counts each rep of every set to show the athlete that they are standing by and paying attention. Rather than demonstrating their exceptional counting skills, these coaches would be better off tuning into the form and technique of the athlete and providing solid coaching advice and training tips.
13) Ignoring the Basics
Ignoring the basics is a common issue among strength coaches and trainers. As a strength coach, I often catch myself falling prey to this, by assuming that most athletes have the coordination and foundation of basic skills, although often these areas are greatly lacking. For example, it’s easy to assume that athletes know how to jump. It’s something they do almost daily. But based on my own experience, few athletes truly understand what proper jumping mechanics entail, and teaching them the basics such as arm drive and hip hinge mechanics can go a long way in terms of improving their performance attributes.
14) Forgetting About Recovery
It’s easy to forget about the physical demands and stressors that athletes endure. Between skills practice, speed training, conditioning, strength training and the demands of school or everyday life, many athletes are already over-stressed and run-down. Neglecting aspects of recovery and physiological restoration is a common issue among even the most elite athletes, as coaches and trainers are always pushing the athletes to perform with greater intensity and volume. Providing adequate rest and recovery and knowing when to dial back the intensity are crucial for maximizing performance, and they are often distinguishing attributes of exceptional coaches.
15) Neglecting the Basics of Sports Nutrition
Many strength coaches become so consumed with aspects of training and performance protocols that they fail to tune in to the basic tenets of sports nutrition. Unless an athlete is reminded or given proper instruction, he or she will often under-consume the right foods and overeat the wrong ones. In addition, taking an athlete who hasn’t eaten all day and having him or her perform a high-intensity strength workout can do more harm than good. Taking a few minutes to discuss the basic principles of pre-workout and post-workout nutrition can be critical for maximizing strength, hypertrophy and recovery.
16) Failing to Adapt on the Fly
One common mistake I’ve seen trainers and strength coaches make is thinking their programs are written in stone. Just because it’s on paper and planned out doesn’t mean it has to be done to the letter. Trainers and coaches need to have flexibility within a program and a backup plan up their sleeve when people they work with are fatigued, stressed, overworked or need a break mentally. The ability to adapt and adjust can allow performance to elevate.
17) Sticking to Workouts of the Day
Sometimes coaches take programs from another source or use “workouts of the day.” It’s always good to see what others are doing, but the art of coaching is the ability to address the specific needs of clients or athletes. What a D-I program or a celebrity is doing might not be the best bet for an athlete or client. One size does not fit all when it comes to training.
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