Managing the Message: What You Say Matters

Somewhere in my head I’ve created the memory that during my very first session as a trainer, I told someone to create external rotation torque to resist biomechanically necessary internal rotation at the hip during the eccentric phase of the squat.

I’m not sure why this is in my head.  Maybe it’s because I actually said it.  Maybe it’s because that’s how I was thinking about movement.  Maybe it’s because I’m continuing to grow more fascination and passionate about how we cue exercises, coach athletes, and educate those around us.

Managing the message that you share isn’t just about what you say, it’s about how you say it.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this:

We best communicate when our interaction is most authentic to all parties involved.  The same words and delivery can be interpreted differently by any group that you may be talking to, and the ability to communicate in different situations with different people is underrated in the fitness world.

The conversation you have with a client after they finish a set of squats should look pretty different from how you cue the squat during the set.  That conversation will also look different from how you discuss said squats with the physical therapist you referred them to, or to the new trainer who’s interning with you.

Education is all about differentiated instruction.  If you’re not using this as a coach, you’re wrong.

Insinuating that you’re ‘wrong’ may not be the most coachy thing to do, but I want to make a point.  Your coaching evolves as clients evolve.  As they grow, your language grows.  In fact, I’d say it should be going in two directions.  As training age increases, the number of cues that you use during a set should decrease.  Single words, maybe a phrase, but let their mind learn to move.  As their movement consciousness becomes more automatic, you open the opportunity to have more direct conversations between their sets.  It’s still relative though.

Nobody has ever hit their 6 week body transformation goals because you’ve given them an understanding of the sliding filament theory.  If discussing the nuances of physiology is part of your overall client education system, that’s fine; I’m actually interested in how you make that an appreciable part of their physical education.  My hunch though, is that you just think it’s important.  I understand that, I do.

Assuming that you grew up in the modern education system, it would make sense that you’ve internalized the, “Knowledge is power” adage, and that action is the most obvious step after knowledge.  Unfortunately, knowledge doesn’t beget action.  Want a dirty example?  Hypothesize a poll of smokers that asks them if they know about the negative health ramifications of smoking.  They’ll know, or they’ll curse you out.  Knowledge doesn’t lead to action.

Stop focusing on knowledge.

If you want to go teach in the style of information transmission, memorization, and regurgitation, I have a feeling that there are Ph.D. programs waiting for your money and assistantships.  Go get on it.

It’s of greater impact and effectiveness to discuss choices and action that is conducive to success.  A lesson on the role of potassium in muscle action, and the assumed benefits, is great for the exercise science class you’ll teach one day.  A conversation about your favorite post-workout smoothies, ways to make them portable, and the top three benefits other than deliciousness doesn’t seem as daunting, and let’s think about which one will lead to greater dietary adherence and overall success.

Start focusing on action.

Creating action is about buy in.  If there’s no buy in, you’re waisting everyone’s time.  Rather than serving your own check list of what folks should be learning, flip that: Ask them what they want to learn.  Ask them what what they want to focus on.  Ask them where they want feedback.  You’d be surprised what comes up, and I assure you, it’s not about the link between maintaining short foot posture under load and activity of the pelvic floor.

Well intentioned, sure, but this is going to be the result:

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There isn’t a better way to kill someone’s ability or desire to learn than by making them feel stupid.  Go try it.  (That’s rhetorical…)  Actually, try it on yourself instead.  Next time some factually wrong or undesirable fitness advice comes your way, go ahead and start your reply with, “Well, actually…” Then consider that phrase synonymous with, “You’re wrong.”  It may sound froo-froo to your inner hardass that only believes in right and wrong, but it’s important to confirm with someone that they actually know what they’re doing with their body.  That’s what their training with you should be doing.  How often are you creating habits, confirming ability, and developing self efficacy? That’s the end game that we’re missing as a field.

When we cue and coach movement, we’re not just talking about exercise.  We’re talking about how we can use physical activity as a metaphor for life. Physical development is a conduit for personal development.  If you’re not growing, you’re slowing. (I’m not sure that one works, but take it.)  Our ability as coaches and trainers to empower our clients to reinforce the habits that best serve them comes down to how we communicate our knowledge to them.  When it comes to managing that message, what you say matters.

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