There's No One Thing: Coaching Your Whole Client
In a police story I read many years ago the main detective was always looking for the "one thing." This one thing was the clue that would link the whole case together to solve the puzzle of the crime. Often, it was patient, diligent police work that found the one thing - calling witnesses, interviewing them over and over to look for inconsistencies or a new detail. Just the day-to-day grind of doing the right things over and over again until one day, magically, the thing appeared and the criminal was caught.
So while they were searching for “one thing,” what actually created the opportunity for the crime to be solved was a combination of many things. Mike Boyle has said that training is like farming. You do all these things, plant the seeds, water and fertilize the crops, all in the hope that one day the seeds will sprout and you can harvest the crops and make money. In farming, there is no one thing. As it is in farming, it is in training.
I have to be honest and say that fitness media often doesn’t support this concept. When you’ve got articles like those in Muscle and Fiction with headlines like "Ten Weeks to Titanic Triceps" or see products like Six Weeks to a Six-Pack, you’d have to have iron willpower not to be at least a little curious. The thing that all these programs and articles have in common is that they usually focus around one thing that will suddenly sky rocket your progress and turn you from meek to macho overnight. But that’s just not how it works.
In my other life, as an Ironman crash test dummy, I come in contact with a lot of men and women who are either chasing the goal of a fast(er) Ironman performance or working with someone chasing that dream. The owner of the shop sponsoring me, Leon Nardella of Pro Motion Cycles, said he’s got three sponsored athletes going to the big show in Kona, Hawaii this year. In particular one of them exemplifies what it takes to be successful. He’s been working with the same coach for six years and has steadily gone from middle of the pack to qualifying for the world championships in one of the world’s toughest events.
They say that if you read for an hour a day on a single subject that in five years time you will be a world-class authority on that subject. I’m a firm believer that for elite success the 10,000 hour rule applies and the success of this athlete shows that he’s been “reading” up on his subject diligently for six years and now is a world class authority. Dan John has said that simply showing up to train when you are supposed to is half the battle, and as I get older I have to agree.
I’ve had clients who have been in awful shape when they come through the door. In many cases they’ve been inactive for years and have long-term injuries they’re dealing with. Their goals may be to improve their injuries, reduce fat, and regain some of their youth with increased levels of fitness and strength. With so many things to work on it can sometimes feel daunting as a trainer because you want to help your client be successful, but often it feels like you’re just shooting in the dark.
I can remember one client, a man in his fifties, with a history of lower back and neck pain. His posture was poor from long hours working at a desk as a lawyer. When we met, he hadn’t done anything more strenuous in the previous few years than walk the dog. One of the biggest problems when you have someone all gung-ho and ready to carve a new life for themselves is holding them back so they don’t hurt themselves when they aren’t in great shape – the Minimum Effective Dose is what’s required, not the maximum.
While I’m a big believer in flexibility and mobility, particularly for older clients, my normal goal for people is simply to be able to perform a bodyweight squat with good form. In my opinion a squat displays adequate levels of mobility and stability and entails as much flexibility as most will need in day-to-day living. Going back to my lawyer client, the only problem here was he couldn’t squat. He’d get to about a third of the way down and simply couldn’t go any further. His knees would cave in and his back would round and, well, it was just painful to watch.
At this point you’re probably thinking that we attacked this problem with a multi-pronged assault working on FMS squat correctives, mobility, and some crazy Russian squat assault type program. Wrong.
I actually ignored it completely for about two months. Instead we worked on deadlifts, swings, get ups, and a range of other exercises designed to help build him up. During that time we worked on ankle mobility, stretching the hip flexors, and improving his posture and thoracic extension.
After about two months of this I put some goblet squats in his workout, spent approximately ten seconds showing him what I wanted him to do, and he dropped straight into a textbook goblet squat position. The look on his face was priceless.
Sure, we could have gone after fixing his squat by doing endless reps of squatting and other assistance exercises for that movement. But instead of having him have to go through hours of feeling like a failure for something he couldn’t do yet, I allowed him to always be successful while practicing the skills that make up the squat. There wasn’t one thing that would have allowed his squat to improve no matter which direction we’d gone in with training, just like there’s no one thing that will add mass, decrease fat, or increase strength. Everything is everything.
You’ll find your goals will be reached much faster if you focus on the big picture and all its parts rather than trying to find a single needle in the haystack that will transform you. Training, of any kind, needs to be consistent and supported by enough food and sleep to allow you to recover. Don’t look for the one thing, look at all of them, and realize that it’s a sum that is made greater by all the parts being present.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.