Last week in part one of our interview with Jeff Martone we learned how he discovered kettlebells and why he declared them the tool that saved his body and changed the course of his athletic life. Explained Jeff, “The reason I can do what I can do today, you know, being stronger at 45 and I could totally crush the Jeff at 25, is because I’ve stabilized the muscles that I’ve developed, using good technique, using kettlebells and functional movements.” Through coaching and through his website Tactical Athlete, Jeff aims to provide this same physical development for his clients, getting them strong through gradual, logical progressions and keeping them healthy for a long time to come.
One thing Jeff finds useful in coaching his clients, especially beginners, is an understanding of the three phases of learning. As Jeff outlined:
We learn things in three stages of learning; you have the cognitive phase, the associative phase, and the autonomous stage. So, in the first stage they’re going to make a lot of errors and you’ll need to correct those errors. So when you’re teaching the skills that’s why it’s so important as a coach to give them constant feedback. They’ve got to be getting that in the first stage so they can correct any errors. The other thing is, when they’re in that phase, you need to give them plenty of rest periods and not smoke them. If they’re fatigued, then their form is going to fall apart. You want to make sure their form is great right from the get go. If they do a bunch of bad reps before you correct them, you’ve just ingrained bad movement.
After the cognitive phase comes the associative phase where the clients will have enough knowledge and awareness to begin correcting their own errors.
Then you move to the associative phase. As you watch them move, they’re going to start developing the ability to correct their own errors. So at that time, in that stage, what you want to do is keep their practice session short and heavy. And this is where you’ll see them go through a mental checklist. So, you work with them and use the analogy of what they’re learning tied back to some other skill they’ve mastered in the past, and they’ll learn it quicker.
After the cognitive phase, clients graduate to the autonomous stage. This is the first stage where Jeff feels it’s recommended to put the skill in question into a workout.
You’ll know they’re in the autonomous stage when they have mastery of the skill and they don’t have to pay attention to each detail of the skill. It’s like they’re on autopilot.It’s only at that stage that you want to throw them into a WOD. And even at that, when you put them in the WOD, you’ve still got the voice of reason as a coach. If their form starts to turn, you need to jump in and say, “Hey, drop the weight.”
When it comes to common mistakes in teaching kettlebells, Jeff frequently sees issues arise with the teaching progression of the kettlebell swing. Though there is much debate about the American swing versus the Russian swing, Jeff feels they are just different points along the learning curve and that the Russian swing should be taught first. As Jeff explained:
Now I respect the American swing; however, the proper teaching progression to the America swing is that you should really do the Russian swing first. The key is to really get the hip drive going, get it going chest height. They should have good back position, driving off the heels, hip extension. That’s huge. What happens if you try to take it over the head first is that most people don’t have a good enough hip drive, and by the time you get the kettlebell just at eye level to chest level a lot of times they’ll use their shoulders to throw it over head. And then you hear people say things like, “Man, I love doing the swing because it strengthens my delts,” or, “It’s smokin’ my delts.” And I’m like, “Dude, it’s not!” So you’ve got to teach the progression.
Jeff urges both coaches and athletes to have patience and stick to the proper progressions for each movement. He suggests new coaches avoid the need to crush their clientele. While jumping into intensity is alluring, and sometimes fun, it can also short-circuit proper learning and lead to lasting injury.
As a lifelong athlete and instructor, Jeff knows what it feels like to be on either side of the coaching coin and on either side of the line of proper intensity. Said Jeff, “There is a better way to continue doing what you love doing for the rest of your life, if you take time and learn it right, and learn it right the first time.”
In the end, Jeff sees a good coach as someone who is a good instructor, a good athlete, and a good communicator:
[Great coaches] need to be three things: they need to be a world-class performer, a world-class coach, and a world-class person. There are guys who are world-class performers, but they’re not really good coaches. They can’t break the skill down or communicate it effectively. And obviously you can also have a great coach and a great performer, but not a world-class person. So it goes back to, that a great coach is going to teach and communicate. To me, being able to look at a person, assess what they’re doing, and give the right coaching cues at the right time. You might have to modify it to work around injuries. As a coach, you’re trying to maximize your client’s potential. At the end of the day it will maximize your potential. That’s kind of how I see it.
To learn more about Jeff, read part one our feature interview:
Featured Coach: Jeff Martone, Part 1 – Saved By The Kettlebell
To follow Jeff’s four weeks of workouts here on Breaking Muscle follow this link:
Strength & Conditioning Workouts from Jeff Martone