Compassionate Coaching (Guest Article)

Guest Article by:

Shane McLean

Compassionate Coaching

The headline is a play on Conscious Coaching, a book by Brett Bartholomew,  which I have yet to read but plan to shortly. So, if I repeat any of Brett’s concepts here, blame my laziness. But all this got me thinking about coaching adult humans in general.

Most personal trainers, at least when beginning their careers, struggle to walk a mile in their client’s shoes. Besides coaching professional athletes, personal trainers generally train general population clients that are

·        Time crunched

·        Stressed

·        Have aches and pains

·        Demanding family life

·        Pre-existing medical conditions

·        Demanding job

Well, you hopefully get the picture. General pop clients have a ton going on in their lives, affecting their ability to be consistent with their training and nutrition. The same might be said for successful personal trainers, but they are freaks for exercise and usually find a way to get it done.

Some trainers feel their clients should do the same because they make time for their workouts and nutrition.  They lack empathy and understanding to know what’s happening in their clients’ lives.

Because let’s face it, clients don’t love exercise as much as personal trainers and other coaches do, and some trainers fail to understand this, including yours truly, until recently. When trainers finally realize this, as I did, it can be a game changer in how trainers coach their clients.

I’ll share a few things from my training to help you or your clients ( if you’re a coach) to help you become more compassionate to yourself and a more compassionate coach. Let’s dive in.

Compassionate Coaching Methods

Imagine you come into your last class for the day and are tired, hungry, and ready to go home. The teacher who has just graded your test that counts for 20% of your final grade has written the grades on the blackboard.

And it’s not good because almost everybody in the class failed.

Then the teacher gets up and berates the class for 15 minutes, telling them they didn’t work hard enough and needed to do better.  Believe it or not, this happened to me in my senior year of high school, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Imagine your client coming in before work, during lunch, or after work and is clearly distracted and stressed. You ask whether they filled in their food log or got any workouts between sessions, and they answer no. 

Is it a good idea to rip them a new one? Probably not.

You’ll likely lose a client or not get the best out of them during the session. It’s best to ask them about their week and why they missed what they should’ve done. Then come up with solutions to their problems to make it easier, not harder.

Reinforcing the problem will not help, but coming up with solutions will.

If you’re a coach, coming up with solutions to your problem and being compassionate to yourself helps. How can you show self-compassion to your clients if you cannot show it to yourself?

This doesn’t mean letting yourself or your clients off the hook. Understanding the circumstances or outside forces at work is not always on your or your client’s side.  You cannot change what didn’t happen, but you can make it better in the future by focusing on solutions and not the problems.

Compassionate Training

Exercise is a stress on the body. Good stress but stress all the same, and it’s a delicate balancing act when dealing with clients (or yourself) in a stressed and tired state. Only you can answer whether it is best to do their current program or be flexible and change things up to make training more enjoyable while still getting a training effect.

The simplest way to deal with a tired and stressed-out client is through regressions. Dialling back the complexity or load of an exercise to not add excessive demand to an already stressed body works well. Examples include a dumbbell bench press instead of a barbell bench press, a landmine press instead of an overhead press, or a Goblet squat instead of a barbell squat.

Knowing your progressions and regression of all major movements is essential, and if you haven’t done this, make it your next priority.

Another neat thing to do for your client is don’t do exercises they dislike; do the exercise the client wants.

It doesn’t matter if the session is full of bicep curls and lateral raises because something is better than nothing. Not only will the client love it, but it also creates a ton of buy-in and trust between the client and trainer, and they are more likely to stick around and work harder in the future.

A Couple Of Training Examples

Any coach worth their salt knows there are three muscle contractions, isometric, eccentric, and concentric. Most muscle soreness and gains come from eccentric muscle contraction; minimizing them goes a long way towards not adding extra stress to the body while still getting a training effect.

Here is a couple of guideline for putting together concentric-only training.

·        Choose exercises with little or no eccentric muscle contractions, such as sled/ prowler pushes,  medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, and resistance band exercises like rows lateral walks, bicep curls, triceps extensions, etc.

·        Keep the reps between the 8-12 range because you’re training power, not strength.  When performing for time, do 20-30 seconds of all-out effort.

·        Keep the rest periods between exercises and circuits to 60- 90 seconds, but if you need more rest, take it.

Here’s a training example.

1A. Medicine ball squat toss 10-12  reps

1B. Tall Kneeling Med Ball Slams 10-12 reps

1C. Kettlebell swings 20-30 seconds

1D. Incline Plyo Push-Ups

1E. Sled push 

Complete this as a circuit for 3 to 4 circuits, and you or your client with be sweating and smiling.

Agility Ladder Drills

Some trainers hate the agility ladder, while other personal trainers overemphasize it with athletes trying to get them faster, but there is plenty of middle ground. Think of it as another tool in the toolbox, particularly when you’re looking to get your clients sweating and smiling while not increasing stress.

Ladders are a fun way to get the heart rate up and to raise a sweat while improving your coordination because you’ll learn a wide array of different movement patterns without realizing it because you’ll be having fun.

Programming Suggestion

Agility ladder drills are a great low-impact way to get your heart rate up after you finish your workout. Either perform for time (20-30 seconds) or reps (up and back is one rep). This beats the dreadmill every time.

Wrapping Up

Coaching is a dance of knowing when to push when the client is ‘feeling it’ and pulling back when life gets on top of them—being compassionate and realizing that pushing or scolding a client when circumstances get in the way is counterproductive to the client and your bottom line.

Shane McLean is a personal trainer with 13 years of experience who currently spreads the good fitness word through Muscle and Fitness magazine and Garage Gym Reviews.