Monday, October 5, 2015

Personal Trainer Turned Strength Coach

This summer my girlfriend, my dog, and I, all moved from Chicago back to Miami and with the move came a slight shift in my career. I had been working as a personal trainer, mostly in one on one settings, for a long time (the majority of the last 8 years) but as of this summer I am the head (and only) strength and conditioning coach at a high school with over 300 student athletes. I am now be responsible for more teams than I previously had clients and more athletes per day than I have had in my entire life.

Now that I have established a little more of a routine at work I should have some time to get back to writing and will be attempting to post an article once per week detailing some aspect of strength and conditioning and what I have learned or am hoping to learn.

I have now been on the new job for several months and have made a lot of realizations about coaching, training, program design and athlete management that I never would've learned in the private sector doing one on one training. Despite working towards very similar outcomes the two jobs are radically different.

The biggest difference from one on one training to team training is the level of detail you can put into coaching every movement in a one on one setting. I like to do a lot of  core stability and range of motion drills as part of my warmups and paired with big lifts. When you can work with a client and individualize cues and physically adjust it's easy to get the most out of every movement. I can ask how something feels and know that it is working as intended. That is more difficult in groups, especially the big ones (some are 50+ at a time). If I'm really hauling ass I can have this kind of interaction with maybe 5-10 athletes in a session. If I don't get to everyone and an athlete butchers the movement it can be worthless and potentially even dangerous. For this reason I have had to "idiot-proof" many of my programs and simplify things way more than I did before. I try to limit the pool of exercises and introduce less new movements. Flexibility and core strength are simpler and once I find something that everyone does well we stick with it for longer than I might with a client looking to add variety to their stale training.

 You never know what athletes will do when your back is turned. So instructions have to be clear and exercises simple

In personal training there is more of a relationship with the people you train. It's one hour of you and one other person spending time together and there is a lot of down time that needs to be filled with casual conversation. I knew vivid details about clients families, their personal lives, work lives, financial situations etc. At times it was overwhelming being a trainer and psychologist but I miss the degree of personal interaction I used to have. In a big group there is no time for small talk, it's 45 minutes of flying around the gym trying to have my eyes in 10 places at once.

On a similar note, not only do I not get to have a personal relationship with people I train anymore but sometimes they don't even want to be there. This was the saddest and most sobering realization about strength and conditioning. Personal training clients pay large sums of money to work with you. Generally they are self motivated and they thirst for challenges and will do anything asked of them in the name of reaching their goals. Athletes are often only in the weight room because the coach requires it and while I definitely have some hard workers and some that embrace the process of physically improving there are always going to be others that come in mentally unprepared and have no desire to better themselves. It's a sad reality and not allowing it to bring me down has been my greatest challenge thus far. Finding a way to motivate these athletes will be my primary goal in my next semester because it is many of the most talented kids on the team. They have been the best based solely on natural ability for most of their lives and can truly be special if their work ethic catches up to their genetic gifts.

I don't want it to seem that being a strength coach is not a good job. I love it. Being a strength coach allows me to be a mad scientist in a way I couldn't with personal training. I love sitting in my office crunching numbers and analyzing data from a whole off-season. As a personal trainer I never had a huge client base, definitely not enough sample size to say definitively which programs worked best for which types of people. But now with hundreds of athletes I can test out different ideas and see what works. There are hundreds of philosophies on strength training and while I certainly have my opinions and preferences as to what I think works best I now have a lab to test every idea in large groups and see what works best. I am currently running a modified version of the Texas Method for the wrestling team, a 5/3/1 type system without the + sets for my in season teams and a Juggernaut Method template for my football off-season training. Baseball is modeled after some Eric Cressey programs and Lacrosse, Basketball and Golf were all heavily influenced by the programming style of my mentor at the University of Miami. Obviously a lot of variables are involved so it's by no means a perfect study but I have the ability to compare and contrast and see what works well and what doesn't on a scale I never could have before.

Can't recommend this book or it's author, Chad Wesley Smith, highly enough. It's been hugely influential in dictating my off-season football training both on and off the field.

As a personal trainer I constantly had to go to the gym and either watch meathead gym members or other personal trainers that had no clue what they were doing and have them consistently turn down my offers to help. It was infuriating. As the only strength coach on campus I have full autonomy over every workout decision for every team. No exercise gets performed without my orders. It places a lot of responsibility on my shoulders but I'm confident in my programs (and in many cases my execution of other people's programs).

In the long term I want to have even greater control of the teams practices or at the very least have better methods of tracking intensity in practice. How hard someone goes at soccer practice influences their performance in the weight room and during conditioning workouts. With 300+ student athletes and a gym that's only open 5 hours per day I often can't be present for every workout and building better management systems with the sport coaches is a primary goal over the next year.

I miss personal training. The attention to detail, the personal interaction. The Christmas bonuses and relationships I developed. But my career felt as though it needed a change and this is a new challenge for me that I am going to embrace and chronicle through this blog. My goal is to take what I learned as a personal trainer and apply some of those skills to a larger audience and hopefully I can be a small part of a couple of state championships this year.


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