The Value of Practical Knowledge

“If you won’t do your own program, then it probably sucks.”

In this day and age, entering the fitness industry is relatively easy. Within a few weeks time, you can be training other people, if you so choose. In a few months time, you can essentially open your own CrossFit box, assuming you have the cash needed to get things rolling.

Helping others start their fitness journey is great, but doing so solely for a career change, with no practical knowledge, is wrong for many reasons. There are so many smart people out there.

Much smarter than me. I was never blessed with being a fast learner or fast reader. Usually, it takes me 10-12x of mental repetition to memorize something, when the average person usually requires 5-6 mental repetitions to enter their longterm memory. For myself, once it’s in my long-term memory, it’s there to stay.

I’ve always been able to remember my own numbers in the weight-room from as far back as middle-school, as well as just about every one of my client’s numbers at a 200-member CrossFit box.

Where I’m going with this is that being book-smart is certainly a huge plus, and will definitely help you become a better coach, but practical knowledge is the determining factor to your overall success as a coach and programmer.

Practical knowledge won’t be gained from any book. Being in the trenches will serve many purposes that will help you and your clients down the road. I’d venture to say that most coaches have made a long list of mistakes on themselves before coaching other athletes.

This is really where the magic happens: testing your methods and making sure they align with your personality first. Many times, as coaches, we are eager to find the next best thing or pull something cool off the internet that was done by a professional Olympic athlete, but how do things like that play out for regular people?

Back in 2006, I saw the infamous Pyrros Dimas training video. After watching it close 30x, I was inspired to only train the Olympic lifts. I was already decent at the lifts, having been exposed to them through football, and the commercial gym I went to had bumper plates and a platform.

That night I went on the internet and found the “Queensland Olympic Lifting Program.” There were three options to select from beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Of course, I chose the “advanced” program. That Monday, I would embark on my 12-week Olympic lifting journey.

Things started off great. Sessions were close to two hours in length, and the program included a lot of squatting. Everyday. 4-weeks in, I was starting to feel the effects. Although my lifts felt stronger, my body was starting to shut down. My lower back and knees hated me.

By week 8, I threw my back out and couldn’t stand up straight. At this point, I was losing motivation, and the monotony was taking its toll on me mentally, so I decided to throw in the towel. Although I was happy with the progress I had made and the experience I had gained, I realized that what looked like a good idea on paper was actually a terrible idea.

What if I had simply chosen the “beginner” program? Who knows. After cutting back on the volume, and letting my body recover, I actually gained over an inch on my quads. Have you ever heard of “super compensation”? Well, this was it, at its finest.

This is one story of many that I could share, but I won’t do that to you. My point is that having book knowledge is great, but having practical knowledge is 100% necessary if you ever plan on actually training other athletes.

Although there is no pre-requisite level of practical experience required to coach other athletes, I’d say at least five years of experimenting on yourself with success is 100% necessary before every considering consulting others. Obviously, there are formalities like certifications that need to be considered, but none of those take into account your time in trenches.

Another important aspect of practical knowledge is being able to have empathy for your clients, and build bonds. How is that possible if you haven’t been through similar training (or the same training) that they have?

Additionally, if you’re not willing to do the training you prescribe your clients, then how on earth can you have empathy? You can’t. A great way to connect with your clients is to be able to give advice based on your own experience.

Not only does create buy-in with your clients, but it ensures that you’re prescribing training that you would actually do. If you wouldn’t do the training that you are prescribing, then there is a huge disconnect. Don’t make that mistake.

In short, it’s important to spend time reading and educating yourself daily, but it’s also important to practice what you preach. Daily. Prescribe training to your clients that you believe in and actually do.

Don’t prescribe training that looks cool on paper, that another coach or high-level athlete uses. I’ve seen it happen too many times: one famous person in our industry says something and everyone believes it and radically changes their own beliefs to adhere to someones else’s dogma.

A better answer is finding out what you believe in, and taking the time to understand the methods, right down to the details. Spend your time in the trenches first, and you and your clients will reap the rewards later.

Stop "winging it" with your programming.


Avoid these common mistakes.

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