Having the right ingredients doesn’t make you a chef. You can follow Bobby Flay through the grocery store and buy everything he does but when it comes time to cook he will produce a world class meal while you may produce world class crap with the same ingredients. How can this be? You cooked with all the same stuff right? Well if collecting stuff was all that there is to cooking everyone could be a chef. Training and coaching people isn’t any different. You may wear a tshirt that says run, jump, squat, swing, and row but that doesn’t mean you know a damn about how to do any of those things or more importantly how to put them together. Having the right collection of movement disciplines doesn’t make your training great. Knowing how to prepare and mix them does. So how do you learn how to work with the right ingredients? The same way Bobby Flay came to learn about food, you start at the beginning and learn the basics.
I have the pleasure of traveling the world and meeting trainers from all sorts of gyms. Some are great, some mediocre and some need to change vocations. They may work with similar tools but how they present and use them can and often does vary greatly. Recently I have seen a trend that excites me. After years of encouraging trainers to explore gymnastics, joint mobility, barbell and Kettlebell training I now find them becoming more common place. What concerns me is the way the people are implementing these elements into their gyms and personal training. Great ingredients no matter how great can be poison if you don’t know what to do with them. Take gymnastics for example. There is no doubt that gymnastics creates incredible control, mobility, flexibility and strength. As a physical discipline it has so much to offer and as a result people have been picking pieces of it for various fitness programs. The problem with picking elements of larger systems is you need to understand the basic building blocks of a thing before you take it apart. I see lots of people attempting hand stands and handstand pushups but not so many people learning how to roll and fall. These should be common place lessons before students are inverted. When someone goes to a gymnastics specialist they are put through fundamental progressions that are often lacking with those who are only familiar with some parts of a larger whole system. I know, learning the basics isn’t as fun as showing off upside-down in a Facebook photo but still and essential basic element to developing solid gymnastics fundamentals.
Before you can become a great practitioner in any discipline or in cross training you must become a great student and to do that you must learn how to learn. Here are five ways to improve as a student and coach.
1)Check your ego-One of my students was recently coaching dead lifts and suggested to a client that he take some weight off the bar and corrected his form. The client barked at her that “he was once a champion!” I have spent my life around champions in various disciplines. Let me tell you that a champion doesn’t talk like that. This guy may have been first to his mom for breast milk but that doesn’t make him a champion. (an only child maybe) Champions train hard and listen even harder. They learn from their coaches and they excel at basics. So many people these days want to be “elite” but they forget that being elite is being good at basics and the first basic you learn is how to learn. Accept that you don’t know it all, no one does. If you are the smartest person in the room you aren’t in the right room. Find people that can teach you and spend your time listening to them and trying to do what they are taking the time to teach you.
2)Practice basic progressions So your goal is to do a hand stand in the middle of the room? Fantastic! Find a coach who has the cleanest handstands and learn the basics. Study and find out all you can about the various ways people line that movement up. What are the advantages and disadvantages to various approaches. Which approach do you want to work on and why? You are going to spend hours, days, years working on these skills, don’t be lazy! Do some leg work and find out not only how but why you are practicing the way you are. I once spent months working on my free standing hand stand and at the end could hold it for over a minute. Great right? Wrong! My basics weren’t solid. I was relying on my chest and shoulder strength and my alignment was off. One day at yoga teacher training my teacher Mark Darby corrected my form and advised me to stop doing handstands until I was really ready to honestly work with straight arms. After his correction I went back to the beginning and started to find out more about scapular stability and that forced me to suffer with an embarrassing handstand hold of 2 seconds. I am still working to a minute with this form but my understanding of alignment and my physical abilities are now way past where I was when I was practicing the other way.
3)Practice good reps– Practice makes perfect, right? WRONG!!@!!@! If practice made perfect anyone with a bit of motivation could be great. All you would have to do is agree to practice. I could practice Olympic weight lifting every day for years and still never make it into the Olympics. You could practice singing six hours a day and after two years still sound like two alley cats fighting over fish bones. Without fail every gym I walk into is full of well intentioned people who practice bad movements diligently. If you practice 20 poorly performed squats you might as well cancel your dinner plans because its going to take a hell of a lot more to undo the poor form you just ingrained. Practice good reps. To do this you need awareness, basics and a willingness to accept corrections. (see rule number one) If you workout calls for 50 snatches but you can only do five with good form, the following 45 are doing more harm than good. Work your basics before you attempt a workout like that.
4)Details matter! Do you know the difference between a great student and a mediocre one? Details, details details. The great students listen, remember, think and study details. Little things matter because those little things turn into big things. If an archer is off by a fraction as he draws his arrow that slight movement at the beginning will mean a difference of inches or feet at the target. I just watched a video from an instructor who is registered for my next course. In her video she performs what she calls straight leg raises. In the clip she is rocking and with bent knees bringing her toes to the bar. Those aren’t straight leg raises. Is she aware of the difference? Is she working towards having them straight or has she ever even thought of it? As gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer says in his book Building Gymnastics Bodies “slightly bent arms are still bent arms.” Well slightly bent knees are not straight leg raises. This isn’t a call for perfection simply a demand for awareness in what you are practicing.
5)Think– If I wanted people to copy my movements I would run video certifications. I could sit at home, sign diplomas and review videos of people trying to mimic what I do on film. I don’t want copycats I want thinking students who understand not only how to move but why they are moving the way we do. Its easy to copy a guru but its much better to question him. That is how you learn what he learned and more. Ask questions and think about the answers. Things often aren’t simple but thats ok. The old saying is true, if its worth doing its worth doing right.
You are responsible for the quality of what you practice. People often spend more time looking for a nice pair of shoes then seeking out good instruction for physical training. Don’t go to the closest gym, go to the one that is the best for you. Don’t workout, train and study instead. Develop physical skills that are the result of hard work and plenty of study and your training will be a tool to transform not only your body but your whole life.