In the first two installments of this series found here and here, I discussed how difficult it can be to admit that you’ve been wrong, especially when you are someone whom other people turn to for advice. I also discussed how important it is to at least *try* and keep an open mind when you are presented with information that is contrary to your current beliefs. It’s not always easy, but it prevents your philosophy from becoming stale and dogmatic.
I also wanted to note that I am making a small change to the series. Initially, it was going to be 3 parts with 3 things I had changed my mind about in each part, but I am so passionate about item #7 found below, that it ended up taking on a life of its own and I decided to publish it by itself and let it shine. So there will still be 9 things discussed, but it 4 installments instead of 3. Without further ado, here is the 3rd installment!
“Be the best beginner Coach possible.” – Jim Wendler (This is what Wendler used to tell my business partner Jim Laird. They were roommates for a while. Oh, the stories!!)
What I used to think: Training beginners is the same as training everyone else, you just use lighter weights. They should back squat, deadlift, bench press, do pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, kettlebell swings and all of the other big compound movements that I do, just with less weight.
Wow… looking back now, the above statement seems so ridiculous. You see, before I started my own Group Personal Training Classes with my partner Jim Laird a couple of years ago, I was mostly training clients online. The clients I had been training in person were either more advanced than your average Joe, or they were beginners and I hadn’t been doing a great job training them, simply because I was starting them with movements that were too advanced for them. I wasn’t setting them up for success. This was also before I had spent much time with my Coach, Mike Robertson, and really had the opportunity to do the following: watch how he coaches certain movements, learn what he is looking for when someone does a movement, and learn what “acceptable form” really looks like.
These days, between me and my partner Jim, we have 140+ clients that we train each week. Some of them we train 1-on-1, some of them we train in a small group setting (2-5 people) and some of them we train in a large group setting (10-25 people). Through lots of trial and error and lots of learning from other really smart coaches, I now have a much better idea of how the body is supposed to move and where on the continuum of an exercise progression someone should start. For example, this would be my squat progression for a beginner:
Body Weight Box Squat → Goblet Box Squat → Goblet Squat (no box) → Offset Goblet Squat → Front Squat → Back Squat → Cambered/Safety/Buffalo/Spider Bar Squat, etc.
And it’s not like my clients fly through these progressions from week to week. My client may be doing other squat variations for 6-12 months before they ever squat with a bar. The wild thing is, I see so many trainers starting their clients off with Barbell Back Squats… say what?! That’s step 6 in my progression! Not saying that you have to use my exact continuum or progressions, but starting most beginner clients with a Barbell back Squat will lead to failure and frustration. Trust me, I know. I have done it.
What I think now: The majority of beginner clients aren’t anywhere CLOSE to being able to perform a lot of those movements, at least not with good form. I have also realized that 95% of the people who walk in our doors are beginners with regards to movement, no matter how long they have been training.
These days, we make it a point to start all of our new clients off with something very simple and easy. It’s our goal to leave them actually wanting to do more and leave them with some energy left in the tank. It’s a great feeling when your female clients are begging to put more weight on the Prowler or excited about using more chain for their Hip Thrusts. We know that if our clients are asking to do something more advanced or asking to use more weight, it’s because they feel confident in their abilities and they feel prepared, and we are doing our jobs correctly.
For their first few sessions, we may start our beginner clients off with something as simple as diaphragmatic breathing exercises, a short dynamic warm-up, and a couple of super light trips with the Prowler. For some people, that’s enough to kick their butt! We have even had beginner clients vomit after doing just that! (Side note: making people vomit is NEVER our intention and in fact, we try to avoid it at all costs with our clients).
If they are ready to do a bit more than just the breathing and the warm-up, we will likely start them off with something that looks like this:
Diaphragmatic Breathing: 1-2 sets of 15-20 breaths
Half Kneeling Diaphragmatic Breathing: 10 breaths each side
Dynamic Warm-up: See a video of our Beginner Dynamic Warm-up Here
Extended Warm-up: 2 sets of 10 reps on Broomstick RDL, Wall Slides, Mini-Band Monster Walk
A1) Body Weight Box Squat x 10
A2) Walk Up (start in push-up position, walk hands back to feet, walk them back out, repeat) x 6-10
A3) Band Pull-Apart x 12
Repeat two more times for a total of 3 rounds (rest as needed between exercises)
B1) Glute Bridge with Mini-Band around Knees x 12
B2) Half Kneeling Band Pull-down x 5-8 each leg
Repeat one to two more times for a total of 2-3 rounds (rest as needed between exercises)
C1) Prowler Push x 30 yds
Repeat one to two more times for a total of 2-3 trips (rest as needed between trips)
Cool Down: Stretch on the foam roller, hip flexor/quad stretch, adductor stretch on the wall
Now I realize to a lot of people that may seem boring or easy, but I cannot tell you the number of people we have worked with who are smoked after a workout like that! You really don’t have to do much to make your clients get better and to not only avoid injury, but to prevent injury. Remember, if you’re not actively preventing injury, you’re promoting it.
And it’s not like we are afraid of hard work or pushing our clients, they just have to earn the right to be able to do certain movements. Everything we do in class sets our clients up for success so that they can eventually progress to another, more advanced movement. Like I said above, I can guarantee you that the majority of people who walk in your door are beginners, regardless of how long they have been training. Do yourself and your clients a favor, and make sure you start with exercises that will set them up for success.
How do you train your beginner clients? Do you think I am being too much of a softie with my clients? Am I doing things right or wrong? What do you think? What progressions do you like to use with your clients?