I write today from a sick house. Yes, my (fur)baby Ripley is a sick pupper; poisoned after eating something in the garden. I apologise in advance for any type-o’s or incomplete thoughts…a night spent cleaning up after a crying, vomiting Doberman is not my usual idea of a restful night’s sleep. But, while us bitches are curled up on the sofa I thought I would make use of the time by putting virtual pen to digital paper and sharing some of my thoughts on coach selection with you.
Before I get into all that, it might help if I share a little bit of background on me so you know where I am coming from here.
“Hello. My name is Tamara and I am a reformed 20-something year old”
I spent my 20’s like many people do. Never stepped foot inside a gym. Never missed a party or gig. Chain smoked with rolling tobacco. Was more interested in bar crawls than barbells. My money was spent pretty evenly on mid-week wine and weekend whisky, with a sprinkling of Disprin to keep me functional on Saturdays. Sure that’s what it’s all about, right?! I convinced myself that because I was a vegetarian and I cycled to work, I was the healthiest version of myself I could possibly be. Oh. Misspent youth! The things I could do with those supple joints and knees; still enjoying the reassuring embrace of cartilage. Well, all that changed in November 2011, when at the age of 27 my partying came to an abrupt halt with a pretty un-fucking-cool brain hemorrhage. I will save the grueling details of that recovery for another blog post, but suffice to say that I soon realised that my life was in serious need of an overhaul.
I got moving. I started building strength by joining Arlene and crew in Irish Pole Dance Academy, where I learned so much about my body; my strengths, my less-than-strengths and the absolutely awesome feeling of investing time and energy into myself and seeing fruitful outcomes. My body began to change. I began to develop muscle and flexibilty I never knew I had and most of all my confidence and curiosity began to rise.
I jumped from this into weight training and over the years I have flitted from working with / without the aid of a coach. I have had personal 1:1 training with instructors, online coaching, “mindset” coaching, class instruction, specific goal coaching and have learned something from every single interaction I have had. Some lessons were good, others were difficult to learn but important.
Based on my experience of working with a host of different coaches, all with different styles and techniques I have cobbled together some Do’s & Dont’s (Don’ts? Don’t’s?…WTF??) for you if you are thinking about getting involved with coaching.
1) Know your “What”
This is an important first step for any fitness journey. What do you want to actually achieve? You might be really keen to lose weight, build muscle, improve your heart health or general fitness markers or you might have a really specific goal like a competition or race. These goals will allow your coach to shape a tailored programme for you. If you don’t know or are a bit vague about what you are looking for then it’s going to be tricky to pin down milestones to work towards. “I just wanna build muscle tone” may sound like something you would love to achieve, but it is actually a vague and subjective goal, and you might find that you never quite get to where you want to be. Plus…let’s not get all distracted with muscle tone…yeah?!
Specific goals are going to make you and your coach’s life so much better together. Think specific and measurable e.g. “drop 2 dress sizes” or “lose 7kg” or even “run 5km without stopping”. All of these things will give you something to work towards, and the great thing is you will not have to stop and question yourself when / if you get there. The results will speak for themselves.
2) Know your “Why”
Often overlooked. Always individual to you. And so very, very important. Your “why” is the thing that is going to make you stop and reconsider that second helping of cake. Your “why” is the thing that’s going to drag your ass to the gym at 6.30am on a rainy January morning. Your “why” is going to sit on your shoulder as you move closer and closer towards your goal, telling you to keep going when you want to give up. And you might want to give up; nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. But it’s your “why” that will make your journey so much clearer. It’s your “why” that won’t let you give up.
A good coach will care about your “why” so I would always encourage you to share this detail to give them a better understanding of where your head is and just a little more insight into your own motivating factor.
3) Be realistic about your “How”
This is where you need to be really honest with yourself, as well as your coach. It’s all well and good having grand aspirations of getting to the gym 6 times a week and 3 times on Sundays, but is that sustainable? For the average person, no it’s probably not. If you are clear about your “what” and your “why”, then your “how” needs to come into play. This will be the last element in really shaping that programme. For example, if your aim is to train to run a marathon, but you have a really demanding job with unpredictable hours, you need to be realistic about what you can commit to on a weekly basis. This baseline should be agreed with a prospective coach, so that when they come back with a programme it matches up with what you can feasibly commit to.
4) Ask questions
This. This at every stage of your journey with your coach. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you aren’t happy with the answers, then find a coach who you have better communication with. Before you settle on someone, I would be really sure that you are in no doubt about this particular coach’s style, methods, experience, process, communication preference etc. Where did they study? What was the last course they completed? What kind of process will they use for your goal? What does a check in with them consist of? How quickly do they respond to emails / questions? What is the max. number of clients they work with? How many do they have now? What level of detail do they go into on their programmes?
The types of questions you ask will depend greatly on your experience and level, but I would be extremely wary of anyone who is self-employed but does not have time to talk about themselves to prospective clients. That’s a red flag.
5) Be clear on the service you will be getting…does it match your needs?
So you’ve signed up for 12 week online coaching. You’re chuffed. Your training start date arrives and you realise that you have been handed a 12 week workout module with nutritional programming and a weekly email with your coach. Outside that, you aren’t really going to see very much update or change, it’s a “what it says on the tin” 12 week programme…you just didn’t take the time to actually read the tin properly. That’s disappointing from the outset.
If you want a specific type of coaching, be really clear when you sign up. If you want weekly Skype calls, or a monthly face-to-face or an introductory coffee then ask if that’s in the plan. Don’t assume anything. If it’s not in the plan, then it’s not for you. It’s really that simple. There are so many coaches out there, you will find someone who offers a service that works for you.
6) 12 week online coaching. Buyer Beware.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if you are working towards a really specific goal (wedding, holiday, competition etc.) and you want to get in shape in 12 weeks, without having to give it too much thought then more power to you. But, if you want to actually learn about fitness, nutrition, techniques, form etc. then a 12 week pre-determined programme will not be the right investment. It takes a hell of a lot longer than 12 weeks to really learn about all the nuances that make you YOU. You might want to reconsider the value in some open-ended, on-going coaching, which can be so much richer than any 12 week programme.
7) Adaptability versus actual ability
A good coach will adapt their style to suit your needs. To. A. Point. And this is where you need to have done some homework. If you are approaching a long-distance running professional to coach you through prep for your first bodybuilding comp, then something is not quite right. A good PT will take pride in what they do, and explain to you that they won’t be the best selection to support you in attaining your goals…but there are a lot of bad PT’s who will gladly take your money as they run you in the wrong direction. Do your homework!
8) Do not believe everything you see on Social Fucking Media
Yes. That needed an F-Bomb because that is how mad this makes me. Have you ever seen multiple PT’s using the same “before” and “after” photos?! Yes. It happens. And not because they were both committed to working alongside this person to achieve their Hopes and Dreams, but because they are completely full of shit. Photos get stolen online every day. Don’t fall into the trap of choosing a PT based on the images on their Instagram. Check out their other content, do they post anything of actual value? Are they talking about form? Are they talking nutrition? Are they contributing anything of actual value to the conversation or is it all just headless before and after shots with no detail on their process?
9) It’s ok to not be ok with something
So many people are totally bamboozled as they start to engage with their own fitness, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that the fitness industry can take advantage of this. Ridiculous pseudo-scientific words are used to justify nonsense. Highly-dubious supplementation is pushed at every possible opportunity. It’s almost as though fully-grown adults are thrust back into a playground mindset, and as you start to think about fitness you are suddenly the new kid in school; afraid to ask questions or criticise the bigger kids. Hey. YOU! Stop. You’re an adult, and you are probably paying a lot of money for someone to impart a bit of actual education to you. If something isn’t right, then something isn’t right and it’s your responsibility as a client to voice your concerns.
If, for example, you are left feeling like shit or maybe are afraid that your programme has not been explained correctly or you have a sense that your form is way out of whack and you’re at risk of injury it doesn’t matter what the technique or approach is, you need to put back on your big girl pants and be an adult and not be afraid to draw the line.
Of, for example, if your PT has stuck you on a treadmill for 20 minutes while they check their phone then YEAH, it’s ok to be pissed. Because that is not ok.
Those high standards of customer service that you have everywhere else don’t have to go out the window because you have stepped foot inside a gym. And don’t let some 20 year old with great genetics tell you otherwise!
10) Don’t be a snowflake
Sometimes a little tough love is going to be in order, and you may need to listen as your coach explains to you that your plans are a little aspirational or unrealistic. Likewise, if you are not putting the work in and are disappointed when you don’t see results; please don’t expect a coach to stroke your ego and tell you what you want to hear. You are paying a professional to shape you into the best version of yourself. Sometimes that’s going to need a double scoop of reality, which can be hard to swallow. If you want to pay someone to tell you nice things about yourself, then I am free on Wednesday evenings and I think you’re fabulous. Don’t waste yours or a PT’s time looking for flattery.
“If you want to pay someone to tell you nice things about yourself, then I am free on Wednesday evenings and I think you’re fabulous.”
11) Do you like this person?!
Yeah. Do you gel? Do you like your PT? Do you have a similar sense of humour? Are you going to work well? Do you communicate in similar ways? Or…are they a bit of a spa and you don’t think you could actually have faith in what they say? Find someone who you can work with. It’s so important that you have a similar mindset and are on the same wavelength.
As always, thanks so much for reading! I’m away now to cuddle a pupper who is in need of a pupper cuddle.