I’ve been training for roughly five years now, and I’m only starting to feel a little comfortable as a coach, despite the large stack of literature on my coffee table that constantly reminds me how little I actually know.

Personal Training and S&C are constantly evolving: research is conducted every day to help clients and athletes and everyday people get a little bit better, stronger, and healthier.

Coaching, therefore, also constantly changes. You’ll value certain things more than others, only to find out what you’ve been missing. Every six months or so I think man I was an idiot back then..

It’s like a giant puzzle that gets larger every time you put a few pieces in place.

Developing a Coaching Philosophy then takes years of in-person training, practice, and personal development. Here’s how my mentor, Mark Sutton, always phrased it:

What’s Important?

Let’s look at it this way: if you could only have 10 things to impart on your client/athlete, what would those 10 things be?

You only get 10. Not 20 and certainly not 50.

Ten of the most crucial things your clients and athletes should all know exceptionally well

What do you choose?

For me, there are several easy answers:

1.) Squat: I want my clients to understand the benefit and how to do it well. Squats are “king” because they build lower body strength, power, and loads of muscle mass. If you want a nice butt and legs for miles, you ought to include squats, and their many variations, in your training program. Here’s one of my favorites:

2.) Hip Hinge: deadlifts, RDLs, and single-leg hip hinges are great; they build a strong posterior chain, which means you have less back pain, can run and sprint faster, and also build a good booty; mastering the hip hinge is a must

3.) Push-ups: while not the sexiest of all gym movements, they’re incredibly important: the build upper body strength and mass, while improving shoulder function and challenging core stability; plus not being able to do a push-up is pretty lame. Respect relative body strength

4.) Chin-ups: another relative body strength movement every should be able to do; forget lat pulldowns and cable high rows; build a strong and healthy upper back by conquering the bar

5.) Power movement: this is up to you as a coach and trainer relative to who you work with, but teaching a client/athlete to generate power is important. Coach Sutton liked the Power Clean. I like it too. But most of my clients don’t need to learn it (or the ROI isn’t worth it) so vertical jumps and broad jumps work well; Medball slams are a great option here too

6.) Rotation/Anti-rotation: everyone should have a strong and stable core: it’s your “pillar” that helps keep everything stable; it also allows you to transmit force from the ground through your upper body; this phrase sums it up:

Imagine trying to shoot a cannonball out of a canoe..

–Coach Sutton

If you don’t have a strong and stable core, one that is capable of preventing motion, then you’ll find it difficult to transmit force; in other words, your squats, presses, and pulls won’t be as strong as they can be

7.) Lunge: a lunge is essentially a moving single leg squat, and the challenges are different: single-leg movements challenge single leg strength, which often is disguised by double-leg movements; it challenges knee stability and hip mobility in a different way; plus almost every single movement we do on the field or turf or parking lot asphalt involves one leg moving in front of the other

8.) Carry: this could be lumped all into one category called “carry/core stability” of which would include anti-rotations and planks, but I’ll list it separately anyway; clients and athletes should be able to pick up heavy, preferably oddly shaped things and carry them without hurting themselves. I can’t think of a more “functional” activity than that

9.) Conceptual Framework: I want my clients to understand the whys and hows for everything we do. Why do we squat? Why do we deadlift? Why 5×5 instead of 3×10? Why is mobility important? Why do we do push-ups before we bench? And so on.

To this day when something “clicks” with a client I get chills. It may sound corny but every time a friend or client starts telling me about their travel workout and how they organized and planned it, or how they imparted training knowledge onto a friend or family member of theirs, it gives me chills. I’m sure it’s much like a proud parent of their child for hitting the game-winning grand slam. That’s how it makes me feel anyway.

Realistically, I’m not going to train all my clients forever. That’s why every session is both a workout and lesson. If I can impart my knowledge onto my clients then they can remain active and healthy for life, while also having the upper hand on everyone else in the gym.

It’s both a fundamental understanding of the “why” with complete and total confidence in the “how” that makes number 9 so important.

10.) Love for the Game: I know that not everyone enjoys reading a paper on squat mechanics like I do, but I hope that my clients and athletes develop an intrinsic interest in physical activity for life.

Whether they keep up with the weights or not is up to them, but developing a love for activity or sport is what will keep them healthy and around long enough to enjoy a long life.

This holds especially true for my young lacrosse boys (or any young one at that). I’m in a pretty cool position where I can impart knowledge and skills onto young people that will hopefully keep them active for life. Whether these boys stick with lacrosse, become a power lifter, or changes gears to another sport is up to them, but I’m responsible for developing these young athletes in more ways than just “here’s how you squat.” I’m giving them the tools to be successful athletes and healthy adults.

I take this responsibility seriously.

Whatever they decide, I hope my lacrosse boys and any other individual I work with develops a healthy relationship with activity and chooses to remain active throughout their life.

In Closing

As you develop your coaching philosophy, or start to think about “what’s important,” remember this rule: if you can only teach and master 10 things with your clients and athletes, which would they be? What’s really important?

Another quip Coach Sutton often used:

If I pick up one of your athletes or clients and they know what I’m talking about-they know how to squat and hinge and do those things well-that’s the mark of a great coach

Do you need 10 things? Maybe. Maybe not.

While this is totally up to you as a coach, I think it helps to frame the question of “What’s Important” in this “10 Things” way. There’s no real right or wrong answer…

..but I doubt lateral raises and bicep curls make the cut..

Note: if you’re reading this as a Trainee and not a Coach, it’s not a coincidence that some of THE BEST exercises you can possibly do are in this list. If you’re training regularly and skipping these exercises, then you’re missing out. Not only are these movements important to learn and master, they also happen to be some of the biggest and baddest exercises you should be doing in the gym.

Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

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