Skip to main content

What does a good trainer have in common with a good teacher?

 If you've been around here a bit, you'll probably know that I started out as a science teacher (and if you are new around here, welcome!), and I often get bemused reactions when I explain that I have been both a school teacher and a personal trainer (sometimes in the same day...).

Once in an interview for a part time teaching post, I was asked how I conflated the two sides of my working life.

I told them that I help people bring the best out of themselves. 

On reflection, I've realised that the best qualities of a teacher, and also a trainer, are the qualities of a good coach. 

The same head teacher who asked me that question, assured me that he was confident I could teach Maths instead of Science for a year, because I am a good teacher, and I have good maths skills, and the hardest part of teaching, is not the subject, but engaging the students for learning. The core skillset is universal, let me show you.

Old school schooling

Let's have a look at what we might see from non-coaching oriented trainers or teachers.

They might do stuff like this:

  • Gatekeep knowledge or information, keeping themselves in the position of "expert".
  • Make the decisions the student/client, and give authoritarian instructions.
  • Punishes for a misstep (lines or burpees).
  • Never admit that they might make a mistake, or not be all-knowing.
  • Expect each student/client to follow their example.
  • Assume that if a student/client can't achieve what they expected of them, that it is due to a fault with them or their attitude.
  • Fail to acknowledge diversity in experience, background or innate ability.
  • Assume that their lesson/training session is the most/only pressing issue for their student/client.
  • Label those who are not achieving as "lazy" or "difficult".
  • Expect one programme or scheme or work to be sufficient for all "worthy" individuals.
  • Judges everyone by the same standard.
It's well understood in both teaching and the fitness industry that this model doesn't work. It's OK for the upper-middle demographic who are motivated, able and have the right surroundings and influences to thrive - but those people were always going to do well. 

It doesn't serve those who are not blessed with "beneficial" genetics, a stress-free home life, parents who help with their homework, the time to prep perfect meals, neurotypical needs, good health, (assign any of these to either or both of the student/client groups as you please). It leads to trainers who "fire" clients who struggle to stay on plan, and kids who resent learning because they never got the chance to truly see what learning is.

The coaching mindset

So what happens if we update our approach, adding in what we know about human psychology, how we learn, how we form our habits etc. What does a good coach/teacher look like?

  • Puts the client/student in the position of expert, questions and adapts the process to work with them.
  • Focusses less on the information, and more on how to access and apply it, teaching them "how" rather than "what".
  • Has unconditional positive regard, respects each student/client as a potential-filled individual without judgement.
  • Turns "mistakes" into learning opportunities.
  • Has self awareness and is prepared to admit their own limitations or mistakes.
  • Understands that not all students/clients are willing/able to follow the coach's own path, and is excited to walk with them on their individual journey.
  • Recognise that for their learning/coaching to "stick" it has to be a pleasant experience that integrates into the student/client's interests and responsibilities.
  • Is curious about the barriers the student/client faces and supports the student/client in overcoming them.
  • Assumes that an individual is doing their best for their given circumstances, and works to adjust the circumstances, or the process, rather than blaming the student/client.
  • Sees each student/client as an individual and prepares multiple processes to accommodate them.
  • Has positive, but realistically achievable expectations.
  • Celebrates individual achievements as relative to each student/client's personal capabilities and goals.

    The results and reward of this approach speaks for itself. As a teacher, I've worked with some very "challenging" students, and found them to be my favourite class within a couple of months. As a trainer I work with a demographic which many trainers avoid (people with chronic pain and mobility dysfuction) and I love the magical mystery tour of discovering what they are capable of, while puzzling our way through some really "awkward" limitations.

    If I had one piece of advice for new trainers, looking to improve their skills, I'd say - don't get seduced by the highly technical stuff at first. Learn how to coach. Learn techniques like motivational interviewing. Learn to work alongside your clients as a guide, not perform at them as a guru. You can have all the information in the world, but it's useless until you can actually implement it to help real people.


    Popular posts from this blog

    Managing Fibromyalgia flares

    I've written before about living with EDS and Fibromyalgia ,  much of my personal fitness and health practices are geared around managing those conditions and keeping me as well as I can be. When managing a chronic health condition, particularly one that involves fatigue and potential flare ups, pacing, good nutrition, good sleep and generally taking care of yourself is always the first priority. Ideally we want to have as few flares as possible. But sometimes they still happen, and when they do, it's good to have a strategy in place. And I'm going to be talking in fairly general terms, because while EDS and Fibro are my personal experience, there is so little understanding of the mechanisms behind these conditions, that most strategies are going to be applicable to a number of conditions where crashes of exhaustion and pain are a feature. So what is a flare? A flare is a period where someone with chronic illness suffers increased symptoms for a short while. The

    My top apps for supporting a healthy lifestyle.

    The hardest part of making healthy choices and lifestyle changes is making it a habit. It's easy to make a decision to "eat better", "exercise more" or whatever your current plan is. It's a lot harder to stick to it on the rough days, for long enough that it becomes a habit and part of your life that you can't imagine being without. I love a bit of tech. I am a super geeky science nerd and finding ways to use technology to support my health and fitness makes me very happy. So with this in mind I thought I'd give a quick run down of my favourite smartphone apps for developing and maintaining healthy habits. Habitica I'm starting with this one because it's mad and I love it. Habitica is basically a to-do list app, but it's specially for the gamers among us. If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, and all the games that grew out of that system and fantasy world, you will recognise Habitica. The app allows you to create 3 t

    4 reasons why you should eat

    I feel ridiculous writing this post. It should be excruciatingly obvious. But it's not. Everywhere I look I am seeing messages about not-eating. "don't eat these things" "don't eat very much" "don't eat at this time" And frankly, it's not very healthy. Physically or mentally. So what I'm going to talk about today is why it is important to focus on eating, rather than not-eating, when working towards your health-improving goals. And yes, even, no, especially, when one of those goals is fat loss. Fuel for your activities So food is fuel for your body. It provides the energy you need to function. Your body uses carbohydrates and fat as fuel. It can use protein, but only when under quite a lot of pressure. Your brain can only fuel itself on glucose (carbohydrate) and you can only metabolise fat in the presence of carbohydrate ("fat burns in a carbohydrate flame"). When your body runs low

    Becoming a powerlifter - the aftermath.

    The main event! It's been a couple of weeks now! So a bit of a delayed update because I have been up to all sorts of things. The news on powerlifting is that I did get to my meet! I made weight (hoorah!) by cutting a couple of kilos, then I did the competition, and because I knew that I would likely not be able to update my blog straight away, I made a little video to summarise how the competition went. [TLDW, I totalled 230kg, which is less than my gym PR, but I'm pretty happy considering. There were hiccups...] Here's a couple of quick videos (kindly recorded by Ryan from Kernow Gym ). My second squat, with extra angry lockout, and my third deadlift. The one that didn't get away. This is my second squat @ 72.5 after my first @ 70 was disqualified. I was pretty annoyed at that, which probably accounts for the fast lockout 😂😂 A post shared by Claire Salem (@firelotusfitness) on Oct 16, 2017 at 11:04am PDT I like deadlifts, de

    Protein. Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? Do you need a supplement?

    Let's tackle a meaty topic. Meaty. Protein. Get it? Everyone seems to be going on about protein. Everyone in the gym is chugging shakes. People on the internet are claiming its the secret to weight loss and everything else. Other people on the internet are saying the first people's kidneys are going to fail. Someone else says there's really no need to worry as we don't actually need much protein after all. Some people have numbers, but those numbers are all different. Everyone is confused. Who is correct? Well, everyone is a little. Save that they are all only telling a very small part of a bigger story. So shall we break it down? WITH SCIENCE! The RDA OK, so a figure you will often see bounced around is 0.8g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight. This is the Recommended Daily Allowance. This figure is based on the idea of a "normal" person who is not particularly active, or growing and consuming an adequate amount of calories per