Last summer, I had the opportunity to coach at Strength and Performance, a warehouse gym based in Manchester. This experience taught me an incredible amount, and I wrote an article about what I learned. Due to other commitments, the owners left my fellow strength and conditioning coach, Chris Wainer, and me in charge of the gym again—this time for three weeks.

In my first article, I detailed how two weeks coaching taught me more than all the books, articles, blogs, and papers that I’d read in the preceding year. These three weeks taught me just as much if not more.

Here’s what I learned…

  • The hip hinge is one of the most useful movements and should be taught to all clients. Without the ability to hip hinge, the client can't perform a whole host of other exercises. Spend the time to teach this early. It will save you time in the long run. Get the client to stand six inches away from a wall. Cueing them to keep a neutral lumbar spine, hinge at the hips and aim to push the glutes to the wall. The clients should feel a big stretch along the hamstrings.
  • Do you want a challenge? Try this. The distance for each stage is 30 meters. Two plates on the Prowler and four on the sled is a great starting point. Complete this without any rest between exercises:
    • Prowler high handles
    • Backward sled drags
    • Sprints
    • Prowler low handles
    • Forward sled drags
    • Sprints
    • Prowler high handles
    • Backward sled drags

  • Box jumps should be used cautiously. Although they're a great exercise for improving jumping and hip mobility, the client can sometimes be more worried about landing on the box. Don’t let this limit how much they're jumping.
  • Have a system for everything, literally everything. From how you answer the phone to how you show new clients around the gym, have it mapped out.
  • Listen to what new clients want. Don’t impose on them what you think they need. Listen and they will be much happier and your business will be much healthier.
  • Pretty much everyone spends too much time seated at a desk, so much so that their shoulders rotate anteriorly. This leads to poor posture, reduced performance, and increased risk of injury. To fix this, get the client doing some soft tissue work with a lacrosse ball on their pecs. Stretch their levator scapulae and do lots and lots of rows.
  • Women are often stronger than they think. Men usually think the opposite. Push women to up the weights and make sure men don’t sacrifice form for a few more pounds.
  • Overweight people still shouldn’t do jumps.
  • Unilateral carries are one of the best ways to teach core control and bracing. My favorite carry is one-handed farmer's walks. One-handed kettlebell carries in the rack position and bottom up kettlebell carries are also awesome.
  • If you want to teach someone to accelerate, get him to be comfortable with moving his center of gravity out in front of his body.
  • Putting the clock on people makes them work harder.
  • Make mini-competitions for athletes. They thrive on it.
  • Your clients will mirror your attitude. If you expect hard work and enthusiasm, bring it to the table yourself.
  • Monkey bars provide a massive upper body and torso challenge as well as a great grip workout. Child’s play? I don’t think so.
  • Single leg Romanian deadlifts are a pet hate. Most people can’t control the hip hinge on two legs without challenging them on one. That said, if you have a client who can hip hinge perfectly, put them on one leg to challenge them further.
  • Everything is a plank. A push-up is a plank with arm movement and so is an inverted row. Teach your clients to brace everything. Total body rigidity is the key to success. Teach it.
  • The dumbbell snatch is one of the best exercises to teach how to “pulse.” According to McGill, the elite are able to contract their muscles rapidly but also relax them just as rapidly. Using the dumbbell snatch, you can teach someone to display massive power during the pull phase and then relaxation to let the dumbbell go. Imagine throwing a ball overhead. You wouldn’t keep throwing until your arms were vertical. Relax as the dumbbell reaches chest height. The second pulse is in order to catch the dumbbell overhead. Cue full body rigidity at this point.
  • Strength is a skill. Practice it.
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Case in point, one client is a Paralympian. He has cerebral palsy, meaning he has less motor control on his right side. Despite this, he is able to train effectively. We utilized central loading (chains and weighted vests) for single leg movements. He also has a grip device that enables him to grip objects on the effected side. So focus on what you can do and think outside the box to create new ideas.
  • Wrists falling back in the bench? Try doing dumbbell benching but with kettlebells instead of dumbbells. With the weight behind your wrist, you have to actively keep your wrist in the neutral position.
  • Perform unilateral carries. I’m repeating this because they're that good.

This experience taught me that you will always find time for the things you're passionate about. While coaching at the gym, I was also performing research with the Great Britain boxing team. This all accumulated in early starts and late finishes, but I loved every minute of it. When you get home late and stay up past midnight to research a problem a client you’ve coached has presented despite a 5:00 a.m. start the next morning, you know you’re doing what you love.

Coaching the variety of clients was a great experience. From people who had back pain to elite level athletes, the learning experience was unparalleled. Thanks to the guys for trusting me with the gym once again.

A good friend, mentor, and fellow strength coach recently said to me, “When you work, there are always too many hours in the day. When you do what you're passionate about, there are never enough.” I think I found my passion.