What Makes a Good Coach?

TAGS: Lily Starobin, coaching powerlifting, instagram, coaching, Q&A, powerlifting, dave tate, training

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What does a good coach provide?

I ruminate on this frequently when I think about what Dave does for all of us at the gym. Whenever I ask him questions or read his program or eavesdrop on his training-related conversations, I try and understand not just the content of what he is saying, but also why it is valuable. His Instagram answer to the question below prompted me to write my thoughts in a little more detail.

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I know Dave doesn’t think of himself as a coach or like to be called a coach, but the fact of the matter remains that he does everything for those of us who train at the compound: Writing our programs, answering questions, working on our techniques, helping us with our long-term plans, and making training decisions on a minute-by-minute basis depending on our day in the gym. He has done everything for me in terms of making me a better lifter and teaching me everything about training. So for the purpose of exposition, we will call him a coach.

Let me also preface this by saying if you have an online coach (as opposed to someone whom you train with who helps or coaches you), I understand the dynamic may be different. The level and frequency of correspondence will probably be less than someone you train with and talk to on a regular basis. So do I think my situation is the same as the vast majority of powerlifters? No. But are there certain tenants that should be constant through all coaching that is worth a shit? Yes.

A Program That’s Worth a Fuck

Is one programming methodology inherently superior to another? No. But a coach should be able to create and modify a program based on an individual, their goals, and near-constant changes. When I say program, I don’t mean conjugate or linear or any methodology. I mean the exercises that are put together and given to an athlete. Our program is not just conjugate but is a melding of various ideas.

Dave will state that he has a conjugate bias but will try to look at our program from various angles to pick what is best for his lifters. I understand that good coaches have methodologies that they ascribe to, understand, and utilize well. But to look at other tried and true methods or ideas and say they don’t work is just ignorant.


RELATED: Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Program


If you ask your coach about differing ideas, and they shit on them as opposed to saying they work in certain circumstances or giving you a well thought out reason for why they do not prefer it, then chances are they just do not have a solid grasp on programming. “It depends” is truly the most knowledgeable answer you can get sometimes (as long as it has some follow-up explanation).

Weekly Updates

Things change. Your nagging injuries flare up leading up to a meet. You are fucking burnt out. You suddenly forget how to box squat. Having a set 12-week meet prep plan that does not change based on the circumstances is probably one of the most useless things you can do unless you are a beginner lifter. We get our program, at most, on a weekly basis. It accounts for where we are in the training cycle, the training we did the week before, and everything that went on during those training sessions. Do we feel like shit? Are we mentally fucked up in the weeks before a meet? Are we feeling good about our training?

It also changes during the training session. Are we supposed to work up to 90 percent in full gear but our warm-ups were already looking like shit? Did we smoke 90 percent and today is the day to push it? Program updates are just as important as having a program to begin with.

Form Checks on the Main Lifts and Accessories

This seems like an obvious one. Making sure you are lifting optimally. If you have a good program but are squatting like shit, then the program doesn’t really matter. I think that for beginner and intermediate lifters, a lot of times you can get more pounds out of technique changes than you can out of a thoughtfully structured program. But what about everything that happens after the main lift? I can’t tell you how many accessories and supplemental lifts I was doing incorrectly or not well until I had people at the compound watching and critiquing all parts of my workout. I think every part of your workout should have a purpose. Part of that means executing supplemental and accessory movements not only with intensity but also in a way where you actually get the most out of every exercise. Also known as doing the movements correctly.

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A good coach also understands that technique varies and is based on the lifter. Not everyone should squat, pull, or bench one way. Bar placement, foot placement, hand placement all vary based on the individual. In the same vein, not all cues produce the same results across the board. Are some popular cues ubiquitous because they get the point across for a majority of people? Sure. But what if it doesn’t make sense to a lifter or isn’t actually the root of the problem? What if “chest up” in the squat should actually be “back into the bar” or “head back” or teaching how to get the back tight? A good coach has a vast arsenal of cues and explanations to make sure their message gets across to each lifter. They are able to suss out the root of an issue as opposed to falling back on the most commonly used cue.


READ MORE: A Better Language for Coaches


TEACH YOU WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WHY

I put that in capital letters because I feel like this has been monumental in my training experience. I first competed in 2012-2013, but in the three years I have been training at elitefts, I feel like I went from knowing nothing to being able to understand what goes into a training cycle (not to mention putting hundreds of pounds on my total). I am not at all trying to say that I know so much about training and programming, but I am at least at a point where I can ask pertinent questions and discuss training with other people.

Most of that just comes from Dave explaining what we are doing, me asking questions, and him giving incredibly informative answers. He answers any and all questions in a way that helps me learn about training and program decision-making. Sometimes I just ask why we are doing something or why things are a certain way this time around as opposed to the last training cycle. Dave will tell me his reasoning, why this exercise or rep scheme or idea was chosen as opposed to other ideas he had, and the benefits or drawbacks of it. He tells me why the choice was made based on the current situation and why that decision may not always be the case. He tells me why he makes choices based on individual lifters and why things would be different for the other lifters in the gym. We are not just learning why, but also how to make our own training choices. This is why I have a modicum of an idea about training. And training not just for myself, but for other lifters.

Dave also takes the time to teach us how to coach each other: What to look for, how to cue, and how to make changes for other lifters. The “what we are doing and why” isn’t just for our own edification; it’s so we can make each other better and any other lifter who walks through the doors or asks us a question.

Did this turn into a verbal jerk-off of Dave? Kind of. But when you look at what he does for lifters, it is the pinnacle of coaching.


WATCH: An Epic Q&A with Dr. John Rusin and Dave Tate


Let me also state that no one pays Dave for any of the things stated above. So if you are reading this and thinking, “Well, you probably pay him out of the butthole for these amazing services,” we do not. No one pays for his help or to train at his gym. I try to pay him with a less shitty total every time and utilizing what he has taught me to help other lifters.

While I understand that having someone like Dave help with your training is incredibly rare, hopefully, it gives you some insight into what coaching can and should be. At the bare minimum, you are learning about training as opposed to just going through some pre-written motions. You are turning into a lifter who can make their own decisions with sound reasoning. You are getting better technically and mentally. And hopefully, you are turning into the kind of lifter who can go out and help other lifters in a competent manner.

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