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The Void of Skill Based Training in Fitness

October 2020 marks 22 years of being in the gym and training for me. During that time I have consistently trained in a gym setting whether it be for football, wrestling, bodybuilding, the Police Academy, or Powerlifting. It marks 16 years of getting paid money to train others, and 12 years of making a living and providing for my family training others. This October is the first at which I’m running my own training business as well. During this 22 year span, looking back on my experience in fitness settings I see several common themes in fitness training that I think are lacking in many gyms and organizations.

The biggest flaw I see in many of our systems is the lack of mastery of basic movements or skills and lack of a solid foundation. There are certain fundamental skills in sport and fitness that should be mastered before progressing to a more complex movement pattern, skill, adding load, velocity, etc. In fitness we want to master the squat, hinge, lunge, push/pull (horizontal and vertical), and various crawling/carrying drills. Each sport has its own foundational skills as well. The difficulty comes in a large group or team setting. No kid or adult for that matter wants to feel like they are doing more remedial activities compared to some of their peers. Add to this a large team or class setting with limited coaching/instruction paired with complex and high risk exercises, and we set ourselves up for suboptimal results at best, and poor confidence. At worst we end up with unneeded injury. In my experience the average coach or personal trainer with 2+ years of experience can effectively coach 3-4 individuals at a time on individualized plans or with the group performing a variety of movements/exercises.. The better ones may be able to handle 5-6, while the newer more inexperienced are lucky if they can effectively coach a group of 2. In settings where groups exceed this size or the coaches skill is more on the novice side then we simply need pick movements or drills that have a favorable risk/reward ratio and have less need of technical coaching. In the fitness setting this will often exclude high volume sprints/jumps, olympic weightlifting movements, and burpees done in a state of fatigue.

I feel that there is a 3 pronged solution to this problem. Firstly as coaches we must develop systems of coaching and training that allow us to scale the practice or training to the individuals needs and level without them feeling they are being placed on an inferior program. This is where group size comes into play. As mentioned previously I find most experienced coaches can handle 4-5 participants at a time. At this low of a number each person can have specific skills or exercises they are working on so that they are on a totally separate program that is hard to compare to their peers. The coach or trainer can still manage, correct, and que this group size with each on an individual program. As trainers or coaches we must have an assessment system set in place to effectively evaluate the needs of our athletes or clients and have the courage to place them at the appropriate level, and insist mastery of the fundamentals before progressing them to what looks cool on social media. Thirdly as parents or clients we must be humble and trust the expertise of the professionals we are seeking guidance from. Look for someone who has a track record and history of success and the hours that justify trusting them, give them your history and goals, complete the assessment process, and trust that they will steer you toward your destination effectively. If you don’t have that trust seek out a new coach, or ask questions to better understand their system and rationale.

We must always remember that physical literacy whether in fitness or sport is a skill just like reading, writing, science, or mathematics, and as such must be practiced. Advanced levels can only be achieved through practice and mastery of said fundamentals, and nobody is ever beyond the basics.

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