How To Help People

That’s ultimately what training is, right?  Whether it’s people business (you own a gym) or the people bidness (you want to see your classmate become a better lifter), helping folks get stronger, faster, and fitter is at its root a person-to-person endeavor and we can say pretty confidently that certain truths of communication prevail:

1. You Want Them To Want You.  This is a very awesome Cheap Trick song and it’s also the most important rule in the book.  If you want to help someone, the first thing you need to do is make sure that they want to be helped.  This sounds at first like New Age claptrap but in reality, it’s the most practical bit of advice you’ll get.  I know–I got it over and over again as a new trainer and fought it with every step.  You mean the guy squatting 400 at Gold’s doesn’t want or need me to tell him how to drive his knees out?  Surely you jest…

If you see something you’d like to correct–and this goes, I think, for gym owners as well as newer or aspirant trainers–you’ll never go wrong thinking about the correction in terms of a dialogue.  “Hey man, can I share a tip I find useful?” is a perfect icebreaker.  At best you’ve got a friendly audience and at worst you’re told to hit the bricks; either way you know where you stand and you can go from there.  All the pickpockets in the world don’t have enough hands to count how often folks miss the mark here.

2.Speak Softly and Carry A Big Stick. The best trainers are the best communicators.  And like they say in Comp 101: if you had more time you’d write a shorter paper.  Keep the cues brief and spare.  Two are better than four; one is better than any other number; a single word will very often carry the day.  “FASTER!” gets the job done a hell of a lot better than “The snatch is an explosive lift that’s all about the hips and you need to shoot those hips right into the bar when it passes your knees and then pull yourself under like a cheetah on meth.”  Don’t make speeches.  This, by the way, is the hardest rule to follow.  I break it every day even as I begin each class by telling myself to keep it simple.  Being concise and measured isn’t easy but it pays off: I love watching videos of Rip coaching–he’s observing as sure as he’s talking.  The right word from him carries the weight of consideration.

3. Pick Your Spots.  Gotta get in when the getting’s good.  You don’t ask your boss for a raise after you hand him a piece of crap; neither should you corner the guy sucking wind from 400 meter repeats and give him a pitch for minimalist footwear.  As in life, as in gym: you may be positively twitching with knowledge and vaulting altruism, but you can’t throw a football through a pinhole.  Wait a second, wait a minute.  Look for cues–the lifter isn’t doubled over in pain, for instance.  I kid, but this is a tough one to navigate for sure, especially for newer dudes and dudettes.  The desire to help and share is so strong that we sometimes forget our audience needs to be ready in order for this whole scenario to proceed as we’d like it to.

4. Don’t Take On Projects.  Gosh, this is a tough one because the impulse is almost always wholly positive.  We make a personal connection, we see ourselves in someone else, we really feel it incumbent upon ourselves to help this particular person…and then we nag them to death.  I am quite sure that if thought bubbles existed I would have seen “can you just leave me the hell alone for the rest of the class?” at least a hundred times by now.   We need to know when to say when here–helping is great, following someone around is not.  Correct or suggest, check back, and move on.  I think this goes for nearly every gym interaction I can imagine outside of $500/hour personal training.  For $500 an hour, you deserve Cruella DeVille and you probably need her too.

5. Understand The Journey.  “Aren’t you worried about (X’s) air squat?” someone asked me a few months ago.  The athlete in question was horribly stiff, quite hesitant, and sitting to about quarter-depth.  I replied that I wasn’t, simply because it was (X’s) second week back at the gym after a skiing accident and we weren’t nearly as concerned with the CrossFit Commandment to Parallel as we were with reestablishing movement pattern and balance.  It’s a long road sometimes but it is a road; hook into where the person you want to help is and you’ll have a much better shot of driving the same trail.  As always, an open mind and the ability to ask the right question are key here.

Certainly there are other tips, but this should help us get started…

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