Every once in awhile, I like to write about failures, successes, and other variables that have gotten me to where I am today. Becoming a great coach doesn’t come easy. I’ve spent thousands of hours coaching clients, reading books, watching educational videos, traveling the country to see the best gyms and how they operate, and have dedicated my life to being great at what I do. In this piece, I want to share my top three things that have made me a better coach and have improved my results DRAMATICALLY!
If you’re reading this article, hopefully you’ll get a couple takeaways and improve your own personal skills as a coach, trainer, or therapist. Each one of the three highlights will require more research to fully understand them, but as I tell each new hire or new intern coming in to work at our facilities, understanding these three things and how to incorporate them into your training will make you better almost instantaneously. Take these three tips and run with them. I promise you will not be disappointed with your results.
1. It’s all about the Canister! – What the heck do I mean when I say this? What in the hell is a canister, and how will this make me a better coach? Let me elaborate, and I’m sure you’ll quickly understand what I’m talking about.
I never really understood the importance of rib and pelvis position until I started training with my good friend and mentor, Mike Robertson. A few years ago, both Steve and myself, drove to Indianapolis once a month to train with one of the best in the industry. For those of you that know me, you should know I’m coming from St. Louis. That’s a four hour trek each way. Along with paying for the training, we also had to pay for a night in a hotel, gas, and food. Needless to say, it wasn’t cheap. However, learning about the canister, or Zone of Apposition, that I speak about was worth the money invested 10 fold. Without understanding this, I would still be struggling to make positive changes with my clients.
The Zone of Apposition, or “canister”, is basically how the diaphragm and pelvic floor align with each other. In order to get the most out of our bodies, we need a diaphragm and pelvic floor that face each other. However, you RARELY see this with anyone! Most people will lose this canister and start to slip into lower cross syndrome and have some wicked anterior pelvic tilt coupled with a lordotic lumbar spine. When this happens, we lose that canister. When we lose the canister; we lose core stability. When we lose core stability; we lose athleticism, strength, power, and are increasing our chances for sustaining an injury.
The picture above was taken from the Postural Restoration Institute and helps illustrate what the ZOA or canister represents. In order to have results that stick for a lifetime, we need to be well aware of this canister. Since we’ve learned more about this, our most used coaching cue in the gym has been, “ribs down.” Keeping the ribs down will help improve the ZOA, create a nice little canister of stability, and help your client learn to stabilize from the center allowing them to have a base to perform off of. Without this, you’re going to try to improve with little to no support from your core and lose lots of power due to an energy leak in the middle. Learn how to develop this canister and you’re results will be substantially better and longer lasting.
2. Nervous System Regulation – Another thing I wish I knew from day one in my training career is how to control the nervous system. Understanding the difference between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system have been another large part of my success over the past few years. These two nervous systems help regulate our body and give us certain responses when needed. Basically, between the two nervous systems, we’re able to control our heart rate, respiratory rate, and other vital functions that help us perform when needed.
The sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) helps us perform at optimal levels and gives us strength and power to overcome obstacles in our life and training. The parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) basically does the exact opposite. This nervous system helps our body get out of the state of arousal and come back to its resting state. The understanding and control of these two systems are vital to enhancing performance, overall health, and longevity in your clients.
Most of the clients we work with are sympathetic nervous system driven; meaning the “fight or flight” part of their body is in overdrive. With the current stresses and fast paced lives we live, our bodies are constantly in a state of fight or flight. We rarely give ourselves a moment of silence, take away the cell phones and other interruptions, or go for casual walks anymore. Basically, from the time we get up until the time we go to bed, we’re always driving the sympathetic nervous system to the ground. Learn the difference between the two, how to regulate them via breath work, and add ensure both systems are well developed, and your clients will thank you for this. The understanding of this has helped me improve results with those clients having hormonal issues, hitting plateaus, or not getting results. I can’t stress the importance of this enough, so do yourself a favor and start to dive into more info on the nervous systems.
3. High Threshold vs. Low Threshold – When we look at exercise, understanding the difference between high threshold strategies and low threshold strategies is extremely important. After you learn more about the “canister” and how to align the body properly, you need to start to understand the difference in high and low threshold activities.
Certain lifts or activities are going to require a certain amount of tension needed to stabilize the spine, control posture, and minimize the chance of an injury. It should be obvious, but doing a 400 lb. deadlift from the floor should require a different amount of tension than lying on your back trying to raise a leg off the floor. However, many of your clients are probably not controlling this very well. Is so, I apologize; however, what I see on a daily basis leads me to believe you’re clients are doing the same thing.
I like lifting big. I love pulling a lot of weight from the floor. I thoroughly enjoy picking up heavy things and putting them back down.
Yeah…I do lift bro!
When I do decide to pick up heavy things and put them back down, I sniff a big breath of air into my belly, I brace my core like my life is dependent upon it, and I create a very high threshold of stability. This is GOOD! This is needed to pick up big things! High threshold is great for doing things like this. However, doing a birddog, deadbug, or some other lower level, bodyweight activity, requires much less tension needed to perform well. You shouldn’t have to sniff air into your belly and brace to perform this. Your core should be reactive. It should fire quickly. It should be done at a much lower threshold.
If your clients are anything like mine, some of them will be bracing their core like they’re trying to pull 400 from the floor when they’re simply trying to perform a simple, ground based, bodyweight exercise. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that pulling 400 pounds and doing a birddog should require a different level of threshold or stability needed. Start paying attention to the effort your clients are giving on each exercise. Does that particular exercise require maximum stability and bracing strategies? Or should it be more reflexive, and quick to fire? Control the amount of threshold your clients are putting into each activity and watch them improve drastically. This can help your clients in their everyday life because if they always have to sniff and brace to move an arm, they’re probably going to hurt their shoulder or something else at some point in time. We need both high threshold and low threshold activities in our routines. Don’t ignore this! Start controlling the effort given and match it to the intensity of what they’re trying to do.
There you have it! My top 3 things I wish I knew earlier in my training career. This article isn’t going to give you all the answers. Go out and do some more research in each of the three areas. I promise you’ll be grateful you did.
– Jared Woolever