8 Plug And Plays You Can Use For Better Coaching by Stuart Aitken

There are many things you pick up coaching clients that can help improve your coaching experience.

For example:

  • You discover certain coaching cues that create better movement in a client.
  • Effectively using open-ended questions and listening skills leads to a client sharing more information.
  • You add in a small change to how you say something that has a positive effect on the desired result.

The positive results from these actions make you eager to replicate them with other clients and develop your coaching skills further.

This blog aims to present 8 of these things that will help you improve your coaching, which will, in turn, help you connect with your clients, create a more enjoyable experience for them and ultimately, improve the chance of them continuing to come to see you.

1. Use Their Language  

It’s incredibly easy to start using language that makes sense to you as a trainer, language that you might think makes you look intelligent and like you know what you’re talking about. 

But think about this from the clients perspective; what would you think if you went on a course and the first few things that came out of the tutor’s mouth were things you didn’t understand. How would that make you feel? You wouldn’t automatically start respecting this person more, or feel like your trust for this person had increased; you would feel confused, and potentially inferior.  

If a client comes to you because they want to “tone up” (yep, I know, we hate this word) then guess what you should be saying to them if you do an exercise that is likely to help build muscle?  

This is an amazing exercise for helping tone up the muscles on the back of your arms, it’s hard, but I know you’ll love it!” vs “This is a tricep press-down, it will cause muscle growth by creating muscle damage, metabolic stress and mechanical tension through the three heads of the tricep, specifically the short and medial head”. 

The first version increases buy-in for an exercise ten-fold, whereas the second sounds confusing just to say back to myself! 

As Nick Tumminello always says, “think science, speak client 

2. Mirror Their Level 

What looks better? 

Client A has just finished a set of hip thrusts, except they weren’t getting full hip extension on the last few reps. Would it make more sense to get down to a half-kneeling position and explain what you would like them to try and do next set, maybe even getting them to do a few extra reps so you can offer extra coaching, or stay standing and talk to them from there? 

The first option sounds so much more client orientated, and a whole lot more personal.  The second option essentially means you are talking down to the client.

Get down to the level that the client is at before you start trying to coach them into better positions.  It’ll make the coaching point come across a lot better, and keep the client feeling comfortable and willing to allow a transfer of information.

3. Allow The First Rep of a New Set to be Average  

There’s nothing worse than explaining how to do an exercise, handing it over to the client, and then watching them do it completely different to how you’ve just coached it. It’s also very easy to want to jump right in and coach it better instantly, but what this doesn’t allow is for the client to gain some context of how an exercise should feel to them. 

You want to allow that first/ second rep to be un-coached before you offer something that will make it more effective, see if they can sort it themselves, or stop and realize they haven’t quite got it.

This provides context for how an exercise should feel and increases the chances of them learning and gaining more competence. If you are doing a set press-ups on an incline and instead of tucking their elbows they are flaring them out, give it a couple of reps, then offer a coaching point.  If you jump straight in with a “keep your elbows closer to your ribs” you aren’t allowing any context for how it should actually feel, nor are you going to make the client feel competent. 

Give them a chance to learn through trial and error. 

4. Use Analogies to Coach Improved Positions   

We now know from a lot of research that unequivocally the literature states that external cues (focus on his/her environment, or the outcome — i.e. drive the ground away) are better than internal cues (focus on his/her body — i.e. chest up) for improved performance and memory retention. If you take an external cue and use an analogy to coach the client, we also know that this is an even more effective form of coaching as it creates an explicit learning environment where the client can recall from memory what has been said.  

A few examples —  

  • Client has 2 young children and when she squats her knee’s go into a valgus position. To create an analogy for her that would help her knee position we could say “I want you to imagine that one of your children is pulling your knee out, and the other is pulling your knee the other way, vying for your attention! This is where I want your knees to stay as you do your squat”. 
  • Client loves cheesecake and when she does a TRX row she struggles to keep her chest high. To create an analogy for her that would help her keep thoracic extension you could ask her to imagine she’s got her favorite cheesecake on her chest. If she doesn’t want to drop this, she needs to keep her chest tall. 

If you fancy a challenge, see if you can take some of your client’s typical errors in movement and look to create analogies that are specific, fun and entertaining to them. 

5. Cut Back on Your Cueing   

This is probably my biggest coaching flaw; I cue far too often.  

We know we should cue, and we know that what we are watching isn’t what we want to be watching so we go into “must fix” mode. 

I’ve always liked the analogy of trying to fill a tea cup with a fire hose for the sheer amount of excess cueing we sometimes seem to think is suitable.  

Try cueing your clients 33% of the time, using that extra time to think about the cue you’ll use.  

It’s not always the case of more is better when it comes to coaching, sometimes saying nothing is better than saying too much and confusing your client. 

6. Ask, “How did that feel?” at the End of a Set   

This feeds nicely from the previous point about not using too many cues. Instead of giving your opinion on how the client is doing, why not give them a chance to reflect themselves, which will increase the chance of them learning and feeling more autonomous, by asking “how did that set feel?” 

This will encourage the client to reflect on the set they’ve just done, and because it’s an open-ended question (a question which requires more than a “yes” or “no” answer) they will usually give you an answer that encourages them to reflect on what could have gone better. 

7. Use Specific Positive Feedback  

Specific positive feedback is feedback that is, oddly enough, specific and positive… 

By specific, this simply means that it has a justification behind it, instead of saying the standard and much expected “well done, good set, how about paying attention to something specific that the client did well in that set? 

Hey, Jacquie, great work on keeping your back in such a nice position during that last set, especially towards those tough last couple of reps”. 

The above sounds so much more client orientated, which is what we’re all about, and it encourages the client to want to repeat what they did for the next set.  

I also think this keeps you on your toes when you coach because you know you’ll have to give something specific about this set if you offer any feedback, which forces you to really pay attention to the client.  

8. Monitor Your Body Language   

I used to be the absolute worst at this. 

I’d cross my arms, close my body inwards and generally look completely disinterested in what I was doing. It’s not that I was doing it intentionally, it’s just that I didn’t have any awareness that keeping open, interested body language would be important. 

Think about it, what do you think would look better?  

A personal trainer, who has crossed arms, is standing in one place looking completely disinterested, or a trainer who is standing in an open posture, in an active stance, looking 100% focused on what his/her client is doing? 

It’s got to be the second option.  

Now, this is a skill, and because it’s a skill, it takes time and awareness to improve. Start by paying attention to how you stand when you are watching your clients. If you catch yourself in the bored stance I’ve discussed, try changing it and becoming more active. 

You’ll not only make yourself look better to other potential clients, but you’ll also make yourself more awake within your sessions.  

Skill Development Never Ends

I could have very easily gone on and added a lot more of these points, but there is only so many that one can take in and utilize from one article. Please use the ones that stick out most to you as I promise that these kinds of little coaching improvements not only make the world of difference to the way you coach your clients but also how you feel when you’re coaching.

It’s always rewarding when something you say or do provides a lightbulb moment for a client.  By reflecting on how a session has gone and thinking about what you did that gave a positive result you can work out how to recreate the situation.  Therefore increasing the number of positive sessions you have and ultimately improving how you feel about what you do. A happy, energized coach makes for an excellent environment to coach a client in and makes everyone feel positive so anything that increases that is worth exploring further.


We also have a course on cueing, coaching and movement called Movement Solutions. If you’re a member of LTB you can find that here. If you’re not a member and are interested in finding out more about our membership click here.

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