Opinion: With Your Clients, Build a Foundation First

Most coaches and trainers first get into the industry because they were once athletes or have always been interested in exercise. Since I’ve started coaching, I’ve witnessed numerous trainers try to force-feed complex movements to clients in an effort to get them in shape, without the slightest idea of what their movement foundations are like.

What a lot of coaches/trainers don’t understand nor empathize with is that many of the clients we work with didn’t get into exercise like we did. Some have never played sports growing up, many aren’t as active as they used to be, and almost all of them seek professional guidance because they’re ready to admit that they have no idea what they’re doing. With a smaller movement foundation, learning how to move and exercise correctly is a much bigger challenge, no matter how simple those exercises seem to us.

For athletes and ex-athletes, learning to move well is relatively easy. This is due to years and years of exposure that they had with different movements in the past. A lot of this ties back into neurological function and motor control. One part of your brain, the cerebellum, is largely responsible for procedural memory. Whenever you perform a task, it is not just one signal, but rather millions of starts and stops that are controlled by the cerebellum to execute that task. The best way to develop the capabilities of the cerebellum is simply to move!

The majority of the time, athletes respond much better to coaching during exercise. You tell them to do something once and they never have to be reminded again. The same cannot be said of most people who look for fitness training. Take your 60 year old Joe or Jane and tell them to soften their knees, and they likely have to be reminded time and time again over the course of one session, week after week.

This speaks to the importance of movement at a young age. Your biggest window of adaptation for movement is in your youth. If you took advantage of this, you’d have a much easier time when you’re older. This doesn’t just mean playing sports. It’s going outside and exploring, playing, interacting with the environment, in any capacity really. It’s scary to think that constant exposure to technology these days is limiting movement and physical activity, especially for kids.

However, it’s never too late. We just have to recognize what our clients’ movement foundations are like from the start to set them up for success. If you think some of your clients now are hard to coach…keep in mind that it probably won’t get much better. While the slow pace and repetitiveness may be frustrating at times with your clients, I can say from personal experience that they are the most rewarding and appreciative people to work with.

by Dan Cerone