There may have been times, in your work with clients, that you’ve felt like you’ve hit a wall with their progress, or in their ability to “get” certain movements. It’s probably safe to say that that’s happened to all of us in the field. You try explaining, showing, cueing differently, showing again, and your clients still aren’t executing the way that you’d like. This process may happen within the course of a session, or over years.
So, how do you overcome these sticky spots? The answer may lie in learning how we learn. More specifically, let’s examine how we learn movement skills without a coach and glean insights from this “natural” learning process. Then, we’ll discuss how typical “coaching” strategies often interfere with natural learning — potentially slowing a client’s progress — and how you can shift your approach to support your clients’ learning so they progress faster and further.
How we “naturally” learn
Humans have an incredible ability to generate movements when we need to accomplish a goal. For example, when learning to crawl, a baby has to figure out a way to transport itself from its current spot to another desired location. Watch the baby below try to figure out how to do this for the first time.
After a lot of trying, and failing, this little guy settled on a reliable, efficient pattern — in just 4 days!
No one had to give him instructions or demonstrate how to crawl. The need to go from point A to point B, to explore the world (and reach mommy!), provided the incentive. Examining this a bit deeper, we see there are 3 key features of natural learning:
- Goal Focus: As you saw with the crawling example, movement begins out of necessity to achieve a goal — whether it’s climbing stairs (because I want to go up there), bending down to pick something up (because I need that thing down there), or carrying (because I need to take this thing from here to there). Our movements are the vehicles through which we accomplish goals.
- Movement Variability: In order to develop a highly refined, efficient movement pattern, we first have to do a lot of experimenting. We don’t initially know how to crawl, but we work through many different strategies, through trial-and-error, in order to see what works to achieve the goal. As a result, learning new movement skills involves a high degree of movement variability.
- Internal Feedback: When we learning alone, we depend on feedback that can be gathered from inside the body to help us better organize our body segments. Internal feedback, including joint position, muscle stretch, and tissue tension, helps to inform us as to where we are in space and what adjustments we need to make in order to generate a successful movement strategy.
And the result of this process?
- Long-Term Solidification: Once we learn to walk, we don’t really forget.:)
- Permanent Changes: Nor do we revert back to crawling at some point in the future
- Adaptable Strategies: After learning to walk, we then learn to walk at various paces, navigate
different terrain, carry objects, etc.
How we “typically” coach
When working with clients, we often come to the situation with the assumption that we are the ones directing the learning process. We select which movements to perform, what constitutes “acceptable” form, what feedback to give, as well as when and how to give it. This is a very well-intentioned approach, because we truly want to help our clients and we’ve been taught that this style of teaching — managing — is the way of assisting them best. However, this typical approach to coaching can often interfere with, or inhibit, how clients naturally learn. Let’s look at 3 elements of typical coaching, which lays bare the discrepancies between how we teach vs. how we learn:
- Technique Focus (vs. Goal Focus): Because we have been taught movement from a mechanical perspective (how to create it), refining technique becomes the main focus of our cueing and feedback. While it is highly-beneficial that our clients move efficiently, and in a way that minimizes the potential for injury, we often overlook the reason why a client needs to squat or row. Divorcing a movement from its utility of achieving a goal disrupts this most basic function of why we create actions in the first place.
- Movement Uniformity (vs. Variability): When we focus on technique, we typically have an “optimal” movement pattern that we want our clients to achieve. This makes perfect sense, since we want them to be able to move safely and efficiently. However, there is a difference between how we settle on a reliable strategy through self-discovery during learning, and how coaches shape and mold a client’s pattern to fit their concept of what is optimal. While the resulting movements may look similar, the one the solo learner develops is far more transferable and adaptable to a variety of contexts.
- External feedback (vs. Internal Feedback): As coaches, the primary way that we shape a client’s movements is through providing them with feedback. Regardless of what type, when, or how we communicate that feedback, the fundamental premise—that it comes from an external source relative to the learner—is very different from how we learn alone. External feedback can certainly enhance the learning process, if it is delivered in a way that considers how it can support the internal feedback a client generates, as opposed to superseding it.
And the typical result of this coaching process?
- Short-Term Execution: They may get that perfect squat with you during one session, but then seem to “forget” all those technique elements by the next session.
- Inconsistent Changes: You might feel you have to constantly “re-teach” your clients some skills, especially those who train with you less frequently.
- Less Reliable Strategies: Though they learn that squat, they struggle when adding load, changing the foot position, or combining it with an upper body movement.
How to Adapt Your Approach to Accelerate Learning
By now, it should be clear that there is a misalignment between how we learn and how we coach. Identifying the discrepancy is the first step to bridging the gap. The next step is to learn how to better align our teaching with our clients’ learning process so they accelerate more quickly and effectively.
This is exactly the approach we teach you in our mini-course: Transformative Feedback: How to Create “Fast Learning” Clients. This course is designed for any professional who works with clients — personal trainers, group instructors, physical therapists, doulas, etc. You will learn a evidence-based, 3-step methodology to teach your clients that accelerates their own natural learning, so they progress faster and further.
The concepts taught in this course are especially important for the pre & postnatal population, given how critical it is for these individuals to establish stable and adaptable movement strategies as their bodies change so quickly in such a short period of time. However, this methodology can (and should) be applied to ALL clients. We show you how to do this in the course, with case studies for athletes, desk jockeys, seniors, and more. In fact, see the power of using this strategy to teach a 67 year old man to jump rope for the first time (in just 3 weeks).
Explore the Course and learn how it can help you transform the way you coach, and the results your clients see.