From the title, you may think I have lost it (I promise I haven’t), but, following an Instagram post I made a few days ago, I have been continually thinking about the importance of coaching in both reaching and sustaining your fitness goals. I am so grateful to have two extremely knowledgeable coaches on my side and feel I have made great progress as well as learnt an awful lot since being coached by them. There are two main reasons I think that are responsible for me making the progress that I have; 1. My coaches have a lot of both knowledge and experience. 2. I am also my own coach.
I am a firm believer in the fact that the best teachers are facilitators. The best teachers don’t spoon feed and tell you what you should know, instead, they establish an environment where learners feel sufficiently confident to explore possibilities, make mistakes, but ultimately meet the learning objective. From both a teaching and a learning perspective, there is nothing more empowering than utilizing current skills and knowledge to progress further and succeed. This philosophy infiltrated my entire teaching career and cemented my passion for teaching. Some people say that teaching is selfless or altruistic, I disagree. I got a lot of satisfaction from enabling children to grow and seeing how they became infinitely better at reacting to unexpected outcomes. From as young as 5, I taught children to cope with disappointment, failure and to apply learned experiences to similar situations.
Coaching in fitness, I think, should be approached in the same way. I perceive my coaches as facilitators, so the responsibility of coaching also falls on me. Like the classroom, I am given guidelines and parameters, but there is so much scope inbetween. It is how I use this scope that has defined my success.
For example, I am given certain macro-nutrients to hit daily instead of a rigid meal plan. I am given some guidelines on when is best to consume fats/proteins/carbohydrates as well as a fiber goal, but other than that, the rest is all me. Over time, I have learnt a lot. The freedom initially made me want to eat cereal and chocolate with every meal. I soon realized that this left my skin not as clear, as well as making me feel lethargic and forever hungry! Over time, I progressed, but I am still learning what foods and when keep me full, satisfied and full of energy. Up until 2 months ago, I was eating oats and protein for breakfast daily. Only when my carbohydrates declined, did I switch this up to a lower carb/higher fat option. I have found this to keep me full for so much longer. I am so pleased that I was allowed to experience this myself and make ‘mistakes’ to get there. Having experienced the difference between the two breakfast options myself is so much more beneficial to my fitness journey than simply being instructed on what to eat.
Facilitating is infinitely harder than teaching. Only people who really know what they are talking about are able to be good facilitators. With less definitive outcomes, there is more ‘grey area’, so there are more questions. Only people who are exceptionally competent in their field are able to cope with this as it tests exactly how well you know your subject area. This doesn’t mean my coaches know everything (though they do know a lot), but it does mean they have an extremely good level of knowledge as well as not being afraid to ask for others’ expertise where needed (Pete and Anthony have called a doctor to answer questions on bloodwork instead of claiming they were experts). Faciliating also requires confidence. Giving freedom to people you are teaching is risky! You are relinquishing control and enlisting trust in people you are coaching (and anyone can vouch for how difficult that is!)
From a learner’s perspective, faciliating, rather than being told what to do is also more difficult. It is easy to execute instructions – this is what I loved about group fitness classes. You really don’t have to think, you just ‘do’. While this was great for me at the start of my fitness journey, metacognition should infiltrate any aspect of life you value. You really should consider why you think and behave in particular ways if you want to understand yourself better and make progress. Lots of people talk about ‘mind-muscle connection’ whilst working out, and I completely agree on the importance of this. Really thinking about each exercise and the contraction makes you mentally, as well as physically, active in your workout. You know your body better than anyone and only you know the difference between an excercise hurting and an exercise really not feeling good. You also are the only one who can communicate whether the exercise is actually benefiting you.
Perhaps the hardest part for both coaches and coach-ees is motivation. Facilitating requires a lot of time and effort to successfully establish and continue, as well as a lot more responsibility and accountability for both parties. Unfortunately, there really is no substitute for motivation (see my post on ‘Seek Discipline not Motivation’) and the people who work the hardest, will ultimately get the best results.