We have all seen it. People that are new to training are uncomfortable asking others to help them learn the proper form with the big lifts, so they try to figure it out on their own. The result? Frustration, form that is tough to watch, and worse, a greater chance that the person is going to get hurt.
There is also the person who has been in the weight room for a while, but ego forces them to sacrifice form for the sake of appearing stronger. Plate after plate goes on the bar or dumbbells get heavier. However, the form is atrocious and the range of motion is not nearly what it should be.
You had someone in mind when you read those descriptions, didn’t you? There is one thing we can all agree on: no one wants to be that person. Athletes and lifters that truly want to reach their full potential don’t want to do things the wrong way. This is why most people rely on a trainer or coach. Is that really necessary though? Can’t you coach yourself to get better and monitor your own progress? Yes, you can.
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The Importance of Self-Coaching
Self-coaching can be difficult for some people because of the fact that they have to be critical of themselves. What should be understood is that by being honest with your assessments and acknowledging that changes need to be made, the ultimate result is you will become a better lifter, achieve greater results over the long term, and can execute those big lifts with more confidence.
Another benefit of self-coaching is that you won’t be bothered as much if someone else decides to impose his or her own “expertise” upon you. Knowing you’re honest with yourself means what others say won’t affect you as much. That can be great for your mindset when those big lifts are coming up.
6 Ways to Coach Yourself
There are several methods that can be implemented by athletes and fitness-minded people of all levels. Don’t feel like you’re restricted to one of these tactics. Employ as many of them as you feel you need to.
1. Set Goals for Your Session
When you’re taking that pre-workout in the home gym or driving to the gym, remind yourself of why you’re training, your goals for the session, and create a mental gameplan of how you're going to accomplish those goals. We've all heard the saying, "Leave your ego at the door." There's a reason why that saying is so popular... it's because it's true. Especially when it comes to lifting and resistance training, you are your biggest competition. You shouldn't be trying to out-squat the person in the rack next to you or trying to curl heavier weights than someone else. Chances are, you'll be sacrificing your form and drastically increase your risk of injury. Make the promise to yourself that you won’t sacrifice form for the sake of extra weight as well as doing what it takes to execute the sets properly. If weight has to be reduced or reps need to be spared because of the form getting loose, allow yourself to make those adjustments.
2. Approach Every Rep the Same Way
Ed Coan is considered by many powerlifting fans as the greatest lifter of all time. In that sport, he’s an undisputed legend. Part of the reason behind his legacy is his approach to training. It didn’t matter if the weight on the bar was a world record or if it was the bar alone. Coan approached every set and rep the same way. Even on his warm-ups, he made sure to approach the bar the same way, unrack the same way, and execute reps as if he was on his third attempt. This helped him make the form become second nature for him.
This is the attitude you should have. Don’t simply unrack the bar and nonchalantly move it.
Let’s use the squat as an example. Plant your feet the same way when you get under the bar. Place the bar in the same position on the back of your shoulders. Unrack it and take the same two or three steps you normally would if you were going for your big set. Seriously, details as small as that can make a big difference. When you lower yourself down into the hole, pay attention to how it feels when you reach the proper depth. That is the same feeling that you should feel with every rep. Return to the standing position with as much force as you can generate, or if you have a certain tempo in mind, use that tempo each and every time.
3. Establish Your Mental Cues
Sometimes having a mental cue or phrase can help. Many basketball players will remember the classic phrase “knees, elbows, follow through.” That was what many coaches preached when teaching players how to perform the free throw or jump shot.
That same philosophy can work in the weight room. Let’s focus on the squat again. Some people may need to remind themselves to keep their knees out when standing up with the weight. Others may feel like they need to bring their chest up as they are standing so they don’t round over. Thinking something to yourself as simple as “knees” or “chest up” can help you execute that part so the overall rep improves.
4. Film Yourself
Cell phones can be a big distraction in the gym, but there are certain reasons to have them. That camera is one of them. If the situation allows it, find a place to set the camera so you can film yourself performing your set. Better yet, if you have a training partner, have him or her film you. Do this with all of your sets from the warm-up to the big one. Take a mental note with each set of how the weight felt and if you feel you performed to the high standard you set for yourself. If it was the bench press, did the feet stay planted or did your butt come off the bench? If it was the squat, did your knees stay out or did they buckle?
5. Analyze Your Session Post-Workout
When you have a few minutes, look over the videos that you filmed and look at them as objectively as possible. Did everything go as smoothly as it was supposed to? Did you follow the proper execution of the rep? Were you able to keep the proper form as the weight got heavier? This is the toughest part of self-coaching because you have to be honest with yourself.
Let’s say your knees came in a little and your back didn’t stay straight during the last set of squats. Now you really have to be critical. Was it that you forgot a cue because of the intensity of the moment or was the weight too heavy and you couldn’t maintain that proper form? If you genuinely feel it was the former, then make it a point to repeat the cues every time you train. Get yourself into a routine of doing it so it becomes second nature. That way, you won’t forget again, and you’ll have a greater chance of achieving the desired result next time.
Now, if it was because the weight was too heavy, you have to ask yourself a different set of questions. Did you warm up enough? Were you exhausted from all of the previous sets? Did you make a jump in weight that was too big? Should you make a smaller jump next time? Here is a good tip to keep in mind. Let’s say you have a goal of squatting 315 pounds for 10 repetitions, and you eventually hit that mark. Don’t make the jump to 365 and try to get 10 with that weight as well. Jumps in weight for goals like this should be kept to around five pounds or ten as a maximum. These smaller jumps will still help you get stronger, and you will be able to do so without compromising your form.
6. Do Your Homework
If you find yourself struggling with mastering form, take time to study the subject. Watch some of the people on YouTube that offer tips and tricks to improve. Many of those people can be seen on the Muscle & Strength YouTube channel. There is a wealth of knowledge there for you to absorb. There is the exercise section here as well so you can read about how to perform movements properly. That investment into learning can help you when the time to self-coach comes.
That initial conversation with yourself before training, approaching every rep the same way, filming yourself, studying said film, and doing honest assessments can all help you correct any possible issues with your big lifts so that you can improve your chances of reaching goals and realizing your full potential. Self-coaching and patience are two difficult assets to develop, but making the effort to follow those strategies can yield the greatest results you can achieve in a weight room and help you build the body you want.