The Absolute Worst Coach

There is no shortage of debates in the world of fitness.

Does static stretching work? How about foam rolling? Is heavy lifting an absolute necessity or does it stimulate too much cortisol release? Is performing non-rotational movements even beneficial? How much specificity is too much specificity?

The list goes on and on.

One of the arguments that seems to persist is this —

Do you need to be in good shape to be an effective coach?

This is an argument that my good friend Jon Goodman (no, not THAT John Goodman) has been having with, well, the world for at least 10 years now. Jon is a former trainer himself and now helps other trainers grow their online training businesses. Shout out to Jon.

Proponents of coaches needing to look more like Chris Hemsworth or Jessica Beil than just some average Joe or Jane will argue that trainers need to walk the walk. That they have no business in telling others what to do if they aren’t doing those things themselves.

On the other side of the squat rack are those who would argue that knowledge and coaching ability are the true keys to being a successful coach. That you don’t have to look like an underwear model to help people get faster, stronger or help them achieve their goals.

In typical middle-child fashion, I agree with aspects of both arguments. There are many trainers and influencers who don’t know a back squat from a back extension, yet they charge exorbitant fees for programs or training sessions. There is no excuse for not knowing your shit.

On the other hand, it is very hard to have empathy and compassion (what I would argue are the most important traits of a good coach) if you aren’t putting yourself through similar situations as your clients. It doesn’t have to be the exact program, but it should at least be relatable.

Also, not taking care of yourself is not great for your well-being and it robs you of possibly the greatest gift in training – of being an inspiration to your clients.

Whatever side of the argument you fall on, there is definitely something worse than hiring a trainer who only looks the part or doesn’t look the part at all. And that is being your own coach.

I don’t care how many text books, training manuals and T-Nation articles you have read (shout out T-Nation!) or how many seminars you have attended, programs you have run through in the past or even your athletic background, the person who coaches themselves has a fool for a coach.

There are three-ish reasons for this.

First, it is human nature to default to the exercises, rep ranges and program styles that you enjoy rather than the ones that you need. Even the best laid squat plans get put to rest when there just happens to be a bench press available on a Monday night.

Secondly, most people don’t even know how to put together a good training program and certainly could not do as good a job as a skilled expert. I equate it to income taxes. You probably could do your own, but it’s very rarely a good idea.

The third (and the reason for the “ish” of the three-ish) are what I call the “x factors”. A good coach drives a level of accountability. They act like a sounding board. They are your best friend when you need it and the voice of reason when you lose your way. Simply put, good coaches get invested in your success and do what it takes to help you realize it.

If you have the opportunity and means to hire a good coach, I highly, highly recommend it. And it’s not only important to choose someone you click with, but that they have a good track record of getting the results that you are after.

Have they gotten dozens of people to sub-10% body fat? Or helped them get college scholarships? Have they helped older populations regain strength and function in order to more confidently complete daily physical tasks? Are they really successful in helping newcomers learn the important exercises and create a foundation for consistency?

Figure out what you want to accomplish and find someone who has helped others accomplish it. It may take some leg work, but it’s worth it. You’ll have the right person in your corner and their expertise will cut the timeline to success.

Back to my friend Jon Goodman. When Jon – who, again, was a successful personal trainer – wanted to improve his body composition, he reached out to me rather than trying to figure it out himself.

So I designed a 12 week, three-phase training and nutrition program for him and I think the results were pretty solid.

Jon’s 12 Week Transformation


Could Jon have gotten these results on his own? Possibly.

Are the copious amounts of baby oil and pin-up calendar photo a bit much?

Well, that’s a debate for another time.