On Learning

“As Iron sharpens Iron, so one man sharpens another.”

-Proverbs 27:17

As a coach, understanding the three major styles, Visual,Auditory and Kinesthetic is important and changes your delivery as well as your students experience.   Adults have their preferences, but ultimately most involve all three and in some cases may switch learning styles depending on the situation.  With the occasional exception of highly athletic students, I try keeping the sessions new learning to three movements.

What those three movements are depends on where I am meeting the student from a physical capability.

Visual learners focus on demonstrations (photo, video or live person) and may even have preferences within the context.  Video in regular,slow and fast modes, sometimes even in reverse, Photos showing various angles and live instruction with total breakdowns  of movement. In live presentation they are often within the first row and may not take many notes.  Anecdotally I’ve noted a number a natural athletes are visual learners.

The coach, or an assistant must be able to demonstrate with technical competence as the visual learner will mimic what they see. If your form is off, their form will be off. This is a small part of the importance in not teaching things you don’t really know yourself.  There are things you can get away with playing amateur hour, and things you cannot.  The thin line between the two is called the client.

Auditory learners like a good description of of what is needed.  Breaking down techniques into their component parts and then “stacking”  new learning on top of previously learned instruction, or being able to offer comparisons in a plain simple language are good things to employ.

The creative coach can describe movements in a way that the student can form mental pictures to grasp the situation. Literally you could spend nearly as much time talking about a given exercise than actually doing the exercise.  In some cases, repetition of the cues will be needed for a long time and even need to be brought back when higher loads are imposed.  You can shorten the learning curve by selecting exercises with similar but different properties, for example teaching the natural progression of the hinge pattern to the deadlift, to the two-hand swing, to the single hand swing and then on to the other hinge ballistic movements.

It is reasonable that even visual and kinesthetic learners will require auditory cues during the execution of a technique.

Kinesthetic Learners are the ‘learn it by doing it” types.  Volume is key.  In some cases the technique will require many small adjustments to go from a rough to a competent execution in simple movements such as the Lat Pull-Down or Barbell curl to training sections at a time in sophisticated movements such as the Turkish Get Up or the Olympic Lifts. The Kinesthetic learner needs to feel everything from the connection of their body to the equipment involved and the coordinated actions of the muscles to perform the task.


  1. EXPLAIN.  Break down the task at hand and the reason WHY it is being done. If the technique has particular warning orders, such as the Bench Press now is the time to give them.  (Auditory Learners)   NOTE:  The majority of my students are personal trainers that I can explain things in technical terms ranging from entry level to advanced learning.  With non-trainer clients I speak and cue as simply as possible regardless of the persons educational level.  In either case, I believe heavily in the role as the coach as an educator and that arming any client with solid practical knowledge is a good thing.
  2. DEMONSTRATE. Physically show how the move is to be performed, first in a slower motion for movements that can be done slowly and then at actual speed.  Depending on the technique this may require multiple stages as the technique is broken into sections.  (Auditory+Visual Learners)
  3. PERFORM:  Have the student perform the movement based on what was learned in steps 1-2 (Kinesthetic Learners)
  4. OBSERVE:  I typically keep the initial volume per set fairly short (5-10 reps) in the learning stage to avoid fatigue. 5 sets of 5, or 3 sets of 10 is pretty common depending on what is being trained.
  5. REVIEW:  This is where I apply my critique sandwich.  What did they do right? What could be better? How do we make it better?   FACT: Beginner student performance will never be 100% unless you’re dealing with a kinesthetic genius that can duplicate things perfectly on sight.  In applying the corrections I always start with the biggest and most important detail first, that being the one that will either make or break the lift or the lifter.  By focusing on the big items, the smaller items sometimes clear themselves up. Assigning homework and go over steps 3-5 are common here, especially with students requiring correctives and skill acquisitions.



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