Information Alignment

Some years ago I was teaching a course on barbell back squats. It was the last class of squat series that month as we already covered the mechanics, regressions and variations of other squat techniques. One student in the group was newly certified while the others ranged in experience from 1-6 years, but not all came from weight training backgrounds.

As with previous classes, I began by demonstrating a few reps, cover any particular warning orders and the lift set-up details. How to do it, how to coach it and why certain things are important.

New Trainer Student: “That’s not what my certification organization says.”

I’ve heard or read this quote, or something similar many times. In the interest of transparency, I recently completed a resistance training course for education credits and paid particular attention to how a particular organization teaches the barbell squat.

I can safely say we have a differing views on squat technique.

Sometimes differences of approach,technique or opinion can open up fantastic dialog and other times all it seems to do is create fights. I hope for the former, as new insights or  considerations can be gained.  I avoid the latter. After having been in some of those fights I’ve found that no matter how solid the evidence some people’s minds are welded shut. There are those that refuse to accept any information that doesn’t align with what they believe, even in the face of irrefutable, and overwhelming facts.

Like anything else, it depends on whom you’re dealing with.

Me: “That’s not a question that’s a vague statement. Can you tell me what your organization states?”

I didn’t believe I received a completely accurate answer, but going from the available information the requirements per the organization were (a) Feet had to point straight forward. (b) Stance had to be hip width and not wider. (c) Bar position (on the back) apparently isn’t important, or the student couldn’t recall if it was addressed, (d) Knees could not pass over the toes.

Therefore my instruction wasn’t in alignment with the students previously learned material. Matter of fact is was in complete opposition. Either way, it was new to the student. Just because information is new to doesn’t mean it’s new to the world or that it’s automatically wrong.  Best available evidence and real world application (the client in front of you) are details that can’t be overlooked.

As the coach, how does one adjust in the face of conflicting information/instruction,not lose the remaining students in the process and not make the student look like a fool if it was a case of bad/misinterpreted previous information.

Going into the class I had the “Why?” behind my material, but I had to be able to compare it against conflicting standards that I wasn’t aware of. I’m not saying the previous instruction was wrong since I didn’t have the full details, but I did know what my instruction covered.

I asked the student to demonstrate the squat per his instruction standards as best possible.  While he was squatting the effort was recorded from the side and rear views for technical reference. Being fair and to save the student some face, I repeated the same number of squats with the same load to the depth I felt comfortable and matching the book standard as best I could.

The class now had two males with a 20 year age gap,significant differences in training/injury histories and skeletal proportions to review and coach towards competence.

With completely different physiques both of us had significant challenges in hitting the squat per the restrictive standards, but for different reasons. In my case I was putting my lower body joints in positions they didn’t want to be in and it clearly showed. The load was well within my tolerable range so it wasn’t as a case of weakness.

I can’t say the same for my co-squatter as loads had to be dropped. He never really squatted until taking my fundamentals class and even the lighter load proved challenging. In his defense, a true back squat can take a beginner weeks to become autonomous and even today I keep working towards that one perfect rep. Maybe the next one will be it.

After reviewing the footage the group took turns correcting our squat form. The corrections differed greatly between us due to our structural differences, available range of motion, load tolerance and a host of other factors. My co-squatter was regressed in movement while I had to have some body parts moved around to re-establish a squat pattern.

At the end of class my co-squatters squat form improved greatly as the corrections led to his defined squat pattern. His squat didn’t look like a taller,younger version of mine nor did it look like the book said it had to. A week later I was able to review the section of his CPT course that covered the back squat and his memory was about 50% accurate.  In my opinion to book left out numerous important details on not just the squat but all techniques covered.

Fact: He is a real person, not a diagram in a book.

Fact: The book and certification are the STARTING POINTS. You must learn and grow from there.



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