Five Lessons Learned from Strength Coaching in Small Group Classes

I have been blessed to work as a strength coach full-time for five years. Here are some key lessons I’ve learned teaching small classes:

  1. The more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t know. It is that way in any field, but when you see people three or four times a week, you have a real opportunity to help people make serious changes in their lives. I continue to study, practice and teach daily to help you advance in their strength, movement and to improve your overall health. I appreciate your trust and patience; you inspire me to continue to learn and grow as a coach.
     
  2. Each person must be addressed individually and kept safe. You bring your movement history with you into class; that may include physical and emotional injuries and experiences that might not have been positive with fitness professionals. Personal attention is required to keep you safe. I am tough and set on my ‘no train with pain’ policy because there is no good long term result when you train with pain. Working with a medical professional to remove pain is always the appropriate course of action before starting a strength training program.
     
  3. Teach the basics well. People think they want variety, but what they need is to learn movements that will make them stronger and keep them functional in life, sports, hobbies and care-giving roles. Specifically: deadlifts, swings, goblet squats, presses, turkish getups, lunges, plank/pushup/pullup and carries deliver what we need. This is our core program. We can vary these, in many ways, but that’s not essential to meeting our goals of being strong for everyday life. If we do only these three movements well, we are going to see life-changing results: kettlebell swing, turkish getup and goblet squat.
     
  4. Not every person is a fit as a client. Strength training is a skill that takes years to perfect. It requires commitment, practice, mental focus, honesty and humility about what we can and cannot do. For many of us, proprioception, or an awareness of our limbs moving in space, is not something we’ve developed in our past, so learning to move and lift can take time (months or years). Perseverance, patience and an openness with your coach about how the movements feel in your body is necessary to make continued progress.
     
  5. Mobility is more important than strength. Moving well is a challenge for many of us because of how much we sit, were previously inactive or injured, or never coached on proper technique. Getting people moving with ease is why I do what I do. Helping people  safely explore a deep squat, learn the turkish getup (and do it gracefully), practice proper plank and pushup form, improve shoulder and t-spine mobility, hang on a bar with confidence, swing a kettlebell, and so on, makes me incredibly happy. I don’t care how much weight you lift, ever! If you are mobile, pain-free and lifting something that helps you leave the gym feeling better than when you walked in, then we are a successful team.

Move strong, be healthy, and never stop moving your body. ~Lori

Strong Member Spotlight: Joanne Spoth

When Joanne joined MoveStrong Kettlebells a little over a year ago, she had also just started a new job as President and CEO of The Breathing Association. I was so impressed that she was willing to commit to a regular exercise program with her busy life, but she wanted to be her best in her new job, and for family, friends, and to do all the things she enjoys in life. She truly believes that fitness = health.

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Joanne has progressed in the all areas of movement quality, mobility, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and strength. She doesn't bat an eye when we do Tabata-style workouts and she is expert at listening to her body. 

Her pressing technique is beautiful, as is her swing, and she moves mindfully through all the kettlebell movements, especially the Turkish Getup.

Joanne is an incredibly positive person, fun to have in class, and she is a committed athlete who loves new challenges. She inspires me and helps me be a better coach with her feedback and support.

It has been fun to watch her progress and to hear stories about how what we do in the gym has helped her enjoy the people, animals and activities in her life.

Here is Joanne's fitness journey in her own words:

Why did you start training at MSK?

Training with Lori and MSK was an easy decision.  I wanted to work with someone who was knowledgeable, willing to work with me vs. having a ‘cookie cutter’ approach and was willing to challenge me – safely.  From the onboarding process to the variation of exercises and skills learned in each session; every time I leave class I know I made the right decision.  Since my work is ‘office & schedule based’ I was also looking for a program that complemented my busy schedule. MSK provides that and more.

What improvements have you seen in your body and in your life?

Am I stronger, yes; do I have greater endurance, yes and am I resting and enjoying life more, yes.  Zip lining in Costa Rica last Thanksgiving was a blast; something I likely wouldn’t have tried had I not been working with Lori. I have always been ‘in tune’ with my body; more so since my (former) days as an ‘equine sports therapist’, but for sure I am seeing that my overall well-being has been affected.  Another big improvement for me has been the balancing of my lower body muscle groups in that I came in very quad dominant but I am much stronger and more flexible in my hip flexors, hamstrings etc.

What is the biggest surprise you've seen with strength training?

For me it is the applicability of the breathing, abdominal engagement, hip hinge and TGU; I use the techniques and steps from these movements throughout my daily activities.  They are seemingly basic movements but their capacity for better, safer and stronger movement is transformative whether it is working in the yard, moving packages, cleaning in the barn or throwing a bale of hay.

What are your favorite KB movements / lifts?

Of all of the movements, two-hand swings, Sumo style deadlifts and presses are my favorites.  While the single-arm and double-bell movements are not my favorites; I know that I am getting better with them over time and as my conditioning improves.

What advice do you have for people about strength training with kettlebells?

Kettlebells are for most everyone; no matter your age, condition or strength IF you have a qualified and dedicated instructor who is willing to help you with your goals.  I have worked out with other strength ‘trainers’ in the past and didn’t believe I would ever try again given the experience.  I am so very glad that I found Lori and MSK; it makes a difference when you are coaching with someone whose overall goal is your wellbeing and improvement.  Lastly, if you do choose to start working out; once you have the right instructor and program - stick with it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day (as they say) and the only thing that is constant is change. That means you are building on what you learned, adding strength, and dealing with ‘life happens’ moments every day. 

Having the opportunity to work with a great coach; learn with others and enjoy getting stronger at MSK is one of the best decisions I have ever made. ~Joanne

Book Review: Rings of Power by Mike Gillette

Shoulder health is a primary issue for me as a coach and an athlete.

As a former swimmer, I asked a lot from my shoulders then, and I continue to do so as an adult with daily use of kettlebells, barbells and bodyweight exercises. I don't intend to give those up, but much like Rings of Power author Mike Gillette, I discovered the surprising benefits of using the rings in the gym for shoulder health shortly after attending the Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC) last year.

Prior to reading Mike's book, my approach to using rings was occasional and haphazard -- practicing skin-the-cats, upside-down holds and L-sits maybe once-a-week. I really wasn't aware of all the other movements I could safely practice and progress with using the rings.

As Mike details, the rings are ideal for strength training and shoulder stability; the neutral arm position with the rings reduces joint involvement while allowing the wrists and elbows to move freely.

Mike, who has a background in military service, law enforcement, the martial arts and executive protection, had suffered injuries and had stopped strength training altogether until he discovered that the mechanics of the rings allowed him to again develop superior functional movement and strength without joint wear-and-tear.. 

He summarizes the on-the-ground and off-the-ground movements with five principles: 1) gravity 2) ergonomics 3) planes of movement 4) leverage and loading and 5) tension as technique.

I prefer the off-the-ground exercises, but I am incorporating more on-the-ground moves thanks to his book with photos, points-of-performance and regressions and progressions.

It is pretty exciting to realize that I have a piece of equipment in my gym that is pure gold and practicing with it is serious stuff ... but it feels like play as I explore new ranges of motion at my own pace.

I have been using moves such as ring roll-outs, inverted ring pushups, trunk extensions, rows, dips and vertical pulling -- all described in his book in detail.

Interested? Grab the book for yourself, along with a pair of rings, and head to the gym or find a goal post or monkey bars to attach them to. Practice, train and play and feel good afterward.

Outdoors

I believe it is essential to get outdoors and be physically active while the weather is good in Ohio -- whether in a park or urban area. I kick my gym members out of the gym sometimes -- and some of them are cheering and others ... not so much.

Yes it's air-conditioned, structured and tidy in the gym, but getting outdoors is necessary to challenge the brain and body in a different way. We have to deal with the sun and heat, different surroundings,, the ground surface (some of us are barefoot.)

Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there’s something good about feeling both.
— Amy Grant

Today is Saturday and we did our Mobilizing Tight Muscles class outdoors surrounded by trees, with the sun peeking over the treetops, with a light breeze, birds chirping and a mix of urban sounds.

We use kettlebells a lot during our weekday training, so when we can mix it up with different methods and tools on Saturday, it's refreshing and invigorating.

I don't care what you say about fitness; if people aren't having fun, they won't keep it going.

So after our stretching class, we trained with battling ropes, wall ball, sledge-to-tire, sled pulls, sandbags moves, jumping rope, handstands, balance on curbs, pistol squat practice and some kettlebell juggling give the nervous system something new to process and a lot of growth and fun comes out of that process.

I love watching our members practice, learn and explore functional fitness in different ways. The opportunity for growth is boundless. Interested in joining us? We'd love to have you.

 

Listening to Your Body

Listening to your body is the most important skill you will develop in the gym.

Much like learning the kettlebell swing, or the barbell deadlift, it takes time and practice to become a really good listener.

Many of us have spent a lot of time ignoring signals from our bodies, so this may be something totally new for you.

I promise there will be times when you want to do something in your brain, but your body doesn't feel ready -- and you know it and ignore it any way.

I can't tell you how many times I have trained alone and raised the 24kg KB to start a getup -- only to put it back down. My body says no ... over and over and over. My head says yes over and over and over. But it doesn't feel right. I feel wobbly and unsure. Fortunately, I detest being injured, so I have learned to listen and react accordlingly. I will continue to listen because I have learned through experience that ignoring my body will result in an issue I will have to REALLY listen to later.

Listening usually requires a response. So do it. You know I support you. If you want to go lighter, sit out, go heavier, stretch, or go home. I will support whatever your body tells you to do.

Listening is the essential skill to keep you safe and safely progressing in the gym.

I can't feel what you feel. I wish I could. I joke about attaching a meter to you to get the same feedback you are getting. I wish it were possible.

I do see signs of what you are feeling, but I depend on you to confirm them. And most of the time, you are great about listening. You are learning to take charge of your body so that you know what to do and how to respond no matter where you are and what physical activity you are doing.

I believe that listening is the greatest PR you can ever achieve. 

And what you hear and feel will change constantly. Once moment you might feel strong and fresh and ready to bump up weight. In an instant, there could be a muscle twinge, or an empty feeling like you just ran out of energy. You could feel like you are on top-of-the-world, or tired from a lack of sleep the night before. You will experience so many scenarios that I can't even begin to summarize them here. There is never a moment off from listening, feeling, discerning and learning.

Here are some tips to improve your listening ability:

  • Nourish your body with food, sleep, water and rest so that you can really hear what your body is saying to you when you train in the gym.
  • Train with a coach who will guide you and help you discern what your body is telling you.
  • Never let a muscle twinge or joint issue, or anything that feels weird, go unnoticed. Stop, assess and address.
  • Pay attention to changes, such as a loss of balance, reduced grip strength, extreme tightness, light-headedness, an inability to concentrate, pain and so on. Listen and react.
  • If in doubt about how much is too much, take a day off and rest! Training should not deplete you; it should energize you.
  • Keep a journal to log how you feel or use our online skills tracking program to log results/concerns in the Notes section. Review often. Share with your coach if you wish.
  • Add some gentle movement and stretching outside the gym "to feel it out" if your body is sending you signals of concern. Address the signals now.
  • Talk with your coach if you have questions or concerns. Don't stay quiet because you don't want to call attention to yourself in class. I always want to know.
  • Listen during the training session, afterward, later in the day, the next morning, two days later and at the end of the week, month, year. How do you feel? Yep, listening, and therefore, learning, never stops. 

Being a good listener will help you keep your body safe in the gym and in your everyday life. 

Never lose sight of why you are training in the first place: to be healthy, strong and vibrant for life and sport. Nothing is worth compromising that overarching goal.