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The “Dirty” Side of Coaching


The “Dirty” Side of Coaching

WARNING: The following blog may be tough to read or stomach. I only recommend reading this if you can take things objectively. This is just from a coaches perspective and may give you some insight to the difficulties of coaching over last almost 5 years now..


So maybe that wasn’t the most appropriate name for this article, but it may be. Having coached since 2012(assistant in 2011 before my certification), I’ve seen a lot of athletes. Some athletes are in it for the recreation and social aspect of CrossFit, which is fine by me. Others want to be Games athletes and others take training seriously, but have no aspirations of having the biggest lift at the gym. At some point or another, almost every athlete, without fail will have a mobility issue or their technique may start to stray.  Now, my job as a coach is to insure that this issue is brought to the athletes attention, an explanation is given to what is going on and how to fix it, the client is given the right course of action  to fix this issue or re-pattern a movement for success. After all, you are the one who pays the coaches to do their work.


This is where it gets dirty, and some individuals may not appreciate this, but it needs to be said, because I know it happens at every gym. It’s the clients responsibility to insure they are doing the work assigned to them, and are ultimately responsible for their own body, not the coaches. The work or mobility the coach assigns to them may seem stupid, “basic”, boring or hard but their is a purpose behind it. Yes, you will be called out and yes it will be in a class setting. You will be the only one doing something different, unless other individuals are fixing their issues. If you see this as embarrassing or punishment, you need to get rid of that nice big ego between your shoulders. Why? The coach is doing his or her job and are telling you in the nicest way possible you are failing and could hurt yourself.


A coaches job in a class setting is to teach you movements correctly, insure you’re doing them safely and develop a program through progressions or even lifting cycles to improve your overall fitness. This may require, as I said above to put your ego aside and work on this issue. This is the smartest, most logical thing to do given your current situation. CrossFit classes are not personal training. If being properly coached in front of individuals leaves you feeling “singled” out or embarrassed then maybe consider paying for private personal training sessions. If you can’t handle having to acknowledge that you need work, and have the humility to do in front of other individuals, who are able to move correctly, then maybe it’s worth that extra money. Maybe personal training is also a better idea if you refuse to take responsibility for your own body and movement correction? During a large class if a coach gives you the attention, works on you with your mobility and even walks you through the mobility, that’s a good thing. The question is as an athlete are you mature enough to do the right thing? Or are you going to be an ego lifter and try and put up big weight using bad mechanics? Anyways, back to my point, in a class setting you get exactly what you paid for and are expected to take responsibility for yourself after being taught and corrected. It’s not fair to everyone paying the same price for your hand to be held the entire time. Not to mention if clients actually listened to what the coaches said, executed it correctly, they wouldn’t have a need for any personal training. If you have the money to burn, and anything I said above applies to you, then as I said, personal training may not be a bad choice, just be willing to acknowledge why you need it.

As I said above, most athletes look at these corrections, progressions or modifications as negative, but ultimately it’s probably the best thing to occur, if you’re willing to invest the time into it. #1 It makes you aware of your body.  After all, isn’t that what you are paying for? Is to be coached, get results and learn how to be a better stronger version of yourself? Taking the time to do the mobility, modifications or mechanic work gives you a huge opportunity to improve yourself. You are learning more about your mechanics and what “normal” feels like after resolving a mobility issue or working on a lift progression. Performing the movement properly, repeatedly, allows you to know when at heavier loads your lift is off and you need to adjust something, or heck, even work on your mobility because your positioning is off. #2 It prevents injury! The gym is for preventative maintenance regardless if you are competitor or just someone who does it to drink beer. If you move incorrectly enough times through a full range of motion you will get injured. Much like any athlete whose movements are flawed, injury can be expected. This means you’ll be out no less than 6 weeks in most cases, if you’re lucky, sometimes it’s much longer. This means you can’t work and don’t get paid and the worst part is probably dropping back 10 squares in the gym and losing the  progress you had worked so hard to make. #3 You learn! We are adamant about our coaches being the primary and only voice heard during class. However, if you experienced an issue and have a lifting buddy you can notice it and maybe given them a suggestion. People respond and are willing to listen to those who have been through it all. Not only that, you may be like a few of our amazing clients and become coaches one day yourself. Now you have the knowledge of what it takes to fix a certain issue and will be able to help others. Digressing again, I have got to stop that.

Anyways, it really is doing dirty work telling an athlete that they need to stop lifting, modify a movement, work on mobility and all that and here is why.

Well, ultimately a coaches paycheck is dictated by the number of athletes in the class. Therefore, the less people a coach has in class, the less money they make. (Stay with me here). That means they have to find this nice borderline way of communicating the issue. Although what they would really like to say is,     “You’re going to screw yourself up, not lift anymore weight than you are now or improve at all if you continue to do what you are doing.”  Don’t see a problem with that? Well,  in the clients eyes, that coach just ruined their workout. I’ve personally been told “You’re picking on me”, “You are holding me back from progress”, “Your singling me out”, “That’s embarrassing” asked “If I had an issue with them”, or ultimately had people leave because they “Were bored doing that pointless stuff and they weren’t doing anything substantial.”  Well, what’s more embarrassing to coaches is having a client walk through the door on crutches because an injury occurred in the gym, or spread the notion that “CrossFit is dangerous and causes injuries.” On the other hand, some clients appreciate it and will follow what you say. Those are also the clients that see the greatest results, wait, correlation maybe? Anyways, hitting the point, a lot of clients see this as punishment or bad thing and this is why yet again this is dirty part of coaching.

When a client thinks they are doing everything correctly and doesn’t want to hear what you have to, or commit to fixing the issue, it’s presents a catch-22.  The client doesn’t want to stop doing the stuff the wrong way, or work on correcting it but they want to see results and lift big weight like lifter in Squat Rack 1 who has 300 on the bar and grin on their face. They just want to lift, and now you are stopping them from doing that because you know they are at risk for a high injury, which, we can agree is the right thing to do. However, just so you know, as a client you  are pretty much are saying “doing stuff incorrectly is cool” and I don’t want to make progress. Only problem is when they don’t make progress, they blame the coach and the program as if it’s their fault and like I said above, the icing on the cake is CrossFit hurt me. So, what do you do? Piss a client off? Hurt their feelings so they leave? Or allow them to walk down the road of injury. Yup, there really isn’t a good answer to that is there?

Just so you can relate, It’s like telling someone they are headed for a cliff, to stop all you need to do is gently press the brakes, change course and you’ll be safe and on the right road. You think you get through to them, then they look you in the eyes and say “hold my beer” and watch this.. Only they fly off the cliff and when giving the police report tell the cops it’s your fault because you didn’t tell them 40 times to stop and just sounded like an idiot.

One would think that individuals paying well over $110 a month for professional instruction would grab onto every piece of advice the trainer puts out. After all, the clients success keeps the trainer in business, however reactions aren’t quite on par with that.

How do we resolve this issue..

Well if you are an athlete follow these simple steps.

#1 Listen to your coach! They only have your best interest in mind. Coaches need to get paid and having and injured client or one who isn’t making progress isn’t good for business. Put your ego aside and listen. I’ve been asked by clients if I would personally train them and my answer is usually no. Why? Because you can accomplish everything you need during that one hour class and 15 minutes a day at home. If you listen, follow the progression and have the humility to take it one step at a time you’ll save yourself money and get the results you want, fast.

#2 Work at it! If you want to see results simply doing it (1) time isn’t going to fix it. If the coach gives you a mobility assignment, continue to do it at home or every opportunity. A coach is there to teach you, keep you safe and help you make progress. After they teach you, apply what you learned and do it until you no longer have the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask the coach to reassess you, but don’t think doing a 2 minute stretch once per week is going to resolve an issue.

#3 Learn your body! If a coach gives you an assignment for mobility or movement, really pay attention to how your body is moving. Do it while moving incorrectly as the coach is talking about and then how it feels when you do it right. Lifting and movement require thought. Your muscles will listen to you and if you ask them to fire they will. Part of improving is understanding how you work, how you fail and how to fix it. If you know how your body feels when it moves correctly, can notice when it isn’t working and then apply what the coach taught you to fix the issue, without being told, you will process even faster.

#4 Research & Responsibility: If you know you are having issues, just don’t wait for the coach to mention it. If something feels off, you keep on getting a cue, take about 30 secs., YouTube anything Kelly Starrett and follow his mobility lessons. Understand what isn’t working. If you really care about becoming a better athlete take responsibility for your body and research how to fix it. Your coach is always there to help, if they identify an issue and show you a few fixes, do them, but also research others and do them.

#5 Train mechanics, not load. CrossFit preaches Mechanics, Consistency then Intensity. As coaches we do our best to apply that to insure we stick to the CrossFit methodology. If you perfect mechanics, load will come. It’s a natural progression. If you focus on load before mechanics injury will surely happen. Enjoy the process!

I hope you took something away from the article and remember it is dirty work shutting down’s someone’s lifting session and getting back to the basics. If you are an athlete, don’t take this as punishment, take it as caring. Being coachable is a respectable trait and working to fix mobility and movement issues is probably one of the largest overlooked and dreaded part of going to the gym. I promise, if you spend the time on it and become proactive, not reactive your experience at the gym will change to a much better one, and you will progress even faster than before.

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