If you are reading this blog, odds are good you are a coach, regardless of what initials are behind your name. If you work in a clinic, you coach your patient’s every day to improve their function. If you work with athletes, of course you are a coach. If you are a fitness professional, you coach your clients to improve and make good choices. If you are a parent, you are coaching your kids every day. We all coach.
I recall a number of years ago when I first met my good friend Chris Frankel, Director of Human Performance at TRX, and we had a really great discussion about when “enough is enough” for athletes. Chris’ basic question to me was, “How do I know when to stop or change a training session based on how an athlete is performing?”
My response was simple…”That’s the art of coaching.”
Of course, Chris challenged me, calling me out for an easy, cop-out answer that really doesn’t amount to much. I always appreciate him challenging me, so I gladly expanded on my answer.
Everything depends on your goals.
Or, as some would say, start with the end in mind. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?”
As an example to make things easy, lets say that you want your client or patient to run 10 x 100yd sprints with a 2 minute recovery between each sprint. Of course, we can use any exercise or lift or movement depending on their ability level, but this is an easy way to illustrate my point.
Let’s say that they run their first 100 yd sprint in 12 seconds. The next one is pretty close to the same time. As is the third. Over time though, as they begin to fatigue, their times get slower and slower. At what point are they too slow? Should you finish the workout in its entirety, even though they are running slower with each rep? Or, is it okay to keep running? Some would say, “absolutely not!” While others would say that they need to finish their reps.
My answer…IT DEPENDS (of course).
It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish with their training session. Below are several different common points of emphasis we all utilize in our practice (or at least should be using regardless of what initials are behind our name).
- Movement Correction: These sessions are designed to be focused on perfect technique within whatever skill is being required. Corrective sessions must be done fresh with as little fatigue as possible and once your patient or client begins to break down, it’s time to shut it down. A breakdown in technique will oftentimes lead to a confused nervous system, counteracting a lot of the good work you accomplished early in the session. As for the 100 yd sprint example, they can keep running, regardless of their time, as long as their technique stays at a high level. That likely won’t happen under fatigue unless they are a special athlete, but if they are moving well, keep going.
- Maximum Velocity/Power: When focusing on maximum speed and power (yes this is important even for the general population), top speed is the name of the game. This applies to vertical, horizontal and lateral movement skills when speed is desired. In these sessions, time is very important. This is where I would recommend you shut someone down early if they are slowing down. Their nervous system will prefer to remember the last rep, and if it is slow, that’s what it recall the next time you ask it to perform. In these sessions, set a maximum time (or minimum threshold depending on the activity) that you still consider high speed (usually around a 10% drop in performance as a general rule) and once they drop below it, they’re done.
- Work Capacity: A work capacity session should be very taxing on the metabolic system and at least difficult if not harder (but it all depends on their periodization scheme). If this is the focus for the day, then I suggest that they do what is needed to finish the reps to make sure that they are getting in the prescribed volume for the day. This may involve lowering weight to meet their fatigue level over time or modifying it some other way. But if they aren’t getting enough volume because you cut them off early, their work capacity won’t improve. While I love to have perfect technique all of the time, in a work capacity session, I am, at times, willing to accept less than perfect technique in order to truly stress their metabolic system. It is never acceptable to put our patients and clients at risk for injury, but it is important that we push them if this is our focus at this particular time.
- Mental Approach: For a lot of you clinicians, the idea of “mental toughness” doesn’t enter into your practice that much. But, in the world of training athletes, it is important that our athletes learn to push through things and face adversity. Oftentimes these types of training sessions coincide with work capacity training and I take a very similar approach.
My point with this post is to make sure that you think through everything you are doing with your training and rehab sessions. And, to also understand that nothing is perfect and happens in a vacuum. At times it is okay to sacrifice a little bit of technique, volume or whatever to make sure you are achieving the desired goals and focus for that moment in time. Always keep safety paramount and movement quality a close second, but step back and look at your goals, think through them, and create some art.