What’s your in-gym love language?
Let me set the scene:
It’s midway through a metcon. You came out a little hot, as one does, and suddenly you realize your breath and lungs are nowhere to be found, and your grip and forearms feel like sandbags that have been set on fire on account of the barbell cycling. Your coach gives you a cue from across the gym — “BRETT! KEEP KEEP YOUR TOES DOWN!”, but you didn’t catch the cue.
Distracted, a little embarrassed, and flustered from your lost momentum, you stop and say, “what?!”
Here’s the deal: for some athletes, that style of coaching is all they need mid-workout. Quick shout, cue, and they’re good to go. But on the flipside, that method can be derailing and ineffective. Which, as your coach, is the opposite desired result.
Any decent coach will tell you that in order to be an effective trainer, we have to know our athletes. Know their injury history, their movement patterns, and, perhaps most importantly, their preferred coaching love language. By day, I’m a youth minister, and you bet I’m boutta marry my two professional worlds in this blog post. Hear me out:
You may have heard of love languages as they pertain to relationships (particularly romantic ones); Gary Chapman, literally wrote the book on ‘em. The book is based on five general ways partners express love — they are acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. I believe these five categories of expression also apply to coaching, and that each athlete falls into at least one of these categories for how they would like to be coached.
Words of Affirmation
In the CrossFIt coaching world, there are three types of cues we can give athletes depending on a variety of factors (workout type, environment, etc.), but the most common one (and the one we typically start with) is verbal cues. These are short, actionable cues as exampled above – “Toes down!”, “Hips back!” et cetera. For some athletes, though, we have to do what we call a correction sandwich when we give verbal cues: complement, correction, complement. I believe this style of coaching falls neatly into the words of affirmation category, and again, is really common among most athletes. It might look like this:
“Brett! Great job driving out of your backfoot in the deadlift — but keep your toes down as you do so. Strong feet will help you better move that big weight!”
If this is the way you’d prefer your coach to communicate corrections with you, tell them! This will often happen after the moment or workout, when you can stop and focus on what they’re saying (versus having the cue yelled at you from across the room).
Acts of Service
The second style of cueing that we coaches have in our toolbelt are visual cues. When words aren’t working — or if we’re across the floor, wearing a mask, competing with a deafening Cardi B remix — we’ll often use visual cues to help athletes correct movement patterns. For continuity, let’s keep the deadlift theme going — a common fault in the deadlift is a hyperextended back as a result of a disengaged core. We want a neutral spine at all times in this lift, so one way to pull people back into position here is to have them tuck their ribs. I may demonstrate this by dramatically flaring my ribs out to show they are out of position, and then show them the desired correction by tucking my ribs into my hip bones.
Another example of coaches performing acts of service is simply following up on corrections or known trouble areas with videos, articles, referrals for specialists, or giving specific accessory homework to help correct movement patterns or build strength. A lot of athletes don’t think to ask for this type of service — but we love to give it! It shows us that you have interest in becoming a better mover and athlete, and that just makes our little coaching hearts sing.
If this is the way you’d prefer your coach to communicate corrections with you, tell them!
Let me preface this section by saying that coaches, please, do not touch your athletes without first getting permission… okay, moving on —
The Physical Touch category is just a weird name/stretch for the third type of cuing we often give our athletes — tactile cues. These cues are great for athletes whose brain just can’t quite connect the verbal and visual cue with the desired correction. For example, if after you’ve reached full extension at the top of your deadlift I see that your knees are jutting forward on your return, and “hips back!” isn’t working for you, I may approach you with a PVC pipe and place it in front of your knees — telling you to not let your knees touch the PVC pipe at any point in the movement. If your knees hit the pipe, the tactile feedback provided by the pipe signals to your brain that we gotta get those knees out of the way. And how might we do that? By keeping our knees in place but sending our hips back first.
If this is the way you’d prefer your coach to communicate corrections with you, tell them! This cueing/coaching is pretty versatile in or out of workouts, but if we can eliminate frustration by starting here with you, then leggo.
I’ll admit that I’m really reaching to make this theme work but I’m too far in it to let it go now, so.
The Gift Giving category is simple: if you’re stubborn enough, and you hold out long enough, your coach will get so tired of barking at you to buy your own speed rope every time there’s a double under workout; they’ll get so fed up with your foam squish foot clouds on heavy lifting days, that they’ll just buy these things for you out of sheer annoyance.
This coaching style is by far the most effective, as it is a simple way to combine all of the aforementioned styles into one neat package: personal training. Contrary to popular belief, personal training sessions aren’t just more hours to get in metcons… At Renew, we want personal training sessions to be both all-encompassing and wholly individualized; we want to take time to give visual and tactile feedback, we want to correction sandwich the hell outta you, and we want to maximize our time together with focused, intentional training. Whether your goal is to build strength, improve mobility, boost cardiovascular fitness, or just finally master that sticky movement — this quality time is the best, fastest way to get there.
At the end of the day, knowing your in-gym love language will help us, help you, have the best gym experience possible. We want to know and care for you — the whole person — so it’s incredibly important for us to know how to do that. So next time your coach screams something through their mask at you from across the gym, be sure to let them know that you’d rather they just buy you a rope instead.