I’ll open with a caveat. We are well aware that we aren’t perfect – far from it in fact. We know that we aren’t decorated with degrees and PhDs in nutrition, strength and conditioning.
In fact, we both graduated in economics and finance, now we study accountancy and medicine – not exactly the list of accolades you’d expect from two mid-20 year olds involved in fitness.
Trust me, we are the first to acknowledge that there are many who are far more qualified to speak on the subjects that we discuss and we both seek to learn as much as possible from these individuals.
That said, what we do have, is over 14 years of combined time toiling under a barbell, battling against weight as it moves through space
We’ve ripped callus after callus to shreds with cold Elieko, Swedish steel
All in the name of betterment
Of improving our understanding of this strange, niched pursuit.
All so that we could be better tomorrow than we are today
We’ve competed in Rowing, Rugby, Gymnastics, Powerlifting and Weightlifting to various levels of competitiveness (including representing GB in powerlifting on two occasions).
We’ve both bean lean enough to the point of mood swings and erectile dysfunction but fat enough that stairs made us sweat.
We’ve eaten every 2 hours and fasted for 48, we’ve eaten low carb, paleo, low fat, cycled carbs and backloaded them. We’ve even tried getting all our carbs from marshmallows and all our fat from grass-fed butter
We’ve tried squatting every day and not at all
Training 3 times per day and 3 times a fortnight
We even leant to maintain strength while not being able to train at all
Cobbled together ad-hoc routines while working away, staying consistent in even the most ill-equipped hotel gyms
Learnt, first hand, the difficulties of sticking to a diet while managing hectic social schedules and working long hours chained to a desk.
We’ve even learned how to train while fasting through Ramadan.
We’ve snatched, squatted, benched and curled our ways to two very average physiques when compared to bodybuilders, but we just manage to pull off looking like we might train (a bit) in a t-shirt, hell, we’ve even cobbled together some nationally competitive Wilks scores.
We may not have the PhD or the book knowledge to jive with the best of them, but by god have we spent some time earning our stripes.
You know what’s annoying?
Now, anyone who’s watched Eric Helms’ pyramid and knows the basics of wordpress can call him/herself a coach.
Now being an online “coach” is cool.
I think because we both have been afforded the ability to both see fitness from afar (spending large chunks of our time involved in separate industries) while also sharing an involvement in it
We’re able to see the idiocy for what it is.
In no other field, would advice be valued from someone limited/no actual experience in the fields they discuss
A Doctor who’d never performed an operation but read the theory
An accountant who’d only studied a textbook, running a company’s finances
A pilot navigating a landing with only a rudimentary, theoretical understanding
In these scenarios, the individuals would be regarded as novice – they’d be accompanied by someone more experienced.
In the fitness industry – they’re invited to speak at events.
Why is this?
Many reasons, chiefly a lack of regulation.
The discussion of whether all those in the fitness industry should obtain a fitness certification is beyond the scope of this article
I’m certainly of the opinion that when working with individuals in person, you should be qualified in at least basic principles so that you don’t kill someone.
However, in the online sphere we’re guiding decisions through the written word, through pure information.
The screen provided by the internet means that you are judged typically the impression you create
This is why a top level strength coach with more letters after his name than a tin of spaghetti hoops may have less clients than an internet marketer pushing a cookie-cutter template.
This is a problem – a failure of the market and you don’t need to have spent that long in the industry to see these individuals for what they are.
In our opinion, there is no replacement for raw experience.
From taking a process from start to completion – learning the little intricacies and wrinkles that they don’t tell you in the text books.
Of course, intelligence and understanding of evidence should guide the decisions that carve out this experience but quoting studies is no replacement for having actually experienced the reality.
With experience, comes past failures and successful solutions.
You can have an intricate knowledge of combustion
Describe in great detail what fire looks like
But only someone who’s been burned can truly describe the intricacies, explain what it feels like.
While slightly tangential
Robin Williams’ monologue draws profound parallels with this concept, beautifully presented
Information is freely available these days, you can learn all that you need to know for nutrition and training as it relates to anything – even disease and specific interactions with disease.
So, the value of a coach is no longer driven by asymmetric information, the silos that existed in the hay-days of Flex Magazine have been taken down
You can now learn the book knowledge required for almost any degree on the internet
So what is the value of a coach? If all the information is available, why have we both paid for coaching for the past two years?
Three simple reasons
You start your journey at your coach’s current position
As discussed, I think a large value provided by a coach is the “been there, done that, got the t-shirt, jumper and trousers” – the war stories of what it’s like to have tried what you’re trying and emerged the other side victorious.
When you’re trying to achieve a result and run into a road-block, sure, there are studies to quote and human biology to reference
But at the end of it all, we’re all still human beings
You need to consider what it will feels like, where you might go wrong, what might be the downside that you wouldn’t consider unless you’d actually BEEN there
A good coach can start you of where he/she currently is and guide you carefully around the points that caused them to take a tumble
You gain accountability
We’ve spoken about this at length before but, in general, we don’t like to look bad – at least in front of others
When it comes to monitoring our own behaviour, we believe our own bullshit and convincing self-talk. We can easily explain to ourselves that its Friday, been a long week and we really deserve a cheat day
After all, its good for leptin….or something
When you have someone to answer to, you can feel the intangible force keeping you in check
I really want to….but I know I’ve gotta check in with my coach on Monday….I’ll pass
You gain objectivity
With proximity to a situation – comes bias
The more emotionally invested we are in a result – the more predictably irrational we become
Like a crazed gambler hooked at the blackjack table, we rashly drop calories, add cardio, cut gluten and add supplements – if its on the internet then it must work, right?
A journey through fitness, to any goal
is simply a game of chess
There is no such thing as optimum, there is simply “effective” and “ineffective” for the goal given the parameters of some ones life
Once you know this, it becomes a question of which pieces to play at the right time
When we manage ourselves, we end up in check-mate
We cannot see the situation for what it is because the result is ours – its OUR results and that means a lot
A coach has the luxury of being removed from the situation
They observe the battle from an ivory tower, protected by objectivity and rational thought
Sure, they care about the results but not in the same emotional way
To a coach – your journey is a list of variables that need to be tracked and manipulated to keep you sane, happy and progressing.
They can make a call based on objectivity, not biased emotional thoughts.
I’m aware there is an obvious retort to this point.
Surely, at some point, you will be in better shape, stronger or more accomplished than your coach – this may be the case.
If Usain Bolt was coached by someone faster the 100m line up would look a bit different
When it comes to coaching people at very high levels – they are almost always coached by people who are arguably, less experienced.
Has Usain Bolt’s coach broken the 100m world record? I doubt it
However, what he will have, is a wealth of experience in the field and he will have coached multiple athletes to a top level.
Usain Bolt certainly didn’t Google “how do I run fast” and pay the first guy with a fancy blog.
He will still rely on his coach for navigating technical specifics, injury management, recovery and prep and for this (even though he may not be able to cover 100m in <10 seconds) his coach will have a plethora of experience to draw on to help him navigate the situation.
What to do about it?
Don’t always believe someone on the internet because they have a fancy website and have a list of guest posts on their masthead
“Hey, nice website, I was interested in coaching but I’m just wondering – I saw your Instagram and you just hit a 150kg deadlift yet you’re offering a strength program? What gives?
“Hey I know you’re offering diet plans, have you ever been lean yourself? Got any photo evidence? I know you’re really against Paleo and pro IIFYM, why is that? Have you ever given paleo a shot?
There may be (and I’m sure there are ;) ) plenty of legitimate reasons.
However, we believe that someone claiming to be a coach – a bridge between novice and advanced – should be held accountable and have some kind of evidence to prove they walk to walk
Scars to show they’ve been there and tried it
Burns to show that they aren’t just describing fire from what they’ve read in some fucking book
Then we think you’re well within your rights to say