Correcting Exercise Technique Through Online Fitness Coaching
by Jordan Syatt May 6, 2014
Online fitness coaching is rapidly turning into the most popular, efficient, and accessible coaching medium.
What’s truly incredible about online fitness coaching is that it provides us (the coaches) with an extraordinary opportunity to help people from all across the globe.
Working to continually improve my online fitness coaching over the past 3 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with numerous individuals on an international basis.
However, an extraordinary experience with countless benefits, online fitness coaching – like all business – presents a gamut of unique challenges.
Specifically, the issue of correcting exercise technique via e-mail, Skype, or other forms of online communication can be extremely difficult.
That being said, I’ve developed a basic system that makes correcting exercise technique simple, easy, and extremely effective.
To help improve your online coaching system, below I’ve provided a case study showcasing none other than my all-star online coaching client, Kimberly Mills (her website and facebook).
An outstanding friend, colleague, and coach, Kimberly made extraordinary progress in a short 7-week training block and I couldn’t be more excited to show you exactly how she did it.
So, without further adieu, let’s get to the good stuff.
Correcting Exercise Technique Through Online Fitness Coaching
Step 1: Establish Goals
Prior to working with a client, you [obviously] need to understand their individual goals.
While you might assume this should go without saying, I still speak to many coaches who neglect this component of their initial assessment.
Regardless of whether you’re coaching online or in-person, you need your client to establish clear cutgoalsthat they aim to achieve through working with you.
Not only is this important for you in order to design the best individualized program, it’s extremelyimportant for the client.
In coming up with and voicing their own goals (with some guidance from you), your clients are drastically more likely to adhere to the program and see better long-term results.
For more info on improving client adherence, read moreHERE.
What Was Kimberly’s Goal?
Improved powerlifting performance.
Plain and simple, Kimberly wanted to get as strong as humanly possible in the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.
With that established, it was time to get to work.
Step 2: Initial Technique Analysis
Prior to accepting a client into your online coaching program it’s imperative to check their technique. The reasons for this are countless, but to name a couple:
1) A technique check serves as a valid screening process. Personally, I don’t accept clients who aren’t proficient in basic barbell movements as learning these lifts online presents a major risk to their health and safety (not to mention it’s a huge liability).
2) The initial technique check gives me the opportunity to assess my clients’ movement and program appropriately for their individual needs. Equally important, I can provide a variety of cues and tips to improve their technique and movement competency.
Kimberly’s Initial Technique Analysis
Prior to beginning the program, Kimberly sent me numerous videos of her competition lifts. Below is her initial squat video.
As you can see, the overall technique is pretty good but there’s some obvious room for improvement.
Several things I see right off the bat:
1) Insufficient Depth: Considering Kimberly’s goal of being a competitive Powerlifter, her squat isn’t deep enough (notice her hips stopping before they hit parallel).
2) Insufficient Speed: Kimberly’s descent is extremely slow which, for a variety of reasons far beyond the scope of this article, will inhibit her performance.
3) Anterior Weight Shift: If you watch closely, you’ll see Kimberly’s weight continuously shifts towards her toes. While all of her weight doesn’t need to be solely on her heels, shifting too far forward is keeping her from lifting in the safest and most efficient manner.
4) Insufficient Core Stability: You’ll notice Kimberly’s torso drop as she begins the ascent. Possibly exacerbated by her forward weight shift, it more than likely also has to do with insufficient core stability.
Step 3: Initial Corrections
Here’s where things get fun.
Now that I know what needs to be fixed, I can give Kimberly the most importantcorrections and start working towards improving her overall performance.
I’d note, I emphasized “most important corrections” because telling her to change everything at once would be a huge mistake.
As coaches, we want to fix everything in one fell swoop. While providing the lifter with every single critique may seem like a good idea, it’s much more efficient to make 1 or 2 small tweaks at a time.
Coaching in this manner does several things for the lifter:
1) It keeps them from getting overwhelmed.
2) It allows them to focus on and master one thing at a time (thereby improving self efficacy).
3) It keeps them motivated to improve. Changing 1 thing is relatively easy whereas changing 4 things can be extremely daunting.
So what did I change first with Kimberly?
Considering Kimberly’s goal of competitively Powerlifting, my foremost concern was making sure she didn’t get disqualified for insufficient depth.
That being the case, the first thing I told Kimberly to focus on was getting deeper in the hole and making sure that her hips, at the very least, hit parallel with her knee’s.
Understanding that it’s difficult to gauge depth on your own, I programmed box squats into her routine. In doing so, all she had to do was graze the box with her tuchus to know whether or not she hit proper depth.
Below is a video of Kimberly’s first round of Box Squats:
Already some big improvements, I was very happy to see this change happen so quickly.
Granted, there are still several things that need to be addressed but, considering this change happened in a matter of days (solely via e-mail correspondence), I was very pleased.
Step 4: Non-Verbalized Corrections
This section is extremely important.
I previously noted why it’s helpful to keep your initial corrections to a bare minimum.
However, what I didn’t mention was the concept of non-verbalized corrections.
Essentially, non-verbalized corrections are made without mention to your client but, assuming they are programmed appropriately, will help to improve their performance.
As discussed earlier, Kimberly’s descent was entirely too slow which, among other things, inhibited the stretch reflex and reduced her overall performance.
Rather than just say “Kimberly, you’re going too slow!” without any instruction on how to improve, I programmed Dynamic Effort (speed) squats directly into her routine.
In this way, Kimberly was able to practice and improve her speed and power (speed is a skill!) within an appropriate framework for her individual needs.
As Another Example…
Kimberly was having a great deal of trouble hitting depth, keeping her weight back, and generating sufficient core stability.
While this may seem like a lot to fix…it’s honestly very simple.
In fact, all I did was program heavy goblet squats into her routine and these issues pretty much corrected themselves.
Take a look:
✔ Great depth (well below parallel)
✔ Fantastic speed (very fast!)
✔ Phenomenal torso position (chest up high the whole time)
✔ Improved weight shift (still a bit to work on here but much better).
For some more ideas, I also programmed Touch-and-Go Box Squats as well as heavy Paused Goblet Squats.
Step 5: Monitor Progress
From this point forward your client should be on auto pilot.
They should have a very good understanding of what constitutes “optimal” technique and require relatively little critique on a consistent basis.
That being said, it’s wise to follow up with regular technique checks (roughly every 2-4 weeks) just to make sure they haven’t fallen back into any bad habits or created new ones.
For Kimberly, her competition creeped up after just 7 weeks of working together and she had a truly extraordinary day.
First and foremost, take a look at the difference in her squat!
Competition Squat: 1st Attempt
An easy opener, you can see right away that Kimberly is moving faster, getting deeper, and pretty much just squatting like a total bad ass.
Competition Squat: 2nd Attempt (PR!)
Squatting 160lbs for an all-time personal record (PR), her 2nd attempt didn’t get on camera. I’m bummed I didn’t get to see it but, judging by her 3rd attempt, I have no doubt it came up wicked fast.
Competition Squat: 3rd Attempt (Called for Depth…Barely!)
Obviously the judges had a better angle but, from this point of view, it looks like they were being picky.
Regardless, the overall execution (and ridiculous speed) of this lift tells me Kimberly has a lotleft in the tank.
Better yet, her technique drasticallyimproved over the course of a short 7-weeks and I couldn’t be more impressed with her effort, dedication, and consistent hard work.
It’s because of her extraordinary work ethic that she managed to PR in every single lift, go 8 for 9 on the day, and absolutely blow her previous total out of the water.
Correcting Exercise Technique Through Online Fitness Coaching: Other Resources
The Deadlift:In this article I use a case study from a current online client and show you exactly how I corrected his Conventional Deadlift technique —> Correcting the Conventional Deadlift
The Bench Press: In this video (clickHERE) I outline exactly how to use leg drive to improve bench press performance. In this in-depth article (clickHERE) I discuss 6 little-known tips that will drastically enhance your (and your clients’) bench press.