Stop Teaching Bad Form!

Stop Teaching Bad Form!


sept 27

You’ve seen it before.

A coach training a client or athlete—or several—and the trainees are struggling…big time.

Ass-to-grass squats are not happening.

The high-school football ‘studs’ are muscling up their power cleans are loading up far toooo many plates on their bench press barbells.  

Backs are rounding and twisting and contorting as 1-rep max deadlifts are attempted.

In other words: Bad form.

And the coaches training them have either:

a.)  Become complacent in their coaching of these particular clients (“They always squat like that”; or, “They always attempt that weight, or perform push jerks with horrific shoulder stability and barbell control”, etc.)

b.)  Coached them up the completely wrong way (i.e. form) or surpassed the appropriate progressions to increasing load, or advancing down the movement chain

c.)  Failed to educate their clients on the importance of both progressive and corrective exercises

d.)  All of the above

These observations generally apply to an array coaches with a wide variety of backgrounds (i.e. globo gym ACE trainers, OPEX CCP students, CrossFit coaches, high-school football coaches and University level Strength & Conditioning coaches).

Here, Coach James FitzGerald breaks down the How-tos on Putting BAD Exercise and Form Coaching to Rest (From the High-school Football Weight room to the CrossFit Group Class—and everything in between).


Q. Horrible form can and does happen. For instance, high-school kids in particular are known for having horrible form—not full depth squats, bad cleans, bent backs on their deadlifts. HOW DO COACHES AND THEIR CLIENTS STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING?

James: The coaches themselves, the owners, CEO’s, directors and/or school boards have to recognize the importance of coaching. Currently in percentages, they simply DO NOT. Therefore, the ‘rampant problem’ of bad form won’t be fixed until a top down approach is achieved where the culture (as a whole) agrees that quality and safety is important for instruction in weight rooms. Otherwise, they leave it up to the “coach”, the former player (who was coached by another former player, another poor-form coach, etc.) to teach it.


Q. Often times, new clients come into a gym for a first-time training assessment, and the coach performs a quick introductory session to teach them things (like how to squat or see how many push-ups they can do in a minute) and then the clients go for it (with BAD form)!

The coach MAY correct their form initially, but as sessions continue on, the bad form still lingers and the coach gives up, and stops cueing them to do correct it. HOW CAN WE STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING?

James: We can’t. Only the coach can stop it from happening. If the coach ACTUALLY KNOWS its bad form, AND they ACTUALLY WANT good form, then they will stop it. So if you see it happening, it’s due to low competency and low caring on behalf of the coach. It’s not a right or wrong thing, That’s just it. How is that fixed? See number one, as well come to OPEX CCP.


Q. What advice would you give to coaches on ‘where to start’ with clients/athletes and progressive exercise that is safe, smart and ensures gains?

James: First learn a system of assessment that is actually tied into the training those people will do. I see so many new bullshit assessments that are physical therapy, pain based assessments that have NO carryover to function and performance. If someone moves poor, teach better movement. But the coach will only know what good movement is with a solid assessment. I think the OPEX assessment still needs refining but we are the only ones that give the coach insight into where to start in the design from our assessment. Then they can know “where to start”. As for what to do, that takes time. You can only give what you know; So the coach must workout and gain experience, as well as learn from others about movement and prescription.


Q. Any examples of clients ‘gone wrong’ and situations ‘gone right’ when it comes to your own work with clients over the years?

James: So many wrong ones that I can’t even put it down here on paper. But not in an unsafe, death defying manner, I mean just slightly off, then I learned and fixed it.

A simple example was in the early days teaching folks a bottom up approach to Dead Lifting. Then, over time, with trying better cues on positioning, breath, etc. I discovered that Top Down worked quicker for some. This little nuance was a game changer early on in my career to understand that various clients learn in a variety of ways, and it’s up to me to change how I teach it (depending on the client).


Q. Speak about ego here, often times—clients want to add weight out of ego (think those high-school football players). What are they missing out on by letting their ego get in the way?

James: This is a good one. I think this is where a coach must be a leader and role model to educate what they want as operating procedures in their gym. If everyone agrees to this, and understands that proper movement trumps lift numbers first, and it’s all fixed. Then people can get amped on making the clean LOOK sweet, and look past the weight on the bar.


Q. What are the top mistakes you have witnessed coaches make when coaching clients?


  1. Not assessing
  2. “Trying” new things (sizzle) without knowing why (the “steak”)
  3. Making it too complicated
  4. Not communicating the purpose behind the work, the reasoning


The bottom line?

Stop teaching your clients bad form! Perform an actual full movement and physical assessment. Stick to and refine the basics first. Know the why behind your client’s program. And watch them actually progress.

Fitness Assessments for New Clients