Gray Cook: There Are Things You Shouldn’t Coach

A lot of people will try to sell you on their idea of a continuum. “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to get your hamstring length. I want you to get your glutes active. I want you to make sure your forward bending and backward bending are good. Then, we’ll get into the deadlift and blah, blah, blah.”

It doesn’t go that way. The road is never that straight.

You’re making great progress in the deadlift and your clients get the flu. They drop seven pounds. They’re extremely weak. They want to get back on track. You can’t get back on track. We lost two weeks. You were out three days. Your strength is down. You’re partially dehydrated. I don’t have 100% of your focus, but I do know some things we can do to get you back on track, and it’s not nearly pushing straight ahead.

We were recently at Stanford for the Assess­ing Movement lecture, and I realized some­thing important. Dan John was there in the front row. He and I were already talking about some of the things we wanted to do. Stuart McGill and I were on stage, and I realized Stuart and Dan are very much alike in that they don’t coach things that can’t be coached. They only coach things that can be coached. I don’t think people understand this philosophy of coaching is part of the movement statement we made with the Functional Movement Screen.

Let’s say you’ve got unbelievably tight hamstrings. We’re not even going to call them hamstrings. We’re going to call them guitar strings. You’ve got extremely tight hamstrings. What can I do for you with my words that will change that right now? What if you’re congested and you have a huge airway obstruction? What can I do for you that’s going to change that in a matter of seconds?

If you’re congested or if your hamstrings are so tight you can’t even tickle your kneecaps, I don’t know if I can coach you out of that situation. I don’t know if there’s anything I can say that will cause exercise to make those two things better. However, I can talk to you about seasonal allergies and how you’re managing them. I can talk to you about how often you’re congested.

I can also give you some correctives for your hamstrings. I can hold you accountable for that because you sure don’t want to pay me to foam roll your hamstrings. You can do that at home. I can sell you a foam roller, but I’ve got to tell you these things because I can’t coach that up. That’s part of the development I can assist you with and I can program for you.

But, there are things Dan and Stu Mc­Gill can say right now if you’re on one leg or if you’re doing a deadlift or if you’re doing some type of bracing, they can coach you up. Why? It’s because your breathing is not compromised and you have the mobility to get into the posi­tion, so they will use verbal cues to save you time.

They teach the things that nature would take two years to teach, like doing your shrugs in a better position. Nature will probably teach you that after it tears your rotator cuff. We’re going to tell you, don’t do that and here’s your alternative.

The best of the best coaches know what not to coach.

Do you know how many times I’ve walked into a facility and seen somebody coaching up a deadlift on people who can’t even touch their toes? I hope that means something to you. Because if they can’t touch their toes and they can get down to a deadlift bar, they’re not deadlifting. They’re squatting. They’re squatting to the deadlift bar, so really all they’re doing is low and high squats on different days.

Monday is “squat on your back day” and Tuesday is “squat on the ground day,” but they’re both squats. They’re not deadlifts. If people’s backs are so tight or their hamstrings are so tight they can’t get to their toes, to get to the bar they’re going to have to do something you wouldn’t want them to biomechanically do. They’re going to have to compensate. Do you know why? It’s because you’re trying to coach something that’s not cur­rently available.

If the airway is not available, you can’t do anything about it. If the length, the bending, is not available, you can’t do anything about that. I don’t care why—I don’t care whether it’s the sciatic nerve, a posterior fascial plane, the hamstrings or an arthritic hip, it doesn’t matter why they can’t bend. The fact that they can’t bend means you can’t coach anything that involves bending, not with any degree of integrity or professionalism whatsoever.

There are other things you can coach. You just can’t coach bending. That’s probably the most important thing, but there’s a better way to under­stand this.

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