By Ross Enamait – Published in 2008
Starting as an athlete, and now working as a coach, I’ve been in the gym for most of my life. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’ve been around long enough to have a good idea of what to do, and what not to do. Throughout this article, I will share some observations and opinions that I’ve formulated over the years. It is my hope that the tips presented within this informal piece will help steer you down the right path as both an athlete and trainer.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
What works for you may not work for your athletes. Do not push a fixed agenda on each athlete you train.
Each trainer has a unique style, and much of this style originates from personal experience. Hands on experience is certainly useful, but it must not be your sole source of knowledge.
We all know someone who could eat all day, yet still model for an infomercial ab machine. His ideas on fat loss may not be effective for the endomorph that has struggled with weight his entire life. Or what about the mesomorph that could look at a barbell and gain mass? His ideas on hypertrophy may need some tweaking when given to the ectomorph that blows away with a strong gust of wind. Ultimately, you must gain experience working with different athletes. Don’t expect to create one plan that works for everyone.
I’ve worked with fighters from the same gym on the same day with bouts lined up in the same month, yet had the athletes on completely different plans. Despite competing in the same sport, each fighter was unique in terms of fighting style, past experiences, immediate needs, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth.
Furthermore, as an athlete, you must carve a path that leads you to the top. Educate yourself with various methods, but never blindly follow anyone or anything. Become your own leader. Ask questions, be skeptical of everything, and don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if your current arrangement isn’t getting the job done.
What Is The Best Exercise?
If I had a nickel for every time this question was asked, I’d be a rich man. Unfortunately for me, I’m far from it.
My answer to this question remains the same. There is no such thing. The immediate response should be best for what and best for whom. If training athletes was as simple as prescribing a few random movements, we wouldn’t need coaches. Each athlete would perform the exact routine.
Those who seek the perfect movement forget that athletes are individuals, not robots. Each athlete deserves to be evaluated as a unique individual. There is no single movement or group of movements that will work for all. Instead, the training menu must be created specifically for the individual. To suggest that there is only one right way signifies both ignorance and arrogance.
Successful coaches develop successful athletes. They do so by creating effective programs. It is the job of the coach to create and oversee the daily training schedule for the athlete.
Training involves much more than knowing or inventing a few unconventional exercises. Each individual movement means little on its own. Consider a puzzle for the perfect example. A single piece means nothing. You will not leave a single piece out for display. The beauty of the puzzle is not realized until fully constructed.
I often see athletes scouring for new exercises. It is as if a new movement will come along and replace the standbys that have worked so well before. Unfortunately, a flashy movement does not equal a well thought, progressive training system. Program design will always be far more important than even the flashiest exercise that you view on Youtube.
And please don’t take this the wrong way. I am all for creativity and new ideas, but once again, each movement means little. Never lose sight of your ultimate goal, which is success in the competitive arena. Athletes do not train for exercises. The athlete uses various exercises, each working in tandem, to facilitate improved performance.
You Don’t Score Points In The Gym
If you compete in an event, train for the event. Sounds obvious, right? Unfortunately, Captain Obvious isn’t always available for consultations.
Many athletes get lost in the gym. They forget that gym numbers do not count on game night (or fight night). You don’t score points by performing the most pull-ups or benching the greatest load. Gym work must contribute to your needs as a competitive athlete. Don’t wear yourself out with supplemental work. If the supplemental work hinders performance, mistakes have been made. Training to improve fitness should not detract from the primary event.
Consider the fighter who feels like Superman on the pull-up bar. His super powers won’t mean anything if he can’t get out of the way of a punch. His opponent is looking for the knockout. He doesn’t care about pull-up prowess.
We can look to my local area of New England for another example. Tom Brady is the quarterback for the New England Patriots. Brady is a tremendous athlete who continually leads his team to victory. I’m sure the owner of the Patriots doesn’t care how much Brady bench presses, or how many pull-ups and pushups he can perform. Brady is paid to win games. He isn’t paid to perform on the pull-up bar.
Focus on your ultimate goal. Don’t let supplemental work act as kryptonite towards your primary event.
Get A Clue
If you train fighters, know the fight game. If you don’t know the fight game, it’s time to learn. Get involved at a real fight gym (where real fighters prepare for real fights). Get punched in the face and see how it feels. Get a taste for the fatigue that fighters endure. Get a feel for what these athletes go through on a daily basis. No textbook or certification course will drive home this message as loud and clear as a kick or punch to the face.
I’m obviously writing with some sarcasm, but the general message should be clear. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize the rising popularity of combat sports. Like it or not, combat sports are here to stay. As a lifelong participant, I welcome the popularity. Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before clueless trainers flock to the sport seeking dollar signs.
Here’s a news flash to those interested. Coaching fighters is far from lucrative. Most fighters have short careers and are lucky to see a payday worth more than a few thousand dollars. The coach working in the background sure as hell isn’t getting rich working with these athletes.
I’ve trained youngsters for free. It isn’t about the money. You either love the sport, or you don’t. You can’t fake it. If you are looking to retire early, hire a financial adviser. Hanging out at the fight gym isn’t a shortcut to early retirement. Sure, some fighters make it big, but most don’t. I know fighters who fought for world titles who can hardly cover living expenses just a few years later.
The Online Era
The Internet is a beautiful thing. It can be the information highway, but often ends up the misinformation highway. If you read an advertisement that sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
And to those who write about training athletes, do everyone a favor and train athletes. Is that too much to ask? Wrestling with a stuffed animal in your basement doesn’t count. Either work with real athletes or let everyone know that you don’t.
Think about it…
Would you hire a surgeon who has never performed an operation? Would you fly with a pilot who has never flown a plane? I’m guessing the answer is no.
What makes training athletes any different? Either walk the walk or take a hike!
Successful coaches are successful for many reasons. You obviously need knowledge, but knowledge alone is not enough. You must be able to communicate this knowledge. Your athletes must believe in your methods.
When I begin working with an athlete, I start by getting to know the individual. What is his story? Where does he come from and where does he want to go? What drives him? What buttons do I need to push to light a fire under his ass? Take some time to find answers to these questions.
Contrary to popular opinion, there are some amazing athletes who do not fit the highly motivated category. Motivation is a tricky subject. Find ways to motivate your athletes. One fighter’s motivation may be his poor upbringing. Perhaps he wants to fight his way out of the ghetto. Another fighter may find motivation in his love for the sport. Whatever it is that motivates your athletes, you need to find out. Get inside their head. Push the buttons that need to be pushed. Push him when he needs pushing. Make him do things that he wouldn’t do if he were training alone.
And if you are dealing with a non-competitive crowd, the rules of motivation still apply. Almost any program will work for the novice if he is motivated to get off his ass, believes in the system, and most importantly uses the system with regularity. Conversely, the most scientific system in the world will not be worth a dime if the athlete isn’t motivated to use it. Motivation often outweighs any other factor, which is the reason why so many different programs have worked so well.
Flexibility is imperative, and I’m not talking about touching your toes. As a trainer, you must remain flexible, always able to adapt to the situation at hand. You are paid to train the athlete, not hand him a written workout with a box to check after the completion of each exercise.
Come to the gym with an idea, but be willing to change based on the response of your athlete. For example, suppose you have a conditioning circuit planned after tonight’s sparring session. The sparring session gets rather lively however, and the athletes exert themselves much more than anticipated. You may need to adjust your initial plans. Athletes are human beings, so train them as human beings.
Have a plan, but also recognize that the plan will almost always need tweaking.
Talk Is Cheap
If you are a good coach, you don’t need to tell me about it. Others will speak for you. A great example of this simple concept comes from the famous Kronk gym in Detroit. Everyone in boxing knows that Emanuel Steward puts out good fighters. Everyone knows that the Kronk is the real deal, and then some. They don’t need to tell us, as it is already known. Others can learn from this simple idea. Trainers need to stop talking so much. At the end of the day, it is the athlete who walks into the ring or cage all by himself. Even the best trainers in the world can’t throw punches for their fighters. Don’t take the spotlight away from your fighter. Let the fighter shine. Your job is to let him shine, not to steal the glory away from him.
And if you truly are the real deal, your fighter will be more than willing to tell others about you. You don’t need to fill our inbox with newsletter after newsletter, patting yourself on the back and telling us about your top-secret discoveries.
It Works Both Ways
A good coach can make a world of difference, but the coach is only as good as the athlete. To truly excel, the athlete must take an active role in his own development. The best coach in the world cannot help the athlete who doesn’t want (or try) to be helped.
If you want something, go get it. Don’t let a dream snatcher deter you from chasing your dreams. Many athletes don’t work as hard as they’d like to think. If they fail, it’s easier to place the blame elsewhere. Don’t fall into this trap. Leave no room for doubt or regret. When you start to live with this mentality, you’ll often surprise yourself.
He Said, She Said
I’ve worked with some great athletes, who had been great despite their training, not because of it. Great athletes often defy the rules. Mike Tyson could have probably drank motor oil as an energy drink and still knocked out many opponents. This wouldn’t suddenly mean that motor oil is the new energy drink of choice. Just because someone does something doesn’t make it right for you.
Learn proven principles and apply these principles to your general plan. Find what works for you, but never get lost in the world of assumption. Assuming that what worked for one athlete will automatically work for you can become a grave mistake. Fall back on the advice already mentioned. Athletes are unique individuals. This means you and I are not the same. Find what works for you, and realize that it may not work for your athletes without customization per their unique needs.
I’m not a savvy businessman, and I’m not here to tell you how to get rich. I can however tell you a few things about getting your athletes in shape. I’ve never placed an advertisement anywhere, but my phone is always ringing from athletes who need help preparing for a fight or event. The simple tips from this article are vague in nature, but hopefully you can walk away with at least a few thoughts to ponder when working with your own athletes. Keep it real, and others will respect you for it. And once the respect is present, results often follow, both for you and your athletes.