Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Unfortunately, I’m not close friends with any Professional Athletes. I say unfortunately because I think it would be sweet if one of my best friends was a Major League Baseball player who’d fly his crew all around the country to hang out and be obnoxious fans at his games. (Ok, I just wish I was in an entourage.) ANYWAYS, I bring that up because while most of us were never pro stars, a lot of us played sports throughout most of our childhood. Some of us were pretty good, too!

Now I’m not saying that it’s cool to act like Uncle Rico and be stuck back in your glory days, but I do think that a lot of us have some really fun stories to share about our athletic accomplishments growing up. In fact, it’d probably be fun to share some of those stories with your friends over a beer (or a Kill Cliff…..) to give a bit more insight as to what your past was like. In a sport like CrossFit, I’ve also found that experience in certain sports can sometimes shed light onto a person’s ability to be more successful at exercise racing. For example, wrestlers, swimmers, and hockey players have a strange ability to almost “black out” during a workout and push harder than a lot of other people. Football and rugby players often times have residual freak strength from when they back squatted over 500lbs and cleaned well over 300lbs, even though it may have been over 10-15 years ago. Soccer and baseball players are frequently still fairly explosive and handle body-weight movements really well. Runners… well runners still only run well. (Just kidding, runners! You’re good at other things, too.)


I bring this up because as a coach I come in contact with people who join a CrossFit gym, and after a lifetime of being good at whatever sport they played, they’re humbled every single day. This usually leads to one of a few different paths for the athlete to take.

Some people are discouraged and don’t want to go back to the gym because they’re “embarrassed at how badly” they feel they did. They didn’t use a lot of weight, had to stop and rest a lot, felt like they were the worst athlete in the class, or woke up unbelievably sore. First of all, those people need to know that CrossFit is really hard. For everyone. Every day. That’s one of the first things I ever heard about the program. “It doesn’t ever get easier. You just get stronger or move faster.” Yet we all come back time and time again. The way to get better at this stuff is to keep showing up! Throw those athletic shoes in your bag and head back to the gym tomorrow. You’ve got this!

Others refuse to “accept” their current level of athletic ability and push too hard, too soon. Ok Frank, I understand you used to hit .400 and throw a 96 mile-per-hour fast-ball. News flash, sport… that was 25 years ago, you were 30 pounds lighter, and didn’t sit behind a desk for 10 hours every day. No matter how many times a coach tries to work with them, they always “have to go Rx,” even if it means finishing last in the workout every single day, or failing to meet full range of motion on barbell lifts. If this is you, take it easy. Go light on the barbell one day, reduce the number of reps to finish the workout a little faster, slow down your reps to make sure you’re doing them right. Your body, and your coach, will thank you.

Another group is overtly aware of their athletic past, yet realizes that while they may be more athletic than most, the brakes still need to be pumped a little bit to stay safe. Being able to lift something with bad technique and potentially getting hurt doesn’t outweigh the benefits of hitting a “CrossFit PR” for a given movement. They remember that in college they ran a 4:53 mile, but are plenty satisfied with the 6:04 they just ran last week. These individuals understand that most of use are working out to eat more of what we want, and to look better naked. Thanks for being smart!

Why would sharing your information about your athletic past (and history of injuries while you’re at it) benefit you in CrossFit? It’s not to brag about what you used to do or get upset that you’re no longer at the level you may have once been. It’s to equip your coaches with tools they can use to best help you. In a class of 20 people, I usually will have a different way of coaching each person. If one athlete has never played a sport in their life and the other is a former National Champion, the cues and encouragement given to each of them might be a little bit different. I certainly don’t think it’ll negatively impact your performance in the gym at all. So speak up, share your story, and be proud. Not even of where you’ve been, but of where you are right now. In the gym, trying to make yourself better. I know I’m proud of you!


I’ve been a full-time personal trainer and coach for over half of a decade. My reason for remaining in this profession all this time is that working with someone and having them improve is the most rewarding feeling in the world to me. When I lead a class, I convince myself that every single person in that group is putting their trust in me to help them get better. Sounds dramatic when I see it written down, but it’s true.

At gyms like the ones where I work, all around the world most athletes show up, do what’s on the board, then leave. Fitness isn’t much more than that to them. But on either end of the spectrum from those athletes lie two groups that I lose sleep over sometimes! These three groups have led me to create “Smashby’s Athlete Bell Curve“:


Middle of the Bell Curve: MOST”

Most people live here. These athletes are in the gym for fitness and fun. They try their best to make it in 3-5 days per week, love seeing friends, blowing off some steam, and hope to see incremental improvements (see also: Gainz) over time.


Right side of the Bell Curve: HELP

Typically these are newer members at the gym, or just shy people in general. They want to get better, want coaching, and would love for you to check out their technique and give them feedback. They just don’t feel comfortable asking! Asking “which one is a hang power clean again” for the 10th time embarrasses them, but maybe it was never explained to them in terms they were able to understand in the first place. Making breakthroughs with this group is my favorite. As athletes become more confident asking for help, they usually start to improve faster, and quickly join their friends in the middle of the curve.


Left side of the Bell Curve: NOPE”

Thankfully, this is the group work with least of all, but it can still be frustrating to think about. These athletes just don’t like you.  Maybe you made them feel stupid one time a few months ago, maybe you have an annoying laugh, or maybe they don’t like going to your classes because you have horrible taste in music. Maybe your coaching style doesn’t work for them, or maybe they just don’t like who you are as a human being. They are simply not impressed. Sometimes, you’ll never be able to create a meaningful relationship with these individuals. I still try, though!

When all three types of athletes are shown together, “Smashby’s Athlete Bell Curve” is the result!


There’s nothing wrong with being in any of these groups. While I wish I was able to connect with and help 100% of the athletes I come in contact with, that’s not how the world works. Just know that my goal is to live in that middle space where:

  • People enjoy working with me
  • Athletes feel like I’m there to help them
  • No one ever feels attacked, picked on, or criticized
  • I’m equipped with tools to actually add value in a meaningful way


As a coach, it’s important to know your audience and to tailor your approach to each person individually. In a class of twenty athletes, you may need to exercise twenty different coaching styles. Effective communication should be the primary goal in order to strive for success; both in the gym, and everywhere else.

Don’t spend years coaching the same way. Learn new cues, try new approaches, and check to see if what you’re saying actually registers with people. Saying the same thing in a slightly different way can create a major breakthrough for someone. Keeping the lines of communication open and regularly checking in with your athletes not only gives you a current update of who you’re working with, it can also show people that you actually care. While we’re personal trainers, we’re also a special kind of therapist! Sometimes, just showing someone that you care about them is enough to make their day.

Our most important job is keeping our athletes as safe as possible. If we’re able to create meaningful relationships and help foster positive change in their lives, that’s icing on the cake!

(HUGE shout-out to Heather for helping making Photoshop magic out of my silly idea!)