Teaching a client a new exercise, or even learning a new one yourself, can be a downright challenge. See how different forms of feedback can get the performance just right.
The first time is not beautiful…and sometimes it’s far from correct.
Do you remember your firsts? First steps? First time writing your name? First time jumping rope? How about your first stability ball push-up or TRX row you ever did? I’m sure you could list plenty of unsuccessful or awkward firsts. This is quite possibly how your client feels the first time they try a new exercise or use a new piece of equipment.
For a client to learn how to do an exercise, to do it correctly, and retain that skill, they need to practice and experience it. As fitness professionals we need to remember that the first time, second, third, even the twentieth time they do the exercise, it probably won’t be perfect. How we teach the exercise and offer feedback is how we help them become proficient at the movement.
Learning styles vary, but the majority of people tend to be visual learners (about 65%), followed by auditory (about 30%) and then kinesthetic. Accordingly, many trainers will start with the tell-show-do approach that combines these learning styles when adding a new exercise to the program. For the visual learner it is important that you show them the exercise with correct form and technique. The auditory learner might find a joint-by-joint breakdown of how the exercise is done and details of what not to do or things to remember helpful, whereas the kinesthetic learner may want to just try it to see how it feels.
Taking these approaches and your clients learning style into consideration, the question now becomes how can we help them succeed and begin to master the movement?
Internal feedback is one component that helps to fine tune the movement. Internal feedback takes the body’s sensory cues and uses this information to guide proper movement. This includes integrating the proprioceptive and kinesthetic information coming in and coordinating it to guide the body through ideal movement and reaction to the environment. Honing the skill of internal feedback relies heavily on the quality of the external feedback the trainer (or coach, or teacher) provides.
External feedback is provided by, you guessed it, external sources. It focuses on sharing knowledge of results and performance, addressing the outcomes and quality of the movement.
This can include verbally communicating to the client that they performed the move correctly, or where changes or adjustments need to be made. This can also include asking the client what they felt or noticed about their movement. But don’t inundate your client with too many corrections, keep focused on the most important corrections, especially when it comes to safety. As a client becomes more proficient at the movement, external feedback should be offered less frequently.
Visual cues, including mirrors, video or even pictures, are another form of external feedback. If videoing the client, make sure you have their permission and it is within the training facility’s guidelines since some gyms have strict no pictures or video rules. With the quality of smart phone recording technology this can be very quick and easy to do (to be a little less creepy, maybe ask to use the clients phone so they have possession of the video). Using mirrors can help clients see what factors they need to focus on, and use this real-time feedback (either with you present or when training on their own) to adjust their performance on the spot.
Touch, or tactile cues can also be used to help a client better understand what they should be doing. Before touching your client, you’ll want to ask permission and let them know what it is you plan to do. For example, when doing a lunge you can lightly touch the forward knee if it is tracking over the front foot, or if their knees cave in during a squat have them press their knees outward against your hands or tubing. Kinesiology tape could also be used as an external "touch" reminder.
Performance monitoring devices ranging from heart rate monitors, to accelerometers, to clothing studded with sensors and the endless array of wearables are also forms of external feedback.
What other ways can you help your client move correctly?
Breakdown the Movement
Sometimes exercises may need to be broken into parts or chunks that can be progressed or added on to (e.g., Turkish get-up, lunge with an overhead press, etc.) before they are all put together. This approach can also help identify the weak link in a movement and an opportunity to focus on the deficiency and fix it.
Adding motivational cues such as “great job” or “way to get through those reps” can help make the client feel confident and successful, even if it is only a small success on the path to movement mastery.
Don’t over practice poor technique. The goal is quality of movement over quantity of movement. You don’t want the poor technique to be what the body recognizes as the ideal movement.
What techniques have worked well for you and your clients?
Share in the comments section below!
Clark MA, Sutton BG, Lucett SC. (2014) NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 4th ed. rev. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
Karageorghis CI, Terry PC. (2011). Inside Sport Psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Kennedy-Armbruster C, Yoke M. (2014) Methods of Group Exercise, 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Yoke M. (2011) Personal Fitness Training: Theory and Practice, 2nd ed. Sherman Oaks, CA: Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.