The short answer is yes, you do.
Even more so if you are trying to be a better athlete.
However, writing long answers with explanations is a little embarrassing. I don’t want this article to sound like, “here are 100 reasons why you should hire me”.
It would be a little easier to angle this conversation about how I benefited from having a coach during different stages of my own training.
Throughout my seven years of strength training, I have spent most of them being coached by Shaun and then by the other coaches linked and not linked with Starting Strength.
I can testify that I had greater success as an athlete at every stage while being coached despite having the skill to do otherwise.
Let’s start from the very beginning!
Coach as a teacher
If you want to pay someone to teach you something and get the best bang for buck, do it when you are just starting out.
When you hire a coach as a beginner, you are practically hiring a teacher. And from your teacher, you should expect two outcomes:
1. Grasping the concept as quickly as you can, and
2. Ability to put the concepts into practice
Some people would ask,” Why spend money to learn? Nowadays, information is widely available on the internet and can be found mostly free”.
Yes, you can! For example, just do a quick search on how to squat on YouTube. You’ll be served up a plethora of videos on the same topic with differing opinions.
Unfortunately, the vastness of information available can be a double-edged sword. I imagine myself being like a toddler who has yet to possess the ability to distinguish good from bad and urgent from non-urgent.
A good coach will filter all the noise and give you explicit instructions that will benefit your current situation. A good coach saves wasted effort and immediately moves you in the right direction.
At this stage, expect a lot of operational-level feedback from your coach. Comments on your form, on the jumps between warm-ups, and also on the adequate amount of rest between sets. During this time, ask all the questions that will ensure that you can train independently the next week if your coach suddenly falls sick.
Your coach saves you from yourself.
I remember being obsessed with keeping my weight under 60kg for my first competition. I thought I wanted to be “competitive” in that weight class. So I started to eat a little less, holding myself below the 60kg mark. As a result, I began missing lifts. Shaun noticed something was not right and asked. He very politely explained this would not matter in the long run, and I should capitalize on getting stronger when it’s still easy to be stronger.
Sometimes we are being unreasonable to ourselves.
Sometimes we are too fixated on things that don’t matter much in the long run.
Sometimes we are too excited when we begin a new journey.
A good coach will put you in the proper perspective.
Having a coach when you are already an independent lifter
Now you are on the next stage. You have a consistent form, and you understand basic programming to get you running for a little bit. There is still benefit to having someone to coach you. At this time, the coach’s role will be different from that of a teacher. Here are some new roles that your coach will assume.
Your coach is your tactician, and then your consultant
Ellie has been developing into a better coach over her three months of interning with us. However, this story is about Ellie as a lifter. Ellie is an early intermediate lifter. Sometimes, she would ask questions about her training and look for suggestions for solving her problems. First, she would ask Shaun and then compare notes by asking me.
Ellie is not alone; I experienced the same thing a few years ago. Many intermediate lifters are often caught in situations where decisions are to be made, but they do not have enough experience to tell them which variable to adjust. At this stage, you should hire a coach to be your tactician. An experienced coach recognizes patterns and can devise strategies within the boundary of the problem.
Having a coach at this stage can also help you become a better problem solver. If you are observant, you will notice patterns in how your coach responds to a specific problem. Sometimes you can almost read your coach’s mind. Before you know it, you are not passively waiting for answers. Instead, two brains are discussing how to best strategize for what is coming.
Your coach is your commander (and you are a soldier)
Shaun asked me a few weeks ago, at what stage would I consider programming myself instead of being coached?
I answered him that I would always want to have a coach.
Having a coach allows me to focus on my role as an athlete.
I don’t see myself as lazy, but being lenient is easier when you are not accountable to anyone.
Will I pity myself and drop one set because it’s too hard on that day? Will I skip the accessories because it’s “not as important”? Will I make compromises because it will only affect my progress and no one else?
A soldier reports to his commander. That’s how I see myself when training; a soldier doing a task for his commander.
Am I happy with the ridiculous numbers of volume that my coach gives? No.
But do I have a choice?
In the end, what matters is consistency. And accountability helps with consistency.
Your coach is your “partner”
Remember the story when Shaun told me I should stop worrying about making weight for my first competition? If I could turn back time and repeat that moment, I could only wish that Shaun had hit me with a sharper arrow and probably slapped me a little bit harder.
I knew he wouldn’t do that because I was very new in the gym, and he always did his part to be professional and polite to all clients. If this silly thing happens right now, I am sure he will f**k me for that. I don’t need to be told politely about my mistakes; speak plainly, and I will appreciate it more.
Having a long-term relationship with your coach allows more chances for both parties to understand each other and effectively communicate.
I have coached Dr. Rahalkar since 2018. He knows that training consistency has been his primary hindrance to making long term progress. I can’t blame him; his job is saving lives in Singapore’s biggest hospital, working all kinds of shifts. But sometimes, when you haven’t been consistent at something, you lose momentum and become fall off the wagon.
On earlier days, I would text him to check how’s work had been or if everything had been alright. But nowadays, the text has been more straightforward after years of working together.
“Hi, Doc! Time to come back to the gym. Give me your schedule.”
And on some early morning sessions, I just know that I need to check with him 45 minutes before to ensure he’s awake and on the way.
When your coach knows you better and cares, they will do whatever they can to help. A good coach is as invested as you and sometimes more.
A wise client told me that finding a coach is almost like dating; you need to find someone that matches you. And when you find them, keep them, because it’s going to be a long journey.