There’s no easy way to start this article. I think putting a disclaimer will be a good idea. This article is not intended to diss the group of people I’m about to mention or vent out any frustration in working with them.
This group of clients are the most incredible teachers for coaches like me. So this article serves as a guide to someone new to training and very terrified to begin their training can work effectively with their coach and a coach’s reflection on how to best work with these people to achieve their goals.
I’ll call them The Fragile. I guess you start to understand why I put the disclaimer there. Nobody wants to be called “fragile,” right? Even if they are really “fragile.”
Before anyone gets offended, please let me explain why I am calling them The Fragile. Remember those packages that you receive with the FRAGILE sticker? It says, “Handle with care,” followed by some illustration of the glass cracking. There’s a similarity with this group of clients; their training journey might require more attention, more patience, and more care if you don’t want them to “break”. However, within that packaging, I found something valuable that was worth the effort—someone who will thoroughly enjoy the true benefit of strength.
The Fragile is typically nervous, and I can understand why. The Fragile have experienced certain discomforts, or even pain, for an extended time without much relief. The sources of the discomfort/pain can be because of a known issue to something non-specific.
The Fragile often has received a lot of help from many people – a clinician, a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, or even alternative medicine providers. Some have given them some amount of success in recovery and more often than not, temporarily. However, The Fragile is still looking for a more permanent solution, which is probably why they decided to give strength training a go.
The Fragile is relatively new to the concept of strength training while already indoctrinated by the concepts from the other help they received. The concept of strength training is scary, although they have heard from people close to them that it might help them.
I often hear this from them:
“Come on! Bending down to pick up some weights?! You know that I have a lot of issues with my back, right?”
“Are you sure that I can do this? This seems very heavy and I have issues with my *insert body part here*!
“My knees don’t feel very good today. Shall we skip the squats and go straight to the bench press?”
The Fragile vs. Strength Training
“Why should we do this movement? This seems dangerous for me.”
Let’s say that you have back issues. You feel pain almost daily. On the first day in the gym, your coach asks you to bend down and pick some weight off the floor. You might think that this guy contradicts everything you know and is crazy, but he’s NOT.
The cure for your weak back is a stronger back.
A stronger back is much harder to injure.
Or, as Rippetoe famously said, “Stronger people are harder to kill.”
And to have a stronger back, you need to impose training stress on the muscles in your back so that they gradually get stronger.
It’s fine to be nervous when you first start out. However, your coach should patiently teach you the movement and select a manageable weight for you.
The Fragile vs. Things That Might be Hard
“This seems too heavy for me.”
“It seems impossible for me to do it.”
“Can we not do it? It might cause me some pain tomorrow.”
Have you tried it before? Probably not. Why not give it a shot? It might be easier than what you think it is. In our experience, it’s usually ok and doesn’t cause any issues.
At times, we need to gather our confidence and try! So, let me introduce to you the ZERO EXPECTATION RULE! Let’s not say we can’t, or it’s too hard before trying. Instead, do it, and we will decide what to do next once it happens.
The Fragile vs. Pain
Pain is a tricky topic because it tends to be very personal. I might describe pain very differently from how you do. For example, if we were stung by the same bee at the same place, I might rate it an 8 while you rate it as 2 on the pain scale.
Sometimes pain persists despite training. Sometimes pain appears after a workout. And because of this, we are very alarmed and concerned whether we are doing anything “wrong.”
We tend to demonize pain. Pain is bad, right? Well, I’m not sure. I think pain is something normal. Everyone feels it in some capacity, although I’m sure that The Fragile might be much more sensitive in a specific area.
If you feel some discomfort after training, try to observe the trend of the pain. For example, does it continue to be worse session after session? Does it feel worse while doing certain things? Does it feel better after doing certain things? In my capacity as a coach, I can adjust the weight, remove a particular lift, or introduce other lifts that are more tolerable.
The best-case scenario is when the pain/discomforts start to dissipate after a few trainings/a few weeks. Most soft tissue injuries heal in 4-6 weeks. Your body’s architectural changes might also happen around the same time after the start of your training.
Sometimes the pain is there to stay; this is not uncommon for people that have experienced prolonged trauma. On the other hand, if the movement is tolerable and the discomfort doesn’t escalate, it’s probably worth trying to see the medium to the long-term effect of using that particular exercise.
There are also chances that pain gets worse. I tend to find a way to change it to other similar lifts. For example, I am changing from low bar squat to the high bar or even safety bar squat. On infrequent occasions, we can omit a lift and focus more effort on the other.
It’s also important as a coach, to be honest to their knowledge and scope. If something is beyond our wisdom and experience, it’s probably best to get help from others or refer people to another professional. Your coach shall do what’s best for your interest.
The Fragile vs. the Coach
I think that the best coach and the best client listen to one another and trust one another. The lifter and the coach are a team, and the team only works if both parties commit to each other.
I mentioned earlier that for The Fragile, their training journey might be much more complex than a typical client. It’s hard for The Fragile; thus, the Coach needs to facilitate the training to be as smooth as possible. Build The Fragile’s confidence, so they know they are not as fragile as they think they are and can achieve more than they think they’re able to.
The Fragile – to be handled with care
Thank you for teaching me this valuable lesson!