Squat Progression Timelines

On Monday I shared with you my current list of squat progressions that we use with our clients at Enhancing Life.

Today I’m going to give you as much context as possible to help you implement these progressions with whoever you work with. I’m going to take you through three different types of clients who we deal with. You’ll see that they all go through the same progression, but the way it’s explained is different and the amount of time they spend with each one will vary.

This is not a template for you to follow. This is for you to get the big picture, understand our principles, and implement these progressions depending on the client you’re working with.

At Enhancing Life, we don’t do any 1-on-1. We have group classes and semi-privates. Which means we always have multiple people at once needing to be coached.

That’s one reason behind the consistency of our progressions and the time spent on each one. The better we can set up our clients by nailing down the technique, the easier it is to progress them, and the more fun they are to program for.

If we did 1-on-1, we would probably progress people faster, and we would probably pick more complicated progressions since ONE client would have all our attention and we could continue to cue them until they got it right.

With multiple people at once, we’ve got less than a minute to show someone a new move and seconds to correct them after showing them. 

Before we dive into the timelines. Let’s talk about breathing. The hardest thing to get a client to buy into, right?

How are you going to convince them for the first two sessions they’re going to do an assisted ISO squat? How are you going to get them to buy into learning the basics without them asking you: “hey, when are we actually going to lift weights?!”

Here’s how:                              

1) Stop Making Assumptions

Are they really wondering “Hey, when are we actually going to lift weights?”

Are you assuming they don’t want to nail down the technique? Are you assuming they’re wondering when the KBs and barbells are getting pulled out? Are you putting all the pressure on yourself, thinking they’re wanting to be progressed after ONE session?

Just because one client said they didn’t want to learn the basics and “the breathing”, doesn’t mean they all feel that way. Just because the internet is telling you no one cares about function and everyone wants to get after it, doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of sessions to work on the basics.  

So, get rid of the assumptions.

Plus, if you have #2, they’ll definitely not be wondering when the loading is coming.

2) Nail Down the Execution

If your coaching is on point, after an assisted squat, they’ll be saying “Damn that’s hard. My quads are dying. My abs are dying. My glutes are dying”.

If you lack the coaching skills, they’ll feel nothing, and they might actually look at you like you’re wasting their time.

A well-executed 90/90, burns the hammies and abs.

A properly done assisted squat, crushes the legs.

The problem always comes down to a combination of 1) clients don’t take cues well 2) trainer can’t coach the client through new moves.

Just because it’s an exercise on the ground or an assisted activity, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, even experienced lifters get crushed with these activities.

The recent Bro Research Radio, Ryan, the biggest guy I know, mentioned how he got crushed doing one of the squats in our list of progressions.

If Ryan is getting smoked doing “low-level stuff”, just wonder how your general pop client who has no experience lifting will feel!

When coaches say they can’t get clients to buy into this type of training, I can’t help but wonder if they’re lacking the coaching skills that get clients to buy into it.

If you think that’s you, September 29th  in NY, Michelle Boland and I have a 100% hands on workshop you won’t want to miss out on. Don’t let your coaching skills hold you or your clients back!

3) Describe Your Training as a Skill

With any new skill, you must allow yourself to be a beginner. I will sometimes compare our training to rock climbing. It’s not uncommon to attend your first rock climbing class and spend the whole time working on hand and foot positions.

What sounds better?

“You can’t move well, so you have to work on the basics and learn these breathing exercises. That’s the only way we will allow you to add load to exercises” – Lucy in 2012


“These next two sessions you’re going to take the time to learn our cues, our lingo, optimal lifting technique…because strength training and lifting weights is a skill that requires you to master these basic positions. If you do this, you’re going to be extremely successful progressing through our program” Lucy in 2019

After I say something like the second quote, I will point out to a client lifting heavy weights or maybe show off a PR that is listed on our success board, where I show them their future. I show them the end product.

“Josh just deadlifted 300lbs, that will be you one day”

I failed at that in the past which is why I had push-back from clients not wanting to work on the small little details.

Explaining our training as a new skill, allows us to spend a few sessions working on the basics without them thinking they’re stuck working on the technique component to lifting forever.

If you want to get people to buy into the basics:

Stop making assumptions, better your coaching skills, and describe strength training as a service that requires you to learn a new skill.

Now let’s go through the timelines!

Client A:

Your regular general pop client who is fairly active outside of the gym. They’re not scared of the idea of lifting weights and they’re ready to get after it.

With these people, you have to remind them what your end goal for them is:

Lifting Weights

Give the first few exercises purpose by showing them the familiar positions and how those activities are preparing them to what they want to do which is, lift weights.

Show them how this:

And this:

Are the same positions as this:

Those visuals alone can give people the understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish and now the ISO squat hold serves a purpose and they know they’re not stuck there forever. They know they’ll get to the loading part soon.

(sidenote: the better your coaching skills, the faster they get to the loading part)

Here’s the timeline:

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 1-3 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Assisted Squat 1-3 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12 If they need the extra challenge but still struggle with keeping the right position, slow down the tempo to give them the burn.  
Loading Squat 4-8 weeks   Once load is introduced that is usually when we decide to write the new client a new program, and pick the first loading variation (goblet) and have them do it for 4-8 weeks.  

This means in 2-6 sessions; you could have someone squatting with load where the cuing needed is to a minimum! Like I said earlier, this isn’t a template to follow to a T. I just want you to get the big picture. Sometimes I’ve introduced movement to an ISO squat, and after one set I give them a KB and progress them to a goblet squat the same day.

Client B

Deconditioned client (perhaps in persistent pain) who is not very active outside of the gym. They’re scared of the gym and not really wanting to lift weights.

You know how with Client A you had to show them how the breathing exercises are the same as the lifting exercises.

You need to do the same with these people, but the words now have to change. You’re now using the breathing exercises to get them to feel safe with the loading exercises.

Keep in mind, they don’t seem themselves as capable of loading their body.

So with them, show them if they CAN do this without pain or flaring up:

And this:

They will for sure be able to do this because it’s all the same:

Consistency is key with these people, and if you can show them those visuals, they’ll feel way safer progressing when you ask them to hold a weight ?

Here’s the timeline:

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment                                                                                        This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 4-6 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Assisted Squat 4-6 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12  
Loading Squat 8-16 weeks   Once load is introduced that is usually when we decide to write the new client a new program, and pick the first loading variation (goblet) and have them do it for 4-8 weeks.  

It’s alllll the same, but you’ll notice the pace is a little slower. The big reason for that is because you’re trying to build safety around these positions and slowly conditioning their tissues. To you it might seem like they’re not doing much, but know that their tissue tolerance is WAY lower than a regular person. An ISO squat IS loading their tissues, so by progressing them a little slower than Client A, you’re meeting this kind of client where they’re at 🙂

Client C:

These people are JUST like client B but they’re not able to progress due to outside factors you’re not able to control or address right away.

That could be a therapist they’re seeing who promotes fear avoidance and fragility, their inability to trust your process, or ingrained maladaptive beliefs.

(I’ll be talking more about these people over the next three weeks!)

But they still must train, so what do you do?

Same as client B…try to use the breathing to get them to buy into the lifting but know that instead of progressing through the list I shared, you’ll have to add a few other squats variations before you start to progressively load.

That will help them feel the same positions in a different context and provide a little bit a novelty since they’re super restricted on what they can do.

Exercise Timeline: How Long Will a client do this?
90/90 Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment   This activity is added to their warm-up  
Rockback Introduced During the Orientation/Assessment                                                                                        This activity is added to their warm-up  
Assisted ISO Hold 4-6 sessions   This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.  
Wall Squat ISO Hold 4-6 sessions This exercise will be in their strength training part of their program. A client will usually do 3-4 sets of 5 breaths. Usually paired with some type of upper body lift and/or “core exercise”.
Assisted Squat 4-6 sessions   Once this activity takes the place of the ISO hold. Another or the same variation of the ISO squat will become part of the warm-up, and they will start adding movement to the strength training component of their program. The client’s program will usually stay the same, but the squat will just be progressed/modified on the sheet. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12  
Roller Squat 4-6 sessions Different context than the assisted squat but still unloaded. The sets and reps are around 3×8-12
Loading Squat By now, hopefully, you’ve gained enough trust to progress this client through loaded variations.

With this person, it might take 2-3 months before they’re progressively loading their squat. I know to you, as a fitness professional, that might sound crazy slow, but you have to put yourself in their shoes.

The deconditioned population in persistent pain who can’t seem to be able to do ANYTHING are the most misunderstood and underserved people in the industry. That’s why, over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking a lot about them and I hope you tune in because if you work with the regular general population, you can definitely work with these people too.

I hope this gives you an idea of how we progress people through squatting. Especially if you train multiple people at once and you want to keep the coaching quality as high as possible 🙂

Until next time


Our Current Squat Progressions

I had a long post on Deadlifts published few weeks ago where I talked about why I don’t introduce them right away.

Squats on the other hand, get introduced after 1-2 sessions. Today I’ll be sharing with you our current squat progressions that we use at Enhancing Life.

These progressions take you through four phases:

1) Phase One: Increasing movement option

The first three progressions are not technically squats. See these activities as exercises to help your clients gain access to motions that are required for someone to have a good looking squat.

One of the biggest issues you’ll see when people squat is, they’ll hinge back vs going straight down.

Hingy Squat:

Squatty Squat:

The first three progressions will help your clients tuck their hips, stack the rib cage on top of them, and maintain that position as they descend down (like the second picture above).

If your clients can’t do this or don’t have access to that motion, it doesn’t matter how many cues you use, or how many times you show them what to do, they won’t be able to do it.

Our current favorite activities to open up our client’s movement options are the following three moves:


90/90 Bridge

Rockback Breathing

2) Phase Two: Owning the Position

This stage will help your clients OWN the position you want them to maintain. No movement, just holding. For someone who is extremely unaware of their body and doesn’t take cues well (most of your clients), ISO holds are great to teach them how to own the position you’re wanting them to keep for when you progress and add movement to the lift.

This is perfect for group/semi-private training! You should be able to walk away from this exercise once you’ve put them in the position that’s desirable.

Assisted Squat Hold (Ramp)

(why elevate the heels??)

3) Phase Three: Adding Movement

Your job as a coach has never been easier. All you have to do now is add movement to the position they’ve already mastered by doing the ISO hold.

Assisted Squat (Ramp/to box)

4) Phase Four: Add Load

Can you imagine getting to loading a squat and all you have to do is “Hey, keep doing what you’ve been doing, but hold this weight” and that’s it!

I’m all about making my job easy, keeping the coaching quality high, AND being able to manage multiple people at once.

Goblet Squat (ramp/to box)

KB Front Squat (Ramp)

Zercher Squat (Ramp)

Safety Bar Squat (Ramp)

DB Squat on Ramp

TB Squat on Ramp

There you have it. Our current squat progressions at Enhancing Life.

What about all the ways clients will mess up?!

Wondering how to implement these progressions?!


Now let’s talk about your coaching skills, because if you’re not able to coach people through everything I shared with you, the execution will fall short, the results will not happen, and the client will not buy into your training.

Have you ever attended a seminar where they picked you as an exercise demo? For 5 minutes, you get to feel what it’s like to be coached by the instructor. You get to respond to their verbal and manual cues, which allows you to feel what your clients will need to feel.

Out of all the other attendees who didn’t get coached, you’ll be more successful getting your clients to execute that exercise correctly.

My online program lets me coach you on weekly basis for ONLY $150 a month!!!

CLICK HERE to enroll and start getting coached by me next week 🙂

Holding Off on Deadlifts

When I introduce a new movement/lift to a client, I don’t have time for them to struggle with it because I work with multiple people at once. I try to pick exercises that they will be able to do with confidence and little to no coaching.

In a semi-private setting, I have other people waiting for my coaching, which leaves me with less than a minute to show someone a new activity.

Because I don’t work in a private setting, I tend to hold off on deadlifts for the 1st month or so.

To give you more context: We train people who have never trained before (bad at taking cues), people who might fear to lift weights at first, and people in persistent pain who are very deconditioned (my target market).

Deadlifts are hard to get right.

If they don’t tuck enough, they’ll arch their back, if they tuck too much they’ll round. If they’ve never lifted before, they don’t know how to create tension in their abdominal area. They don’t know what it’s like to push their feet through the floor…the list of problems can go on and on.

Plus, the word “dead” is in deadlift.

There have been many instances during a consult or introductory session a new client will witness one of our current clients lifting heavy trap bars off the ground, and they tell me something along the lines of “I never want to do that!!!”

With these people, you run the chance of them feeling confused, threated and non-confident when you try to introduce a weighted hinge within the first few sessions. If they build a bad taste about deadlifts from the beginning, they’ll progress way slower than they’re capable of. And the goal is always steady progression.

This is especially true with persistent pain clients. They feel their low back during a deadlift and they’ve had back pain for 10 years. Their brain is on high alert. If they flare up the day after their first time trying it, good luck getting them comfortable progressing with that lift.

I want to remind you: Context Context Context! Of course, not everyone is like this. Last month we had a brand-new client start with us and within one month, she was deadlifting, squatting, and doing kettlebell swings.

If someone comes in with a small lifting background and not scared of weights and they take cues well, we introduce things way sooner.

But since most people don’t take cues well, we train multiple people at once, work with those who are scared, or ones who are super deconditioned, I save myself the struggle and hold off on hinging until I think they’re ready to handle all the instructions to do one correctly.  

That sets ME up for success, but most importantly, it sets the client up for success.

How do I know they’re ready?

Glad you asked ?

Think of this as giving your clients the ingredients for a deadlift so when the time comes, it takes minimal to zero coaching.

1) Restoring Motion at the Hip and Thorax During the Initial Month

In order for your client to execute a good-looking deadlift, certain motions at the hip and thorax are required. People who lack certain motions will struggle from keeping their deadlift looking like a banana or their inability to sit back and only round the shit out of their spine.

All of those positions above are undesirable.

Instead of thinking it’s your inability to coach it correctly, or your client’s ability to understand what you want them to accomplish, It might be that they don’t have access to the motions you’re wanting them to perform.

To free up your client’s movement, here are my top few moves that I will go into deeper detail explaining the “WHY” behind them over the next few weeks.

For now, practice coaching them. We’ll dive deeper later on 😉

These exercises are great for warm-ups and homework for the clients that like do thing things at home. (yes, those clients do exist).

Once you go through these activities, you’ll notice the cues are very similar. Exhale, reach, and tuck.

But what if someone seems like they need to do the opposite? What if someone is super rounded on the deadlift??

You want to keep in mind, you can’t use your eyes to assess what the client needs when deadlifting. Take Carden for example. It looks like he needs to extend and get his chest to the KB. Carden has deadlifted a little over handful of times.

Carden went through 90/90 Bridge and Elevated Bench Rockback (shared above)

Can you see a small difference? on the left from the first video he seemed to round a little too much. Second he was able to sink back into his hips more and round less through his low back. Nothing to write home about, but it’s a good change!

Here’s a video of a simple way I explain to students on why they can’t use their eyes to assess what a client needs:

 2) Being Able to Push Through the Floor

I got a lot of cues by my employers when I first started out. One of those cues when coaching a squat or deadlift was “Push your feet through the floor”.

Since clients had no problem telling me when I didn’t make sense, I would always get the confused look and a “I have no idea what you mean by that” when I’d cue it.

Because of that, I started introducing that concept early on in someone’s training when we’re doing basic activities on the ground. It seems to help them understand what I mean by “pushing yourself through the floor”, which is a great thing to think about when you’re starting to lift heavier weight off the ground.

Glute bridge hold is a good exercise to start introducing that concept:

3) Create Tension in a “neutral” Position

I hate this term because most people say good posture = having a neutral spine. I’ve gotten away from that thought process, but I still think it’s important for clients to be able to lift with not arching too much and by not rounding too much, and I can’t think of a simpler term to use than “neutral looking spine”.

Which I know there’s no such thing as neutral, you don’t have to write that in the comments (yes, talking to you, Zac), but can we all agree that you don’t want deadlifts looking like this….

Or like this….

And we want them more like this….

Plus, if you share clients with someone, don’t you want to have somewhat of an agreement of what a good deadlift looks like. We all have to come up with our own standards, and my standards are:

A deadlift needs to look somewhat like this:

Where they’re maintaining a “neutral looking spine” throughout the entire lift.

Top position



You and I both know people struggle with this. They’re not aware of their body and to ask them to keep their trunk looking like this as they’re focusing on 5 different things at once. Pushing hips back, keep whole foot contact, not shrugging, keeping head with spine, knees slightly bent…you’re asking for a lot.

That’s why, by the time I teach someone how to deadlift, exhaling, tensing up their “core”, has already been ingrained in their movement skillset and close to second nature.

Here are a few activities that can be put in someone’s program prior to deadlifts:

Tall and Half Kneeling Band Pull-over breathing are GREAT ways to teach someone an optimal position:

Here are a few other ways you can teach your clients to create tension:

4) Confidence in Your Ability to Keep Them Safe

If I have a client who was super scared to lift and it’s been 4-8 weeks and I haven’t hurt them yet. Chances are, they trust me. Their trust means a lot when I tell them they’re capable of lifting that 50lb KB off the ground.

If they trust me, they too will believe they can pick up the 50lbs KB off the ground.

Trust will be a long way with persistent pain.

A few years ago I worked with a lady that would “hurt” herself each time she didn’t train with me. To the point where she cried if I wasn’t there. Since I knew nothing about pain at the time, I thought my colleges and employer were not paying attention and let her do things wrong. Now I think she trusted me so much, that if I was watching her, she thought she was doing it right. Which isn’t a good thing for a client to develop a dependency on you like that, but it does go to show how much trust plays into a client’s ability to do something.

Wait….so what about squats???

I don’t deadlift people right away but I will squat people on day 1 or 2.

Squats are easy because you can start with an ISO squat hold, which makes it easy to coach. Plus, if a client over tucks a little bit, I’m cool with it. With deadlifts, I don’t want people rounding too much.

Here are a few variations I start people with:

(I don’t cue hands together anymore)

If someone nails these down, adding movement to the lift is a piece of cake 🙂

A strong squat will also prepare someone for a successful deadlift when you decide it’s the right time to introduce it.

I hope all of that was helpful. Will be diving deeper into movement and whats required for your clients to move well over the following weeks 🙂

Until next time!


A Shift in Sports Performance

By Michelle Boland, PhD, CSCS

There’s a huge lack of awareness of what individuals in the fitness and performance industry are capable of doing and can do. Fitness professionals are the most important practitioners in the health care system but can be the most overlooked. My first few years working in the sports performance field, I often got the question: “Why are you a strength and conditioning coach disappointed tone)?” That question always bothered me as it came with assumptions: that I was too good for the job, that strength and conditioning is attached to a stigma of higher education being unnecessary, the career is viewed as a fall back for people who like to exercise, or that I should be doing something more important. I am uncomfortable with all those assumptions.

There are great minds in the fitness and performance industry who just happen to have a passion for training. Those minds are also not myopic, they are creating a paradigm shift in the fitness and performance industry. I am lucky enough to work with some of those individuals who blow me away every day with their level of knowledge and PURSUIT of knowledge. I will be referring to sports performance from a context focused on collegiate athletics, but inferences can be made throughout the fitness industry and the general population. The grand unified theory that I will be discussing is a theory that can be used to shift our performance training paradigm. We are going to raise the bar of what is possible and what we are doing with athletes and clients.

I recently returned from Dr. Ben House’s Functional Medicine Retreat in Costa Rica; Yes, a strength and conditioning coach attended a functional medicine retreat, this is the paradigm shift. One of the presenters was Dr. Bryan Walsh who provided this great analogy: A plant needs 2 things, water and sun. However, the soil it is in dictates how well the plant will respond to the water and sun. Well, humans are the same way. Our physiology is what dictates how well human’s will respond to diet and exercise. As a sports performance coach we need to apply our knowledge and PURSUE knowledge on human physiology in order for athletes to get the most out of training in relation to the outcome of performance.

What is Sports Performance?

We like to make things simple: If I program hang cleans, the athlete will develop the quality of power and perform their sport better. I can even objectively measure whether that athlete is improving in the hang clean exercise by testing. Boom. It’s as easy as that, right? But they play ice hockey, so how do I measure if getting better at the hang clean is making them a better ice hockey player? That’s a good question. I test their skating speed? Boom. Done. So, their ability to hang clean more weight and skate goal line to goal line in a quiet arena with about 10 people watching, no puck in play, and no stakes involved, is an indicator of game performance?

Performance is complex and multi-factorial and my job should be complex and multi-factorial. We are going to have to consider all aspects of performance which is governed by a complex interaction of variables: Task, Organism, and Environment. Performance improvement needs to consider EXPOSURE to elements of these variables and address CONSTRAINTS within these variables.

The specific task being performed is related to the goal of the task and the rules governing the task. The task can include shooting (skill specific) or it can involve an exercise during training; in all accounts it needs to be accomplished within the rules and be related to a goal. The goal of shooting is to put the puck in the net to score points (consistently AND WITH INTENT) and the goal of an exercise is to acquire a training quality with the idea of translating into performance.

How can we incorporate this into training? Manipulate the task (exercise) by setting rules and the completion of the rules accomplishes the goal (exercise). For example, the Kettlebell Deadlift can be accomplished by setting rules: start and end with the KB on a line, stand with midfoot on the line (shout out to Dan Sanzo). We can also educate athletes on the task in its relation to sport performance, which will improve intent.

In relation to performance, the sport itself involves rules, pace, and skills which all need to be specifically trained related to specific game exposure. Specific exposure involves incorporating all variables to the highest intensity or closest to game experience. An example would be creating competition within the specific environment of play, with the same people, with similar rules, with similar movements, and under similar pressures.

In relation to a team setting create competition days within the weight room and consistent testing to expose them to challenge (understanding what a ‘10’ feels like on a scale of 1-10 is a valuable tool). During high intensity practice days, practice at the highest intensity mimicking the game. Our job is to provide exposure to create adaptation and influence outcome.

The environment is what is acting on the system. It is the location of the contest, noise, crowd, weather conditions, and stakes of the competition. It is elements that effect the organism/player which can even include social relationships. Does the athlete respect/like the coach? Did they get into a fight with their significant other before the game? Do they respect their teammates?

Environment also includes the food available to the athlete. Coaches usually harp on athletes about their diet and body composition but rarely connect their actions to their goals. The environment we are creating for that athlete to succeed should do just that, help them succeed. The habits and routines that we want them to have should be facilitated through education, priority setting, and resources available. If you actually care about nutrition and you WANT your athletes to care, why are we creating an environment that provides pizza as a post-game meal? Does that action align with your goals? Is that creating and environment for that athlete to succeed?

The organism category is the player. This incorporates sports psychology, exercise physiology, and biomechanics. The role of the sports performance coach is usually boxed into the silo of biomechanics and physiology. We assess movement and fitness in order to develop exercise programs that will improve the qualities tested (at least that’s the goal). We want to create structural (ex. increase number of mitochondria) and functional (ex. decrease mile time) adaptations. This is where WE thrive. We can sit at a computer for hours and create complex rep schemes and program design. It’s what we love. But the athlete can easily sabotage your program by wrecking it with outside factors.

Show awareness that other factors exist besides your block periodization plan. Don’t take things too personally when an athlete comes in and isn’t excited to do your epic 5-3-1 rep scheme that day. Maybe they just failed an exam, were up until 2am studying, found out that their parents are getting a divorce, just broke up with their significant other. Maybe they perceive you as a jerk and don’t want to do your program. CREATE A WELCOMING TRAINING ENVIRONMENT AND TRY TO BE A GOOD PERSON. Performance needs to factor in all aspects of stress load, exposure, and avenues of interventions because they all matter. The whole matters, not just the parts. A HUGE part is psychological.

We need to create an environment where people can express their struggles and emotions. We currently live in a world full of superficial relationships with social media friendships. We shouldn’t play therapist but we should create an environment that encourages dialogue and communication where people can understand each other and express themselves. Having a sport psychologist referral is a way to incorporate an interdisciplinary collaboration. If you want to learn more about this or understand how it effects everyone, even professional athletes please read this article by Kevin Love titled “Everyone is going through something.” 

Sport performance coaches should explore knowledge of how psychological, physiological, biomechanical (Human), and environmental (Environment) factors interact with the performance outcome/result (Task/goal). We should respect the dynamic nature of constraints and their respective contribution to performance at any given time (Glazier, 2017).

Reducing the number of constraints within each category/component can improve the number of possible configurations that a complex system can adopt in respects to contribution to performance (collective output). Constraints within these variables/categories can create limitations and barriers (ex. fatigue, anxiety) Small-scale changes may have a large-scale impact. A component of this would be to consider actions that are excluded by constraints compared to actions that are caused by the constraint.

How do we do this?

Create a holistic/interdisciplinary approach to performance:

Steps for a better outcome as a fitness or performance coach:

  1. Create a team of referrals and professionals. We need to break down the silos (Glazier, 2017). We need to create an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to sports performance. Find local physical therapists that you trust to deal with pain, find a local psychologist, and find a local sport nutritionist. Talk to the people you surround yourself with and learn about their areas so you can speak the same language. You will lose by-in and confidence if you speak negatively about other professionals or if the athlete is hearing different opinions.

Environment: Holistic Approach:

 Provide them with the tools to succeed outside of exercise; with the illusion that they have knowledge of the exercise they are participating in. Seriously though. Are athletes leaving with an understanding of how to exercise when they leave college? Do they know how exercise improves health? Do they have a baseline knowledge about exercise and health?

  • We often lose sight of how the other 22-23 hours in a day outside of the gym can influence performance and health.
  • Provide them with education and an understanding about how sleep, nutrition (micronutrient and macronutrients), stress, and gut health (yes, we have conversations about the microbiome and probiotics) which can all have an enormous effect on performance and health.
  1. Open communication and provide resources about social connections (interactions with other players), intentions, skills for crucial conversations, and creating a successful environment.
    • Consider both inter-individual and intra-personal relationships
    • Environment breads quality of life and genetic expression
    • Have conversations about who they associated themselves with: Do the people they surround themselves with support the process of accomplishing their goals or do they do the opposite?
  1. Set an example of behavior/habits.
    • Ultimately you need to work on yourself before you can help or attend to others.
    • EXPRESS GRATITUDE. Gratitude is the opposite of threat so create an unthreatening environment in which athletes genuinely know that their work is appreciated. (Learned this from Dan Sanzo).

Organism: Create opportunities to make better people

  1. Provide opportunity to develop as athletes as people. Instead of complaining that an athlete is immature or misbehaving, that can be an opportunity for a life lesson. Show that you care outside of how much weight they can lift.
    • Create a process driven environment instead of a goal driven environment (shout out to Kyle Dobbs).
    • Attending college should not just be a time to chase a degree or grades in the hope of getting a job. College is about learning to understand who you are and who you want to be. Students and athletes often become lost after graduation when they lose their identity as a student or athlete.

Task: Choice of Training Modalities: Train them HARD and SMART:

  1. Provide challenge and exposure. Challenge athletes personally and physically. Provide athletes with fitness and challenge so they can physically increase the body’s ability to cope with the physical stress of their sport. Challenge them mentally by creating competition and make them think. Challenge them with accountability and standards.
  • We should understand that there is more than getting athletes to increase their max deadlift weight. There are consequences to training (especially myopic training), which implies both positive and negative results. Increasing an athlete’s deadlift max may reduce their performance on the field. Performance enhancement is complex and multi-factorial. The important thing is how the athlete plays their sport.


 The Grand Unified Theory was originally introduced by Newell (1986). In order to accomplish a performance outcome we need to consider how organism, task, and environment interact to influence behavior (coordination and control). Constraints within these categories provide boundaries and limitations that reduce the number of coordinative configurations (options) and create compensations that impact behavioral output. A limitation to performance can be anxiety. Lack of exposure to any of these variables can create anxiety due to lack of control. Anxiety as an emotion can physically manifest shifting from an external to internal focus of attention.

We also can take away from this theory that there are no absolutes. Sports performance can and should incorporate a wide variety of knowledge and the PURSUIT of knowledge. If you do what you have always done, you will be what you’ve always been. Explore not just the what but explain how and why it happens. We need to start rewriting what our industry is rather than letting people define what our field is. There is no such thing as having all the answers but change happens when we ask the right questions and pursue the answers…


Glazier, P.S. (2017). Towards a Grand Unified Theory of Sports Performance. Human Movement Science, 56, 139-156.

Newell, K.M. (1986). Constraints on the development of coordination. In M.G. Wade & H.T.A Whiting (Eds), Motor development in children: Aspects of coordination and control, 341-360.