A powerlifting coach can help improve technique; develop long-term, individualized programming, provide mental skills and strategies, and assist with competition preparation. The purpose of getting a powerlifting coach is so that they can take you further in the sport compared with what you could do on your own.
So how do you pick a powerlifting coach? Before starting with a powerlifting coach, you should have an understanding of their coaching philosophy/background, how they run their coaching practice, who they have worked with previously, and the type of service you’ll get when you hire them.
This article will explain everything you need to know before choosing a powerlifting coach. Let’s get started!
Background: Powerlifting & Online Coaching
Powerlifting coaches need to know how sport science principles, such as anatomy, biomechanics, programming, and physiology, apply to increasing max strength for the squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Is it easy to find someone with this specialized knowledge?
Not really. Let me explain.
The majority of people aren’t interested in maximally training their squat, bench press, and deadlift for the sake of increasing their 1-rep max. As such, trainers in your local gym are generalists who work with clients on broad ‘weight loss’ or ‘muscle gain’ goals.
For that reason, many aspiring powerlifters turn to powerlifting coaches who operate remotely.
This is referred to as “online coaching”.
Online coaching is the practice of working with your coach via Skype, email, and using other online tools. Coaches deliver your program typically using Excel documents, and ask for video footage of your lifts to know how to tweak the program and provide technical advice.
Online coaching is beneficial for both athletes and coaches. For athletes, they’re able to hire someone outside of their local area that has the skill-set necessary to improve their powerlifting abilities. For coaches, they’re able to scale a full-time powerlifting coaching business without relying on the handful of clients that may be powerlifters in their local area.
When deciding to pick a powerlifting coach, you’ll often be choosing between various online coaches, not in-person coaches.
Picking A Powerlifting Coach: What Questions Should You Ask?
I surveyed my Instagram audience (@everydayavi) to find out what questions athletes wished they would have asked before hiring their powerlifting coach.
There were 4 general themes that questions related to:
- Coaching philosophy, education background, values, and experience
- How they run their coaching practice
- What does their athlete pedigree look like
- What services and/or deliverables are expected after hiring them
Let’s dive into what you need to know about each of these areas.
Does the person have experience in the sport as either an athlete or coach?
At the basic level, you want to know whether the person you’re going to hire has a history within the sport of powerlifting. This could either be as an athlete who has achieved some level of success, as a coach working with variety of powerlifting clients, or both.
It may not be as important to you whether they have a significant coaching background, as long as they’ve had extensive experience as an athlete in the sport. Regardless, what you should understand is their coaching philosophy. This is a statement of their goals and beliefs about how powerlifting coaching should be done. If a coaching philosophy can’t be clearly communicated to you, then they likely haven’t thought critically about how to best serve athletes in their pursuit of strength.
Does the person have a formal education related to coaching, sport science, or similar?
In terms of formal education, I strongly recommend you consider hiring someone that is trained in sport science.
A formal education is not necessary to coach powerlifting, and you’ll certainly find examples of successful coaches who don’t have credentials behind their names. However, the coaches that do can generally explain the ‘whys’ behind the overall training process more effectively. If it’s important for you to understand why you’re doing something, and to be learning more about how the body works and adapts to training, then an educated professional would likely provide a better coaching experience.
Furthermore, one athlete I talked with said they hired their coach to help solve “training problems”, which was in reference to some long-standing injuries and plateaus in strength. A coach that has a formal education can approach training problems from a scientific perspective, and can structure training experiments to overcome these issues.
Does the person have similar values?
From a values perspective, you’ll want to pick a coach that shares similar values to you. If you value honesty, then you’ll want to find a coach that isn’t afraid to critique your form or tell you when you’re doing something wrong. If you value empathy, then you’ll want to find a coach that has superior emotional intelligence and demonstrates compassion. If you value structure, then you’ll want to find a coach that is highly detail-oriented and organized. If you value humility, then you’ll want to find a coach that cares more about your success than their own, and can admit when they’re wrong.
It’s hard to evaluate a coach’s values, but getting to know them over time outside of the coach-athlete relationship can be helpful. For example, seeing how they carry themselves on social media, or how they interact with others at a powerlifting competition. You can also do a coach interview to ask any specific questions you have before hiring them, or talk with athletes who are already working with them to hear their perspective.
When you hire a personal trainer at a gym, the gym likely provided some training to the coach around how to manage their clients within the gym’s set of best practices.
In the online coaching world, there are no established ‘best practices’. This is because most online coaches are running their own businesses, and are figuring out their own systems and practices from scratch. As a result, you can have widely different experiences based on who you hire and how capable they are at running their own coaching practice.
What you want to get a sense of before hiring a powerlifting coach is whether they have a good system for managing their athletes.
Some of the things you’re trying to screen for are:
- Is there a high degree of professionalism?
For example, does the coach have an established website with a bio and contact form? Does the coach respond quickly to communication with proper email etiquette? Does the coach seem ‘pushy’ for a sale or do they appear interested in helping you? Does the coach seem invested in their career or is it a side gig? Does the coach work with a team of other professionals such as physios and nutritionists to better serve the athlete?
- Is there a process for tracking/monitoring training, ‘checking in’ with the coach, and providing individualized instruction?
For example, how often will you receive new training programs (weekly, monthly, etc.)? Does the coach update training based on emerging trends, data, and feedback? Does the coach have regular intervals where you can check in with them? If so, what is the format for those check-ins? Is the coach willing to create programming around specific individual differences or issues (injuries, work schedule, goals, personal preferences)?
- Are there clear expectations for what the coach is responsible for and what the athlete is responsible for?
For example, does the coach clearly explain what you need to do in order for the coach to do their job properly? Does the coach explain what you can expect from them in terms of communication, feedback, and programming?
Some of these things may be more important than others to you. For example, you might not care so much that a coach has a website, so long as they can clearly explain how the programming will be individualized to your specific needs. It’s up to you to decide what’s important, and what can be overlooked.
A coaches’ success should be measured by their athletes’ success. When hiring a powerlifting coach, you should have some understanding of the athletes they have coached previously.
There are five factors to consider when evaluating a coach’s athlete pedigree:
- What level within powerlifting have athletes achieved?
This is probably the least important of the evaluation criteria, but it’s important to consider nonetheless. What you’re trying to understand is how far the coach has taken their athletes within the sport. Have they only coached local athletes? Or have they shows they can progress an athlete from the local level to the National level?
If you eventually want to progress in the sport and compete at higher levels, then I would find a coach that has that level of experience. Alternatively, you could start with one coach, and then change coaches when you feel you need a more experienced coach.
- What is the mix of the athletes across each level of powerlifting?
What you want to know is how many athletes does the coach work with that compete at the local level versus state/provincial level versus national level? Rather than having a coach who only works with national-level athletes, for example, I think it’s important to have a coach that understands the needs and requirements of athletes competing at various levels.
This is particularly important if you’re a beginner athlete becauses if you only worked with a coach who coaches national-level athletes, then I’d be worried they’ve forgotten what it’s like to compete for the first time. You want someone who is sensitive to your ability level and makes you feel comfortable when asking ‘newbie’ questions.
- Has the coach taken a great athlete and made them better?
One of the hardest things to do as a coach is to take an already great athlete, someone who already has a high total, and make them better. If you’ve found a coach that has a record of doing this, then I would consider them to be a special coach, someone who can ‘think outside the box’, apply a broad number of sport science concepts, and solve difficult training issues. Another example of this is when a coach starts working with an athlete who has plateaued their strength for the past 1-2 years, and has been able to add kilos to their total.
- Has the coach worked with someone who is similar to you?
This is a critically important question to answer because it’s the most definitive way to know whether you’ll be able to get results by working with the coach. Obviously, the results are not guaranteed. But if you know a coach has worked within a similar training context, then it’s proof that their knowledge and experience has provided successful outcomes in the past. For example, if you’re a 62 year old female who wants to compete in powerlifting for the first-time, does the coach have a track record of working with master-level female athletes at the local level?
- How long has their athletes been working with the coach?
If a coach has a high attrition rate, then this could be a sign that the coach may not provide a high-quality service, or that there’s some issue with the coaching process outside the skill of the coach. Of course there are natural situations where athletes leave coaches, but what you’re trying to avoid is a coach who hasn’t developed a long-term relationship with most of their athletes. If athletes are sticking with their coach, it means their needs are likely being satisfied and they’re continuing to get stronger over time.
If you use this criteria, you’ll notice that you don’t simply want to hire a coach that has worked with ‘superstar’ athletes. While they may be amazing coaches, they might not be the right coach for you, and the stage of your lifting.
One of the main reasons why athletes are disappointed in their coach is that they didn’t have a clear understanding of what they were getting from a service-level delivery standpoint before starting. It’s important to know what you can expect from the coach after hiring them. There should be some regular deliverables from the coach, and an expectation of when you can receive them.
Your coach should deliver your program based on some level of frequency. This is usually determined by the training cycle length. However, most coaches will either deliver programming on a weekly or monthly basis.
For example, if your program is sent on a weekly basis, then what day and time will it be received? This is important because if you plan to train Sunday afternoons, and you don’t have your program for Sunday morning, then you’ll be left without a workout for that particular training day.
Furthermore, when your program is sent, will it come with instructions, video demos, a list of expectations? The details will vary coach to coach, but should be understood ahead of time.
Feedback & Communication
Your coach should be providing some level of feedback related to your training. Want you want to understand is the form the feedback will take and what it includes.
For example, are you receiving written feedback via email or will you be having Skype calls with your coach? Additionally, what type of feedback will your coach provide? Some coaches will provide feedback on technique based on training videos. Other coaches will provide feedback on emotional and psychological support.
Additionally, you should know what to expect in terms of frequency of communication? Does your coach offer 24/7 contact, or are there boundaries around when you can contact them?
Game Day Coaching
Your coach may or may not provide game day coaching along with their base services. For some coaches, when you hire them, their game day coaching services are included. However, for other coaches, game day coaching is an additional service depending on the nature of the competition.
Just like game day coaching, some coaches may or may not include nutritional coaching into their base services. Nutritional coaching may be extra, or it may not be included at all.
Picking a powerlifting coach should be a thoughtful decision that is based on a set of criteria and specific questions. You shouldn’t hire the coach with the largest social media following, or someone who is the strongest person in your weight class. Instead, consider their coaching philosophy/background, how they run their coaching practice, who they have worked with previously, and the type of service you’ll get when you hire them.
Feature image from @everydayavi Instagram page.