“Are You Open to Suggestion?”

For the most part, we all want to do things right, to do a good job, and to be recognized for it.  Success feels better than failure, and often an even better feeling is when others acknowledge our accomplishments.  Of course, what feels good is not always what makes us better.  The territory just this side of success, the place occupied by incomplete and failed attempts, is usually the most fertile ground for growth and improvement.  Good coaches and mentors know how to work this soil.

One of the things that is most striking to me about the coaches at Fivex3 is the degree to which they are silent, especially when we’re working.  Once a trainee gets past the initial instructional phase in which they are taught lift form as detailed by the Starting Strength program, a stage at which consistent and constant feedback is provided, the coaches then move to a mainly observational role.  I came to Emily from a setting in which several trainer friends were generously helping me learn lifts.  There are many slight variations in set-up, form, and cuing for lifts, (check any two articles on T-nation about the same lift), so it’s not surprising that my friends’ language and feedback did not always match each others’.  Add to that the fact that most of them were helping me out in their spare time, so my opportunities to learn from them and to process their instructions were sporadic at best.  I felt like I was conflating their cues and confusing myself in the process.  That’s when I started working with Emily, and once she taught me the language and specifics of form the way they are instructed at Fivex3, she moved to a more silent style of coaching, and while I was initially looking for a constant stream of feedback as I moved through my lifts, I’ve come to really appreciate the quiet.

If the coaches at Fivex3 are silent during your working set, that means you’re doing it right.  For the most part, you only hear from them while you’re working when you need to make a correction.  When my head is too focused on the press that I forget the rest of my body, I hear “Legs”, and I’ll remember to dig in, to utilize the strength in my entire system.  When my squat feels unexpectedly heavy in the middle of a set, I hear “Hips”, and I’ll realize my torso angle has shifted slightly and that I need to readjust and drive up with my ass.  When my lift feels pretty good and the weight moves efficiently, I hear nothing.

When I’m finished my working set, the coaches will discuss each rep to my heart’s content, answering questions about what looked good and where I need to make changes.  They do this with each trainee, helping us figure out what wasn’t quite right, why we struggled or didn’t make our last rep, because in deconstructing our struggles and failures, we learn how to be more successful.  learning-from-failure-posters

I’ve noticed that outside of the weight room, we are not always as receptive to suggestions for improvement; often we react defensively, hearing other people’s comments as an attack and dismissing others as being nosey or ill-informed.  Sometimes that’s true.  Sometimes people aren’t actually meaning to offer constructive criticism; sometimes they just want to criticize.  For this reason, my father-in-law always prefaces his comments with a question: “Are you open to suggestion?”  If the answer is no, even if it’s a struggle, he keeps it buttoned up.  I’m sure we’ve all been on both sides of that exchange; sometimes we are the one unwillingly being made to listen, sometimes we play the “expert” who seems to know best.  In either case, often there is a level of insecurity and ego involved; in the first instance on our part, and in the second on the part of the one attempting to appear the expert at our expense.  Insecurity and ego are interconnected.

I have learned that this blend of insecurity and arrogance has to get checked at the door, before entering the weight room.  It’s not just a matter of missing out on opportunities for improvement; insecurity and arrogance can get you injured.  My coaches are concerned with both my safety and my gains.  They are training me to hear their cues in my own mind, to find the affirmation I’m looking for internally, not from the voices coming at me from the outside.  They are training me to have confidence in my own work and to maintain a willingness to accept corrections for improvement.  That kind of training is essential to finding success, and it does not just apply in the weight room.

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