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3 Lessons From Being Self-Coached

They say the best way to learn a skill is to do whatever it is you are trying to learn. I would agree that this is true. I've seen coaches talk about coaching themselves, and about hiring coaches to write their training because they won't do a good job of coaching themselves. Neither is right, and neither is wrong. Perhaps, however, I can give some insight into the matter.

I started coaching myself and writing my own training when I was an undergrad student at Appalachian State in 2014. I had a weightlifting coach for a little while, but it was a long distance thing, and he was doing coaching for free on the side. Communication broke down after a while, so I ultimately started taking ownership of my own programming and doing my own video review.

While I won't say it's been easy, to not admit I've been at least moderately successful at doing all of my own training would be to hide the truth. Under my own guidance and experimentation with philosophies in training, I've added more than 40kg to my Clean and Jerk, 30kg to my snatch, 55kg to back squat, and 10kg to my front squat (I had a wack Front Squat:Back Squat ratio at one point). I've coached myself to wins in my weight class at every local meet I've participated in over the last 3 years, and to a national level meet (I hired a coach to handle me in the back room).

It's not always been a fun ride. I've made myself do some really dumb things, and I've had my fair share of setbacks. But in those times there has been many lessons, and for those of you who choose to coach yourself, perhaps they may provide some wisdom.

  1. Program Like You're Programming For Someone Else: The power of projection can be a great tool. Assess yourself as if you were an athlete coming to you for coaching, and write your program like you're writing for said imaginary individual. This is much easier said than done. My gym family hears me quite frequently how I don't want to do my own program, to which they reply "You do it to yourself." It's true, I complain about it, and they remind me to shut up. But it's because I write it to be for someone with my issues, and not for myself. This is also a great way to truly understand your actual athlete's or client's day to day training, because ultimately what we do as coaches does influence the way we program to some extent.

  2. Don't Be Afraid To Experiment: Largely, I have toyed around with a bunch of random different training methods. Heck, I once wrote and did a 12 week program that was entirely unilateral except for snatches, cleans, and jerks. Every squat was single leg, every hinge was single leg, and every upper body movement was single leg (I called it Unilateral Everything, and I documented the whole process here). I have toyed around with Velocity Based Training, Triphasic Training, and bodybuilding for weightlifting. And I've learned new things along the way. The Unilateral Everything Program did nothing for my overall lift numbers, but my joint health improved significantly. Velocity Based Training add 25kg to my backsquat, and 38kg to my deadlift. I give this piece of advice to a lot of trainers, because you are your own laboratory. Find out what is good and what is garbage by doing it for yourself.

  3. Give Yourself Some Grace: You're not perfect. You won't plan the perfect training cycle. You wont have the most optimal sessions all the time. You'll have to go off plan some days. Other day's you'll skip entirely. It's not because you're bad at programming, but because you're experiencing your own programming from the same lens your athletes are. You get a better view of their psychology, and maybe even your own. Look, no one crafts the "perfect" program. You can account for all variables and still miss the mark. Take it from the guy who didn't PR a snatch for a span of 3 years... Yeah, 3 years only added 2kg to my snatch 1RM. My program didn't work. It doesn't make me a bad coach, it just ended up being a great example of point #2.

Now I realize, that I am an n=1 case. Ask another coach who is self-taught or self-coached and they may derive several different lessons. But these have been incomparably valuable to my coaching and my side gig of still chasing weightlifting numbers.

Ultimately, however hard it might be, if you can be in charge of and write your own training program I would suggest you do it. It's a challenge, but one that is worth taking on, even if only for the sake of learning.

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