Do you need a coach?
With more and more people joining the world of weightlifting, CrossFit, powerlifting and Strongman, it’s a natural question. How important is a coach? How important is experience? Couldn’t you just do these any of these sports in a garage gym or by utilizing unsupervised open gym time?
Yes, you could. But, depending on your goals, it might not be the wisest decision. Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking of going it alone.
Are you interested in competing?
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to want to compete in your sport. With the popularity of things like CrossFit and powerlifting, local competitions and meets are becoming more and more popular. And smaller niche sports like Strongman are also gaining ground.
If you want to be competitive, regardless of your level, having a coach is important. Not only as a support system for the actual competitions, but as a mentor. A coach can help prepare you mentally to compete which is just as important as the physical side of things. (If you don’t believe that read this article about Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir. Or this one about Olympic lifter Tara Nott.)
How quickly do you want to progress?
Anyone can make beginner gains the first six months in a new sport. But when the days of adding 20 lb. to your snatch and 30 lb. to your deadlift are gone, improvements take a lot of planning and hard work in regards to programming. You have to focus on recovery, sleep, diet and be diligent about it.
If you’re OK just lifting or doing CrossFit workouts for the fun of it (assuming you can safely do the movements alone) there’s nothing stopping you. Just know that your progress will be slower, sometimes frustratingly slower, without a coach.
A coach has been where you are, they’ve made mistakes and figured out what works. They’re a trained, unbiased eye and —the good ones— know when to push you and when to give you a break. It’s tough to have that kind of honest self-evaluation with yourself.
Do you have a training partner?
A training partner —unless they double as a coach— can’t totally take the place of one. But they can help fill the gaps if you don’t have a coach or are in a position where you don’t have everyday access to your coach (remote clients, for example.)
Training partners push you, keep you accountable and encourage you on the days when even starting your warm-up is a struggle. They can help fix technique issues and boost your confidence on tough days.
Former CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning has talked about preferring a good training partner over a coach if he had to make a decision. For Froning, who is already at the top of his sport, that makes sense. And, as most CrossFit athletes know, doing any kind of metabolic conditioning alone is miserable.
But for the majority of athletes, having someone you can go to for technique help and honest assessment is going to be more important to getting stronger, avoiding injury and overall progress than having a workout buddy.
What’s your budget like?
There are some great, free online programs. And, in the age of social media and the ease of taping your workouts, you can definitely go coach-free if it’s not within your budget. Remote coaching, or taking part in a larger program that still gives you access to online coaches, can also be cheaper than having a 1-on-1 coach. (Things like Hybrid Performance Method, Brute Strength or Juggernaut Training Systems are great examples.)
A lot of good CrossFit gyms have separate Olympic lifting or powerlifting programs as part of their membership or for a small additional fee. Not all programs are created equal, however. So, do your homework, honestly assess what your goals are in your sport and decide what’s best for you.
(Photo 1 courtesy of Chris Hinshaw.)