Written by: Sarah Strange
Sometimes we do really idiotic things to ourselves that we wouldn’t ever wish on anyone else. I think we do it unconsciously; feeling like it’s totally normal and reasonable until someone else points it out to us, or we look at it in a greater context with detachment. I’m talking about how we coach ourselves and how that coach can sometimes turn out to be an asshole. Whether you have an actual coach or not, everyone coaches themselves to some degree- how often you decide to go to the gym, exercise selection, reactions to your performance, and paying attention to your technique as you go to help yourself self-correct and improve. That’s your inner coach.
Let’s take a second to flesh out your inner coach a little bit. Is your inner coach too nice; always giving you an excuse to sandbag rather than the encouragement you need to step it up a little? Is your inner coach checked out with their face buried in their smartphone like a disinterested teenager? Or is your inner coach kind of like the sergeant in Full Metal Jacket: “Come on, Pyle! Pull! Pull! You mean to tell me you can’t do one single pull up, Pyle? You are a worthless piece of shit, Pyle! Get outta my face!” ? And we know what happened to Pyle!
Working in a gym, I observe people being way too hard on themselves. It’s curious to watch a normally sane person get set up for a lift and curse themselves out 4 times before they even start, or witness a real life, not-so-green, no-sudden-size-changing hulk sprout up and start storming around and smashing stuff due to a failed rep. There’s a fine line and a huge difference between being motivated to work hard, and putting so much pressure on yourself to perform that it teeters on the brink of abuse. In most gyms, you have a variety of clients somewhere along the continuum; from the barely-there… going to drop out any second… the wife is forcing him to be there guy, to the professional athletes or formerly professional athletes. You see all types, all ages, all reasons for being there and yet being an ass to yourself doesn’t seem to associate with any one type of customer.
Good questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you should retain your inner coach or post an ad for a new one, might go something like: Would you ever coach anyone else like you coach yourself? Would you ever send any of your friends or loved ones to be coached by that guy? Would you seek out and pay a coach that treated you that way? No? Hell no?? Well then why in the hell are you coaching yourself that way? It won’t turn anyone else into a success, so why do you think it will work for you? Did you at some point really enjoy the sport that you are currently doing, until your asshole inner coach ruined it for you and you stopped showing up to get away from him?
I’m not going to try to solve everybody’s self-love issues here, or accentuate anyone’s schizophrenia, but I am going to try to get you to fire your inner coach if it talks to you like a post-breakup-drunk Jillian Michaels in menopause. Especially if You are the only coach you have, so you can’t crazy-check yourself against one. Maybe you work out on your own, or follow someone else’s programming, or you ARE a coach to others and are stuck with yourself for your own programming and workouts. Or maybe you are dating someone whose awful inner coach is running them into the ground. Are they tired and cranky and wiped out, constantly complaining about how awful this squat program is, how they can’t really walk, and when you suggest maybe just backing off the program a little teeny bit their eyes glow red and they fume at you like you just told them you were going to take their barbell and gym membership away and give it to the poor kid down the street? (Insert sound of a malfunctioning cuckoo clock here).
Of course getting this guy or gal out of your head is easier said than done. First of all, just be aware of what’s going on. Who IS this guy you hired? What do you look for in a coach and is that who you have (in your head)? Hopefully we’ve been paying attention, or learning how to better pay attention while on this continuous trip around the sun. Self awareness is the best tool you have to understand how foods affect you, how exercise affects you, how people affect you, etc. To an extent you can keep asking other people what you should be doing, but you’re never going to get anywhere meaningful to yourself without self awareness. How is this program working for you? Are you improving? Are you recovering? Does it seem fishy to you- might it get you hurt or overtrained, or is it totally inappropriate for your level of mastery? Did you base your 100% off of what you did at your superpeak last year despite complaining about feeling really “out of shape” by comparison before you started the program? Uh, oh… I thought so. Well no wonder you’re failing and walking like you just bolted from the hospital after dual hip replacements.
In an ideal situation, you would have the time and the money to hire the best coach available for personal training in your particular sport, to program for you and watch you like a hawk and sniff you like a wolf to make sure everything was progressing as best it could. They would adapt programming according to how you were responding up to the second to be sure that you continued to progress. They would send gnomes home with you to cook your meals and magical fairies with sparkling opiate dust to get you to sleep 9 hours a night. They would hire shadow men to keep all the people in your life from bothering you and stressing you out.
But life is not ideal, and this situation is impossible. Don’t expect yourself to always respond favorably to: A) generic programming (NOT designed for you and closely monitored) B) uneducated or not well thought out or rookie programming C) just what you feel like doing that day, or D) all of those things humped together- as if it was this perfect coaching scenario. Don’t forget that your training does not take place in a life vacuum, where all is always well and well-rested. Especially when you are too damn stubborn, er… I mean your inner coach is too damn stubborn, to do what the supertastic personal coach would do, which would be ADAPT YOUR PROGRAM BASED ON HOW YOU ARE RESPONDING AND PERFORMING TO PRODUCE THE BEST RESULTS SPECIFIC TO YOU.
This is normal, this is realistic. It takes constant revision. It does not mean that you are slacking off if you lessen the volume of a program that is crushing you, it means that you are wise. Driving yourself into the ground is generally NOT considered to be forward motion on the road of progress. Stop judging yourself for what you did or did not accomplish, deal with it. Work with it. That’s what successful coaches and athletes do, they adapt. If you stopped seeing progress and brought it up to your coach and their response was; “my program is fine, it’s you that sucks,” would you stay? Programs aren’t designed for the sake of the program, they are designed for the sake of the athlete, last I checked.
When people tell me that they work out oh-because-they-LOVE-it and then the whole thing seems fueled by self-disappointed rage, you gotta wonder how enjoyable that can be and for how long. Somebody took a wrong turn somewhere and failed to notice
If you’re in this for fun, make sure your inner coach knows that, and remind him if he starts asking you to work out 3 times a day or when sick and injured, or forces you to do RX Isabelle in the corner because you’re having a bad snatch day. If you happen to be in it to win it, then be smart- you gotta stay on this side of the dirt to do that. Focus on what produces progress- try something, give it a second, but if it’s not producing results or it’s turning you into Betty White like a Snickers commercial, then just let it go, sans tantrum. Make sure your goals are human and your assessment of them is realistic. And fire your inner coach if he’s a moron.
Sarah is a trainer at Norcal Strength & Conditioning where she heads up the Olympic Weightlifting program. Her athletic and coaching background includes Olympic Weightlifting, CrossFit, Pilates, martial arts, yoga, triathlon, and a pretty long stint as a ballet dancer.