We get it. As a CrossFit instructor you know your stuff. On any given movement you can provide over five cues, identify the metabolic pathway being used, the primary muscles being used and what style of Lululemon shorts your athlete is wearing. It’s impressive, yes, but helpful? Maybe not so much.
It’s been said that only when you can explain a concept to a child, do you truly understand it. Think of the last time you went to the doctor; you had some stomach pain and wanted to see what was going on. What did your doctor do? She likely asked a few questions, gave a few suggestions and maybe wrote down a prescription for some medicine. Do you have any idea the number of illnesses and diseases your doctor could’ve thrown at you?
From ulcers to cancer, that doctor could’ve had you checking on your life insurance policy as soon as you got home; but instead she simplified it. Doctors know more than we realize and at any given moment they are capable of giving you one hundred “corrections.” I am never impressed when fellow CrossFitters write a paragraph-long critique on something using words that I’m pretty sure they Googled to describe why somebody shouldn’t have eaten a peanut after their workout. As an instructor, your job is to filter yourself for the sake of your athlete. Here are some dos and don’ts of corrections:
Cue what’s most important. I cringe when I hear a Coach correct their athlete’s kettlebell swing at the top —“Get that kettlebell all the way overhead,” when at the bottom of the swing their back is rounded almost to a perfect archway. Yes, sometimes you will look silly. People will wonder why you’re not getting your athlete to stand up all the way when they do a Push Jerk. But what they may not know is that this athlete finally got the footing correct on the landing and you are letting them enjoy that moment of accomplishment.
If you don’t like your athlete’s elbows dropping, then focus on that cue. When they correct it, on the very next rep don’t start drilling their head position, only to then move onto their grip width, and then finish on their breathing, all within four reps. I fancy myself an advanced CrossFitter, but if I’m given three corrections on one lift, it’s almost a guarantee nothing will be corrected the following rep.
Identify the critical errors and correct them one-by-one before moving on to minor cues.
Don’t think you have to fix everything in one session. I’ve worked with athletes knowing full well people watching from the sidelines are questioning my methods. They see my athlete not even coming close to locking out at the top of a movement; what they don’t know is that today is the day my athlete is perfecting the bottom of the movement, and later this week we will be advancing to another part of the movement. A novice Coach sees a horrendous movement and they attack each fault. Understand your athlete is on a journey to a fitter life, so treat their movements as a journey as well.
Shorten your words. You are allowed two to three-word cues in an ideal scenario. Any more words and you risk having that athlete either blocking out your voice entirely, or tuning into your voice to the point where they stop and wait for you to finish talking. So keep it short, keep it sweet and keep it powerful.
What if the movement needs a cue requiring more than two or three words? Or worse, what if the short and sweet cue that you have doesn’t make sense? What if saying “Land flat!” makes no sense to your athlete. This is where we have to develop your dictionary.
You have an advantage you may not realize you have. You have the power to choose words and link various meanings to them. For example, in my classes I will say the word “Snappy” or “Snap,” and when I’m teaching the Power Clean or Power Snatch it means to snap one’s elbows into place. In the overhead position it means lock your elbows to support the load and avoid the press-out. My athletes hear me say “Snap” about twenty times during the drills, and they know exactly what I mean by the time the WOD has begun. How do I drive this point home further? I will stop class and say “Hey guys if you hear me say ‘______’ it’s referring to this drill we just did, OK?”
When your athlete is gasping for air, they do not want to hear about geometrical spatial locations and why one is better than the other. They hear me yell “Snap” those elbows forward and guess what, they do it.
I see this far too often: trying to cue and correct through reps one through six only to have your athlete “finish” the reps and run out the door without ever fixing anything. They will hear you say “lower” for their squats, but kinda sorta not really try to change much, because I mean why would they? Now aside from the much larger overhanging issue with this athlete, it is your job at this time to stop them during their WOD — gasp! Yes that’s right, I said it. Sometimes if your athlete is not changing their form, or even at risk of injuring themselves, then stop them. Sure their score will suffer, but that may be the strongest tool you have. I’ve heard it said when judging at Regionals: “If you want your correction to magically be heard, give them a nice ‘No Rep’ and voila! That form will change really quick.”
You are the captain of your ship; you decide where it goes and what kind of people you have onboard. Whatever form is happening in your gym, whether it be good or bad, has been allowed by you. Cue with tact and expertise that gets the job done for the correct faults, in as few words as possible, and at the end of the day, enjoy the journey.