We break ours into seven primary patterns. This serves as the foundation for how we progress/regress movements — from On-Ramp to our group classes to personal training. Understanding progression/regression through each pattern allows our Coaches to understand what can realistically be fixed or cued. For example, this prevents our Coaches from trying to teach overhead squats to a client when they still need to master their box squat.
This is CrossFit Level 1/Level 2 stuff here. Verbal cues are quickest and often most efficient; visual cues add a second layer/more information; and tactile cues can give clients more feedback on position targets or how a movement should feel. Typically progressing from verbal, to visual and then to tactile is best.
Our system for teaching involves breaking movements into patterns like “Hinge.” If we’re doing higher rep kettlebell swings to condition/build volume in the hinge pattern, that can be communicated to our client. We might say, “Our aim is high volume hinging in this workout” to our class or client, and then it’s easy to progress or regress the movement based on that pattern.
Since your client understands the stimulus, there’s less ego in regressing to a different movement within the same pattern — e.g. scaling the kettlebell swing to an unweighted single leg RDL if your client is struggling with that pattern, has experienced pain, etc.
I don’t know how many Affiliates I’ve dropped into where the extent of coaching in huddles was reading the WOD off the board. We ask our Coaches to make three bullets for each section of class — e.g. Section One = strength/skill, Section Two = metcon — that are their focal points for teaching on the whiteboard. These could be details on movement, stimulus, intensity, pacing, load or even recovery. This keeps huddles efficient and allows us to teach beyond the WOD screen/board.
In bigger classes, you could have 20-plus clients, all who deserve individual attention from their Coach. Efficiency and simplicity in cueing movement/technique is key; two- to three-word cues are best. This tends to be one of the hardest skills for our new Coaches to build when they join our staff. Don’t use: “Alright Erica, I want you to think about staying in your heels, keeping a vertical shin and pushing those knees back on this deadlift. When “Erica, knees back!” will do.
Did your cue work? Too often I see Coaches give a cue and then bail on the client before the next rep. Stick around to see if your coaching was effective, or if other cues/directions on technique need to be given.
Many times, clients simply won’t have the proprioception or mobility to hit proper positions. We elevate kettlebells on yoga blocks when teaching our hinge progression; this decreases range for our clients and allows them to work on a braced core and neutral spine. We use 12-inch boxes with plates stacked on top to allow us to progress range and teach proper weight shift in the squat. We use these a ton to build a solid squatting foundation for our clients. There are several more small pieces of equipment that we’ll add in across all of our movement patterns to help clients learn proper mechanics.
This is especially useful for experienced clients who have a good understanding of movement and need more fine tuning. After a lift, I’ll often ask my clients what they’re working on or what they were thinking about during the lift. Even if I saw a fault, I may be able to tie my technique cue into what the client is already thinking about, or I may give them additional information or reinforce their focus point. Our clients are already on overload from the class environment, following instructions and moving intensely under load. Getting into their mind before muddying the waters with more cues will help them learn effectively.
I read an article where an Olympic gymnastics coach talked about taking his athletes back to hollow body work on the ground when they were struggling with the “iron cross.” The point was that even at the highest levels of physical ability, we often have holes in our foundation. If a client is missing something like foundational core strength, you may cue their front squat until you’re blue in the face and not see any improvement. We’ll often have clients superset a basic core movement with a more complex lift, add in a different implement to get the engagement we need, or regress to a movement that will help fix their foundation.
Thinking about a flat back, vertical shins and holding shoulders down and back in the deadlift is a lot for a client to process. We’ll often fix a client’s position, and then say, “Now hold that position. Do you feel the difference? I want you to return to that same feeling each rep after this.” Instead of thinking about five points-of-performance, they now know what the movement should feel like, and they can return to that simple and familiar feeling.