How To Help People Move Better, Part 1/2

Seeing as this blog is for fitness professionals (or very eager everyday exercisers), I don’t need to begin by selling the importance of human movement as a pre-requisite to all other forms of physical training. But before the meat and potatoes, I’ll start by offering some simple movement assessments that everyday people can self-administer.

If the answer was “no” to any of the above, you could probably use some daily movement lovin’. These are just some of the assessments within our Move Better Be Stronger self-assessment system (not covered in this blog). They could be used as a repeatable measuring system to help everyday people see that they’re moving in the right direction (pun intended).

Most Important Factors for Improving Movement

As coaches, we sometimes obsess over the details of our trade so much that we sometimes miss the big picture. The major factors that influence our clients’ ability to move, therefore affect their ability to reach any fitness, strength or performance goal, are:

  • working posture

  • stress levels (affected by diet, activity, relationships, lifestyle, sleep quality and quantity)

  • daily activity habits (iPhone abuse, daily steps, amount of time spent in chairs)

  • hydration

  • breathing pattern

  • previous trauma/injuries

As a movement coach, to ignore these components and only focus on the specifics of movement execution within a single training session is to neglect the 80% and only focus on the 20%. Let’s say for argument’s sake that we have a client with two or more of the following in their life:

  • dysfunctional breathing pattern

  • perpetual dehydration

  • negative relationship with a loved one

  • more than eight hours every day in a chair (commute, job, dining, TV)

  • inflammatory diet

  • constantly tired

You could spend three hours per week with this client and pour all of your enthusiasm and expertise into helping them move better. However, if the other 165 hours of their weekly lives remain unchanged your good work will be mostly ineffective.

If you’re helping anyone in a personal coaching environment it is critical to take a thorough medical, injury and lifestyle history. This helps build a picture of how the main factors above might be influencing their lives and can often tell you more than a movement assessment. Helping people address the highest value factors, outside of their time with you is the difference between a good trainer and an exceptional one.

How to Address the 80%

Making a living in fitness (without selling drugs, pills and other supplements) is a hard game. If you’re anything like me and detest the sales, business, financial and marketing side of things, the only hope you have for making a long career of it is being well above average at the trade of making a difference. This begins with your ability to connect and communicate with people of all walks of life. Even if you think you have this element in the bag, I strongly recommend reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s one of those books that positively changes your perspective on interaction with other humans.

It’s likely that you’re paid by the hour and most of your clients have no idea about the amount of unpaid work that you do. You, therefore, want to maximize the effectiveness of that hour. However, instead of filling every session with movement and exercise, a little suggestive interviewing to help form new habits could lead to some serious game changers for your clients.

The How? Method

Before sharing my go-to habits for addressing the major influencing factors, it’s important to understand how to implement them. It took a few years of frustration after leaving the Royal Marines Commandos to figure out that everyday people don’t follow orders. I initially thought my failure at helping people outside of their sessions was because people lacked discipline. Although I still think this is true to some extent, I figured out that my coaching methods needed some work. Telling a client what they need, then listing how to do it doesn’t generally work. Most people can’t just form new habits out of the blue. Instead, try the How? Method.

A client first has to think of a new habit themselves. They do this via a suggestive interview with you. Then they have to figure out how to bolt on this new habit with an existing element of their day. For example, many people know that they’re dehydrated. Resist the urge to tell them you think so too. Don’t tell them how it negatively effects almost everything, then suggest how they should fix it. Instead ask them if they think they’re dehydrated. How do they think it’s affecting them? How do they know they are? Offer some diagnostics for assessing (such as pee color, feel of thirst during workouts, etc.). Throw in some cases you’re aware of and highlight the positive effects of taking on a new habit. Maybe add some facts about caffeinated drinks and daily water requirements. Then comes the How? method. Ask “how?”, repeatedly, until a specific actionable habit emerges:

You: “How will you maintain hydration?”

Client: “I’ll drink more water, duh.”

You: “How will you drink more water?”

Client: “Erm… what do you mean? I guess I’ll drink some water before work and keep drinking throughout the day in the office.”

You: “How will you do that?”

Client: “Ah, ok. I’m with you. I’ll drink a glass of water when I wake up and I’ll keep a water bottle on my desk.”

You: “How exactly will you drink a glass of water when you wake up?” (This is the key.)

Client: “I’ll walk to the kitchen, open the fridge, grab the filtered water jug, pour myself a glass and neck it with some fish oil tablets.”

You: “Bingo! This is the habit. Will you commit to opening the fridge door every school day after getting out of bed? Maybe with a quick stop in the toilet on route?” (If they get as far as opening the fridge door, they’ll automatically do the rest.)

Client: “Yes!”

You: “Excellent! I’ll drop you a quick text on Thursday to see how you’re getting on. Now, let’s talk about continuing to drink water at work. How exactly will ensure you drink another two liters throughout the day?”

Client: “I’ll fill my two-liter water bottle as I pass the water cooler and place it to the right of my keyboard. Every time I complete a task, stand up, sit down or finish a phone call I’ll take a gulp of the good stuff. Before leaving the office for the day, I’ll empty what’s left (if any) into my mouth.”

You: “Booyah! Let’s make this stick. If you can keep this up for two weeks, Monday through Friday, we’ll talk about your next golden habit. If you drop me a quick text at the end of each working day to say you’ve done it you might receive a reward.” (It just takes a thumbs up to reply.)

This conversation took five minutes of their paid session and is infinitely more useful than five minutes spent doing any exercise. All you have to do is set yourself a reminder to text them on Thursday morning and you’re all set. The existing habit of getting out of bed has now been extended to opening the fridge. There’s no need to make it any more complicated than that. The existing habit of walking passed the water fountain at work has been extended to filling up a two-liter bottle. Seal the deal by asking them what their new hydration habits are at the end of the session and let them know you look forward to hearing about it when you text on Thursday.

Of course, this particular conversation might not work with some people. The banker with a type A personality would probably think such a conversation is a waste of time and might just be telling you what you wanted to hear in order to crack on with their workout. Or they might not want to think about their office. Their time with you is their break from normal life. This is where understanding people comes into play.

Here’s a list of habits for helping people address the other major factors that affect their ability to move. See if you can steer them towards think of any of these on their own with suggestive interviewing. Then help them implement using the How? method. Consider that giving people more than one or two habits at a time doesn’t work. Giving anyone a whole list of habits at once is a waste of time and could crush any future potential. The following habits could be subtly worked into your clients’ lives over the course of a year.

Habits to Help Hydration

  • Glass of water straight out of bed

  • Two-liter bottle of water on desk

  • Earn any coffee or tea with glass of water first

  • Earn any beer with a glass of water

  • Glass of water before every meal

Habits to Help Work Posture

  • Take all calls standing up

  • Perform mobility sequence A after every phone call

  • Perform mobility sequence B after every trip to the restroom

  • Perform mobility sequence C before leaving the office for lunch or at the end of the day

  • Change work station to standing (sturdy, weight-supporting stand-up desks are the only option because they encourage 3D movement, leaning and weight shifting. Desk height extenders do more harm than good because they encourage standing still, which is worse than sitting)

  • Read all documents, memos or articles either standing, sitting on the floor or sitting in the deep squat position

  • Perform any non-work tasks away from you’re your work station. Make your work station a hive of productivity

Habits to Help Improve Breathing

  • Bright red = 5 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Teach a client how to breathe while they’re inadvertently looking at something bright red (that you sneakily placed there). Encourage them to take five deep diaphragmatic breaths every time they see the color bright red during your sessions. Send them red emojis, such as red balloons. Drill it into them. Break lights in traffic = 5 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Red bus = breathe. Red car = breathe.

  • Diaphragm walking (deep diaphragmatic breaths at specific intervals during their walk to work)

  • Two- to five-minute focused breathing sessions at specific times of their working day

  • Two- to five-minute focused breathing sessions as a morning or pre-bed ritual

  • Ten-minute squat per day challenge. Challenge someone to spend a cumulative total of

  • Ten-minutes per day in the deep squat position. While in position, deep diaphragmatic breaths. If they can learn to breathe with the diaphragm in this position it helps their squat pattern and hip mobility a great deal

  • Starting every training session with focused diaphragmatic breathing

Habits to Help Reduce Stress

  • Stressor list: Make a list of any and all factors in their life that they have no or little control over

  • Gratitude: Identify and talk about the best thing that happened to you that day, every day before bed. Or keep a gratitude journal and start the day with it

  • Reading: Work in a 20-minute period at specific times for reading

  • Shopping list: An hour spent planning meals and writing a shopping list beats any hour in the gym if the goal is reducing stress and/or improving body composition

  • Referral network: If you suspect your client might be in a bad relationship or be suffering in some other way that you’re not qualified to deal with, have a referral network of good people that you can refer them to

  • Volunteer for charity or community work

  • Walking: See below

Habits to Increase Daily Activity

  • Park further away from office

  • Walk, run or cycle to work

  • Alight the train/bus one stop early

  • Meet a friend for a walking date

  • Install a sturdy stand-up desk

  • Surf the bus or train (stand up)

  • Lunchtime walks

  • Join an active club (walking club, climbing gym, running club, yoga studio, Crossfit box, power lifting gym, chess-boxing club)

  • Adopt a dog

Most of the people that fitness professionals influence on a weekly basis have no other regular contact with other medical or health professionals. Sure, some clients care more than others and self-educate, but in most cases we’re their only source of information and influence for health and fitness. We have more potential for positive change than any doctor or health guru, because we have the luxury of one to three hours every week with them. It’s our duty to have a basic holistic knowledge about general health and wellness and be equipped help our tribe outside of coaching hip-hinge technique. It’s also our duty to build a strong referral network for those many times when something out of our scope of practice crops up. We’re on the front line of health and fitness! Let’s do it right.

In part two I’ll share my general concepts, principles and best bang for buck techniques for helping people move better through movement and exercise coaching. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I sincerely look forward to leading a group through these movements and techniques at my Mobility Training 101 and Killer Kettlebells Complexes workshop on April 27th, at Team Moljo, Shrub Oak, NY. You’ll walk away with 0.9 NASM CEUs, you’ll receive two manuals and a certificate. Click here for more information and tickets.

Thanks for reading,


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