Coach vs Academic: a continued thought

Posted on February 21, 2012. Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , , , |

There is a fine line we the industry must walk though if we intend to elevate ourselves, our clients, and our industry.


This is also something to watch out for if you are looking for a coach. You need to have both to be a true professional. They have their flaws, but the pros are what balance things out

Academic Pros

  • They can explain why something works. I know some brilliant coaches who will get you any kind of result you want. But can’t explain how they do it for the life of them. Yes coaching is an art form, so is playing the guitar and you can explain how that’s done. You can’t guarantee I’ll play like Slash, but you can at least show me how to get there
  • They can explain why something doesn’t work. Also very important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a trainer take credit for a client success, but then blame any failing clients for “not working hard enough,” “not doing what I tell them,” or “lying when they say they are doing it.” Gut check for all of us. If our clients fail to get results, it’s our fault
  • They can explain why you are doing something. Coaches have a tendency to go with the ”it just does” or “because I say so” approach. This is fine if we’re going military style. But how does that help someone who is trying to change their lifestyle. They need a reason to drink water consistently, or stop staying out late, or being sore. Academics can provide info on why these changes are important.
  •  They filter through the hype. It’ very easy to get taken in by marketing lab study hype. For example, creatine. There are wide arrays of forms of creatine out there claiming greater absorption, faster absorption, and easier digestion. Guess what, when they are actually compared to basic creatine monohydrate for effect on actual performance, they either come up the exactly the same or LESS. Which means paying extra for a Creatine Ester, is a waste of time and money.(1)
  • When we go off track they can figure where we went wrong. What if I told you that I just read a report, and in these reports 4,400 students between ages 6 and 16 in public school systems across the United States were given a physical fitness standards test. 3,000 European students in the same ¬age range in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria were also given this test. Test results showed 56 percent of the U.S. students failed at least one of the test components. However, only about 8 percent of the European children failed even one of the test components. Would it surprise you? Would it surprise you if I told you this report was from 1954? (2)

Military standard in 1943. How many can do this with a weight now? Let alone shoot and hit a target

Its items like these where we need the Academic. It’s the commitment to research and understanding that is going on that will allow us to teach other to efficiently do their work and help more people. Also recognize our mistakes where we went wrong and how we can get things back on track.


Think of it this way… next time someone tells you they get results for clients through a “top secret, cutting edge formula, which only they know about. Remember that Bernie Madoff, probably told his clients the same thing.

Coach Pros

  • They find out what is working now. If you are waiting for enough research to validate something you are going to be about 10 years behind everyone else. Especially in today’s over-informative age. Coaches recognize patterns, and associations quickly and at on them. If it works they keep it, if it doesn’t they go back to what they were doing before.
  • They understand the importance of the mind-muscle connection. Coaches are well aware of the placebo effect. They often count on it. They know as long the client/athlete believes it will work they have a good chance of seeing great progress. Thus they learn to connect, communicate. Please note I am referring to real coaches, not some guy who yells at you in a boot camp. There’s yelling to motivate through inspiration, and then there is yelling to motivate via fear. There is also knowing when yelling isn’t appropriate.
  • They can assess quickly whether something works or not for them. I find many coaches have a mental filter or system for testing new things. A great example of this is Dan John. If you’ve never read his book ‘Never Let Go.’ You should. Coaches aren’t fools; there is a method to what they do. And they respect those who get results in a different way even if they disagree with them. They will always focus on things that they and their colleagues do agree on, not the differences.
  • They speak human. The bet quote I ever heard about an academic is, “he’s brilliant, but I don’t want to have a beer with him.” Dealing with such high-minded ideals and terminology makes academics very hard for most to listen to, let alone read. And at times they come off very elitist because of it. From my experience, 9x out of 10 this isn’t intentional, they believe they are helping. Unfortunately the rule of business is for every good experience a person has they tell 3 people. For every bad experience they tell 10, and those 10 tell 3 more each. Consider academics will offend 9 out of ten of the general population. You can see how that adds up.
  • They don’t believe in limits. This in my opinion is the most beautiful thing about coaching. Yes, we all have genetic limitations. But who knows what those really are until you try. As cliche as it sounds when the right personality gets with the right coach amazing things happen. Our history of sport is littered with stories of underdogs who were never supposed to even make the team turning in to superstars. And as long as you put forth the effort, the coach believes you can be that next story. Academic tend to be quicker to tell you what doesn’t work and what your limitations are.


So where do you fall? Coach? Academic?


There is nothing wholly wrong with either. You need to have a bit of both either for yourself or with your coach. How do you know if you are getting there or if your coach has that balance? I find a simple question can really open things up, placed delicately of course:

  • What’s a mistake you made while training someone? Or when was the last time you were wrong about something in regards to fitness?

If they can’t name something, you should be concerned. Every top professional I have met and aspire to be like can tell me a mistake they have made. Usually, within the last couple of years.


No one is right about everything they do. And I find the top pros are always looking at ways to do things better. To do that they must experiment, take leaps, and make mistakes. Anyone who claims otherwise I find to be either too much of an academic to risk doing anything outside of what is completely proven, or too much of a coach with an ego problem.


I say this openly as I used to fall in to both categories for a period of time. All things in balance.


OK, that’s enough philosophy for today.  Next post will be back to brass tacks  😉


Keep Fitness Groovy,

Coach W


  1. Ralf Jäger et al, Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine , Amino Acids. 2011 May; 40(5): 1369–1383.
  2. Kraus, H. and Hirschland, R. (1954). Minimum muscular fitness tests in school children. Research Quarterly. 25:178

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6 Responses to “Coach vs Academic: a continued thought”

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We’ve created a very extensive rubric on creatine and what it does and doesn’t do (based on human in vivo testing). Check it out:

I like it. And there is so much more information coming out on the topic. They just recently put out a study looking into the effects of creatine on neuro-toxicity:

Genius J et al, Creatine Protects against Excitoxicity in an In Vitro Model of Neurodegeneration, PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30554. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

fun stuff 🙂

Yeah – the amount of research coming is amazing. We are working on building up a list of “good” studies … and then finding new ones based on citations for those good ones.

You know – our site is a quasi Wikipedia – you can always contribute information (or even just links on the discussion page). Eventually we hope we can become a solid hub of discussion around not only the supplements but the studies done on them.


An open professional respectful discussion of the sciences of health. Based on logic, science, and not marketing hype.

Well now you are just being silly 😉

We try 🙂

Hope you consider joining – the more, the (far) merrier.

Great post as always. I started out in the industry as more of a “coach” type of trainer. No formal education but a recognition for what worked, what didn’t and a great overall feel for the industry and personal side of training.

Over the last couple years I have been learning more and more. I still have no formal education but as I like to tell everyone. I may not be in university but I have access to all the same information and material, I can see the teachers give seminars and lectures and I can study and learn within the industry.

You need to have a good balance of both sides, always be willing to learn more and to actively question what you are being taught. Learn why and how things work and not just what works. Most people know what works, just look online of in text books. Many people do not understand why something works and it is only when you learn the why that you can properly modify and adjust programs for your clients.

Thanks for the great post

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