Are You a Coach or Are You a Training Partner?

Photo Credit: OneKilo

As coaches within weightlifting or strength & conditioning, we take great pride in the physical culture of our occupation, our own performance, and our ability to lead by example through our own training.  But, for those coaches that may have decided to consistently train side by side with the athletes they work with, I pose the question – are you a coach or are you a training partner?

I see this in the micro gym and weightlifting setting more than I do anywhere else, and when Coach decides to jump in with his or her athletes more often than not, the lines between coach and training partner can become blurred.  Both roles are crucially important to the development of an athlete, but it’s important for both parties to understand their role in the relationship. Because of this, I challenge those coaches who consistently train alongside their athletes to commit to making these lines crystal clear in their own personal and professional interactions with their athletes.

There are certain obligations that come with being a coach, that do not exist between training partners. A coach OWNS the performance of their athletes – good or bad.  On the other hand, a training partner may help elevate an athletes performance in an individual workout, but at the end of the day, they carry no responsibility associated with it whatsoever.

The training partner is there to provide moral support, create a level accountability, potentially even provide some type of mentorship, but in the context of performance – it’s surface level.  The coach must dive deeper!  The coach is there to turn a vision or goal into reality.  This involves a level of detail, focus and mental effort not only away from the platform, but also in the midst of a training session that can be bone crushing at times.  Many of you may be able to relate that coaching can be more exhausting than a hard training session!

So, it’s important to realize that if you want to maximize the performance of your athletes, training with your athletes takes away from your ability to maximize their long term performance.

Just as there are physical energy systems (phosophgen, glycolytic, and oxidative), there also exists mental energy systems (analytic, diagnostic, and systemic).  If you are coaching, you need to put your energy into exhausting your mental energy systems, specifically your analytic and diagnostic systems.  If you are training, you need to put your energy into exhausting your physical energy systems.

Each have their limits, and in order to improve these energy systems, you must focus on one at a time – you can not maximize those mental and physical systems simultaneously if you are a Coach. If you do try to tap into both, you become ineffective at exerting and maximizing those energy systems, and in the end both suffer the consequences.

As coaches, we lean on various training principles such as Overload, Reversibility, Specificity, and Individuality, to guide the training of athletes.  We must also lean on and apply these same principles to how we look at our own coaching.  Here’s what I mean:


In the context of training, the athlete must experience a progressive “overload” in volume (reps) and/or intensity (weight on the bar) in order to progress.  In the context of coaching, the coach must progressively overload their mental effort.  As the athlete progresses in their development, the mental effort a coach needs to put in becomes greater, because path to improvement in performance requires more thought and effort – progress is no longer linear.


In the context of training, if you don’t use it, you lose it!  The same applies to coaching! If you train with your athletes, your mental energy towards coaching is not being maximized – in fact it is being minimized.  Programming is only a cog in the larger wheel of coaching.  Real COACHING happens when your athletes are banging it out and fighting their way through the depths of Mordor.

If you are approaching this through the lens of a training partner, the moral support is needed, but your blade is becoming dull and you’re ability to successfully GUIDE your athletes to the other side is diminishing.  Over time, you lose your ability to see the 1,000 foot view and provide perspective when you’re training side by side with your athletes. Instead, you develop the same 5 foot view as they do, because that is what you are seeing and experiencing.

Specificity & Individuality

In the context of training, form follows function, and load should challenge technique, never change technique.  Additionally, Tex McQuilkin, Power Athlete Director of Training, shared some great insight with me once that unconscious failure is where individuality exists. This is where the ART of coaching comes into play.  We must first be able to observe and delineate when technique is challenged vs. changed, and where unconscious failure occurs.  Secondly, and more importantly, we must be able to make the necessary adjustments to the training for an individual or individuals.

As a Coach, this requires an intense amount of focus to narrow and hone in your “coaches eye”.  If you’re in training mode, you’re not in 100% coaching mode.  This is a reason why the role of a training partner is surface level.  The coach requires a deeper level of focus.  This becomes stunted and limited if you’re training and coaching simultaneously.

If you are a coach, specialize in being a coach!  In trying to balance the role of a coach and a training partner, you are submitting yourself to being a generalist and wading in a pool of mediocrity.  Leave the role of the training partner to the athletes.  In doing so, you will accelerate the adaptations of not only your athletes of but also yourself as a coach!

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