| | | Battle The Bullshit: Gen Pop Onboarding

Author / Ben Skutnik

Is the first experience of the new members to your gym’s culture a box ticking coach blindly following some onboarding program to push a square peg through a round hole? We need to change that right now if it is.

Where is the individuality? Where is the impact?! Where is the empowerment?!

Nothing fires us up more than when we see seasoned head coaches hand off the onboarding classes to the noobie coaches. We gotta call bullshit on that right now. The head coaches or owners who leave the early/late hours to the low-person on the totem pole and take on the competition-class or the classes with all the long-timers who’ve been in it for years are totally misappropriating their resources.

This is a selfish act of a transactional coach and could be a decision that affects the long term health of your business.

As a transformational coach, your responsibility is simple: take an athlete where they cannot take themselves. This is accomplished through applying training that has the desired impact or drives the intended adaptation. The best coaches at every level of fitness from Loren Landow and Jim Kiritsy working for teams to Jim Kielbaso and Ben Bergeron in the private sectors bear this responsibility personally.

The desired impact of your onboarding class should be an improved level of coordination, strength, aligned expectations, and the confidence to roll into your group class structure to dominate. Transactional coaches look to check off movements they need to teach versus having their athletes learn how to move. They play it safe with a PVC pipe versus applying stress with load.

In a world full of fitness trainers, we want to create Coaches. And not just any coaches, but Coaches who can drop in to any gym and start making people better. There is no greater place to separate your facility or yourself as a Coach than having an optimal onboarding course.

In this article, we’re going to teach you, the Coach, how to empower your new members; not just “prepare” them. We’re going to refocus your onboarding program to create better movers, and safer movers, before they join the larger group classes. We will also take this article LIVE for FREE with our Optimal Onboarding – Masters of Movement Webinar, Thursday, Sept. 6th at 1pm EDT! This is the first in an ongoing series of webinars from Power Athlete’s network of Coaches. 

Vying for a Position

In sport, the main purpose of any rookie or training camp is to get the player up to speed with their new team.  This is no different! And, if you want to play for a Power Athlete Coach, you better be ready with your posture and position! We’re going to hit new members with the safest position we know: our Universal Athletic Position , or UAP for short.

While stressing this position with various lifts and movements over the course an onboard, we want to constantly be reminding these new folks why we want to preserve this position as much as possible. Each day, before the daily training, review this position with the new members inside and out. And, like they say, you never really understand something until you teach it. So, over the on-boarding process, go from a coach-led set up, to the member setting themselves up, to them setting each other up and fixing faults. Developing this complete understanding of the UAP from student to instructor better connects the important pieces of the position and gives your members a greater sense of empowerment.

Can I Get Yo’ Numbah?

In true Power Athlete form, we’re going to stress to progress that UAP. And what’s the easiest way to do that? You guessed it, heavy loads! Over the onboarding, we hit all the lifts necessary to drive accelerated adaptations. Starting with the back squat, our new members will come away from our onboarding with “Heavy 5s” in back squat, deadlift, press, bench press and a “Heavy 2” in the Power Clean.

“But shouldn’t we focus on technique with light weight?” Sure, if you want to nerf your members’ world to make sure they never have to lift anything heavy. Lifting light weight makes you really good at lifting light weight. But, strength takes years to build, so why wait any longer than necessary? Will these be true 5RMs? Absolutely not. But, it will give you a great place to start them off at.

If you’re worried about safety, then you’re worried about your own ability to control the scenario. Drop the PVC and get them used to the feeling of knurling digging into their traps. Have them start getting some calluses on their hands. Now is the best time because they are directly under your supervision. That presence will allow for a certain degree of comfort in a potentially uncomfortable scenario.


While, at the ground level, we’re driven to empower performance in the weight room. But, from the 10,000-foot view, we’re trying to accomplish something GREATER! You want to build a culture of strength; physically, mentally and emotionally. You should want a culture that is about growth, a culture that doesn’t see success or failure, but instead sees every moment as an opportunity to get better! This starts in your on-boarding classes.

You decide what the conversation is about, and what gets celebrated. You celebrate movement quality and hard work. It’s not about getting your hip crease below your knees, or reaching your chin above a bar. It’s about taking things from right up to the boiling point. You want them to embrace some struggle and hardship? Get them comfortable being uncomfortable. These are all things that are necessary for success but may take longer than any physical training adaptations could.

Mastering Movement

In order for your members to be able to move proficiently through space, you will need to be relentless in your approach as a coach. No, you don’t need to get out your goniometer to measure shin angle at the bottom of their squat, but we also don’t want you to default into just yelling “vertical shins!” This means you need to demystify movement for your members.

Part of that is highlighting the finer details, and putting an emphasis on the primal patterns. If you can get your members to understand that every wall ball shot (squat + vertical push), every muscle up (vertical pull + horizontal pull + vertical push), and every sled sprint (step up + ISO vertical push) is just a squat, step, lunge, push, pull, or any combination thereof, you’ll be able to set them up for faster success than if you systematically went through each movement alone. This allows you to create athletes, a term which has been watered down by this very same fitness movement. As athletes, they will handle novel tasks better…which can prove extremely useful if your environment is, say, constantly varied.

Final Thoughts

Coaching is simply a game of manipulation. People pay you because they recognize you can get them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t do on their own. Let’s revisit the driving principle of a transformational coach, “take an athlete where they can’t take themselves.” Your job is to get them to do these things, with ferocious intensity, while not hurting themselves.

Rather than keeping their knowledge base at bay, creating a wholly dependent relationship, give them the red pill, peel back some of the layers, and teach them to become master movers. Create an athlete who doesn’t need to be babysat, but one that craves a Coach! Empowering them to further explore their movement capabilities and freeing up your time and energy to help lead them further down the rabbit hole of athleticism.

Let’s turn this article into a conversation to help empower coaches and gym owners out there. Join us on Thursday, September 6th at 1pm EDT for a FREE WEBINAR to discuss coach/client expectations, structuring on-boarding classes, and most importantly, how to best evaluate that you or your coaching staff is providing the best experience possible for the client.

Power Athlete is here to share the best practices we’ve encountered in our experience traveling the world working with strength coaches and gym owners to empower their athlete’s performance. The fitness game is changing and now, more than ever, these athletes need a Coach. Take the first step, empower them by empowering yourself!

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Ben Skutnik

Ben grew up a football player who found his way into a swimming pool. Swimming for four years, culminating in All-American status, at a Division III level, Ben grew to appreciate the effects that various training styles had on performance and decided to pursue the field of Exercise Physiology. After receiving his M.S. from Kansas State University in 2013, Ben moved on to Indiana University - Bloomington to pursue a PhD in Human Performance. While in Bloomington, he spent some time on deck coaching swimming at the club level, successfully coaching several swimmers to the National and Olympic Trials meets. He also served as the primary strength and condition coach for some of the post-graduate Olympians that swam at Indiana University.

Currently, Ben is finishing his PhD while serving a clinical faculty member at the University of Louisville, molding the minds that will be the future of strength and conditioning coaches. He also helps support the Olympic Sports side of the Strength and Conditioning Department there as a sports scientist.

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