There are an incredible number of cultures spread across this disk we call Earth. If we use language as a dividing line to separate one culture from another, some experts have placed the number as high as 5 to 6,000 different groups all sharing this hockey puck as we hurl through space. There are those that look almost the same, those that exist on complete opposite ends, and everything in between.
The gym culture here in the United States is no different; in 2017, there were roughly 38 thousand different gyms and health clubs spread across the 50 states. As a Mercenary Coach, you may be coaching at a couple of these 38 thousand, and chances are they are not carbon copies of one another.
In this article, I’m going to share my experience coaching at just two of them; their similarities, differences, and what I’ve learned in the process. And, if you’re someone who’s splitting your time like I am, hopefully I can offer some advice that can help you navigate the playing field.
We’re All the Same…
Like I said, I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to coach not only at one, but two great gyms here in sunny San Diego. On certain days, if you were to look at the workout and clientele, you would have a hard time discerning the differences. Both rely on many of the same multi-joint, multi-modal movements that we’re all more than familiar with. You’ll see gymnastic work, weightlifting movements, and different conditioning exercises all programmed together with the focus of increasing strength, cardiovascular capacity, and general health of the clientele. Both start the session with a strength focus, and end with some condardio to get the heart pumping. The communities in each gym are their own little families, and are very supportive of one another. From the outside looking in, you’d probably say both gyms are pretty similar.
But We’re All Different
Walking through the doors though, the differences will become apparent. One’s culture is much more focused on high intensity, including emotional and physical; when “3…2…1…GO!” is called, shirts go off and the primary focus is lighting the ships on fire and finishing as fast as possible. In contrast, while there is still intensity in my other gym, it’s much more measured and focused. Yes, time is a factor, but it’s not THE factor.
Athletes in this gym go hard, but they remain in the moment instead of in the pain cave. One gym includes more technical movements for the general population, while the other reserves those for specific classes (or omits them altogether). Both offer workouts that are designed to build more tensile strength and shore up holes in the game (think heavy carries, anti-rotation work, etc.), but one writes those as the class workout for the day, while the other keeps them as optional accessories after the class. It’s important to note: one isn’t better or worse than the other, they are just different.
Sharpening the Blade
If you’re in a similar situation and coaching at multiple gyms, it’s easy to go down the path of comparing and contrasting. However, instead of viewing them as simply alike and different, I would challenge you to shift your mindset to one that is opportunity focused, and think how you can use these similarities and differences to sharpen your coaching abilities.
Similarities are the low hanging fruit on your coaching tree; they provide you with more reps and opportunities to flex the coaching muscles you’re comfortable with. I coach on average 4-6 classes per week between both of my gyms. That’s 8-12 opportunities to practice my word choice, coaching voice, and how I cue athletes, ultimately helping them to become #mastersofmovement. But, while similarities might provide the opportunity to show off your skillz, differences are where you really sharpen the iron. Differences require you to think outside of your normal coaching comfort zone, forcing you to solve the problem of how to deliver your message to different groups of athletes in different settings, and ultimately expanding your coaching toolbox.
Each gym is going to have its own culture, and these different cultures mean you have to be able to adapt and coach within them…assuming you want to keep your job (hint: you do). Similar to how we talked about the importance of getting to know people so you can effectively coach them, it’s important for you to get to know the culture of a gym, if you hope to be effective at coaching there. For example, a descriptor like “heavy” may be interpreted differently, based both on the individual and the gym culture; heavy may equate to finding a new RM at one gym, or just challenging (but not changing) posture and position at another. Knowing the culture will help guide how you’re going to coach “heavy” in a way that is going to be understood, so the desired physiological stimulus is achieved.
Make no mistake: I’m not telling you to become completely different people depending on what gym you’re in. Be yourself, understand the culture(s) of your gyms, and fall back on your principles when it comes to coaching. Don’t know your principles? I can think of nine great ones covered in the Power Athlete Methodology Course. These are the compass which will guide you when it comes time to coach, regardless of the gym you’re in. For example, one of the ones discussed most often is the principle of Specific Adaptation to Induced Demands (SAID); in short, the adaptations driven in your athletes will be directly correlated to the type of demand you place on them.
Using this principle, you can evaluate a programmed workout, understand the purpose and desired adaptation, and walk the dog backwards to guide your coaching. If you were leading a class with a workout that was designed to be done fast (ex. 4-7 minutes or less), you would encourage your athletes to use appropriate weights and find prudent movement variations in order to keep them in this time frame. You wouldn’t just encourage them to use some arbitrarily prescribed weights and movements, especially if using them meant they would fall outside of the time window. Using SAID, you can ensure that you’re achieving stimulus the head coach wanted, and ultimately help to unlock the athletic potential of your athletes.
This is just one principle; imagine what you could do with eight others.
Just like any other relationship, you don’t change who you are person to person, but you recognize and acknowledge that people are different and adjust accordingly. I’m guessing you don’t interact with your mother the same way you do with your teammates. The same goes for coaching at two different gyms. The owners saw and hired you for the unique experience and skill set you bring to the gym; they didn’t hire you to become a mini-me. Use your principles as a guide, stay true to who you are, and you’ll be able to navigate your worlds with ease.
If you’re a Mercenary with a couple different places you call home, sound off! What has worked for you that has helped guide you to success? Drop some knowledge in the comments and let’s keep the chat going!
Adam grew up a lifetime athlete, playing soccer, baseball, basketball, and practicing martial arts, earning his black belt at age 12. While in college, he decided to join the Navy and earned his commission in 2008. While on active duty earned his CrossFit Level 1 in 2010 and CrossFit Football certification in 2012. He was part of the first class to go through the Power Athlete methodology course, and the first group to earn their Block One certification in September 2017.
Adam continues to stay active, earning a spot on the All Navy Rugby 7s team in 2023 and playing Rugby for a local men's club in San Diego, California.
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