To be blunt, if you have an online coach that isn’t putting a high emphasis on form, you don’t have a coach, you have a template maker. Technique and form is the single best place you can make drastic improvements to your total in the short term, and also where you can make drastic improvements in your resilience to injury in the long term. And from my experience being in the industry, coaches who ignore their clients form is usually not due to negligence, its more due to the fact that they don’t know how to fix it. So to save face they tend to ignore it rather than discuss something that they have no idea how to address. They give a couple cues here and there, but when those inevitably don’t work they move on and just hope the athlete figures it out on their own.
So how do you approach form changes with online athletes? Here’s my approach:
1.) Before anything else, you must figure out what the issue stems from, and that is not an easy thing to do and many times where most coaches get stuck. It is very much like many of the injuries powerlifters acquire. A certain joint hurts but we learn after consulting an expert that its actually a different area that is tight or injured causing that joint to hurt. The same happens with form. You see a very apparent issue, but it may be something else within the chain of movement that is causing it. A very common example of this is when an athlete has trouble locking out a deadlift. Many times to correct this you see coaches doing overloaded lockout variations to work on the athlete’s lockout strength. But the fact is the inability to lockout stems from bad positioning off the floor, where their lower back is rounded from the get go and once the bar passes the knees, they are in a very inefficient position to finish the pull. Instead of working lockout strength, work on positioning, bracing, and strength from the floor.
2.) When it now comes to addressing form once you know the root issue, the first and most simple approach is providing them internal or external cues that may help to make sense of the movement. These work sometimes, but many times do not, as a person needs to feel what you are telling them and not just take direction on what you want them to feel. While this may not always work, it is still the first step to take as it is the easiest and requires no change to the written program.
3.) If those cues do not work, the next step you must take is figuring out how to put an athlete in the positions you want them in without you actually being there, and that will be through variations. As you breakdown their form discrepancies, you must decide what positions you want them in and choose variations that are going to force them into this pattern. Want them to sit back on a squat? Box squats and pause squats. Want them to use their legs off the floor on deadlift? Pause Deadlifts and Trap Bar Deadlifts? This is one of the areas where the individualization of programming should be very evident. Coaches have certain ways they like to program so obviously there will be similarities between all their athletes programs. But where there should be very obvious differences is in the variations assigned to correct form. I actually wrote a whole article on this for the squat, so instead of giving the same lengthy breakdown, head over to Using Squat Variations to Alter Movement Patterns and read about it there.
4.) Another step, or maybe just something to go along with adding variations into their programming, is to make a video for them of you demonstrating the exercise with how they are doing it versus how you want them to do it. Make sure to not only describe the changes you want them to make, but also what they should feel when those changes are made. People respond to feel, so athletes need to know what they should feel once they hit these proper positions.
5.) The last tool I use is pre-existing youtube videos, as there are some coaches much smarter than me putting out amazing content and many times your athletes may respond better to how those coaches describe things versus you. Have an arsenal of saved videos that you can easily sort through when an athlete has a particular issue. And maybe if you are the coach ignoring form, you should be watching these videos yourself.