9 Top Strength Coaches Share Their Best Training, Coaching, and Business Lessons


We live in a time where ideas flow freely and like-minded people can connect with ease. Today's blog post is one such resource to add to your coaching and training arsenal: a collaborative effort from nine of the world's top strength coaches to help you excel in your coaching, training, and business efforts.

The content of this post is the result of decades of combined experience. These coaches are sharing their hard-won lessons so you can have a leg up, learn from their lessons, and be your best.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to contact the coach on social media and say thanks!

Dan John

dan-john.pngIn the mid-1980s, I walked into our first department meeting of the year. Our department head, who spent his life telling us the exact thing over and over again, had a quick announcement. 

Dan, we need you to teach Senior Economics this year.”

Three days before school started, I was given a class hated both by student and faculty alike. I left the meeting and went to the library to check out some books because…

Like most of us, I knew nothing of economics.

Teaching this class continues to be the best coaching experience of my life.

I was often able to stay ahead of the class by two days. Quickly, I realized that teaching basic economics was the most enjoyable class I had ever taught. Every aspect of life leaped off the page, lecture, and discussion. Everything was applicable to everything.

By God, I loved it.

The concept that leaped off the page to me was “Cost to Benefit Ratios.” It was the key to teaching, coaching, and life.

I often make this tired joke about the key Three “F’s” in life: Fitness, Finance and Relationships (The prudes just wrinkled their collective noses). In the key areas of life, “little and often over the long haul” tends to trump the instant. Yes, some will take drugs and have better abs, but it is not long turn solution. Some will take your cash in a “Get Rich Quick” scheme and convince you to hand over your hard earned money. And, maybe there is a way to seduce people with mental tricks, but that’s not going to lead to celebrating a Golden Wedding Anniversary. 

Cost to benefit ratios are simple: there are strength and weaknesses, pros and cons, good and bad with every decision you make. For every up there is a down. Our job, as the “big kids” as I always tell people, is to understand this principle or concept.

Yes, we can “do more.” But, do we get better?

Yes, I can add more load. But, do we get better?

Yes, we can take more fiber. But, do we get better?

Fill in anything you want. But, do we get better?

That is the Cost to Benefit Ratio. Good coaches live in it.

It’s hard to understand at first:

Yes, it, whatever it might be, “might” help. Yes, it makes sense. But, is it worth the time and effort…and the time and effort?

Dan John is a coach, lifter, and writer. You can connect with him through his website.

Ben Bergeron

Training: Discipline and Patience. Being successful takes ridiculously hard work.  It means having the commitment to push yourself for hours every day.  

It means having the humility to seek out more knowledgable coaches and athletes and learn from them.  It means giving up tv for reading, giving up sandwiches for salads, giving up training things you like for training things you hate and giving up late nights for early bed times.

You need to combine this discipline with patience.  You are not going to see results tomorrow, next week or even next month.  This level of dedication may take years before you see real results.  Be disciplined but patient.

Coaching: Educate and Relate.

Realize that you don't know anything yet, and commit to learning more about your craft than you think would ever be necessary. Seek out professionals in related fields. Read nonfiction and watch documentaries. Become the hardest working student you know. 

Then, when it comes time to coach your athletes, try not to give them the information that you have learned. Instead, build a trusting and loving relationship with them and figure out a way where they come up with the right answers and approach on their own.

Business: Leadership and Perspective.

Become a strong leader. Leaders are respected, trusted, and live by example. Leaders are the hardest workers in the room but make time to support, teach and develop others. Leaders never take the credit, but always take the blame. Leaders do the right thing always and take the high road. Leaders know how to delegate and elevate responsibilities. 

It's equally important for business owners to be able to see things from others points of view. How do you customers view your business? Do they think your organization is professional, friendly, clean, caring, and going above and beyond? Do they think you are better than the competition or cheaper? Do they brag about you when you aren't around? Are they proud of being a part of our business?

Ben Bergeron is the coach to the 2016 Fittest Man and Fittest Woman alive. You can connect with Ben through his website.

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Dave Spitz

Training: Work works!  If you want to accumulate strength and power you simply cannot escape the grind.  Be 100% accountable for your effort every day.  

Coaching: If you want excellence, create a culture that assigns an unrealistic expectation for performance. The simplest way to do this is through varying stimuli. Compete, incentivize, punish and reward. Athletes must operate on the ragged edges of their abilities as often as possible.  

Business: The only universal trait that all entrepreneurs share is the will to persevere. Dark days are a reality of business. Sometimes those days get strung together into weeks and even months. Finding a way forward in the midst of the darkness is the key to success.   

Dave Spitz is the owner of California Strength and coach to many National Champion weightlifters and NFL athletes. You can connect with Dave through his website.

Logan Gelbrich

Training: Skill transfer is king. The view that movements are each their own island is not only a simplified, misguided approach to what could be, it’s generally an inefficient view of training.

With the worldview, that movement is a skill and that skill can be improved and transferred elsewhere, we are afforded a mindset that supports quality and endless progression in the gym and beyond.

Coaching: Dump the ego. Be the master who forever seeks to advance his/her knowledge but also remain humble enough to realize that’s your job, not your student’s job. Be the master and be OK with it if no one cares. That way you can have an expert mind and keep it simple when you’re sharing your craft.

Business: Organizational culture is the highest, most sustainable expression of leadership. If you create a living organism, it can grow and evolve to it’s true purpose. If you create a machine it can rust and it’s parts remain cogs.

Logan is the owner and head coached of Deuce Gym. You can connect with him through his website. 

Brett Bartholomew

brett-b-1.pngTraining: Training is nothing more than a tool to teach people what they are truly capable of.

It's not just about "sets and reps", its about submitting to a process and removing psychological barriers.

Coaching: No matter the sport, the circumstance or the domain, coaching is about connecting with people more than anything else.

Business: Take risks and treat people well. Those two pieces of advice will always pay off in some way shape or form in the long run. Nobody has done anything truly lasting by "playing it safe".

Brett Bartholomew is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and founder of Bartholomew Strength. You can connect with Brett through his Instagram.

Andrew Read

andrew-read.pngMost important lesson: There’s no one plan, or one tool, that will make or break the client’s program.

There’s just you and your ability to communicate with the client about what they want versus what they need. Sometimes they really do need a bunch of correctives and not much else. Other times they need a massive kick in the ass. And others still they need to be let off the leash and allowed have some damn fun. 

As trainers we need to learn to listen to the client for what they don’t say as much as what they say. Case in point - I was speaking today with a client who had been complaining about massive burn out. No surprise between her job as a physiotherapist, her studies of osteopathy, and her training she has quite a lot of stress in her life. But all of those are normal for her and she was struggling to understand why. We had been speaking for half an hour when she mentioned her mother had been quite sick and she had been in and out of hospital with her for the last two weeks. Bingo. That one thing was just the final straw for her already taxed, but coping up until then, system. So despite her telling me that everything was fine she’s now on an enforced recovery plan for the next couple of weeks until we see her HRV come back up. 

The other part of communication - the non-verbal part - is the one thing I have at my disposal that you can’t get from a book. It comes from experience. When one of my regular clients come into the gym I have what I call my “coach’s eye” on them from the very first second. I watch how they walk, their energy, their posture. I’m looking at the skin, the fatigue in their faces, and judging it against what I have seen previously. It’s not uncommon for a client to come into my gym and I completely scrap was was planned based solely on my first glance at them. 

This job used to be called personal training. It was done one on one, and in person. Every single person was supposed to get a plan for them that matched their goals and abilities. At it’s lowest level it’s just plain old customer service. We need to be problem solvers, not spreadsheet writers. 

Andrew Read is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach. You can connect with him through his website.

Chris Tutela

chris-tutela.pngTraining:  An important lesson I've learned on training over the years is that nothing is black and white.

Sure, you're going to need compound, multi-joint exercises, you are going to need to jump, throw and sprint, you are going to need to drag, push, crawl and carry, but different people will respond differently or require a different approach.

For instance, a one sport athlete may do better with block periodization, since they can plan an entire year out ahead of time and not be derailed by another sport that they play.
Another athlete might respond better to conjugate periodization, since they play multiple sports and need faster results in less time.

You have to take the time to apply different techniques on yourself and your athletes, to see for yourself what's best for you. Experience will be your best teacher so it is extremely important to apply the things you learn and be willing to try a different approach. Some coaches get too caught up in one particular style. Think outside the box, apply what you learn and find out first hand, in the trenches, what works best for you.

Coaching: As a coach, you have to be able to adapt to the people or athletes you're training. Some people don't respond well to a certain coaching style as others.

For example, I know that if I have a couple of my football guys, they want the music loud and they want to go to battle so to speak. I know that I can scream in their face and challenge them, and that will motivate them during a big set or PR attempt.

However, if I'm coaching a group of 14 year old field hockey girls, that may not be motivating at all to them. They need to be pushed but in a different way. They are going to work their asses off but the atmosphere is going to be a little bit lighter.

You have to understand who you are coaching and what will bring the best out of them. That takes truly getting to know your athletes on a personal level and putting in the time.
If you learn how to do this well it can make all of the difference in your athlete's success.

Business: If there is one thing I can tell you about business it's that you can't do everything yourself. And, if you want to be successful you shouldn't do everything yourself.

When I opened my first facility I did it all. Writing the programs, training clients, cleaning bathrooms, book keeping, designing my website, gym maintenance, sending emails, marketing. You name it, I did it. I was spreading myself thin to say the least, and my business was suffering because of it.

It wasn't until I learned to outsource the things that I didn't need to be doing that my business started to grow.

I get it. If you are just starting out this might not seem possible. And at the very begin in you may have to do most of this stuff yourself. But once you gain a little momentum you have to outsource the things that you are not good at and don't need to get better at.

Something like hiring a cleaning crew will free up valuable time for you to do more of the stuff that will grow or improve your business.

A few books that have really helped me move forward are "The E Myth Revisited" by Michael Gerber, "Essentialism" by Greg Mckeown and "The One Thing" by Gary Keller. I highly recommend that you guys grab a copy of these ASAP!

David Dellanave

david-dellanave.pngThe big coaching lesson a lot of people have to learn is that coaching is about what the trainee does, not about what you do.

What I mean by that is you can repeat cues until you are blue in the face but if the athlete or trainee doesn’t perform the movement the way you’re intending them to you’re not coaching you’re just talking. Same goes for the softer side of coaching such as behavior or nutrition: it’s not about what you say it’s about what they hear, and even further, do.

The more you can internalize that and focus on the outcomes, the better coach you’re going to be.

David Dellanave is a lifter, coach and founder of The Movement Minneapolis.

Dr. John Rusin

john-rusin.png“Be a master of your unique skill set. Find it, master it, and evolve it.”

Dr. John Rusin is a Physical Therapist and Strength Coach. You can connect with him through his website.

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About The Author

Colby Knepp is the man behind the Marketing at TrainHeroic. He's also a husband, father, strength coach, former rugby athlete and life-long learner. Colby is a big fan of a Moscow mules, ass-to-grass squats and Korean BBQ.