Crush The Chaos: Here's 10 Tips To Run A Better Large Group Training Session

Running a training session in a facility full of crazed athletes, crashing weights, and time constraints is not necessarily a walk in the park.

Luckily, I have had the past 5+ years to figure out a flow to help monitor, administer, and effectively train large groups efficiently.

Whether you are a CrossFit coach, weightlifting club director/coach, collegiate strength coach, football/sports coach, and/or personal trainer (and I have been all of them, with the exception of a CrossFit coach), the below 10 tips will help you in all aspects of your training and day-to day scheduling.

They will also help you (and your athletes/members) get more out of every training session

1. Preparation = Success

This is the most important thing to remember of all ten tips, and it simply cannot be faked or overlooked. Failure to be prepared will result in lost seconds in the session, unneeded stress, and a sense of lacking control.

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When working with large teams, such as when I began with our baseball team, I was an understaffed coach (1 coach for 30-40 athletes in a weight room), yet I felt 100% confident and in control of the situation.

Why? Preparation.

Take 10-15 minutes before the session to map out a rough plan for each and every session you coach.

2. Use Program Templates To Maximize Productivity

Whatever you choose to write your programs in, just make sure you do it.

I used to be the guy who would use a notepad and excel for everything; however, that turned into a great time constraint and would sometimes fall by the wayside.

While this may come across as shameless plug, TrainHeroic has really helped me stay on top of my duties as a coach and programmer in our weightlifting club programming, making it easy to swap movements, see macrocycles and mesocycles, and quickly populate weeks of programming for all my teams at one time.

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Image 1: Are you still making up workouts in the minutes before your training session? Then you're not a coach, you're a cheerleader and workout organizer. Coaches write programs, track progress, and make adjustments as neccessary.

3. Keep it Stupid Simple

We all are guilty of this at one point in time or another. Whether it is the fear of missing out or simply overestimating the amount of loading within your program, the fact of the matter is over-programming exists.

When programming, place an emphasis on the exercises that are critical to performance (which means you may have to make some hard decisions) by doing them first in sessions. All other sections need to be balanced out to allow for proper recovery and restoration after long training sessions.

Bottom line: keep it simple!

4. Brief Your Athletes Before Every Session

After warm-ups, take 5 minutes and brief your athletes.

I do this for both our weightlifting club and athletes, and it has been a huge help in making sure everyone knows exactly what is to be done and how.

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I highly recommend getting a large dry erase board and marker and placing the workouts up on the wall for all to see/follow. You could take this one step further by using TrainHeroic to place workouts on tablets and TVs via HDMI cables in your weight room.

5. Check For Understanding... Then Check Again

This is so simple to do, yet so easy to forget.

After briefing your athletes/members and going through all necessary exercise demonstrations, I highly suggest you ask the entire group if there are any questions.

Always ask three times, since some people will be shy or fail to ask the first time. If you create the culture that asking questions is not only good to do, but also needed (as many people may have the same questions), you can start to open up lines of communication with your teams and athletes, as well as start to become better at foreseeing any issues in your programming or instructions.

6. Organize For Efficiency

More often than not you will need to pair athletes up when in large team/group settings. I find that three is a great number of athletes within a given group, as it lends itself to someone working, someone resting, and someone spotting. Any more and you may start to get people herding together and not staying on task.

I then suggest you pair athletes up who lift similar loads and/or are at similar body heights (such as when squatting, benching, or anything from the racks) to really keep things running smoothly.

7. Run A Tight Ship

If you have inefficient training sessions and/or are not accomplishing everything you need to be doing...it’s 100% on you as a coach.

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I learned this back when I was a high school football coach and had to micromanage the clock like Bill Belichick does in the 2-Minute Drill. Learning how to structure workouts, budget time tables, and keep the sessions on pace is key to getting your athletes the work and volume they need to become better AND doing your job as a strength coach.

Adhering to many of the above tips will also make this much easier to do, but you still need to set the tone in your training session by letting the athletes know exactly what you expect and how long they should spend on it. Keep a sense of urgency with a session going until the clock runs zeros.

8. Keep It Fun + Flexible

For the first parts of this article we discussed all the ways to run a bulletproof training program sealed so tightly that nothing will fall through the cracks. My next tip, however, is to learn how to be flexible in your training sessions and go with the flow.

Sometimes you may need to adjust a program that day to include a longer warm-up when athletes come in feeling run down by their previous training or games, while other times you may need to swap out exercises or stations that looked good on paper but realistically do not flow well with the workout.

This is a skill that is learned when a coach is forced to train with little space, equipment, and/or has a limited amount of resources (all of which I learned running smaller groups in what seemed to be a 10x10 foot area). Learning to place sections together in a methodical and compatible format will not only help the sessions flow, but also increase the effectiveness of your workouts.

9. Understand The Big Picture

This goes along with tips #2, #3, and #8. As coaches, we need to learn to micromanage every day and still see the bigger picture to truly get things done. When looking at training sessions that seem to be so chaotic or unorganized, or athletes who just aren't getting it (trust me, this happens), you need to step back and take a look at what you are doing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, session-to-session frustrations and obstacles. But if you can step back and prioritize better during training sessions (such as exercise selection, addressing team needs first, timelines, and goals) you will find a sense of clarity and direction that will help you steer the club/team into the right direction.

10. Required On-Boarding/Fundamentals Course

Many CrossFit gyms do a great job of this for their new members, as well as some strength and conditioning programs getting new recruits and/or freshmen up to speed.

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The idea behind on-boarding is to provide the athletes/members with enough slower-paced and hands-on instruction in a learning environment to allow them to be fully capable of keeping up and being an active part of the team and/or larger group training sessions safely and effectively.

For weightlifting clubs, I suggest getting to know your new members/athletes and placing them in an area where you can work with them (or another one of your coaches) if they need to take more time to learn technique, etc.).

For strength coaches, having freshmen/new recruits come in during open hours or non-scheduled team lifts can be a great way to help new athletes get up to speed, create stronger coach-athlete relationships, and build team leaders for tomorrow.

Coach Notes

By no means are the above 10 tips the only ways to run an effective training program or lifting session, as I know for a fact I am in great company here on Train Heroic. Many of you are trainers and strength coaches of all levels and abilities... and you hold some of the highest of accolades...which is why I would love to hear your feedback on any additional tips you may have to run better group workouts (or comments regarding my coaching tips)!

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About The Author

Mike holds a Masters in Applied Physiology from Columbia University and a Bachelors in Exercise Science from Bowling Green State University. He is an accredited Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCAS CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and an Advanced Sports Performance Coach from USA Weightlifting (USAWL2).

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