Monday, July 30, 2018

My Favourite Trainer (and Good Teaching Techniques)

Today is the second day of our "real" vacation. Although our family has been looking forward to the trip, the food, and the adventures, those who aren't teenagers in our household have been concerned about leaving Toronto and losing all the health gains we've made since Easter Monday. So much of our progress is due to Zach.



This is Zach. He's our coach at Cross Fit Canuck, the gym my husband and I attend. I worked with Zach in the fall of 2017 but took the winter off to take sewing classes. I realized that it shouldn't be an "either-or" situation, and so I rejoined Cross Fit Canuck in April with a new support person, my husband. Those earlier two blog posts talked a lot about the physical discomfort involved in starting exercise regiments, but I want to write about why we are still taking classes, in July, four months in, with no sign of stopping. I also want to describe what it is about Zach and Cross Fit Canuck that translates to good teaching practices that can be emulated by educators.

1) Zach knows how to interact with and motivate participants on an individual level. For instance, joking with some people at certain stages works for them but would backfire on others. He knows when it's appropriate to be a loud cheerleader and when it's the time for a quiet word of encouragement.

2) Zach differentiates the tasks and modifies them based on our abilities. He changes tasks to just the right balance of going slightly beyond your comfort level but not beyond your ability level. In education circles, that's known as the zone of proximal development (Vgotsky's ZPD). Can't do a push up with your legs straight? Do them on your knees. Holding a plank difficult? Try resting on your forearms instead. Knee issues preventing you from doing burpees? Use a box or "wall ball" as support when you do squats. It doesn't feel like he's "Nerfing" the task, because it still makes us sweat, but it makes the job feel possible.

3) Zach presents the information in many different ways. He breaks down the exercises into manageable chunks, has it written on a white board so we can refer to it, and demonstrates the exercise so we can see it, even if the exercise is one we've done before. By showing all of us what proper technique should look like repeatedly, it helps our newest members who may not have encountered the exercise, and it helps participants who have been there before to ensure we are performing the action in a way that provides the most benefit to the muscles we are targeting.

4) Zach encourages a collaborative environment and the competition is focused on personal goals instead of "beating" other participants. There are people of all ages, shapes and sizes at Cross Fit Canuck and my husband and I have become quite friendly with some of the regulars. (Shout out to Asad, Nila, Ruth, Phylisha, Judy, Ryan, Kai and Lisa, among others.) Some of our warm ups involve team tasks (like passing a medicine ball / wall ball from person to person as we are all in a squat position with our backs against a wall). Zach records some of our times or results from certain exercises, but it's never meant as a ranking or tool of shame.

5) Zach is never condescending or patronizing. Even though Zach is in phenomenal shape, he talks and acts like he is our equal. He plans on participating in an upcoming program that involves body scans and nutritional talks because he says he needs to get in shape for competition season. This is the same man who can scale a peg board wall with just his hands holding wooden stakes.

6) Zach points out progress and growth, while still offering feedback that helps us improve. Sometimes we may not notice how we've changed for the better, but Zach notices and tells us. For instance, Zach mentioned our increased flexibility, or how we used to be completely winded after running 400 m around the building but now we can run further before getting tired. My husband never knew how to skip before signing up for Sweat 60. Zach taught him how. Hubby will probably never look like boxers in those training montages in movies where they skip so fast the rope is a blur, but he can skip.

7) Zach alters his program so it's never the same thing. My husband has actually reached the stage where he likes going every day and finds the hour of exercise physically rewarding as well as mentally and emotionally satisfying. I'm at the "it's like brushing my teeth - I need to do it, it's good for me and I'm glad when I've done it" stage. Heck, we've even walked around our neighbourhood with cases of pop over our heads to see if we could mimic some of the overhead plate carry exercises Zach has made us do in the past.

8) Zach seems to like us. This doesn't appear to be a big deal, but it is. He knows our names. He notices if we miss a class. Relationships are so important.


We've had great "supply coaches" (like Graham, Rob, Bernie, and Baz) but our favourite is Zach. Thank you Zach and Cross Fit Canuck for turning this pair of couch potatoes into workout regulars.

If you are interested in joining Cross Fit Canuck (or a gym with a similar philosophy and culture), check out http://www.crossfitcanuck.com/

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