I’ve been in the powerlifting game for nearly 10 years now, ever since I did my first competition in 2014. Since then, the community has changed quite a bit. The biggest change I’ve noticed, though, is that lifters seem to switch coaches a lot more often than they used to.
Even just a few years ago, it seemed rare for powerlifters to switch coaches more than once over a 5-year period. But now? It feels like lifters are doing it 2 or 3 times in the same period. But why?
Why are powerlifters changing coaches more often now?
Usually, powerlifters switch coaches for the first time when they decide they want to transition away from general strength training and focus more specifically on powerlifting as a sport. This decision usually comes around after their first meet, when they decide that if they want to truly excel, it’s time to take things a step further. That decision, though, is not what this article’s about.
Instead, I want to talk about powerlifters who already have sport-specific coaches, because based on what I’ve seen, a lot of athletes are swapping coaches without any good reason at all.
Bad reasons for switching coaches
As the cliché goes, powerlifting is about the long game. It’s an extremely nuanced and highly-individualized sport where there’s extreme value in having a long-standing relationship with your coach. It takes time for your coach to get to know your body’s unique traits and guide your programming accordingly as you grow and develop throughout your career. Leaving your coach, then, is not a decision to take lightly.
And yet, plenty of people leave their coaches for the wrong reasons. Here are a few of the most common ones:
1. Your coach isn’t well-known on social media
Your coach’s Instagram following does not dictate how good of a coach they are. If your coach is helping you get stronger, they are doing their job. If you are seeing results, and enjoying the training experience, then keep going.
Oftentimes a coach who is focused so much on growing their following has less time to focus on coaching. While good content creation can help a coach get clients, it does not necessarily make them a better coach.
2. Your coach is not crazy strong
While it is very important for a coach to have experience in the sport they are coaching, being in the top tiers of lifters should not be a coaching pre-requisite. This can be noted in any sport. If we take a look at football, legendary NFL coach John Madden never even actually played pro football, yet he became a household name as a coach. A coach’s first priority should be getting their lifters strong, and if they do a great job, stronger than they have ever been.
It makes sense why the best coaches were never the best athletes themselves. Think about it. A coach’s job is to help their athletes troubleshoot how to progress, and the athlete who’s not genetically gifted (and therefore had to work twice as hard) is going to have way more experience overcoming training obstacles than someone who always had everything come to them naturally.
Would you rather learn to squat from the guy that has perfect squatting anatomy and mechanics? Or, would you prefer the guy who has tried every stance, heel height, grip width, and bar placement there is in the book to make it work? I’ll take the latter every time.
While I would never recommend training with a coach that doesn’t still train themselves, I do believe that a coach's strength does not dictate how good of a coach they are.
3. You are not progressing as fast as you would like
Progress often comes in waves. Some months you may feel like you are banging your head against the wall trying to add a few kgs to your bench. Other months it feels like things are flying and super easy.
When assessing what acceptable progress is, you have to first look at your training age. In powerlifting, the longer you have been training, the slower things are going to progress. As you reach the upper echelons of strength, a kilo here or there can be what you are fighting for. The days of adding 10kg to your lifters every other week will not be forever.
Remembering that all progress is good progress is very important. Don’t get impatient and jump ship too early. If your progress is slow, ask your coach why. If they can defend their answer adequately and give you a well thought out reason, they probably know what they are talking about.
But if they respond “trust the process, bro”? It might be time to find a new coach.
Valid Reasons for Switching Coaches
Now that we have covered when NOT to switch powerlifting coaches, let’s talk about when to change your coach.
1. They lack professionalism
If you are paying your coach, it is their job to treat you like a client and coach you like a professional. This means that they should be delivering your program on time. They should be answering your questions within a reasonable time gap or as promised when they brought you on. They should be giving you quality feedback so that you can improve.
Not every day will NEED an essay or video tutorial on how to improve your squat, but if every single workout they say “nice work”, it might be time to make a change.
2. They don’t listen to you
Good coaches will listen to you. Yes, you hired them and you paid them to tell you what to do one way or another, but the coach athlete relationship should be a two-way street. If you ask your coach a question and they get defensive, that is a problem. A coach should be able to have a constructive conversation about the “why” behind the program and what they are implementing.
If you ask your coach to implement a movement that you like, or take out a movement that you don’t like and they say “no,” you should be able to ask them why. While they may have a good reason, there should always be a balance between what they feel is best for you and you enjoying the program.
3. The programming lacks individuality
As a lifter becomes more advanced, I do believe that a more hands-off approach can be necessary. Allowing seasoned lifters to run off of RPE to determine training weights throughout the week is completely acceptable.
However, if you are a beginner or intermediate and your coach is handing you a program that has no guidance as to what weight ranges you should be attempting? That’s a red flag. Beginners and intermediate lifters (the majority of people reading this article) need more structure. If they are left to their own devices they can often pick weights that are too heavy and therefore have more failed lifts and even risk injury.
It is also important that the accessory selection of the program should be relative to the weaknesses that the coach feels you should work on, and even things that you have mentioned you want to improve. These should have an RPE or RIR included as well, and not just sets and reps. If your coach tells you “just do some arms” or “hit some leg accessories” and does not prescribe actual sets and reps with a target exertion level, it may be time to go.
At the end of the day, communication is everything.
What makes a coach/athlete relationship successful is adequate communication. This means that if you have an issue, bring it up. You should for the most part enjoy your training. You should see relative progress over the months and years of training.
If you are not enjoying your training, give your coach a chance to change it. If you aren’t making progress, ask your coach why. Don’t jump ship before having the necessary conversations.