The age of the Instagram coach is well and truly here to stay. Every day another lifter is adding “DM for coaching/programming” to their profile and officially becoming a ‘coach’. For a long time I thought this was a terrible scourge on the fitness industry and something to be quashed as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t say that I’ve now moved to loving the proliferation of ‘coaches’ available but I have certainly grown to appreciate it for the positives more than the negatives.

Never before has there been a more free and open exchange of information around health. fitness and strength training. It’s now so easy to access content from some of the best coaches and athletes in the world. A couple of clicks and a swipe or two and you can find out what the best lifters do to warm up or discover the programming strategies used by the top coaches. It’s awesome.

Now if you’ve been around strength training and the fitness industry for some time you’ve probably developed a pretty decent bullshit meter. That makes sifting through the mountains of information and finding the useful pieces so much easier. If you’re new to the industry or have not yet developed a high quality bullshit meter then hopefully the rest of this article can give you some pointers to help you decipher the good from the bad. These points are 5 of the key features I look for when I’m assessing the quality of the information coming from a coach.

The one secret coaches don’t want you to know

In a world where almost every fact and/or piece of knowledge you can desire is available at the click of a button it’s easy for coaches to claim they have THE SECRET. Here’s the thing: that marketing trick has been run and done. There is no secret, special method or combination of supplements that will take your strength to the next level. From an athlete’s point of view it takes desire, hard work and a commitment to the process. From a coaches perspective it takes and understanding of principles, methods and their applications.

Good coaches have a solid method that produces replicable results.

Great coaches understand the principles behind training. This knowledge allows them to adjust their methods according to the demands of the situation.

If your coach claims to have a one size fits all solution to every problem you’ve ever had I’d suggest it’s time to find a new coach.

I don’t know

Increasingly the scope of practice for a strength coach seems to be a grey area. The lack of regulation in the fitness industry allows anyone to claim they have the requisite knowledge to help you succeed in your training. In my experience the coaches that claim to have all the knowledge are often the ones to be wary of.

Let’s use nutrition as an example. I have taken some basic university level nutrition courses, read a few books around nutrition and I love to cook. Some would have you believe that just these facts alone is enough to start writing personalised nutrition plans and charging people for diet advice.

I disagree.

I am not (an never will be) a nutritionist or dietician. I love food but have no desire to study the amount of information I would need to in order to consider myself qualified to offer nutritional coaching. I can certainly give you some overarching guidelines to work with and some ideas on how to improve your eating habits but I won’t write you a diet or nutritional plan. Instead I will find a suitably qualified person that I know and trust and  will recommend you go and see them.

I’m not afraid to refer you to someone who knows more because I’m not afraid to tell you that I don’t know the answer to your question. I want the best results possible for you and to do that I’m happy to help you find the advice you need to succeed.

A reason for every decision

As a teenager I briefly considered following my fathers footsteps and joining the army. In hindsight I’m very, very glad I didn’t decide to follow through. I’m sure I would have enjoyed many aspects of the experience however I now know that I have what could be most aptly described as a mild disdain for authority.

I don’t like being told what to do especially when I can’t see the reason behind the request. That’s not to say I can’t take direction. I’ll happily do what I’m told on the proviso that the person doing the telling can answer one simple question.


The teachers, coaches and miscellaneous authority figures that have had the greatest impact upon the course of my life have been the those that can explain why I should do something. Those that answered with “because I told you to” were very quickly pulled down a rung or two in the authority stakes.

I believe that a true understanding of a given subject should allow a coach or leader in any field to justify their choices. Once they’ve justified their choice of exercise, method or belief then it’s time for you to decide whether you agree with them or not.

Your best interests

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: there is no quick fix. Strength takes time. Most people aren’t willing to listen to this discussion because their ego is too big to allow them to do the work they need to be doing to be at their best in the years to come.

JP Cauchi is a powerlifting coach and athlete who owns The Strength Fortress in Melbourne. He’s got an awesome video (find it here) that explains the concept of a lifetime PR. If you start lifting weights and train for 2 years with no regard for the future you can probably be pretty confident in being able to add 50-100kg to your powerlifting total. Now lets say, for the sake of argument, your total went from 500 to 600kg. That’s pretty huge over 2 years but often leads to burn out and a lifter leaving the sport all together.

Now what if the same lifter started with a 500kg total and added only added 20kg per year. After 1 year their total would be 520kg, after 5 years their total would be 600kg, after 10 years their total could be 700kg. This is a much more sustainable growth pattern. It might not be as sexy but it does mean you’re less likely to be injured or burnt out and you’re far more likely to continue making progress well into the future.

Find a coach that looks at training as months, years and decades not days, weeks and months.

An open mind

If you asked me to pick a coach using only one of these five points it would be a coach with an open mind.

Knowledge can be acquired.

Experience can be gained.

An open mind is the mark of a coach with the potential to be great.

I recently had a conversation with a trainer who was looking for an opportunity to rent space at Burley to train his clients. It was definitely an interesting conversation and one that I think we both took a lot out of however there was one particular thing he said that rang alarm bells for me.

We got onto the topic of cardio and he was happy to tell me that he actively discouraged his clients from any form of long distance running or bike riding. When I questioned him as to why that was the path he chose he spoke of the potential injury and wear and tear that these options can place upon a client.

Here’s the thing. He’s not wrong. I’ve seen plenty of people get hurt or suffer setbacks from running or riding constantly. My issue was not with the content but rather the delivery.

I believe a coaches job is to support the athlete in their chosen activities. Personally I hate the idea of running for an extended period of time (I believe it’s jogging or yogging. It might be a soft j.). That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop you from doing it. Some people just really fucking love running and that’s ok!

A good coach will do everything in their power to support the athlete on their chosen path.

To this guys credit he has since contacted me thanking me for the reality check and he’s now on a path of improvement which I’m super excited about!

Find a coach with an open mind who’s willing to support you in anyway they can.

To summarise:

A quality coach is one that:

1 – Utilises principles to inform methods

2 – Understands scope of practice

3 – Explains why

4 – Is always looking at the bigger picture

5 – Has an open mind


I hope this article helps you wade through the murky waters of the world of Instagram coaches! If you’ve got any questions feel free to get in touch or drop a comment below!


Until next time,

Stay strong.


John Sheridan
John Sheridan

Burley Owner & Bearded Overlord

Burley Strength

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