Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Group Coaching vs. Private Coaching

by Jordan Burnett, SSC | September 17, 2019

 group traning starting strength dallas gym

You’ve made the decision to get strong. You know you need a competent coach that can guide you through the lifts both safely and effectively. You know you need someone with years of real experience doing and coaching exactly the thing that you are about to do. You know you need a coach that can program your training effectively to maximize the return on your investment. You know you need some form of accountability. You, being a smart person, have decided that you need a Starting Strength Coach. You look up the Starting Strength Coaches that are in your area and find that you have some options: group coaching or private one-on-one coaching. So, which one is better? The answer is: yes. They’re both better. Getting coaching from a Starting Strength Coach is potentially the best thing you could do for your training, regardless of the format. That said, there are some considerations to take into account based on your preferences.

One-on-one coaching is probably the most familiar option for most people. After all, everyone knows someone with a personal trainer who devotes all their attention to the client for a whole hour a couple of times a week. Aside from the methods we use to get that client the results they want, one-on-one coaching from an SSC isn’t all that different. The main benefit of private coaching is that you have your coach’s undivided attention throughout the entire session. Every single rep, from warm-ups to work sets, gets coached. This makes the training inherently more personalized, because for that session, it’s all about you, and you alone. The coach is easily able to keep track of things like nutrition, sleep, and other factors outside of the gym that might influence your training. Over time, this allows the lifter to develop a strong relationship with their coach. Odds are, if you see a person at least three times a week for several months or years, you’ll probably end up getting fairly close to them.

While seen by some as the most ideal form of coaching, it’s not without its pitfalls. Firstly, one-on-one coaching is generally more expensive than group coaching. Of course, “expensive” is relative, but it’s something to consider. Secondly, because there are only two people in your given space, there’s only so much to talk about in between work sets. Sure, the coach is probably firing off cues at you while you’re squatting, but what the hell are you supposed to talk about in the seven whole minutes before your next set? Every coach has experienced that awkward five-minute silence when you’ve run out of small talk. If this doesn’t bother you, or you happen to be a very verbose individual, then this isn’t really a concern.

As an apprentice coach with some time spent under the bar coaching clients individually, I’ve also noticed that my clients tend to have reoccurring variations of the same deviations from the Starting Strength model. After months or years of coaching the same person, there are only so many ways that I can cue someone to shove their knees out or to stay in their hips before it gets really repetitive. 

Group coaching, on the other hand, is usually built firmly around a sense of community. You come in at a certain time slot and see a handful of familiar faces that you’ve trained with. If you’ve never had a training partner before, there are few better ways to build camaraderie with other people than to do heavy squats with them. The group atmosphere of a good training environment is typically accompanied with a “work hard, play hard” mentality among its members, and tends to be very inviting and less intimidating for newer trainees.

An excellent example of this is Starting Strength Dallas. Group coaching classes are less expensive than private coaching as well. My experience from a coach’s perspective is that within a given session, my coaching eye remains fresh throughout, since I’m looking at a different lifter every few minutes. As with private coaching, group classes are not without their problems. Due to there being several members lifting at once, the coach will most likely not see every single rep during the warm up sets from each member. We only have two eyes, after all. If there are enough members present, the head SSC brings in an assistant coach to help with the final warm-up sets and the work sets, so that no work set goes uncoached. While we do our best to monitor the pace and flow of the class, there are occasions when a lifter will begin their set without making sure to get one of the coaching staff’s full attention (not mentioning any names, but you know who you are!).

There is some independence and personal accountability thus required if you are to enter a group training class. The coaches will be busy facilitating the warm up sets of several lifters, so you might need to brush up on your barbell math (we have an app for that in case you were wondering). Misloads happen to the best of us, but with more active sets going on compared to a one-on-one session, the chance of this happening is of course increased no matter what strategies or systems we put in place. Hell, it happens at meets sometimes, and they’ve got three judges, an announcer, a platform manager, and only one lifter at a time to deal with.

So, all in all, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. Either way, you can be sure you’re getting quality service from an experienced coach. If you’re in an area that has a Starting Strength franchise or affiliated gym, the community and service for the price point are second to none in the industry. And you surely can’t go wrong with private coaching either, as it has been a tried and true method of getting people strong for as long as Starting Strength has been around.

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