No matter if you are in high school or college sports or just joined the military or a fitness club, there is a chance that your coach, even if he has years of experience and is a professional, will train you in a way that is fundamentally wrong. Why do they do it?
Eternal Training Principles
I often receive comments in response to my push-up for beginners video, where someone writes to say that his coach won’t allow push-ups to be done on fists, despite this being a lot safer for the wrists. In some instances, a fitness trainer himself will tell me how far I am off the mark.
Almost equally as often I see questions about how and when to do sit-ups, because a lot of trainees are required to do them as ab training. The US military, for example, still makes them a part of their fitness testing program – undeterred by the fact that the sit-up provides less training for the abs than crunches and isn’t particularly healthy for your neck and back.
Why do these people insist on training principles and exercises that in the last 30 to 40 years have been superseded by research showing them to be inferior or even cause injuries?
It would be easy to put this down to a resistance to learn. But that would simply beget the question why this resistance is in place.
Authority And Confirmity
It may be two simple psychological principles that are at work here: our respect for authority and trying to conform with our fellow human beings.
On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 took off in D.C.’s Washington National Aiport, struck the 14th street bridge over the Potomac river, crushed seven cars on the bridge and destroyed 97 feet (30 m) of guard rail before plunging through the ice on the Potomac river. The accident killed 74 of the 79 people on board of the aircraft and four of the motorists on the bridge.
The reason? The de-icing of the plane hadn’t worked properly and instruments were giving wrong readings. The co-pilot made a remark about this possibility to his captain, but the captain ruled it out, as he wanted to get the flight into the air on time. The co-pilot, not quite comfortable with challenging the authority of his senior officer, shut up, despite every fiber of his professional sense telling him that they were bound for disaster.
Now imagine yourself at a supermarket. You just finished shopping and head to the checkout. Two of them appear to be open: One has no line, the other a long one. What then often happens is that many people will put themselves at the end of the long line, despite a lonely cashier sitting at the other checkout, waiting for customers.
We rationalize that there must be a reason why everyone is standing there waiting and not going to the empty check-out. We often think it wise to do as others do and the more unsure we are about how to act in a situation, the more likely it is that we mimic those around us.
The Greenhorn Circle
In light of this, let us now ask what a young coach will do on his first day of work at the college where he is glad to have found employment. He very likely will look at how the others act, try to fit in and be part of the team. Least of all he will question ole’ coach Harley, who has been training the school’s football team since 1907 and brought them to numerous wins. Harley’s “deadlift to the point of puking” regime seems peculiar, but the man has to know what he is doing.
Soon enough our young coach will have convinced himself that his mimickry of the others and adoption of Harley’s methods is his style of coaching. Then, one day, he will be the old coach, others will look up to him and the circle continues.
Pay Your Dues, But Don’t Give Up Thinking
Often our respect for authority and our urge to be a team player serves us well. Authorities usually are trained professionals who know what they do and without some conformity society wouldn’t function.
But stopping and asking yourself and others from time to time why you do what you do and how you do it, does pay. On an aircraft it can save lives. In sports, it can prevent injuries and premature endings of careers.