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Coaches Corner: Understanding the "Four Stages of Learning"

by Shaun Kober
November 19th 2020

 I've had so many great conversations with friends and colleagues about what we see happening in the fitness industry, and thought to myself, "I wish we would have recorded that." More

you know what is up guys, Welcome to the final installment of my three part series with my man marshall from Anvil training and Development, this is one of my coaches corner episodes where I sit down and just talk shop with some of my friends, colleagues and people in the fitness space. So uh, the first episode was all about movement assessments. The second episode was all about creating good quality, movement through intentional training as well as some of the biggest issues that our clients face. And in this episode we're going through the four stages of learning. Now, the four stages of learning goes like this, Stage one is unconscious incompetence, this is where you don't know what, you don't know. Stage two is conscious incompetence, this is where you know that what you're doing is not quite right, but you don't know how to fix it. Stage three is conscious competence, which is when you know that what you're doing is right, but you really have to pay attention to what you're doing to get into good positions. Uh, in stage four is unconscious competence, which is where you don't need to think about it.

This is an ingrained pattern that you've created throughout your life. Let's get this episode underway. One of the guys that I train is extremely strong, like this dude is um, you know, his bench presses intense, it's like, it's close to 1 80 now and um, and the reason why he is so good at benching is every time he sits down on the bench, everything is exactly the same. He, when he grips the bar, his hands are in exactly the same place when he sets his back, it's done the exact same way. Um And when he feels that he puts his feet down one ft and then the other and it's always the same fucking foot, you know, he moves that one an inch or something and then and then once he does the reb it's blank. You know, there's no thought involved in that process, it's the same Q. Q. This is this is the cue, the response and then the reward, like he's thinking about the queue is right, I'm going to bench, he sits down on the bench and his brain goes boom and fires this fucking pattern that he's ingrained over and over and over again.

Okay, and then he probably gets into that flow state and his body just kicks off that response and that um that chain of events and then he wraps the bar up, he sits up and he goes, boom, I feel good, that's the reward, That response between Q. And reward. That's the fucking patent man, that's that habit, that's so important and that's not something you can just do. There's no such thing as somebody that there are people that can learn this stuff quicker and generally the people that learn quicker are the ones that find a good sequence that works for them right at the beginning and then they just copy it over and over again, they do the exact same thing, I've had a lot of trouble with my bench press because it took me a long time to find the setup that worked for me and now I'm months behind practicing it because I was practicing something else for a couple weeks and then another thing for a couple of weeks. Um but you can see the results as soon as uh as soon as somebody starts practicing something regularly, I've got guys, most of the guys that I train when we warm up for squats, we do a kettlebell squat hold, like a little goblet squat hold.

Um and at the start, these guys are all like seized up Just getting down to parallel holding this goblet is a nightmare for that, and it's like 30 seconds, man, it's not a long time. And you know, you can see their ankles just don't want to bend properly, their feet are flat and rigid. Um and then now when they're doing this warm up, you know, they don't need to be told, they just come in, they'll do whatever they need to do. And then when they sit down into that squat hold things might be a little bit tight, you know, they've been walking around all day or nothing or whatever it is and but they are able to work through it because they can feel everything, you know, they sit down, they go, okay, I'm at depth whatever um hips are feeling a bit tight, but if I rock back a little bit, I get a bit more tension in the hips, it's going to push me down a little bit deeper, Everything is starting to feel good. And then by the time, you know, now it's been about six months with these guys and they say to me almost every week now, they're like, I cannot believe how much easier and how much more comfortable this position feels. I'm like, well that's what happens when we do the same thing every single time we make sure that the technique is as perfect as we can possibly get it and then we rinse and repeat over and over and over again.

Yeah, that's great mate. Um and that's that's a that's a really um important note is how you do everything is how you do, how you do it. So how do you do anything is how you do everything? And that warm up is so critical, but most people just don't really pay attention to how they move. But that comes back to the educational component that you were talking about earlier, man is like your, you're educating your guys, you're saying, hey, you know, the first month or something, they come in, you're like, right, I want you to do this and this is why and you're doing that every day if it's important do it every fucking day, you know? And then um you know, you layer upon that and you do something else so you might do some work for you know mobility of the lower body and then you might go into the mobility of the upper body and then after a couple of months you've given your clients, your training, partners, colleagues, whatever members of the gym, like all of these different tools. So then when they walk into the gym they go through, you know they're generic warm up or whatever and then they make those drills specific to them what they need and you know you get everyone doing the same thing for the first month, two months, three months, but then you know from three months to six months or four months to six months then they come in, they're all doing different things but it's all applicable to them at that time.

You had a pretty rewarding moment today actually because we were away for the weekend, the one on one client actually all just came in for a group session this afternoon, We just had a big group training session, it was pretty sweet. Um And we had one guy, he's doing heavy squats, singles for his competition in a few weeks. Um Another guy was doing speed bench with bands. Um I was doing fucking like wide stance, high box squats with an S. S. Be like the most retarded shit you could possibly do and um and I didn't have to give any direction to anyone. You know the guy doing the bench press did his warm up. You know, you could tell that he was he was getting his back in perfectly and when he didn't feel quite right, he's like a bit more time on the bands, you know, a bit more shoulder mobility work. Um The guy doing the squats, um he just kicked off, did the squat hold and all this stuff and then he's working through his reps and you know, I've always said to them, you know, if you if you do a set with the bar and it doesn't feel right, don't jump up the way it just do another quick set with the bar and try and work through why it didn't feel right.

Um And then the other day I had another group session, a guy came in, he was doing bench press, he he did a set and then I saw him get down and do some um cat camel thoracic work that I'd shown him ages ago because I could tell he just didn't feel quite right with his upper back. So he's like, oh I'm just going to work on the cat camel position a little bit because because he knows that if he doesn't do it, everything's gonna be fucked anyway and it's good saying like after six months of working with these people, they come in and they are aware of what they're doing, they don't need to be told people are very open to learning in an environment where they feel like learning is promoted and they feel supported, they don't feel like they're doing anything wrong, they're happy to go off and do some random shit because they know this is actually going to help with my lips. Yeah it's pretty amazing seeing people go from, you know, I need you to do 20 reps of goblet squats before you start because otherwise you will not be warm for this left to they do it by themselves because and they don't do 20 they do, you know if they only need 10 and they're like things are moving pretty well then tens what it is, if they need 50 they do fucking 50 you know they get their bodies more than I do.

Yeah man. Um That just reminded me of of where I lost my train of thought before, so I'll bring it back around to that when I get a client come in and I'm going through a hinge assessment um You know if I I won't give them any coaching cues, I'll just grab a trap bar or a bar bell and be like I just want you, you know like And I go I just wanted to give me five slow reps of a dead lift and you know I'll assess them, I'll have a look at where they're imbalances, I'll have a look at what's going on um And then you know for the most part, most people definitely need some help with that movement. So I literally, like I when I'm dead lifting, like I automatically get down into a good position because that's the pattern that I've created, that's a ritual that I have, right? So then if you know, they're really heavy on the balls of their feet, their knees are driving forward, their torsos upright, the taliban's tucked under, their shoulders are rolled forward, etcetera.

Then I literally have to talk myself into getting into that position so that I can show them because I've been that good movement over and over again. Um And I think that's a really good um Another good point here is, you know, and it ties in with what you've just said for the last 10 minutes, 15 minutes or so is that people don't know what they don't know and when, you know, I know you're an educational coach, I'm an educational coach, and the way that we approach things is again, we want to give people the knowledge to be able to apply the correct tools at the appropriate time and, you know, for people listening, you need to understand the four stages of learning. So the first stage is unconscious incompetence. This means that you don't know what you don't know, and then the next stage is conscious incompetence where, okay, I know now that my dead lift is not as optimal as it could be, but I don't know how to fix it and then the next stage is conscious competence right?

Where you go. All right, well, I know how to get into a good position, but I have to talk myself through that process. And then the last stage is unconscious competence where you automatically get into a good position and it doesn't matter if you've got 100 kg on the bar or 200 kg on the bar or you've done one rep or fucking 21 reps, like your movement pattern looks the same, and you and I both very similar in our approach and our coaching philosophy of, you know, taking people through those four stages of learning, because if if you're just one of those fucking people, if you're just a fucking cheerleader and you're just a trainer, um you know, people stay in that unconscious, unconscious comp uh people stay in that unconscious incompetence or conscious incompetence, but they don't know how to fix anything. So, I think giving people the knowledge and the education to be able to come into the gym and take fucking ownership of their own training session and do what's necessary for them at the time. I think that's super powerful man. Yeah, I mean, I think that's what a lot of people lose their motivation to if you've got a pt that is going to take someone from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, but not tell them how to get out of there because they're worried they'll lose a client and then therefore lose money.

Then you've got a pt that's not doing their job properly. You've got somebody that's not going to stay with you because the, you know, the natural human progression of something is, I don't know, I'm shit at squads to, now, I'm very much aware of how should I am at squatting um if I don't know how to get to the next stage, I'm just gonna stop squatting, you know, I don't like doing stuff that I'm not good at because no human being like doing stuff that they're not good at. So it's really important as a coach, especially if their coaches listening to this in future to spend a significant amount of time with your clients telling them why they suck at something and explaining to them that if they understand why they suck, they can learn how to not suck because everybody sucks at the start. You know, there's nobody that does a squat straight away and they're perfect. But if you can tell someone, you know, you are getting, you know, but wink at the bottom, you're getting a lot of lower back movement at the bottom, this bottom of this squad, it's probably something to do with the way your needs are tracking your ankle mobility or your hip hip range movement, whatever it is for that individual person.

Um and then you say to them, this is how we're going to work on this stuff, you know, I really want you to focus on your foot position. I really need you to focus on pushing your knees out when you when you sit back into the squat and I really want you to focus on keeping that core tight. Um you give it to them as simple as you possibly can, you train with them for as long as you can on that movement and then eventually you'll be able to show them this is why you are getting better and if you keep doing these things you're going to keep getting better until the point we don't have to think about all that stuff. Just like you said, people don't lose motivation if they understand why something doesn't feel right if they have, if something sucks and they don't know why they're not coming back in a matter of weeks. Yeah man. Yeah I want to go back to what you said before about your bench press because that kind of ties in with everything that we're talking about. You know, you try something for a couple of weeks and you're you know you you bash away at it for a little bit and you're going to fuck this is just still doesn't quite feel right. But you know you stuck with it for a couple of weeks and then you went all right, I need to make some slight adjustments and then you make some slight adjustments and you keep going through that process and I think that's you know, that's very important to understand is everything is about constant refinement, you're constantly trying to you know, you're going through these movements, but then you're being intentional with it, you're paying attention to how you're moving, how it feels, what your strength levels of like your stability, it's certain joint angles, certain joint positions, et cetera.

But then you're making these minor tweaks man, Can you talk to me about that process for you? Um My training, one of my biggest training philosophy is one of the things I really focus on here is um is training your weaknesses. Um and to train a weakness, you need to be aware of it. Um So one of the things that I do not do in here is tell people how great they're doing everything all the fucking time, Obviously I will motivate them um and I like to encourage them and show them the progress that they're making because it's important to understand how far you come and why. Um But it is also extremely important to understand what you suck at and where it's falling apart because then you have no idea what if you don't you don't know what to work on. So for me it's always a case of um you know, why has something fallen apart or why isn't it moving right or why did I miss that left. Um Usually it's a mental thing, especially with really fucking heavyweights.

Um you get under a heavy bone, it's so easy to psych yourself out so you need to have a really good pre lift routine, but that's one of the things that I really like about lifting heavy weights and teaching people how to lift really heavy shit is that you don't get tested like that under light stuff. You know, it's it's very rare under sub maximum load that you will get pushed to the point of failure um whether it be mental, technical whatever, um unless you're doing hundreds of reps, but usually that's fatigue. So I like to get somebody under one Rm in the safest possible situation, whether it be like I did today, high box squat with the SSB, like there's not a lot that can really go wrong in that situation, but if something does um let's say that I sit down onto the box and I can't get back up again. The first question that I ask myself is why why did I fail that lift. Um This is something that I think is important for coaches, it's pretty easy to see why the person that you're training is experiencing failure.

Um you can see technical breakdown, you know, I can see if their feet on the right position or if their chest isn't up for their upper backs falling apart or there's not breathing properly, but for myself, I can't see that shit. Um It's really hard, so I make sure that I always ask um you know dan the other coach or one of the other guys that works here to watch me when I lift and just tell me like you know, be honest, what am I fucking doing wrong? And my feet like in the bench press like you're talking about before on my feet moving all over the fucking place um Are my hips lifting up because I'm pushing through my feet the wrong way. Am I getting my back into the right position? Um And my gripping the bar wrong because um like I said right at the start of this human beings fucking hate doing things differently. My body will find a way to do it the way it has always done it. Um And if I suck at benching then it's going to find a shitty way to do it? So teaching myself a new movement pattern is really fucking hard and it means having someone watch you and take you through your left and go up.

Your elbows are flaring way too early or your your shoulders and your pecs are taking over because you're not holding your upper back in the right position. Um And then obviously dropped the weight back, spend a significant amount of time working on maintaining that position, focusing on that weakness, build that area what yourself get better. Yeah that's fucking awesome man. Um I want to start winding up the episode. Is there anything else that you can any other points that you can make for anyone listening to this episode? Um look, health? Yeah, I would just say, um Mhm Be open to, to being told stuff you might not want to hear with regards to your left or your fitness or stuff like that, you know, it's not always going to be good news all the time. Um the whole point of getting stronger or getting fitter or getting better at moving or just getting healthier in general is to find the things that you're about at and hone in on them with laser like focus, you know?

Um it means unfortunately getting comfortable with being a little bit uncomfortable most of the time. Um So if you are somebody that is constantly seeking out the things that you're good at, if you really like, if you're really fucking good at dead lift, so all you do is dead lift or you're really good at bicep curls, so all you fucking do is bicep curl, you're probably not doing yourself any favors I said, yeah, really be open to, to maybe a perspective that you're not used to. Yeah, great point, constructive criticism is always welcome in my world from other people, but I'm my harshest critic man, um you know, I'm after every single, if I'm doing like a heavy strength cycle, I'm fucking paying attention to every single rep that I do and I'm visualizing it prior to going up to the bar and my lips starts before I even touch the bar. It starts as I approached the bar as my rest periods starting to count down. I'm looking at the bottom like right fucking 10 seconds I'm on, you know, and that's where my visualization starts, that's when my life starts and I can count on probably one hand over the last five years, how many reps, how many lifts I've missed because if I know that if I'm already fucking if I've already missed that lift in my head before I've even touched that, I don't even fucking bother lifting, mate.

Yeah, I'd say to my clients or anyone that I'm training with, if you take it out of the rack and it feels fucking heavy, put it back because you've already Yeah, that's a good point, man. You know about paying attention to your movement and this is where in my warm upsets, my ramp upsets. For example, you know, last week I might have hit whatever 240 kg for a dead lift, sumo, dead lift mine too, which I know you don't Yeah, yeah. You know if I had one rep max to 40 last week, but then I'm building up to a wonder at max this week and to 20 fields fucking heavy for a single, Then I'm not going to jump up to 2, 40 might just go, I know I can hit two 30 I'm going to hit 30 and I know I've already kind of mentally know that I'm not going to hit 2 40 that day and that's fucking cool.

That's ok because maybe I haven't slept very well, maybe um I haven't eaten as much and maybe I'm in a calorie deficit for a couple of days or maybe my body's got some inflammation, I'm overtrained, I'm under recovered. Like all of these things come into play man, so um I think that's a really good place to wind up mate. I would definitely love to get you back on again because this is a fucking awesome conversation man and I could definitely continue going for another hour but I've only got two hours of interview time per month with this software. So good, I appreciate you having having you on the podcast bro, will definitely need to do this again. Thanks for having me man, I always appreciate it. We always cover some really good shit. So yeah, I look forward to next time. Love it mate, Let's chat again soon, cheers marshall, Thank you so much for tuning in guys. Hopefully you've got some really positive takeaway points from this three part series with marshall from Anvil training and development, I will have all of his links in the show notes. Uh any five star ratings and reviews are much appreciate, it helps me spread the message, it helps me spread the love, it helps me get bigger people on the podcast so that I can interview them for your listening pleasure much.

Love Guys piece.

Coaches Corner: Understanding the "Four Stages of Learning"
Coaches Corner: Understanding the "Four Stages of Learning"
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