Fitness Professionals: Figuring Out Your Learning Style

About the Author: Eric Cressey

One of the more profound realizations any fitness professional can make is that not all clients and athletes learn the exact same way.  Some athletes simply need to be told what to do.  Others can just observe an exercise to learn it. Finally, there are those who need to actually be put in the right position to feel and exercise and learn it that way.  And, you can even break these three categories down even further with more specific visual, auditory, and kinesthetic awareness coaching cues.

These learning styles aren’t specific to the athletes’ training experience, demeanor, intelligence, injury history, or previous coaching experiences.  I’ve had professional athletes and very inexperienced athletes from various walks of life in each categorization.  People are just wired the way they’re wired, and you’re better off working with that, as opposed to changing it.

Every good fitness professional gets to this realization eventually on the coaching front, but I’m constantly amazed at how individuals never stop to consider how it might apply to their own learning.  In other words, just like you can make faster fitness progress when you have the right cues, you can also acquire a lot more knowledge as a coach when you appreciate your own unique learning style.  Let me explain.

I’m an auditory and visual learner.  I can watch a DVD, read a book, or listen to a presenter and retain information very well.  I find hands-on sessions at seminars to be far less productive than lectures.  I don’t get excited about going to seminars that are just full days of exercise; I’d rather just read the handouts or watch a DVD of the event at 8x fast-forward (yes, I often watch DVDs in fast forward).  This makes me dramatically different than most fitness professionals, though.  In my experience, far more than half of attendees at seminars thrive in the hands-on components, and struggle to learn and apply knowledge from reading book chapters.

What does this mean for you?  Very simply, you need to figure out what your learning style is and then plan your continuing education accordingly. 

If you do well with hands-on learning, attending a workshop with 1,500 attendees probably isn’t going to be a great learning experience for you. A 600-page book would probably bore you to death. You’d be better off seeking out a more intimate learning experience like a mentorship – or even just hiring a personal trainer you respect to coach you through something you’d like to learn.

If you’re more like me and do well with just reading or listening, a lecture-based experience might work great, even with a larger crowd.  And, books might be a much more affordable option for continuing education, as you can get a ton of information without travel expenses.

If you’re an observational learner, make sure that you get to seminars (like the Perform Better tour) that have practical components to complement the lectures.  Pick up DVDs and order webinars in lieu of buying books.  And, make trips to visit other gyms to learn; we have trainers come to visit us at Cressey Sports Performance all the time, for example.


The great thing about technology in today’s society is that it’s made the same great information available via multiple mediums.  If you want to learn Shirley Sahrmann’s methods, for instance, you can read her books, watch her DVDs, go take a course with her, or study in a fellowship until a therapist who has trained under her.  And, you can even pursue all of these avenues with someone who has previously learned from her, but figured out how to relate information in a manner that might be more user-friendly for you. 

The sky is the limit; you just need to figure out what works best for you.

This is one reason why I’m so proud of the resource we’ve put together with Elite Training Mentorship.  It combines in-service lectures, articles, exercise demonstrations, sample programs, and case studies all in one place; there is something for everyone.  If you haven’t checked it out already, I’d encourage you to do so.

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