Three easy-to-use coaching tools:
Powerful words and outcome-based decision making.


Today, we’re giving away some of our best coaching tools. They’re simple and easy to use. They include:

  • The 5 most powerful words in coaching
  • The 2 most powerful words in coaching
  • Outcome-based decision making

Even if you don’t have a lot of coaching knowledge yet, you can transform yourself into a brilliant coach with these three simple tricks.

The 5 most powerful words in coaching

At Precision Nutrition, when determining whether anything is “good” or “bad”, we ask our clients one simple question:

“How’s that working for you?”

This sentence is a thing of beauty.

  • It’s neutral. As long as you don’t ask it sarcastically, it’s simply a question of observation and awareness.
  • It’s concrete. It tests clients’ feelings, thoughts, and world views against cold hard reality.
  • It’s client-centered. It asks them to self-evaluate. You don’t have to judge anything.
  • It’s action-focused. You’re not asking about what they imagine or what they think. You’re asking about what’s happening.
  • It doesn’t just highlight mistakes — it can also highlight success. After all, the client might say, “It’s working great!” Then you can high-five each other.

Here are a few examples:

Client: I use this quadratic equation to determine my training frequency & load.
Coach: How’s that working for you?
Client: Not so good. I keep forgetting to bring my calculator to the gym and end up spending my workout time trying to solve for x with a pencil and paper.

Client: I only eat foods that are brown and white.
Coach: How’s that working for you?
Client: Now that you mention it, I haven’t had a bowel movement in 3 weeks.

Client: I’ve been turning off my TV and going to bed an hour earlier.
Coach: How’s that working for you?
Client: Man, I feel so much better and don’t want to kill people any more!

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The 2 most powerful words in coaching

Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “I’m a busy coach! 5 words takes too much time, even if one of those words is a contraction!”

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Try this 2-word insight bomb:

“Show me.”

Here are a few examples:

Client: “I’m eating my veggies.”
Coach: “Great! Show me.” (Review client’s photo food journal.)

Client: “I know what a protein portion is.”
Coach: “Great! Show me.” (Review client’s command of portion sizes.)

Client: “I already know how to do a proper X.”
Coach: “Show me.” (Review exercise form.)

Client: “I’m struggling with Y.”
Coach: “Show me what that looks like.” (Go through scenario or clarify what Y means with client.)

Again, notice how you direct the client to observation, awareness, and self-evaluation before you judge or decide what to do next.

Key point: “Show me” also ensures that you know exactly what a client means by something. “Eating well” means vastly different things to different people.

Highlight critical-input experiences

In teaching, these two strategies are known as “critical-input experiences”.

Going through the experience of self-evaluation and demonstration makes knowledge and insight “stick” for learners.

That’s why critical-input experiences usually involve:

  • emotional resonance and power – the learner feels some kind of emotion (ideally “Aha!” or “Woo!”)
  • a crucial concept or idea – e.g. “Sit back and down while squatting”, or “Change your food environment”
  • building knowledge relationships – this new input “clicks” and connects with something the learner already has or knows
  • building personal relationships – the learner trusts the instructor and is willing to follow him/her down the path
  • the “felt sense” – clients “get it” at a deeper gut level (instead of just as an intellectual exercise)
  • meaning – it’s personally significant for the learner

The last point is one of the most important.

A question like “How’s that working for you?” grabs the client’s attention and ratchets it around to observable facts. Boom! Instant reality check!

By the way, critical-input experiences are more likely to come from showing clients things visually, rather than telling them verbally. That’s one reason why “show me” works so well.

For example, if you want a client to understand the crucial concept of how dish size affects eating behavior, show them a comparison image of plate sizes. Or show them how they can use their hand to estimate portion sizes.

Don’t just say “Choose a dessert plate” or “Eat 4 ounces of X”. Most North Americans no longer know what a proper dish size is, so they have trouble imagining it. And almost nobody can imagine  “4 ounces” of anything, except a drug dealer.

(If you need some great photos to illustrate these concepts, you can borrow from our Calorie Control Guides or our Macronutrient Guides.)

Show, then tell (what to do)

Use outcome-based decision making as much as possible.

(We’d say “always”, but sometimes you have to make coaching decisions based on prior knowledge, intuition and hunches, before you know the outcome.)

1. Decide on your objectives and what outcome you’re looking for. (For example, client wants to get leaner.)

2. Decide what evidence will show you what you want to know. (Change in client body composition.)

3. Gather the evidence. (Client photos and skinfold measurements.)

4. Review and interpret the evidence. (Client is shrinking.)

5. Based on evidence, decide on next steps. (Keep doing what you’re doing. Yeah!)

Outcome based decision making

Here’s one cool thing about outcome-based decision making: It works for your coaching practice too.

It lets you know whether you’re being an effective coach… and if not, where and how you might make changes, then test those changes again.

What to try…

As you think through the lessons in today’s article, here are 4 things you can experiment with in your coaching practice.

1. Ask someone or yourself: “How’s that working for you?” Test what you and your clients think, feel, and do against real-life evidence.

2. Ask clients to show, rather than tellLook for examples and demonstration to gather evidence and get clarity. “Show me.”

3. Identify “critical-input experiences”. What do clients really need to know and learn? Why? Review your coaching objectives to ensure you’re prioritizing properly.

4. Use outcome-based decision making to guide future actions. Every decision goes better with evidence!

Your development as a trainer and coach

Great coaching is developed over time, through education and practice.

If you’d like to take your coaching to the next level — and develop into the best possible trainer and fitness professional — consider working with us.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

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If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.

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