Quantifying Instructional Efficacy

Over the past few years my life has been split between fitness and music education. As such, I have spent a lot of time both instructing groups and taking group classes. It is crucially important for teachers and trainers to also be students every so often. You can almost always pick up on other ways of doing things that you can then bring back into your own practice.

For instance, I always begin my CrossFit classes with everyone stating their name to the group. Why? Because I have dropped in on many CrossFit gyms where no one knew each other’s name and the atmosphere was socially awkward! Another example is that I never ask a group a question such as, “So you all have already gone over ____ before, right?” Inevitably, no one wants to be the person to make the entire group go over a basic skill again. Rather, I work basic skills into the warm-up so that I know right then and there where everyone is at on that skill for the day.


Banded Headstand Push-up: One method I’ve learned to expose new or weaker athletes to inverted bodyweight pressing.

While observing a group exercise class the other day, I realized there is a need to quantify Instructional Efficacy. What do I mean by that? Please allow me to get a bit technical:

  • Average Movement Quality (AMQ): In a group setting, the AMQ refers to how well each person is executing each skill. For instance, if 10 people are doing front squats, and 5 of them look rock solid while 5 of them have wobbly knees and elbows, then the AMQ is 50%. Similarly, if one person is doing power snatches with good positioning but consistently “presses it out” overhead, then perhaps we can say the AMQ is 33%.
  • People: Total number of clients, athletes, students, attendees, etc.
  • Instructors: Total number of trainers, coaches, teachers, assistants, group leaders, etc.

Using these three variables, we can then define Instructional Efficacy as:

  • Instructional Efficacy (IE) = (AMQ x People) / Instructors

Important to note here is that while the Average Movement Quality is a subjective number, the number of People and Instructors is not. Therefore, as a gym owner, manager, or head trainer, your task should be to set clear standards for what counts as good Movement Quality and what does not. (The CrossFit Judges Course is a good place to start, although I think some of their standards are a bit questionable. Catalyst Athletics has a great resource of videos too.)

Let’s see this formula play out in a few different scenarios:

  1. CrossFit class with 2 instructors and 20 people doing power cleans. 5 athletes look good, 10 people could fix one small detail like stance width, and 5 newer clients need serious work on hip extension instead of arm bending. So let’s say the AMQ is 75%. Thus, the IE = (.75 x 20 people) / 2 instructors, or 7.5. If you only had one instructor, you’d have an IE of 15, and if you bumped it up to three instructors, then you’d get an IE of 5.
  2. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class with 1 instructor and 12 people practicing arm-bars. 3 blue belts have it down, 3 advanced white belts can do it but have trouble transitioning, and 6 newer white belts are really struggling. The black belt instructor deems the AMQ to be roughly 40%, and therefore the IE is 4.8. If he asks a blue belt to help the white belts and the AMQ raises to 90%, then the IE raises to 4.95.
  3. Personal training session with 1 client and 1 trainer discussing nutrition. Ah, a trick question! Well, if the client goes home and follows the trainer’s advice to eat mostly meat and vegetables, then the Instructional Efficacy is high. However, if the nutrition information goes in one ear and out the other, then it is the trainer who has some homework to do because their IE is low.

So how should you use this concept? Your goal should be to keep the Average Movement Quality, and thus the Instructional Efficacy, as high as possible. Whether you teach fitness, martial arts, music, or arts and crafts, your value as an instructor can be quantifiably measured based on the quality work done by your students.

Thanks for reading, and please share if you find this concept to be noteworthy!


Review of Ben Musholt’s “Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia”

This past July I was on tour with my band in northern California when I came across an article on Breaking Muscle written by a Portland-based physical therapist and parkour athlete named Ben Musholt. The more I researched this guy, the more I liked him! A short list of his experience includes parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, martial arts, capoeira, trail running, snowboarding, and beyond. I greatly respect whenever a fitness professional is well-versed in multiple disciplines instead of just a single domain or speciality. Check out some of Ben’s skills from his American Ninja Warrior Regional Semi-Final in 2012 (ignore the title, the name is wrong):

I also learned that Ben was raising funds for an exercise encyclopedia he was planning to release in October called Mad Skills300+ pages of workout movements with over 700 illustrations on disciplines ranging from bodyweight to kettlebells to barbells and more? I’m in! I made a donation and have been eager to see the finished product ever since. Here’s the book trailer from Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia (available on Amazon here):

Having donated to the fundraising campaign, I was afforded the opportunity to read through an electronic copy of the book this past weekend, and in short, I love it! There are so many positives to how this book was put together. First off, in the Introduction Ben writes, “The broader array of movement skills that you train, the better athlete you will be.” Sound familiar? In my “What Are We Really Training For Anyway?” post I concluded something very similar: “Train to learn new skills, gradually and progressively, so as to become capable of and masterful in more complex movements.”

Second, this book achieves exactly what it set out to become: an exercise encyclopedia filled with brief descriptions and illustrations of movements; not some sort of esoteric treatise on movement philosophy. Because of that, Mad Skills is an invaluable resource for personal trainers, CrossFit coaches, martial artists, and athletes of any sport. Heading into the gym to do squats today? Check out Ben’s chapter on leg strength (aptly titled “Pillars of Steel,” love it!) to get some ideas of possible subtle variations on your routine. Or do you need some ideas on programming for your athletes? Ben includes an entire chapter on push-ups, so there’s no reason to stagnate, plateau, or get bored in your training anymore.

This book is also very comprehensive. It is quite a daunting task to set out and list all the possible exercise movements that are out there, and I can only imagine that it must have taken Ben years to compile all this information. Here’s a brief list of the variety of entries in Mad Skills: shadow box, ginga, cossack squat, plate pinch curl, bodyweight chest fly, zercher lunge, neider press, barbell sit-up, double KB windmill, KB bear crawl, sandbag overhead squat, plank push-up, breakdance push-up, handstand leg raise, cocorinha squat, precision jump, archer pull-up, towel drag, quadruped skiers, stability ball bird dog, fireman carry, scorpion downward dog pose, revolved side angle, rectus femoris stretch, levator and scapula stretch. Phew!

Lastly, the last chapter in the book, titled “Cooking it up,” is a very straightforward, to-the-point summary of how to construct an exercise program. Ben mentions general athleticism vs. sport specificity, sets and reps, variety, social support, recovery, and the bottom line, which is that “movement is the answer” and “just go play.” And it is important to note that throughout the book Ben is able to do just that: keep it playful. We’re talking about exercise people… moving your body and external objects through space because, in one way or another, we want to do it! As a resource to be referred to time and time again over the next few decades, I highly recommend Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia to all human movers.

How Does Training Apply to Real Life?

I was speaking with another trainer at my gym the other day about squatting for better Olympic lifting performance, and he said, “That’s the idea: do certain things so that you get better at other things too.” In the gym that makes sense in some very straightforward ways: increasing your strict pull-up strength will get you closer to being able to do a muscle-up, increasing your squat should help with cleans and snatches, and gaining more overhead shoulder mobility will help with… everything.

What if we step back and take a 30,000-foot view of the situation and ask, “How Does Training Apply to Real Life?” That is, your real life outside of the gym. Many people, especially in the world of CrossFit, get so caught up with WOD’s and PR’s that they rarely stop and reflect as to whether or not their toils in the gym are paying any dividends outside in “the real world.”

cali hs

How Does Training Apply to Real Life?

If you were to ask the average gym-goer this question, they would most likely respond with some clichés about discipline, hard work, sweat, and maybe even that saying “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I’d like to argue however, that there are way more benefits to physical training than simply learning discipline and hard work.

1. Do what you say you will do.

One of the best pieces of advice I could give to someone growing up and becoming more mature is, quite simply, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” In the realm of physical training, this can be translated into, “Do what you say, and say what you do.” If you walk into the gym with a realistic intention of squatting 300 lbs that day, then you better do what you say you will do. Similarly, if you leave the gym and only hit 295 lbs, then you better say what you did, no more and no less.

By committing to a regular fitness program, you have the opportunity to reinforce this habit every day, and that can have multiple benefits outside of the gym. Did you tell your boss you are going to get that project done by Friday? Great, now follow through and do what you say you will do. What about that time you had a few too many drinks and told your best friend that you actually want to quit your job and follow your passion into a new career? Ha! I challenge you to do what you say you will do, in all aspects of life, both inside the gym and out.

2. Digest information, plan, and chunk.

It is very easy to get intimidated by workout routines nowadays. One of my coaches recently sent me an outline of one week of training, and it was about 7 pages long! Many people in this situation might get frustrated, freak out, and think, “Where do I start? How do I begin? This is too much!” However, this is a golden opportunity to practice useful life skills like digesting information, planning, and chunking. In a CrossFit setting, this is directly applicable to long workouts like a 20-minute AMRAP or a multiple-round chipper. Figure out what the task at hand is, make a strategy, and then take it step-by-step.

This triad of skills might be most relevant when you start a new project or job. There’s so much already going on, and you barely know what to do. If you have years of physical training under your belt, however, then you should have had plenty of opportunities to practice digesting all the information that is available to you, planning so as to create a basic strategy of attack, and chunking things out so that you can start achieving small steps towards your end goal.

3. Stay calm in stressful situations.

The ability to stay calm in stressful situations is what separates the men from the boys when sh*t hits the fan, so to speak. Anyone who has ever practiced jiu-jitsu knows this, at least indirectly. Your opponent sweeps you, gets to mount, and is now putting his entire bodyweight on your chest. You can barely breathe, and he’s attacking your arm… what do you do?! Stay calm, slow your thoughts down, breathe in, and play some defense on that arm.

The ability to stay calm in stressful situations is perhaps most applicable to scenarios where something goes wrong during travel. For instance, you arrive at the airport only to find out that your flight is canceled, thus causing you to miss your connection and be late to your seminar. Or maybe you are in the middle of a 12-hour car trip when you get a flat tire and don’t have a spare. In either of these situations, the damage is already done, and stressing out will not help a damn thing. Rather, those who stay calm in the face of stress will be better equipped to make clear, rational decisions about what needs to happen next in order to solve the problem at hand.

Okay that’s it for today, thanks for reading!