Something that interests me is the integration and overlap between what we do within the walls at Prototype Training Systems and the connections between life outside these walls. From personal and professional development to mindset… to how you navigate challenges, there are a lot of commonalities.

When it comes to coaching, much like employee/team development, there are two primary approaches or ways to look at development: Vertical Development and Horizontal Development.

For context…horizontal and vertical development are two different approaches to employee development, each focusing on distinct aspects of personal and professional growth. They can be used individually or combined to create well-rounded development programs.

The concepts of horizontal and vertical development have been influenced by various scholars and researchers over time, but one key figure associated with these ideas is Robert Kegan. Kegan is a developmental psychologist and a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work on adult development, particularly his book “The Evolving Self” (1982) and “In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life” (1994), introduced a framework for understanding personal growth and development in terms of stages and transitions (more on Robert Kegan in the footnote below).

What is Horizontal Development?

Horizontal development focuses on expanding an individual’s knowledge, skills, and competencies within their current role or a specific domain. This type of development is more traditional and emphasizes acquiring new abilities, tools, and techniques to enhance job performance. Examples of horizontal development include:

  1. Technical training: Learning new software, programming languages, or industry-specific tools.
  2. Skill-based workshops: Participating in workshops for communication, time management, or problem-solving.
  3. Cross-functional training: Gaining exposure to other departments or roles within the organization to understand their functions and increase collaboration.

What is Vertical Development?

Vertical development, on the other hand, is about personal and professional growth that goes beyond the acquisition of new skills or knowledge. It involves helping individuals transform their mindset, self-awareness, and the way they think, make decisions and interact with others. Vertical development aims to build an individual’s capacity to handle increased complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. Examples of vertical development include:

  1. Leadership development programs: Training employees to develop leadership qualities and the ability to manage and inspire others effectively.
  2. Emotional intelligence training: Enhancing self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to manage emotions in challenging situations.
  3. Executive coaching or mentoring: Providing personalized guidance and support to help individuals navigate complex challenges and develop a broader perspective on their roles and responsibilities.

How does it relate to training and fitness?

At Prototype Training Systems in Westborough, MA, we understand the importance of incorporating both approaches into our training programs to help our clients achieve their goals and maximize their performance. Through our partnership and close working relationship with a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Next Jump), we have been fortunate to implement even more development strategies on the vertical development side for our staff and team at Prototype. For the context of this blog post, we can draw connections between the two approaches and how we look at fitness from this lens.

How we view Horizontal Development in Training:

Horizontal development in fitness training refers to the acquisition of new skills, techniques, and knowledge within specific domains. In the context of fitness, this can mean learning new exercises, improving form, and mastering different types of workouts. At Prototype Training Systems, we focus on horizontal development by:

  1. Teaching and exposing a variety of exercises: Our coaches expose our members/clients to an extensive range of movements and training modalities, from strength training and cardiovascular workouts to functional fitness exercises and mobility work. This is the heart of CrossFit (constantly varied, functional movements)
  2. Providing skill-based sessions: We offer workshops and clinics that target specific skills, such as Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, or mobility, to help clients expand their skill sets and enhance their performance.
  3. Encouraging CrossFit class participation: Our group training classes follow a CrossFit methodology, providing clients with diverse, high-intensity workouts that promote continuous improvement across various fitness domains.

How we view Vertical Development in Training:

Vertical development in fitness training is about helping clients transform their mindset, self-awareness, and mental resilience. It goes beyond learning new skills and focuses on personal growth to enhance overall performance. At Prototype Training Systems, we promote vertical development through:

  1. Developing Mental Resiliency: Our coaches encourage clients to ramp up the intensity and face challenging workouts, helping them develop mental resilience and the ability to overcome obstacles both in and out of the gym. You can probably remember the hardest workout you’ve done? It makes the others a little bit easier, especially when self doubt creeps in.
  2. Goal setting and accountability: We work with clients to establish quantitative goals. How this applies from a vertical development perspective, there are areas of self-awareness and setting realistic goals (future outlook) to set a path for the work that is being put in.
  3. Personalized coaching and support: Our small group training and personal training options allow for more individualized attention, enabling coaches to understand each client’s unique needs and provide tailored guidance to foster personal growth and development.

Combining Vertical and Horizontal Development for Optimal Results:

At Prototype Training Systems, we believe that integrating both vertical and horizontal development into our fitness programs leads to well-rounded, sustainable progress. By combining these approaches, we create an environment where clients can not only learn new skills and techniques but also develop the mental resilience and self-awareness needed for long-term success in their fitness journeys.

Whether you are participating in our CrossFit classes, small group training, or personal training sessions, our coaches at Prototype Training Systems strive to provide a comprehensive and balanced approach to fitness development. We take the lens of a “high performance” coaching mindset to connect these concepts into our coaching. What we have found is that by incorporating both horizontal and vertical development, we are able to help clients achieve their goals, maximize their performance, and enjoy a fulfilling, sustainable fitness journey.

Footnote on Robert Kegan:

Kegan’s developmental theory emphasizes that people progress through different stages of cognitive, emotional, and social development, with each stage building on and incorporating the previous one. The horizontal development concept aligns with the idea of acquiring new skills and knowledge within a particular stage, while vertical development corresponds to the process of evolving to a new stage, characterized by a shift in mindset, perspective, and the way an individual makes sense of their experiences.

While Kegan’s work has been influential in shaping the understanding of horizontal and vertical development, it is important to note that these ideas have also been inspired and expanded upon by other researchers and thinkers in the fields of adult development, education, and organizational leadership. Some notable figures include William R. Torbert, Susanne Cook-Greuter, and Jennifer Garvey Berger, among others.