What the Pros Do

Recently I ran across this article here. While it may make many pause for thought, I’m not bringing it to your attention so you are worried about your mortality. Rather I’m wishing to point out that how doctors choose to be treated is vastly different to how their patients get treated. Funnily enough, that’s how it is in the fitness industry too.

For some reason most trainers would rather get their clients to perform a variety of circus like tricks during training when they spend their own training time on presses, squats and other basic heavy exercises. If it’s good for the trainer then why are clients trained differently?

In most cases, the simple answer is that trainers are simply trying to make themselves appear valuable. If you give an exercise to a client that needs a spotter or partner to perform you’ve cleverly demonstrated to your client that without you they can’t train. In addition they’re trying to give the client some variety in the vain hope that the client will be beguiled by this new addition to their exercise arsenal instead of noticing the fact that they still haven’t lost weight, gained strength or gotten any fitter.

Sadly, that is the case with many trainers too. Their idea of fitness and strength is really quite low. I hate to break it to them, but a body weight deadlift isn’t anything special. As an example, my mother deadlifts 70kg at age 70, weighing 53kg! And this brings me to the crux of this whole thing -

If deadlifting is good enough for me, why wouldn’t it be good enough for my mother? And if it works well for her, why wouldn’t it work well for other people too? At Dragon Door Australia our training is remarkably simple, yet we get remarkable results from what appears to be nothing but a steady diet of a handful of exercises. No balls, BOSUs, cables, kettlebell juggling, circus tricks, insane MetCon workouts. Just good honest lifting heavy things and putting them back down again.With kettlebell training this is even more important, in my opinion, as there are so many variations of exercises yet so few of them really do much. The RKC Deep Six are always the tried and true place to return to in terms of strength development, either with kettlebells or the bar.

What’s the secret?

It’s really as simple as coach said so. From Poliquin to King and Staley to Tsatsouline and John they all say the same thing – sets of 4-6 reps, for 4-6 sets at a time, picking 2-5 exercises per workout. Repeat this 2-5 days per week and you’ll get a good result. Spend the rest of your time stretching and doing some cardiovascular activity.

Yes, I said that too – aerobic work is vitally important. It has positive links to heart health, weight management and, I suspect, in the right dose is as much an ingredient in the “exercise fountain of youth” as strength training is. When I say “in the right dose” there are many varied examples of what the right dose is. In Cooper’s original research he advocated building up to a mile and a half run three times per week. Hardly what most cardio crack addicts are doing these days. It’s not uncommon to hear of people performing hours of waste of time cardiovascular exercise daily in an attempt to lose weight when the reality is that they’d be better off controlling their food intake and doing enough aerobic exercise to keep that aspect of their system strong.

Not getting caught up in trying to match what professional athletes do is another common pitfall – if training is a see-saw balance, the problem most people have is vainly rushing from one end to the other in an effort to try to alleviate all their problems, when what they really should be doing is monitoring their progress via training diaries (you do keep a diary, don’t you?) and slowly taking one step at a time towards equilibrium.

What I mean is it’s not uncommon to hear of people who were all one way. In our example let’s imagine that we have a guy who has been a lifelong strength trainer and lifter of heavy things. No doubt he has eschewed aerobic exercise on the premise that it makes him weak and slow and will eat up his precious muscle tissue. No doubt, after years and years of training he has developed what can be best described as functional stiffness. Functional stiffness is what is needed for the body to safely withstand the rigours of training. For example, a wrestler will need a stiff neck to avoid it braking when he is tossed, headfirst into the mat. Likewise a runner will develop stiffness in the ITB to help turn the legs into stiff springs to more efficiently return energy and run faster. And so it is with lifting. Our imaginary lifter will have gone through exactly the same kind of survival process as the body responded to training and adapted accordingly.

Not surprisingly, after years of this, his body may start to show signs of wear. If he now realises that he needs some extra flexibility, mobility and movement skill what usually happens is he becomes a born again evangelist for mobility training and heavily advocates avoiding activities that cause his problems. See, from one end of the see-saw straight to the other. The situation could be just the same if he suddenly decided he hated the feeling of being out of breath walking up a flight of stairs and instantly became super endurance guy.

Like with all things, training is best done in moderate steps. If you’re not stretching at all why not add an hour a week and see what happens? If the trial goes well maybe add another. Check the response again. See how we’re slowly edging closer and closer to the middle in small, measurable steps instead of forgoing all our strength work and doing only Pilates and yoga?

The same goes for endurance work. I will try not to get caught up in the performance aspect of endurance, as the reality is that to go long distances in events you will need to train long distances, regardless of what Tim Ferriss, Crossfit Endurance or any other infomercial will tell you. But if you’re doing no endurance work, simply adding a walk for 30-60 minutes twice per week could have massive differences to your well being, body composition and overall health.

The fittest looking trainers will all follow a simple bare bones approach to their own training – lift heavy, perform easy endurance work to boost recovery, aerobic fitness and fat metabolisation.

So be like the smart, professional coaches – add in new work carefully, monitor progress and avoid weird and wonderful circus tricks in your programming. An example of how to make this work in a program could be as simple as:

  • Get Ups. 3-4 x 1 going up in weight.
  • Kettlebell Clean and Press paired with Pull Ups.3 ladders of 1,2,3-5.
  • Pistol Squats or Deadlifts. 3 x 3-5.
  • Higher rep ballistic work such as Swings or Snatches.3-5 x 10-20.
  • Easy endurance work – 30-60 minutes breathing nasally 3 times per week.
  • Stretching or Mobility 2-3 times per week.

Honestly, anything else is either overkill or going to cause troubles. For more information on similar ideas and programming check out Pavel and Dan John’s book Easy Strength.

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One Response to “What the Pros Do”

  1. Nabhendu Kothari Says:

    Admiring the commitment you put into your site and in depth information you provide.

    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.
    Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

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