I had some time before a wedding I have to go to later on (no, not my own), to get some arbitrary thoughts out there for the record.
I rarely write about training specific content on my blog – I usually leave that for the printed page or online publications. However, I think it’s in good order to ask a gigantic “why?”.
I’m sorry to say it, but the Western world that I live in… is incredibly vain, superficially oriented, and dare I say it – materialistic. It’s a bold statement that’s definitely stereotypical, but just look around. That’s why big name magazines like the ones I write for exist in the first place. It’s all to have a more cosmetically appealing body. Tabloids, reality TV, and even social events round out the list to justify the above statement. With this in mind, I’ve found in my experience with clients that people want to cut corners in order to get the visual results they’re after. For guys, that usually means a set of showtime muscles that make the ladies flock, and for girls, it usually means a nice tonic frame with a slender waistline. I’m sure a firm and shapely booty is usually a part of the mix somewhere along the line, too.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to train to look better – hell, I do it most of the time too. But when it becomes something so important that you’re willing to overlook prominent issues that can actually be holding back your progress – or your health – in the name of hard work, then we indeed have a problem.
The training world is and always will be on the hunt for a copacetic program. Sadly, the closest thing many of us have come to believe it to be, goes by the name of a terribly injurious training system (albeit a genius marketing strategy) called Crossfit. But I digress.
A workout program will always be stilted towards one component of fitness. Whether that component is strength, i.e. heavy lifting, size, i.e. muscle fatigue and higher volume, rehabilitative and preventative maintenance, i.e. injury prevention, conditioning, mobility, flexibility, and ROM emphasis, or anything else, it’s nearly impossible to kill more than one bird with one stone. If you spend 3 months prioritizing size development, chances are your max strength and overall mobility will go down. If you spend 3 months prioritizing max strength, chances are your circumferences won’t be the same as they were when you were going high volume in training for more size. Plus your conditioning will go to hell. That’s just the way it is.
With the above in mind, whatever choice we make when it comes to what we want to train for at a given time, has to be applied with a proper mindset. Knowing that certain areas will suffer as a result of what we choose, it makes the most sense to take our health off of the backburner and into prime light for a few minutes. Hmmm…. size is what we want, but we know that our bodies are already having issues simply moving properly at the size we’re at. Is size what we NEED?
Sorry to be such a killjoy – it’s a drag, I know. But is it really such a terrible thing to take even 6 weeks out of your life to restore proper movement ability to your body? Most of us aren’t elite athletes or competition fitness models (though a growing number somehow seem to be falling into the latter every day). People with enough knowledge to know that they’re not doing their body any good by training a certain way, often continue to do so.
THE BODYWEIGHT TEST
This is the simplest rule I’ve ever come up with.
If you can’t perform a basic movement with AWESOME form while completely unloaded, then you suck at moving and SHOULDN’T be loading up on the same movement. You may be good at other stuff, but there’s a screamingly evident issue that is present if you can’t hold proper form with nothing but your own bodyweight (or the empty bar, depending on the lift).
When a client comes to me with a history of strength training, size training, and not many breaks to take a step back and revisit their starting points, I always like to do it for them. Chances are, with the technical flaws they most likely adapted from training without proper assistance, there will be a few things I notice. Get a client to do a bodyweight prisoner squat or overhead squat, and things go bananas. I fail to see what point there is in putting a bar with a 3 digit number in weight on their back and continue.
In the videos you’ve likely watched of me, you’ll notice in many cases I’m performing very heavy sets (for me). I try my best to keep my guard up, however. In a 400 pound squat, I make sure that the technique doesn’t stray far away from what a squat would look like with the empty 45 pound bar on my back – I’m not talking about majorly subtle things, like whether my obturators were firing. I mean big stuff. Maybe I could put up 475, but if it has crappy depth, my knees almost touch, and the movement resembles a good-morning on the way up, what’s the point? I suppose I have a different interpretation of a “max effort lift”.
Subtleties aside, this lift wouldn’t look much different if I did it with the empty bar.
You all know me by now. I preach as much against becoming a slave to chasing issues in the body so as to kill all your actual workout time. But simply put, if you suck at squats, deadlifts and other big movements by yourself, the answer is NOT to stop doing them, and the answer is NOT to neglect fixing them. Find a way to get moving right (could be mobility, could be flexibility, could be skeletal adjustments…), and get stronger. If you’re doing presses with 150lbs overhead but doing a set of free-arm, standing wall slides is the most arduous task of all time, then you have an issue that you would do well to address. Your shoulders will thank you.
Why Am I even Saying This?
You would think all of this would go without saying. But as I mentioned above – ‘round here, people are interested in the here and now. The cosmetic and superficial dominates the logical thought process of training for health and wellness, and therefore looking good because you train, and train well at that.
The way the industry is going, I don’t know whether to be optimistic, or scared as to whether this will change. But hopefully the good message can come out and spread soon – one level headed trainer at a time.