Maintaining the health of the gut and the digestive system is essential to boosting training performance, increasing health, and maximizing immune system function.
I like to think that the health and fitness industry has grown in leaps and bounds – resulting in (most) personal trainers having a thorough education in amatory, physiology, and the underlying principles of both exercise prescription and resistance training.
This, for the most part, is an extremely positive thing.
It has greatly increased the service quality of the industry in its entirety, effectively weaseling out those trainers who are in it for nothing more than just a ‘quick buck’ (which is ridiculous: anyone with half a brain realizes a quick buck in the fitness industry doesn’t exist).
This has come with an increased value being placed on assessments, and subsequently, the evaluation of an individual as just that – an individual – becoming the norm. This has led to a premium being placed on individualized exercise prescription, corrective exercise interventions, and of course, specific training programs.
But there is also a downside associated.
A number of personal trainers have veered too far to the dark side, spending way too much time assessing the function of individual muscles, while spending too much time focusing on corrective exercises - when they should in fact be training.
It is our role as exercise professionals to assess an individual’s capacity for movement as means to improve movement while also ensuring they are training both safely and effectively so they can meet their training goal.
If you find yourself spending 50% of a session on a foam roller or on a massage table, then you probably aren’t doing anywhere near enough training.
Yes assessment is important.
It allows us to establish a baseline for each individual, providing valuable information on areas of weakness and dysfunction. But more than that, it gives us an idea of where we can start training. It tells us what squat regression we should use, what hip hinge movements we should start with, and what single leg exercises will provide us the most benefit.
It is not our role to find out every tight piece of tissue – it is our role to get people moving better – building strength, stability, and function in the process.
We live in a world of pure, unrestrained, instant gratification.
The word is literally at our finger tips. If we want something, we can order it within minutes, via nothing more than a couple of soft touches on the screen of our phone. We rarely experience boredom, as we have access to electronic entertainment absolutely anywhere. And if we don’t have the knowledge of a particular topic, Siri is just a quick question away.
Now while I won’t deny the apparent benefits associated with this current world state (Game of Thrones on demand? Yes please), it does also come with some fairly large downfalls - the largest of which is our expectation for immediate and (dare I say it?) underserved success.
We expect things to turn out in our favour – and we expect it to happen with minimal effort on our half.
And unfortunately - as nice as it would be – this isn’t how it works.
You won’t get the job you want just because you want it.
You won’t get the girl (or guy) you want just because you want them.
And I can guarantee with 100% certainty that you won’t get the body you want just because you want it.
These things take time, hard work, and dedication. All traits that should be prioritised by each and every one of us, but in this day and age, are completely undervalued.
And when it comes to training, irrespective of our training goal, these traits are paramount. It takes a long term investment into our training before we are likely to see any significant improvements in strength, noticeable increases in performance, substantial growth of muscle tissue, or considerable reductions in fat mass.
Even despite the hard work we are putting in on a daily basis.
We need to dedicate time to our training, in which we work hard each and every session, but we also need to demonstrate patience on a larger scale. We need to realise that changes won’t happen overnight, and that we will progress only though dedicated work in the long term.
And while this may go against the ‘wisdom’ of the many 30 day challenges you see on your Facebook feed every morning, I can guarantee that if you work hard and demonstrate patience you will actually see results from your training.
With all this in mind, I would implore you to take a long term approach with your training goals, and realise that this shit is not going to happen overnight.
Every training session is a small step towards your goal, and it’s going to take a few steps to get there.
This shouldn’t be disheartening – it’s just how it is.
So enjoy the process.
As someone who gets the opportunity to coach people on a daily basis, I strive to get my clients moving with the best technique possible.
We know that moving under load with poor technique can lead to poor force distribution (AKA unwanted stress on specific joints), which substantially increases our likelihood of developing injuries, both acutely (while we are performing that movement), and chronically (some time down the track during sport or exercise).
Furthermore, training with poor technique can lead to significant muscular imbalances. These imbalances can lead to nasty postural deviations, further movement impairment, and again, an increased risk of injury.
Fortunately for us as coaches, technique is one of the few things we have a HUGE amount of control over.
We have the opportunity to educate on the importance of proper technique, develop and ingrain quality movement patterns through the use of relevant exercise progressions and regressions, and can improve limited movement through a number of corrective exercise strategies.
In short, we have the necessary knowledge and ability to ensure that each and every one of our clients are performing a given movement with the a high quality of control and technical proficiency – and it is for this reason that having a client perform movement in a poor or dangerous manner is unacceptable.
But, it is also important to note that quality technique is completely individual.
Despite what the internet warriors might like you to believe, there is no such thing as perfect, textbook, technique.
Everyone has completely individual anatomy (this includes not only limb lengths, but also joint depth) that can significantly alter the range of movement at specific joints. It is for this reason that some people can squat ass to grass with their feet at barely shoulder width, while others can only just squat to parallel, and only when using a wider stance.
For some it may mean that deadlifting conventional is out of the question, and a narrow sumo stance is their best option. For others it may mean that a conventional deadlift is ideal.
None of these techniques are wrong, and in both cases, they may provide the ideal position option for that individual to complete that given movement – but in the same light, each technique is different – and none of them are perfect.
As coaches it is our job to find the ideal position for our clients to perform a given movement safely and effectively. While this position may be different for each individual client, there are number key things we can look for to ensure this position is found and trained correctly.
Firstly, the individual needs to be able to maintain a neutral spinal position for the movement’s duration. While this is true for almost any exercise, it holds significant importance for lower body dominant exercises (think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations) as these movements place significant compressive and shearing forces on the spine.
These forces are actually a good thing when a neutral spine is maintained, as it teaches the muscles of the trunk to resist these forces – this is essential to building a strong and healthy spine.
BUT, when this position is lost, and the trunk moves (flexes or extends) under these forces, we become susceptible to injury and dysfunction.
As a result, we need to play around and find the optimal position where an individual has maximum joint range of motion while being able to maintain a neutral spine. This can be done by assessing passive and active joint ranges in different positions OR reducing the range of movement to ensure that neutral spine is maintained (which can be done by using boxes or blocks to reduce a movements range).
Secondly, we need to sure that the joints remain ‘stacked’ on top of each other. In short this means knees and hips are kept aligned throughout the movement’s duration, limiting any shearing or rotational forces that may be placed on the knees (think excessive knee valgus during the squat).
This can again be done by using suitable exercise regressions OR utilising the principals of reactive neuromuscular control to ensure safe positions are maintained (think bands pulling the knee into valgus during a split squat to teach the body to resist these forces).
Everyone is different, and as such there really is no such thing as perfect technique. Despite this, we as coaches have a duty of care to ensure that our clients are performing a given movement with the best technique possible given their individual anatomy.
This means ensuring a neutral spine is maintained throughout the movement duration, and guaranteeing that the joints remained stacked.
Exercise regressions are encouraged to teach proper positioning, and can also be extremely beneficial to keeping a movement within a safe range of motion. Remember, there is no right way to perform a given exercise, but there is most likely a best way for a given individual at a specific point in time.
Something that has become quite apparent to me in more recent years, is that most people make the decision to join the gym and start training as a way to make changes to their body.
And while there are certainly some exceptions to this rule (there are no doubt a select few who want to get stronger, or improve athleticism), you can guarantee that the vast majority of people who enter the gym want to feel better about themselves, and ultimately, look good naked.
And there is nothing wrong with this.
Improving body composition is a worthy goal, and working hard to make changes to your body can be extremely rewarding.
The issue is that when trying to improve body composition, people often measure progress through the use of weight related goals - for example: I want to lose 10 kilograms. And while I admit that I am not in the position to determine whether your individual goal is acceptable or not, I can say that in my experience weight related goals rarely provide any value at all.
Although it may sound like a good idea at the time, most people don’t realize that our weight tends to fluctuate massively in accordance to what we have eaten the past couple of days, how much fluid we have consumed, and how much exercise we have performed (among a myriad of other potential factors).
Moreover, if we are using weight training (as ideally we should be) to promote fat loss, then we will most likely see increases in muscle mass that coincide with reductions in fat mass. This would result in a relatively unchanged scale weight, despite actually losing fat tissue.
As a result, if your goal is ‘to lose 10 kilograms’, you might become disheartened despite actually making some pretty serious changes to your body composition.
In this situation the scale is not really indicative of all the progress you have made.
So what can we do instead?
Performance based goals
Performance based goals pretty much describe goals based around improvements observed in the gym or on the field.
For example, completing 5 strict chin ups, deadlifting 1.5X body weight, or performing 15 strict push ups are all fine performance based goals. These performance based goals have much more merit than weight related goals because they don’t rely on something as variable of body weight to track change.
And more importantly, these goals are truly indicative of the hard work that you put in.
If you start at the gym and can’t perform either a single chin up or a single push up, and then after 3 months of training can complete 3 chin ups and 10 push ups, you can be certain that you have made progress. These improvements are a tangible measure of all the hard work you have put in to your training over the last 90 days.
And seeing the cumulative results of your hard work is extremely rewarding.
Furthermore, I can guarantee that some serious changes in body compassion (aka a loss of fat mass and an increase in muscle mass) will have come along with these performance based changes.
And while these changes may not be identified as clearly by the scale, you can certainly see them (in both physical appearance and improvement in performance).
So In Summary
It’s unfortunate, but too many people seem to think that a reduction in scale weight is progress. I say unfortunate, because realistically speaking, I could go to the bathroom and see more weight loss in 10 minutes than most would see after 2 weeks of solid training.
While the scale does measure ‘weight’, it can be extremely deceptive. How do you know that you have lost fat and not muscle? or just fluid for that matter?
But if you see genuine improvement in your performance, then you can guarantee you are making quality progress.
Seriously, the sooner you make your goals performance based, the better off you will be (trust me).
The specificity of our training is important.
Ultimately, training results in specific adaptations. In terms of athletic development, training should be both relevant and appropriate to the sport in which the individual is training for, leading to specific adaptations (or outcomes) that improve the individual’s capacity to perform that sport.
So, to put it very simply, if we squat a lot, we are probably going to get very good a squatting (which is good if you are say, a powerlifter). This is a fine (if not a little simple) example of training specificity.
Unfortunately, training specificity is frequently misunderstood, and as a resulted, implemented poorly. This results in the line between sport specific training and gym based training becoming nothing more than a small, blurry smudge.
So today, i am going to clarify what it means to strain with specificity, while also discussing where most people go wrong.
Training does not have to replicate an activity to be specific
With the continuing increases in popularity to methods of functional training (whatever that means…), unique exercises are becoming the norm. These same exercises are frequently said to replicate the actions that individuals make during specific sport performance (and as such, are thought to improve the performance or that sport).
Often this means using unstable surface training to try and improve balance, or doing strange single leg / single arm combination movements as means to work the ‘sling systems’ in a sport specific manner, or training using loaded throws, or poking my own eye balls out with a blunt stick... but I digress.
Whatever these unique or 'functional' means of training are, it doesn't really matter - because they are not actually specific.
And subsequently, they don't really work.
You see, there should be a very clear line between training in the gym, and sport specific training. Sport specific training occurs during field based practice. It is during this time where you get the opportunity to train those skills, and movements specific to your individual sport.
This holds true whether you are a field based athlete such as a soccer player, or a track based athlete such as a sprinter or a pole vaulter.
You train your sport specific skills during your sports training.
As such, the gym is for training the physical qualities that lead to successful sport performance.
For most, this means improving strength, power, and stability (with the occasional corrective exercise thrown in). This is training with specificity at its absolute finest, as it leads to improved physical performance (eg. Improved speed, balance, power, and acceleration) which in turn, carries over to improved sport performance.
Training specificity relates to the needs of the individual
Furthermore, training should be specific to the individual. If we have a field athlete who has a high level of strength and power (and is subsequently extremely fast and explosive), but has limited aerobic capacity, then we should focus on increasing aerobic capacity.
This holds true for corrective exercise interventions, as they should be specific to the individuals requirements, whether stability or mobility related.
But again, it relates to improving the physical qualities that are needed for successful performance.
It is not our place as strength and conditioning specialists to try and improve sport specific skills using gym based exercise - that is what sport specific training is for.
The gym is for building strong, powerful, and resilient individuals, who meet the physical requirements required to perform their specific sport at a high level.
Makes sense right?
Drop me a line if you would like to chat, and share this post if you think it was worth the read!
The greatest piece of programming advice I have ever heard came from the great man Dan John (unfortunately I didn’t hear it in person, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I still got to hear it…).
It went something like this: “Everything works. Nothing works forever”.
While it does seem to be an extremely simplistic view on programming, it holds a huge amount of truth, and does encompasses the principal of progressive overload quite well. Ultimately suggesting that programming doesn’t have to be perfect, and as long as someone is training they will see results.
They will eventually adapt to this training stimulus, and it will stop working.
Now obviously, by making slight adjustments to exercise selection, or increasing the weight we are using or the reps we are performing, we can continue to improve, irrespective of the programming quality. While a ‘better’ program may yield slightly higher results, it can be easily accepted that we would likely see increases in strength, size, of performance.
Unless we aren’t putting in the effort required to make change.
While I think that Dan Johns saying is very accurate, it does make one very large assumption.
That we are working hard.
Which, as I spend more and more time in gym settings, I am starting to think is not as common as we would like to think.
Too often I see people performing the exact same exercises, with the same weights, without even breaking a sweat. They are merely going through the motions, performing their favorite exercises and then going home. And while they might feel as if they have done something, they are not seeing any substantial change.
So really, I think it might be better to suggest that: “Everything works, if YOU work hard enough”.
And ultimately, I think this holds a huge amount of truth.
If you went into the gym and did nothing but deadlift 10 sets of 6 reps (at your 6 rep max) 3 times a week, you would undoubtedly get stronger, probably get bigger, and ultimately improve.
Now from a programming standpoint, this would be absurd. It would be brutal, there is absolutely no periodisation (and subsequently no programmed recovery), and you would potentially burn out after only a few weeks.
Furthermore, there is no consideration for muscle imbalances, single leg strength, or core stability (among a number of other things we love to consider).
But you would still improve.
Because you would be working hard.
In comparison, if you had the perfect program (whatever that may be...) but just went through the motions (following it down to the most minute detail, but without putting in any substantial effort), you probably wouldn’t improve at all.
Train with Intent
Ultimately, all I am trying to say is while the perfect program may not exist, we can guarantee improvement by putting in the work.
This means training hard, lifting heavy, and building up a sweat.
Train with the intent to improve, and you will.
Another guest post for breaking muscle today, looking at the benefits of using full body training splits for the development of strength, muscle size, and aiding fat loss.
Unfortunately full body training splits are often underutilized, in which they are frequently recommended for beginners as a way to get 'introduced' into a gym setting.
I sat unfortunate because full body training splits are hands down the most time effective method of training, and can cause vast improvements in both performance AND body composition (with what is a relatively small time commitment).
Find out how to implement them HERE
Seriously, click the link..... You know you want to
When we think about gym related progress, we typically consider the load we are capable of lifting. Whether we are talking about a 10 rep max (RM), a 5RM, a 3RM, or a true 1RM, we tend to measure progress by improvements in strength.
And, ultimately, there is nothing wrong with this.
A direct strength measure (such as that seen in RM testing) provides us with a tangible measure of progress. As such it can give us a clear demonstration that the hard work we have been putting in is genuinely paying dividends.
Unfortunately, this train of thought can have some repercussions.
One of which is the way it can influence an individual’s perspective of progress. This results in the thought that the only way to progress is to throw more weight on the bar. This describes progress through increases in intensity.
Progressing through Increases in Intensity
By adding more weight to the bar, we increase the load we need to lift. This describes an increase in intensity.
Increasing intensity is one of the key ways we can make an exercise (or exercise session) more challenging, subsequently implementing the principals of progressive overload and allowing us to become stronger.
So say hypothetically we are doing 3 sets of 5 deadlifts as our main strength work, and to progress we add 2.5kg to the bar each week. As a result we continue to do 3 sets of 5, but the weight at which we perform it at increases. This elicits tangible improvements in strength, and follows the principals of progressive overloads perfectly.
But, unfortunately, this can’t go on forever.
Eventually we will hit a bit of a plateau.
During which, we may no longer be able to hit our prescribed number of reps. Or, we can hit them, but our form deteriorates badly after each rep, until the 5th rep looks less like a deadlift and more like a 7 car pileup.
This is when progressing through increases in volume can become extremely valuable.
Progressing through increases in Volume
By increasing the amount of volume we perform each session we are still implementing progressive overload into our training, but doing so in a different manner (without adding any weight to the bar).
So building on the above example, say hypothetically we do reach our current ‘upper limit’ in regards to exercise intensity. In this scenario, we can’t go any heavier because our form begins to break down significantly (which is obviously not a good thing). Rather than increasing the weight, we can start performing additional sets at the same weight.
So from 3x5, we can go the 4x5 the following week, and then 5x5 the week after that.
This allows us to progress by increasing the amount of volume performed at a given intensity each session (which can also trigger additional muscle hypertrophy). While this in itself is a form of measurable progress (we are undertaking more total work per session AKA progressive overload), it can also have another key benefit.
By increasing the amount of reps we are performing of a particular movement each session, we can improve our technical proficiency of that movement. As our ability to express strength relies heavily on the capabilities of our nervous system, this can lead to improved neural efficiency, and subsequently increased strength.
By allowing ourselves to improve our performance of a movement at a given weight through increase in volume, we can then set ourselves up for future increases in intensity (which we can now handle).
So using the above examples, we can manipulate increases in volume and intensity to elicit a solid training response. This might mean starting with a weight that we can perform for 3x5, and then adding a set each week until we can perform it for 6x5.
Once we master this weight at 6x5, we increase the weight (progressing through increases in intensity) while also reducing the volume back down to 3x5. We then start the process again with the new weight.
Which would look something like this:
Week 1: Deadlift 3x5 @150kg
Week 2: Deadlift 4x5 @150kg
Week 3: Deadlift 5x5 @150kg
Week 4: Deadlift 6x5 @150kg
Week 5: Deadlift 3x5 @155kg
Week 6: Deadlift 4x5 @155kg
Week 7: Deadlift 5x5 @155kg
Week 8: Deadlift 6x5 @155kg
Using both intensity and volume to improve we can set ourselves up for long term, sustainable progress, that is visible each session!
Something a little different today - I have a new article up on breaking muscle about three key ways we can alter our training to maximise muscle growth.
While we like to thinking we are putting in the work, most of us are not doing nearly enough to make lasting changes to our body composition. If your still doing a body part training split and hitting 3 sets of 10 repetitions for each individual exercise, then you have so much room for improvement that its not even funny.
If actually want to build muscle, you need to be willing to work hard and train smart.
If you want to find out the best way to promote muscle growth, then you can read the article HERE.
Although seriously, who doesn't want more muscle??? (AKA click the link)