I see it every time I go to a big box public gym. People slogging away on the training floor with very little rhyme nor reason to what they’re doing. It very often goes like this:
1) See weight, pick weight up.
2) Form? What’s that? Look how much I can lift? You can also substitute ” look how fast I can move said load!!!” OR, “Well my abs, triceps and butt were sore so it has to be good!”
3) Pick heaviest weight up possible even if it hurts.
4) Get a trainer? YouTube is fine.
Here’s how the weekly dance goes at most gyms:
1) Men: get BIG, move a lot of weight, workout like a teenager (even in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s) because that’s the way you’ve always done it.
- Monday: “International Chest/Shoulder/Tri’s Day!” A tradition rooted in the earliest articles in Muscle and Fitness magazine (Which I was given an internship to in college, little known factoid. Didn’t take, but it was pretty cool to get it.)
- Tuesday: “National Back, bi’s and legs Day!” Curl as much as possible, butcher some pullups and seated rows, then do some leg press, call it a day.
- Wednesday: OFF
- Thursday: Repeat Monday
- Friday: Repeat Tuesday
- Saturday: some recreational activity of some kind that seemingly never gets better/faster/more explosive even though you are hammering yourself at the gym week in and week out.
- Sunday: Same as Saturday, or OFF to recover for Monday’s Official Fitness Holiday.
2)Women (THIS IS A GENERALIZATION BASED ON WHAT I’VE SEEN FIRST HAND, AND HEARD FROM THE PEOPLE I’VE TRAINED, there are exceptions to these, they are just very few and far between. There are several women who can CRUSH a man in the gym, google “Girls Gone Strong” if you want proof)
- Monday: Hour of cardio, light (3-5lbs) DB shoulder press, bicep curl, tricep extension, 1,000,000 crunches to “flatten the abs.” Maybe something for the lower body like lightweight BOSU squats or step ups.
- Tuesday: Cardio sculpt class that doesn’t really sculpt and isn’t really cardio (its metabolic interval training, there’s a difference). Besides, with traditional cardio activity, you are produce a conflicting hormonal response in the body to strength training: one is catabolic, or muscle degenerative (cardio), and the other one is anabolic (weight training), or muscle building. You can’t train these in the same bout, its like trying to put two magnets together. You have to segment them. I don’t make up the facts, I just report on them!
- Wednesday: Cardio (treadmill, stairclimber, elliptical or stepmill)
- Thu: Repeat Monday
- Friday: Cardio Sculpt
- Saturday: Spin class + Yoga
- Sunday: Same as Saturday
Everyone in the gym is chasing the same goal. For men it’s strength, size and power. For women it’s tone shape and burn. You know what, THOSE ARE THE SAME THING!
Yep, the EXACT same, just spelled differently. Marketed differently too, but that’s another rant for another day.
The reason being is if you tone you are putting on size and changing body composition. If you are burning you are taxing the muscles, usually with some form of power or power endurance, to achieve physiological adaptation. And if you are shaping, you are changing the how the muscles look so you look better. See, both camps, chasing the same thing.
The effort is obviously there, not too mention the intent. So then why don’t most people’s programs work?
I think its a pretty simple explanation: most people go into a gym to improve the way they look, and not the way they move, which is a lot more important. Aside from people training for a specific sport or event, this is most likely why. And herein lies the biggest stumbling block to fitness goal success.
If you’re abs are toned enough to do laundry on, but you throw your back out putting on your shoes, your program isn’t working. If you’ve got 10% body fat, but you primarily use your quads and calves with your heels off the floor to get out of a chair, you’re not getting better.
I know a ton of people who would probably look awesome in a bathing suit, but are some of the most unfit people on the planet. They can’t squat the right way, their backs are always in pain and they’ve got the joint stability of a skyscraper on toothpicks.
All because they chose the wrong strategy in the gym. Instead of systematically trying to improve the way they move, they chose to improve the way they look. They followed the wrong system, wasted a ton of time, still aren’t in shape and don’t ever get stronger.
For me, being in shape means:
- Your abdomen works with your glutes to support/protect your spine.
- You can pick a load of laundry up from the ground the right way.
- You can play with your kids, work in your yard, run, ride, etc without needing half a bottle of Advil to get through the next day.
- You don’t chest breath.
- Your lats/mid and low traps help to stabilize your shoulders and spine
- You can hip hing
Getting stronger, leaner, faster, more powerful, etc is built on a foundation of monotony, and for most people its just too damn boring. I know this first hand because I too struggle with wanting variety, and my body needing monotony to function correctly.
I’ve tried to push these boundaries, but more times than not, monotony trumps variety when it comes to the I feel the day after a workout.
Why do 100’s of bridges to build your squat/deadlift pattern if you can do a 20 exercise circuit or bootcamp (no, I’m not a bootcamp fan either, to high of a likelihood for incorrect movement), build up a huge sweat and “feel” like you did something the next day? I tell you what, I’ve trained people who “felt like they did something” for three to four days post workout using only three exercises who got much stronger, much faster and much more fit in six months than most of their friends, spouses, etc did in a year.
What is Fitness?
Basically, you can push/pull, locomote, level change (squats/lunges) and rotate correctly without putting trauma forces into your joints, insuring you are using proper muscle sequencing and the ability to produce correct joint angles in motion. These are the things that magazine covers don’t tell you about when they advertise “Get the HUGE guns you’ve ALWAYS wanted,” or the ever popular “Look great in your favorite pair of jeans!”
I’m all about putting on muscle and looking good in what you wear, but there is some foundation work that needs to be done before you embark on that mission to make sure you can move the right way to go after the look you want. I never promote what we do at my studio in what I write because I feel it negatively affects the credibility of the prose. But in this case I’m making an exception because it applies.
My 1:1 clients and group strength classes follow a very simple formula that I learned from Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS for pretty much guaranteed exercise success, and it plays to the tune of 20-weeks, 5 phases and 4 week blocks of training (there are differing opinions on the order of the first two, but I’ve found mobility before stability to work very well for endurance athletes, my facility’s primary demographic):
- Mobility: postural corrections and improving joint range of motion
- Stability: making the joints more stable
- Strength: with more mobility and stability, you can work on getting stronger
- Power: more strength/stability=great ability to produce power
- Power Endurance: how long can you produce power, let’s put the hustle in the muscle and find out!
I’ve used this formula since 2004, and it produces results EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Is it because I’m a genius? Partially! Although my wife would disagree with this point.
OR is it because there is a systematic process applied to moving better aimed at better unifying the brain/nervous system and the way the muscles move the bones? As much as I’d love to claim its the former, unfortunately for my sense of self proclaimed awesome, it comes down to the latter.
If you want to be successful in your strength training program, build a system, correct movement dysfunction and then pick up the heaviest thing you can. Then SAFELY do it a lot and build some serious muscle!!
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THE COMMON SENSE FINE PRINT!
Never attempt any new exercises mentioned in the Fitness411 blog without a thorough evaluation from a physician, personal trainer, strength coach, athletic trainer, physical therapist or sports chiropractor.