Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The hierarchy of training Part 1

Hey all,

Ive been writing this blog on/off for the past month thats why i havent written in a while. Not the fact ive been taking it easy with life and being a lazy-ass.

Me during the past month or so

Ive also bought a new puppy (who demands all our spare time) and decided to call time at my current job, but nevertheless... onward and upward.
If you have ever studied business in your younger days then you would be familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of human needs: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualization. Maslow believed that there was an order to human needs for self improvement and personal success. Well, I believe there is an order/system which best suits physical human performance, thats what this blog is all about.

As always i have inspiration for my writing and this blog is no different. Currently there is a trend in gyms and training. All over the internet im seeing crazy-tough circuits, killer  work-outs, etc.

Great! That is if your fitness levels are excellent and its a particular phase that you're working on. Otherwise, going 'balls-to-wall' every session as your training style in not a good long term strategy *IMO. What happens when you start to burn out? Because you will. Before a rant starts i will get back to my inspiration.

*IMO (in my opinion) safeguards me from ever being wrong BTW (by the way).

Im seeing young/inexperienced guys doing exercises they have no experience and 'clocked hours' in. i.e Newbies deadlifting 100kg with horrible form. If you see this anywhere in the world, there is somebody responsible for that action. Someone in a position of influence has no real idea of the strengthening process and has pressured the weight/movement on a younger person. It could be an eager trainer or stronger, more experienced friends. The result will be bad injuries and bad experiences in the gym.

Bent spine lifting day at AssholesGym today

I speak of my own journey with weights here when i say that everytime i thought about 100kg or above in any lift, i shit myself (not literally, that would have been disquisting) but it was a big deal. I'd put the time in, i'd got to that level, i was nervous and showed the iron total respect. I was ready (or not on some occasions), but i had a progressive plan and everytime i arrive at a (close to) max lift, its because i was prepared. Today i'm seeing young boys/grown men with sub standard functional movement, talent, strength and technique regularly (and terribly) hitting these weights. Why? because its cool and 'in'. Punishment is the order of the day and everyone seems up for it... regardless of ability and experience.

To give a quick example, check out this 'fashionable' circuit:

Deadlift 100kg x 5
Row 500m
Elevated push ups x 15

20 minutes AMRAP (that stands for 'as many rounds as possible'). I just made that circuit up in 10 seconds, (you could too) look familiar? Its everywhere you look on the internet. Sure its tough and would make the training mutants roar in approval, but my question is:

What if your lower back isn't that strong?

                                                           The training mutants gasp! 

If you have poor core or lower back strength, the above session demands a lot of those areas and is a horrible choice of workout. And thats the problem, people are picking exercises and training systems they have no business attemping; So what im suggesting is that there is an order, a system of physical improvement that needs addressing.

Q: What should we target first when thinking about our own general fitness goals?

Answers on a postcard please.

You all know where i got the idea from (above), here are some classic examples of when people who use the gym are just not quite getting why they are there:

- Heavy Deadlifting (okay good so far) with a) no warm up/activation (bad), too much weight (bad) and tragically bent spine (so bad).

- Training clients that say "Why are we doing (squats/lunges/deadlifts) again?"

Because they are effing awesome and your not.

- Overweight gym users using decline and incline bench variations

Why worry about muscles you cannot see?

- Overweight gym users with horrible running form on a flat treadmill setting

Running is a terrible choice for overweight people to use to lose weight.

- Guys with massive upper bodies and zero lower body development

Train your damn legs, its 70% of your total mass!

- Average ability gym members performing Crossfit training routines (badly)

You're not talented or conditioned enough for this yet, start smaller.

- Ladies performing multiple sets of tricep extensions

Bigger triceps will give you bigger arms if you dont address fat loss.

- Gym users using the foot setting on the TRX with caved-in core

Advanced core exercise which are not suitable for people with weak core strength.

- Guys with terrible posture performing heavy push exercises

Why build the muscles that are already dominant? thats right becuse you are clueless

- Gym members flaking out in group exercises classes

Entered a training system that is too demanded for their ability

- Gym members with terrible form in Bodypump class

Have not learned the basic functional movements before deciding on class format.

and on and on and on it goes...

You should get the picture by now, believe me the list could go on and on into the longest, most boring blog i've ever written. People are getting it wrong.

Dont be like Homer... get it right

The weird thing is... If YOU were on this list you either:

a) Wouldn't admit to it
b) Wouldn't even know you were on it

So if you do one of the above, please stop today and ask/pay someone to help you through it. It would save me some hair!

Ok, onto the training components. Obviously this is not THE definitive order of how to do things as people have different goals, abilities and physiques. But lets say i had a human lump of clay and i wanted to mould that person into the best version of themselves i could... this is how i would do it.

1. Flexibility (muscle condition)
People have (generally) very poor muscle condition, Modern day humans are a totally stressed out, under-nourished and Immobile group. Im always amazed at the lack of flexibility and general co-ordination of basic movements from my initial client gym assessments. Its honestly like some people have been curled up in a box (does this sound like you and your desk job?) for a decade and then decided that they want to be in amazing shape by the *summer. 

*BTW its too late for that this year - you should have started in January. Waaah!

Instant flexibility just wont happen if you have neglected your body for months and years so there must be an immediate daily strategy towards undoing this from day 1.

Action 1: Stretch every morning and/or evening

Only when you begin to address the length and quality of your soft tissue will you be able to start to move and feel better.

...A word on foam rolling, read this

Final word on flexibility: Im reading/hearing the latest research/info says that stretching is a waste of time. Can i say right here i completely disagree with this. If you have ever worked with clients whose muscles are so tight and movement unco-ordinated - you would know that stretching is the very first stop to improving this and getting some authentic mind body movement connection. So there may be new research out there and it may be true of folk who are already flexible, but i really think its BS.

2. Mobility (joint health)

For the past 5 years mobility and corrective drills have dominated every warm up in every program i've written. The reason? Because basic (pain free) human movement should be the goal of every person and cornerstone of a well-written program.

If you have pain on moving joints (e.g) shoulder circles then you really shouldn't continue strenuous exercise until that is dealt with. Pain is a signal that something is wrong and its an early warning of future injury. Listen to the signals and deal with weak areas before moving on. If you have severe shoulder pain and still have a bench press day... honestly you're an idiot. But i forgive you. Sort the shoulder out or your kids will be doing your garden for you when you retire.

Action 2: Move your body more, circle joints every morning or find a light daily activity that allows freedom of movement (i.e. Swimming, Dance or Yoga)

You may not like what i'm going to say next but if step 1 and 2 are major issues for you, then seriously reconsider you're next training phase. You should be devoted exclusively to 'improving muscle condition and movement'.

"You should 100% NOT head straight into a volume based strength program or even a Crossfit style program with these fundamental flaws"

3. Primal patterns
Primal patterns are the natural movements of the body. Think Squat, Bend, twist, lunge, push, pull.
If you have addressed flexibility and mobility issues you should have pretty decent form on all of the above primal movements. Here are some common issues:

Toes raised while squatting
Upper body folds forward when squatting
Lack of balance when lunging
No hip extension when lunging and folding forward of torso
half-depth push ups
Limted movement on rotation

There are a whole host of technqiue flaws to be observed on just these basic movements, and this is something that everyone needs to get right before loading the patterns with extrenal weight.

"Why do dumbbell lunges when you can bodyweight lunge correctly?"
 It makes absolutely zero sense to do that, but i see it every day.

Action 3: Practise bodyweight movements (in the mirror) everyday as part of your training/movement/lifestyle.

At the very least, your health and fitness journey should result in you being able to execute these basic movements without pain or flaw. If they aren't - i would suggest you move back a few stages and build your foundation on better movement.

Ok im done for now. I know what you're thinking, This training is pretty easy? Dont be fooled by the ability of advanced bodyweight exercises and combinations to severely kick your ass. My recent inclusion in all my clients sessions has been a tabata timing (20s hard, 10s easy x 8) bodyweight for specific movements of each client. apart from being an amazing 'warm up' for strength training, the fitness element is excellent to.

And thats just 4 minutes... i have 30 minute bodyweight session that could finish an athelete of any level. If you have neglected this effective (and free) form of training, i recommend you start ASAP and reap the benefits.

Martin Rooney uses a heavy bodyweight base in training MMA athletes, you should too!

Check out Part 2 of this blog which will cover the remaining components of my training hierarchy

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  1. Hey Nathan, nice blog, interesting.... I like so much your picture.. Definitely your are so photogenic ;))

  2. Thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
    Fitness Training Phoenix


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