The fitness world sucks. I’m not even going to try to kiss ass and lie and tell everyone that whatever sissy little thing they’re working on is good for them. Nor am I going to try to make equipment manufacturers some extra cash by saying that you need a brand new rocket fueled hamster mill in your home gym.
What you need is to quit sucking and training like a baby.
I spent a weekend looking at the Australian fitness scene at Filex and what I saw made me quite depressed. The last time I went was five years ago and despite all the big things going on globally you’d never now it from our industry convention. Never mind that things like the FMS are so big now they have their own convention overseas, when I asked people here only twenty percent of people knew what I was talking about. In one of my presentations, to a group of twenty-five, none had heard of it. Apparently movement quality isn’t a big deal to personal trainers despite all the talk about how they are into functional training. They also don’t seem to have grasped one massive thing about humans – we’re designed to move. Training in an awesome space like we’ve got at Read Performance Training daily I forget how badly designed most gyms are. Filex was a awash with a veritable Noah’s Ark of useless crap. The biggest thing for me is that manufacturers are still keen to put TVs in cardio equipment that mimics something that can be done outside for free. I still can’t believe that people pay to go to a gym to walk on a treadmill – don’t they know walking is free and available at any time of day or night right outside the front door?
And this leads to what I see as the three biggest mistakes people are making in their own training and why they suck so badly. If you want to transform yourself from sucking and mediocrity to outstanding then listen up.
I don’t care what the marketing material for anything says – if you want to be athletic you need to move. Think about all of the most athletic people you know – I guarantee the thing that stands out is how well they move and how many ways they can move. There’s an old saying in sport – train slow, go slow. Well, let’s expand that so that we understand that if we slow our movement down so much that we only train by standing still then what we are really doing is ruining our athleticism. If we want to move well then we need to move in training too. If your entire training program involves standing on two legs and only ever lifting something in front of you then you’re not going to be much use if you have to turn a corner, side step, twist or any actual movement. You’ll be stable as a rock on two legs though, but once on one eg or changing balance or direction you’ll be lost.
The body is designed to move in many directions and in a variety of ways – we need to be able to stand on two legs, in a split stance and on one leg. We need to be able to run, jump, turn, twist, crouch, kick, throw, push and pull. How many of those movements are really being addressed in your training? There’s a fair chance that once you enter the safe confines of the gym all you’re doing is a few push/ pull moves and the rest is slowly degrading until you lose all your skills.
Another big problem with this “stand still lift weights” philosophy is that it’s often recommended that people shouldn’t run. Apparently it’s unsafe. Never mind that you did it just fine as a kid, or that humans have been running for about 750,000 years. Apparently it’s unsafe and you shouldn’t do it. What makes this really funny is that this statement is usually said by someone who hasn’t seen their toes in years and looks about five years away from triple bypass surgery. But don’t worry about their health, just focus on them being able to stand still and lift heavy things. Because apparently that’s functional. I don’t know about you but not having heart surgery seems pretty functional to me – so get out and get moving! The easiest way to do this is to connect with nature. Ditch the iPod and get out and run the trails. There’s a lot to be said for how it makes you feel.
Remember how supple and agile you were as a kid? What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. You got stuck in a chair and told to sit still for half your life. As you got older you tried to get back into shape by joining a gym where they stuck you in a bunch of machines or made you stand still and lift some stuff. But did you move around? Did anyone ever talk to you about movement quality over movement quantity? I’ll bet not.
The modern fitness world is built on quantitative training – how many, how fast, how often. No one ever asks about how well. Imagine if the perennial gym question changed from “Bro, how much do you bench?” to “Bro, can you touch your toes?” I’ll tell you now that if we were more concerned about that there would be less bad backs in the world.
There’s a massive change coming. Most can’t see it yet (maybe their the same ones too rotund to see their toes and their vision is blocked by fat eyelids..?) but more and more very smart people are starting to see that we need to worry far more about movement quality than we do quantity. Our training should be viewed like a F1 car’s race time. It’s our opportunity to go all out, to test the limits. The better shape our car is in, via quality work done on it in the garage, the faster it’ll be. Meanwhile most people are trying to get their car around the track fast while it’s missing a wheel and wondering why they can’t get much performance out of it. But get that wheel back on and working right and see how easy it is to go fast…
Maybe it’s being an Australian, or maybe it’s just my nature, but I am fine with doing things my own way. I see so many people tied to convention or worrying about how others in their little clique will react to things. And make no mistake – fitness cliques are incredibly tight and almost cult like. The struggle for many for social acceptance began in high school and never left. Given that our time in training is supposed to make us stronger and more resilient, I personally find that sad. So many people keep butting their heads up against things that are no good for them because they’re too scared to stand up for themselves, or think for themselves, and then wonder why they get hurt.
Take barbell lifting, for example. The barbell is a great tool, but these days it’s just not for me. I’ve spent more time hurting myself with it over the last two years than I have progressing with it. At this point I’m pretty much done with them for good. That doesn’t mean I won’t use them when I train others, just that I won’t be using it anymore. Some will say that I “have to” use a bar to gain strength. I go back to point number two and say that what I need to worry about most is moving well and if a single tool is preventing that then it is no longer of use for me. The same goes for front squats. Many in the strength world will tell you how great they are. Not for me. Because of the way my hips are designed I can’t front squat without hurting my back – so why continue doing an exercise that is almost guaranteed to hurt me?
People need to be okay with forging their own path. Every person’s body is unique and individual and what has worked for others may not work for you. While there are many smart paths to take there is no concrete set format for how your training should look. Training is supposed to be fun and if all you’re doing is following what you’ve been told is the right path for you, yet it’s making you miserable, then change it. Certain things just aren’t for some people. Like me and front squats I’ve also had clients who actually can’t work within a structured plan as they get bored, or others who do well with that, but right now isn’t the time for it as their life is in a different stage and training is a secondary priority. It’s okay if you need to go do your own thing. Don’t ever feel like training is like religion and there’s on true way that will solve all your issues and see you live happily ever after.
How do you fic all this? The machines, the standing still, the feeling pressured into having someone else tell you what your dreams and goals really are? I’m not going to do exactly what I’ve just preached against and give you a cookie cutter plan, but I’ll tell you what I’m doing right now. I’m focused on body weight training for strength, train running and climbing for fitness and being outside as much as I can. My competitive focus for the next year is two trail runs (7km and 14km) and three Spartan races and my training needs to support those things. My training matches my goals and takes care of all the elements missing from modern fitness. So quit sucking, get outside and move more, and don’t just blindly follow what some guru tells you.