We get a ton of training and nutrition questions in the gym on a daily basis. Most gyms worth their salt have managed to establish an environment where people take ownership of their own destiny and are eager to learn and ascertain how they can do a better job of reaching their goals.
So it got us thinking.
In all of the different individuals who ask us questions, are answers always unique? Are they always custom? Or, are there some principles; some truths, that no matter who you are can apply to your goals, and if followed religiously will achieve results for any individual?
We believe the answer falls more inline with yes, there are certain truths. No matter which method of training or which gym you might train out of, we believe there are 11 infallible truths that when followed will never fail to produce results in an individual.
1. Quality > Quantity
This one sits atop the list for a very good reason as it can apply to many different parts of your training, your diet, daily workouts and everything else covered in the realm of fitness.
Quality of reps over the amount you do.
Quality of training days versus thinking you have to train everyday to get results.
Quality of food over the amount you eat.
When training, it’s not the amount of ineffective reps you might stack up in the course of a workout like hoarded poker chips, it’s the denomination they carry.
What’s an ineffective rep? It’s one where you make a conscious decision to pick up a weight that you know is not going to truly challenge you because you want to move faster along the workout.
While a pile of $1 chips in your corner might look and feel like you’ve accomplished a lot when the clock beeps, the real winner is the person who walks away with a handful of $100 chips, not a backpack stuffed with $1s.
We’re not saying you need to be at max weight with bad technique, but you do need to be at a weight that challenges you.
In addition, quality of training frequency will always be more productive than quantity of frequency.
While some people do get great results training everyday, particularly beginners, the average person is going to be much better suited training three or four days a week with two to three days of rest. Three or four days a week with complete focus on those days will always trump six days of just blindly following the board with no real game plan.
2. Power Lifts to Develop Strength, Olympic Lifts to Develop Speed. Both to Get You Leaner.
A lot of novice lifters think of Olympic and power lifts as that which should be reserved for massive Russians, and that they are only for those looking to get strong as hell.
While it is true, Russians do love them and they will get you stronger, the reality is they are excellent for people looking to get stronger and leaner. When you perform both with regularity, not only does your body composition undergo a dramatic positive change, but you become a much more capable athlete in the process.
Nothing works your body’s ability to apply raw strength like squats, deadlifts and presses (power lifts), and nothing translates that raw strength into speed and athleticism like cleans, jerks and snatches (Olympic lifts).
The common mistake for the novice athlete is to think that they don’t need these to get results because they “just want to tone up.”
This would be a fatal mistake.
When you work more muscles in a particular movement, not only do you get stronger but you also prime your body to burn more fat.
When you perform, say, a squat, you are working your quads, hamstrings, adductors and glutes primarily, but you are also engaging your lumbar, calves, shoulders, abdominals and upper back on each rep for a total of at least nine different groups of muscles (at least 30 individual muscles are worked in a squat).
This compound movement is unbelievably effective for simultaneous fat loss and strength gain.
3. Rest is the Same as Training.
Once you start to view rest as just as important to the training process as the actual training, you’ll start to see significantly better results with your goals. Your body must be allowed time to recover and rebuild. If it’s not rebuilding, then it’s not getting stronger. It’s just maintaining, and I’m quite certain your interest is not simply to be the most average mammer jammer in the playground.
The days of old, the days of going to the gym and isolating a single body part mixed in with days where you only do “cardio” have programmed people to think they need train every single day to get results because every single day used to represent a different group that, God forbid, can’t be missed.
Today’s training landscape is much different. We now do cleans and deadlifts, there are multiple power and Olympic lifts across each week, we sprint and jump at peak height and often work at just below maximal. Strenuous and grueling workouts are part of a norm that pushes you to challenge each day.
These days require rest and time off.
Your body is an engine and just like a car it is capable of flooring it to full speed, throttling back and hitting cruise control or going for long distances at a time. It has gears.
The more you ask it to floor it on consecutive days, the more burst and power it loses and the more it just wants to cruise and nestle all snuggled up in it’s banky in that cruise control gear of relaxation.
The worst thing you can do is read training articles about 24 year old professional athletes and competitors. Their genetics are much better and they have a higher stress tolerance.
You need rest.
4. So is Food. And Sleep.
Progress is started in the gym, improved in the kitchen and then achieved in bed.
You will always achieve results through proper training alone, but to really take them to the next level and fully optimize your hard work it’s important you are refueling and getting your eight hours of Z’s. When you don’t get enough sleep and when your body is undernourished, your cortisol is elevated, putting your body into a state where it wants to hang onto fat.
Get your body clean, whole foods with enough carbohydrates for your level of activity and prioritize sleep. Don’t stress your macronutrients, simply get enough clean foods to support your function. Don’t skip meals. Don’t bomb ice cream. We all know how to eat healthy but we just love to find excuses not to. Don’t find the excuse.
Getting five or six hours of shut eye and making up for it by blowing lines of coffee beans is not the same thing.
5. A Vertical Barbell is an Efficient Barbell
It does not matter which exercise you are performing, the bar will always move most efficiently and safely when it is moved in a completely vertical path and has minimal horizontal deviation. A 100% vertically moving barbell will allow you to lift more weight for more reps and will minimize the risk of injury. We’ve seen lifts go up twenty five pounds in a single session simply by correcting the path of the barbell for someone who is on the verge of “getting it”.
Just recently, former long time member Alex Vekich was in the gym for a single day session not having performed hang cleans under our guidance in six months since she moved. When she moved, she was cleaning 125#. Under Pritz’s coaching and watchful eye during her day session, the path was straightened out and she hang cleaned 140# at her weight of around 130 lbs.
A 15 lb. fix through simple mechanics.
Let’s look at the major movements and show you exactly what we mean.
On a squat and deadlift, a drifting barbell will create a chest that is parallel to the floor, lowering the weight you can lift and more importantly, hyper stressing the lumbar.
The back and front squat, with the vertically dotted line indicating correct and efficient bar path.
The deadlift, with the vertically dotted line indicating correct and efficient bar path.
On a clean, a drifting barbell means a lot of wasted strength and energy, as well as a more violent landing on the shoulders than is necessary. When the barbell is “bounced” or “swung” outside it’s natural vertical path, we lose an enormous amount of efficiency and strength in the process.
The clean, with emphasis on the fact the barbell NEVER deviates from a straight vertical line until the athlete pulls under on the catch.
At our USA Olympic Lifting seminar, Coach Bob Takano introduced us to our favorite cue to keep the barbell on a straight path in the clean and snatch: Try and knock the bottom of your t-shirt with the barbell on the way up. Or, picture yourself wearing a baggy hoodie and you have to strike it with the barbell on the “jump” portion of the lift.
Lastly, drifting barbell on a jerk/press and snatch results in severely wasted energy as well as a much more compromising landing position for the shoulders.
A drifting barbell that moves horizontally and is “bumped out” away from it’s vertical path is the number one cause in snatching shoulder injury for novices.
The press, with the vertically dotted line indicating a correct vertical bar path.
Focus on the straight path of the barbell on all lifts and your efficiency and joint health will improve.
6. The Results Are Yours and Yours Alone
This one is not so much of a guideline as it is a realization and motivator.
Henry Rollins is famous for saying, “The barbell never lies to you” as a metaphor for life and pushing through challenge in his cult popular The Iron and the Soul essay. And while we wholeheartedly believe in the Rollinsian philosophy, the most tangible and revealing way that the barbell never lies to us is the manner in which the results are black and white, and success so easily measured.
No other sport presents such glaring successes when we hit them. You either move the weight or you do not, and when you do that progress is evident right smack dab in your face.
In weight training, you don’t lose playing time because of a coach, there is no bias holding you back, no weather condition or outside force preventing you from success.
No other sport is so singular and so alone.
Success and what it means to you are entirely yours.
7. If Mobility is 1A, Then Stability is 1B
Mobility is the hot topic in fitness these days with everyone wanting to improve the mobility of their joints, that is the dynamic function of them under a load. While mobility is critical, so too is stability because once you actually perform that desired range of motion you must then be able to stabilize and return it to rack position, under a load that actually challenges you.
This is especially true in the shoulder for overhead movements such as jerks, snatches, overhead squat varities and Turkish get-ups, as well as the hips in getting out of the hole on squats and many other movements.
It’s why movements such as the handstand push-up are so beneficial as not only a strength exercise, but a functional stability exercise, as well.
First, get your joints more mobile. (A great book on the topic of mobility is Becoming a Supple Leeopard by Kelly Starrett, in which our entire staff is busy reading at the moment.)
Second, get your joints to stabilize that mobility. The combination of both are what lead to healthy, lasting joints.
8. The Moment You Fail to Pay Attention To Your Body, It Fucks You
Every morning, your body will give you signals as to how it feels that day. A day after heavy deadlifts and you feel that the instant you eoll out of bed in the morning. Some of these areas of tightness may wear off as the day progresses. Most will. Then, when you get to the gym your body sends a second round of signals during the warm-up.
“Listen asshole, I told you earlier today your back was tight. Don’t do what I think you are going to do.”
At this very moment, you have two choices.
Listen to these signals.
Or do not.
Most of us, unfortunately, do not and 99% of all injuries typically could have been prevented by just listening to the biofeedback your body provides you each day. It shouldn’t take much knowledge to know, for example, you shouldn’t deadlift heavy when your back is tight or push weight on any joints that just don’t feel right.
You can tell from the moment you pick up that warm-up set of 135# whether or not you have a heavy day in you. You just might not be listening to it.
This isn’t spin class.
Listen to it.
Because if you don’t, I promise you as sure of death and taxes, an injury awaits you.
9. The More You Do You, The Better You You’ll Create
Write that down.
It’s super easy to focus on what the alpha male or female in the class is doing, so much to the point of distraction and detriment to your own physical journey. We have a lot of capable folks in the gym, and I promise you that none of them walked into P360 on Day 1 made that way. Records, clubs, achievements and all of the stuff that may or may not blow your mind used to be just a seedling in the ground that took constant daily watering and patience.
Focus on small improvements, young grasshopper. Create small victories each day that are for you and you alone.
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Their journey is different than yours.
10. “Do Less”
You know by know we love this saying and think it to be one of the most ingenuous philosophies ever invented, as the brilliance of it lies in the simplicity.
In fitness, we all want to overdo EV-REE-THING.
Going for the next step on Paleo? No fucking carbs ever, bro!!
Trying to lean out? Two-a-days for the next two months straight!! Rest is for the weak!!
Trying to get stronger? MUST SET PR EVERY TIME I PICK UP BARBELL IN EVERYTHING EVERYDAY EVERY SECOND ALL THE TIME. PRPRPRPRPRPR!!
The basics work just fine for 99% of the population, but when you deviate and try and put your own ill-advised spin on something that frankly, if we’re being honest you probably don’t know shit about, you get in your own way.
Don’t get it in your own way.
11. Work Backwards
Goals are probably our favorite thing at Performance360. We encourage them, nurture them and try to help each member that shows interest set goals and benchmarks. As coaches, we always look at the goals board so we can get a sense where everyone’s head is at and what individuals are trying to accomplish.
One thing we have noticed and love is that people set BIG goals in this gym.
While that is an enormously positive thing, one way goals can get derailed is not having an understanding of the process and how you get there. Just tossing up “six pull-ups” is a great start, but it’s meaningless if you don’t have a plan on how to get that done.
It’s like saying you wan’t to sail to Hawaii and then leaving port with no map. Sure, Hawaii is awesome but how the hell do you plan on getting that daunting task done?
The answer, is to backwards.
If your goal is six pull-ups and you are currently on the purple band, then it probably doesn’t quite yet make sense to throw “six” as your goal for the current month, so you first figure out the reasonable progression that is in your immediate future. Six pull-ups from a position of not being able to do any will most likely take a few months. So project that goal to be accomplished six months from now and then all you have to do is work backwards.
- Month 6 – six pull-ups
- Month 5 – five pull-ups
- Month 4 – four pull-ups
- Month 3 – three pull-ups
- Month 2 – one to two pull-ups
- This Month’s Goal – three dead hang pull-ups on the black (harder level) band
Over zealousness and a lack of understanding of the process can demotivate when the expectation is overnight success. Rather than re-writing “six pull-ups” on the board every month and likely accomplishing nothing, scale it forward and then work backwards so that each month you have small victories along the path of eventual goal completion.
If you don’t know how to scale it, then that’s what your coaches are for 🙂
So, there you have it. Kind of our “how to” success guide that can be applied to everyone regardless of where you are along the curve.
Dave Thomas is co-owner of Performance360 in Mission Beach, San Diego. He is a USA Weightlifting Coach and has coached hundreds of men and women in the San Diego area.