A Look Into Our 2020 Workout Design
Written by Dave Thomas
Over our nine years operating as a gym in San Diego, we have evolved and tweaked our programming at every step of the way and I promise you, it will be tweaked and evolve many more times again. Complacency is where all progressive beings go to die, and so we always try to err on the side of proactive versus too late. In fact, tethering ourselves to that philosophy has been instrumental in our longevity and growth as a gym and making it to nine years when the average is less than two.
This philosophy based on evolution doesn’t mean overhaul and abandonment of principles, like deciding on a whim to start doing hot blindfolded spinning or something. Our philosophy of fitness evolution means always keeping our principles as our foundation, but constantly analyzing where delivery can be improved to achieve the following overall objectives as a gym:
- Get you well rounded fitness results.
- Keep you safe.
- Support your goals.
- Make it fun.
In that order. Never abandoning any.
As we head into 2020, we will continue to have the following bedrock in support of those four objectives.
Reps for Goal
Many of you noticed when we made the decision in November to revert back to our founding programming, a philosophy best summarized as “Reps for Goal” that we used very successfully from 2011 – 2015 to fill our Mission Beach gym. It’s based on a very simple principle that candidly I wish we’d never abandoned: individualization.
“You doin’ you.”
We believe that every person who trains here should be able to easily access a version of our workouts that best suites their goals. Those of you who want to focus on more of a strength-based approach can do so at fewer reps, heavier loads, and slower pacing right next to those of you want to focus on moving faster and focus on a more volume-based approach that skews either muscle or conditioning. As Coach Dan so eloquently likes to put it on these days, “Your neighbor’s pace doesn’t dictate your pace.”
Take the following workout:
Reps for Goal:
10 Archer Rows
Then, in Time Remaining:
Or, Work up to Heavy 3R Bench
It’s centered around compound movements that create change, and what that change becomes is up to you and your rep and weight selection. The workout is the blank canvas and you are the artist who gets to do what you want with it:
5R: Strength. Lift heavier, move slower. Less overall volume with more purpose (75%+ load).
10R: Muscle. Moderate weight, moderate pace. Moderate volume at higher reps to create “pump” (60% load).
10R: Conditioning. Lighter weight, faster pace. High volume with highest reps to increase aerobic capacity and caloric expenditure. (40-50% load)
And of course, those who prefer to focus their day around isolating heavy lifting can find that option residing in “Performance” category on many days we feature a barbell lift. That first half variation might look like:
10 Weighted Push-Ups
6 KB Archer Rows
As you can see, no one goal is cheated in this style of workout. Some days you want to throw some heavy weight around. Some days you want to come in and burn some calories. Some days you wanna get jacked AF. Never forced. Never pigeonholed.
It’s not as if these days represent everyday, but once or twice per week? Absolutely.
So, you may be wondering? Why did we decide to move away from it? A very fair question and one that I’m afraid I don’t have a pinpoint answer. I think to be honest, about three years ago I got a little too caught up with wanting our programming to look impressive, rather than be accessible and effective. One day, I woke up and found that our style of fitness looked like every S&C gym on every corner of America. First, lift this really slow and heavy. Then, do this really quickly for a short period of time. Rinse. Repeat. We lost the individualization and well rounded training that made us, us. And it’s no wonder that over the past two years we’ve had more and more people confuse us with that we always sought to differentiate ourselves from.
Absolute strength training percentages (75%+) should be a training option for you multiple times per week, but it shouldn’t be forced upon your neighbor who isn’t trying to build absolute strength. You should be able to come in that day and train for relative strength, or train for muscle, or train for conditioning if that’s what you prefer. That’s our philosophy and what ultimately built us into what we are today, and individualization is where we will once more double down moving forward.
Our decision to be strength-based sounds generic and obvious, but consider the opposition and the stark contrast to gyms focused around treadmills or conditioning, focused exclusively on how many calories you can burn in a workout. Conditioning and caloric burn are both important aspects of developing your fitness and changing your body, but they pale in comparison to what strength training does to re-compose the body and improve it’s ability. Strength builds new lean tissue that increases your vitality, increases how many calories you burn daily, improves your physique, makes you leaner, improves your posture and confidence, above all strength is pro-progress.
Whereas peak output conditioning focused gyms are reductionist by nature: “How much can you get rid of?” That kind of mentality can have severe consequences on the ability to have a healthy relationship with fitness, and we ain’t about it.
Consider also the totally fucked physiology of chronic conditioning-based training. We know through science that muscle is non-negotiable tissue for health and metabolism. More is better than less. More muscle equals you burning more calories, looking better, and being healthier. So consider that a workout that has you at max output for 45 minutes with weights that aren’t challenging actually resists the progress and in some cases outright strips you of the very muscle that actually matters!
So…when we say strength, what do we mean?
After all, strength is a funny thing. Some people define it by how much you can back squat for a single rep, others define it as how many push-ups you can do, or whether you can carry your groceries to your car in a single trip, or how much weight you can put on your back for a plank, or how much you can bottom’s up kettlebell press. We aren’t interested in telling or selling you a single definition of strength, only that it’s fact that many different versions exist across many different spectrum, and we’re interested in getting you stronger in all of them.
We’re not concerned if your only version of strength is what’s on your barbell for two reps. We never set out to be that gym. You’re going to be exposed to a lot more than that, often. One day it might be a barbell, the next it might be challenging your ability to do ring dips, another perhaps it’s developing your stability on the ab wheel, or the length of time it takes you to row 500m. All of those have strength components.
We will always be a strength-based gym. It may just ask that you broaden your view of what you perceive as strength.
Purposeful Time Domains
Failing to vary the stimulus on your body is a very fast way to a plateau physiologically and very likely deep boredom that sets in. This is why in a given week you will might see a 30 minute “Reps for Goal” single-tier workout that might be juxtaposed against an “First, for Strength. Then, for Conditioning” two-tier workout the next day.
Summarized, the thirty minute “RFG” workout is training overall fitness with the ability for you to select your bias of the outcome (strength, muscle, or conditioning). This is the all you can eat buffet that gives you a little bit of everything, hands you a plate and says, “Go nuts!”
The “First, Then” workout compartmentalizes different outcomes so we can focus on specificity. First, we will work on strength or muscle building exclusively. Then, we will work on conditioning. This is the prix fix menu. One serving at a time determined by the chef.
Physiologically, they are both important. In the “RFG” thirty minute workout you must do things that you can’t when the workout is split and compartmentalized in “First, Then”. You are asked to endure aerobically, to maintain a higher level of muscle endurance, strength endurance, core stability and positioning repetition. Due to the volume of reps in effective muscles and extended elevation of your heart rate, you will also yield a much greater caloric burn in this format but in a lower intensity.
In the “First, Then” workout, your conditioning is typically only 10 – 15 minutes but at much greater intensity. In this type of format, your output peaks and stays there. You are moving as quickly as possible, often using power-based movements as a way to condition more anaerobically. The caloric output will be less, but you are often stressing muscles in a way that is uniquely beneficial to the shorter workout nature. It’s like going to a bar and ripping six shots rather than sipping on something all night.
Neither time domain is “better” or “worse” than the other. To have well rounded fitness, we believe you must do both regularly and of course, the vast majority of workouts the exist between those polar ends of the spectrum.
Less is More
Workouts that have eleven movements in them with no concept of pairing or purpose are what I like to call the “stay moving and stay busy” workout. Those may feel like they’re kicking your ass but isn’t really doing anything to build your ass. It’s amateur hour and purposefully meant to fool people with fatigue.
Now, this isn’t to say you can’t write an excellent workout with a lot of movements, but it’s highly unnecessary and a fitness foundation with fewer, higher quality movements done right will always be more effective than the Gatling gun approach of aimlessly firing.
So, what’s a high quality movement?
It is one that is loaded and works multiple joints. For example, a bicep curl works one joint (elbow) but a pull-ups works two (elbow + shoulder), making pull-ups more net effective in a given amount of time. The “stay busy” workout is usually focused on jacking up your heart rate and keeping you moving which provides the illusion of effectiveness, since the only way to keep you moving is provide you with movements that aren’t that difficult to do and aren’t that effective.
Really, we’re looking to engage muscles that create huge metabolic demand and yield big physiological change in your body like the glutes, lats, hamstrings, pecs, and quadriceps. We’re not necessarily concerned with getting you a calf or a triceps pump. While the 45 minute workout may produce a bigger caloric burn on your watch, it won’t change your body that much because it isn’t muscle focused, it’s fatigue focused. It’s all just fluff that never really brings in stress or demand on any particularly important sets of muscles.
So really, with the “stay moving and stay busy” workout you’re really just staying in place.
Emphasis on Prime Movers
It’s important to understand that you can’t base your training around free weights and not involve your legs on some level. They are always stabilizing and engaging unless we are seated, or lying. This overall decision to be a gym who uses free weights is the decision to be a gym that trains the total body daily. Some days legs will be the outright focus, other days they are just there to stabilize your upper body in a less involved role.
To play off of the previous section, the larger the muscle worked, the more it translates into functional strength gains, higher caloric burn, and greater muscle development, making our upper leg muscles like our glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps family are among the biggest in our body. So, we want you to access change catalysts like those muscles daily, not once a week in some basic ass “leg day” so we train legs a lot. Nearly every day, but never in the same delivery or stress dose on consecutive days.
We might train, say the back squat on Monday (squat pattern) then follow that up with kettlebell swings the next day (hinge pattern), and then maybe side lunges (unilateral) the day after that. Maybe one day we’re axial loaded on the spine (back squat), the next few days we aren’t. One day we’re training legs in a Central Nervous System format (strength), the next day in a musculoskeletal system format (muscle or conditioning focus). The overall result would be glute maximus, medius, and minimus, adductors, hamstrings, and quadriceps all trained differently and avoidance of over-stress due to the varied nature of loading, angles and tempos.
Your legs are your fitness and they are your human being foundation. Train them to be strong and able.
That’s a wrap. While this list is not representative of all that we have in store, they are our bedrock from which all will be built. We’re very happy with what we have in store for you in 2020 and we can’t wait to see all that you choose to do with it.