How To “Performance” Train for Non-Performance Goals

As functional fitness professionals, we love to often write about ways to increase your back squat, put weight onto your deadlift, get stronger overhead, and be #BeastMode AF. As someone who has written blogs and tracked readership clicks for eight years I can tell you conclusively that data shows very few people are hyper-focused on that end of the spectrum. We will put out an excellent article on building the hamstrings to increase deadlift strength, and a few focused people will read it. We will put out an article on ways to simply be successful long term and tons of people will read it. It’s so easy to think that because we are interested in high-end shit as coaches, that everyone in our class must there for that exact same reason too, right?

Wrong.

Some? Yes. Most?…Don’t really give a shit about the speed of their second pull.

The overwhelmingly most frequent goal we get from new (and current) members is the undefined and general, “I just want to be lean, strong, and fit. I don’t care about being the strongest person in the room, I just want to be healthier and look better.” This new member email exchange occurs at a nine-to-one rate when compared to someone who lists lofty performance goals, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s perfectly awesome.

This type of overall, general fitness success is obviously self-adjusted to scale based on tenure, but it is always more prominent than hyper-focused performance when it comes to a room full of people.

  • I just want to lose a few pounds.
  • I want to lose ten to twenty pounds.
  • I just want to look better naked.
  • I want to get a little stronger and do a pull-up.
  • I want to be leaner and more fit.
  • I want to increase my overall strength and build muscle.

Here’s some general thoughts I have towards ongoing improvement without hyper-specific performance goals. This is also very applicable to those in the gym who feel they may have seen their progress stall with an approach focused on overall fitness.

Understand Strength is Relative. You need to drop the notion of, “Not caring about strength.” You might not care about strength per se, but your goals most certainly do. Strength is not about getting a 300# back squat, it’s about progressively being able to move heavier loads more effortlessly in support of your goals in one of two ways.

  • Indirectly – Over time, it will improve your breakdown of lean muscle on your body. With more muscle and less fat, your body will burn more calories at rest. Muscle is the most calorically active tissue and the more of it we have, the more calories our body consumes for energy.
  • Directly – It is taxing in a workout. The more weight you move, the more calories you burn. For example, if you constantly swing a 26# pound kettlebell in workouts, your body is going to adapt to that very quickly and it’s going to stop getting a stimulus from it. The body only changes when it’s progressively overloaded. That law is irrefutable. A focus on building strength means you try and jump a bell every few weeks. Modest gains. But next thing you know you’re swing the 53# bell in workouts and your body and fitness look drastically different because of it.

There is no form of fitness that will more effectively reach or drastically accelerate your goals than strength training.

Eat More and Do Less Cardio. The vast majority of folks still expect that in order to reach their body composition goals, the recipe requires they be cardio as fuck all the time. I have news for you. Exercise duration does not equal fat loss. Going HAM for forty five minutes with ten pounds might make you feel like heart is going to explode, but it’s not going to do very much for you other than give you a tremendously false sense of accomplishment towards your goals.

Your body will change its composition based on the balance between calories in and calories out, but it can’t be in too much of a deficit otherwise you’ll shift to a catabolic, high cortisol state. High intensity training combined with underfeeding the body will result in chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which can create muscle catabolism, preserve body fat, and cause metabolic damage that is usually only unwound with re-introducing higher calories. Speaking empirically, most everyday people looking to lean out need to eat way, way more than they currently do. (One of Coach Lenny’s first objectives is usually to increase the intake of every one of his clients) 

Never get caught up in the notion that cutting more directly correlates to losing more body fat. It does not work like that. There is a correct recipe. 

Find your caloric baseline

You Can’t Be Sorta in with Nutrition. It doesn’t matter if your goals are not aggressive, you can’t put forth a half-assed effort and expect to get whole-assed results. Nutrition is far more important for body composition than what you do in the gym, and your body fat will not budge if your nutrition doesn’t reflect your goal. As we have seen time and time and time again, the minute nutrition gets dialed in, the human body starts to go crazy with favorable adaptation.

Nutrition effort is the one non-negotiable when it comes to any result.

Do All the Compound Things. Squats, presses, pulls, cleans, jerks, snatches. Progress in them. Learn them. Do them regularly. Compound lifts work the entire body which create the most physical adaptation of anything we can do in the gym.

Don’t Get Comfortable. If you find that you’re on the same weight day in and day out…GO..UP.  If you find you’re rarely worked after a conditioning circuit…MOVE…FASTER. Complacency is the everyday enemy that kills your goals like a very slow, painless bleed out.

Don’t Be Guarded. This is a big one, folks. Just because your goals do not align with your coaches, don’t project that onto your coach. Coaches are there here to help, and we love helping all kinds of goals and people, but it’s a two-way street. There is no better way to sabotage your progress than to shut down and be guarded out of insecurity or fear that your goals are frowned upon. Open up, and be sponge.

No matter your goal, you must always care about your strength. You must. Hopefully we learned that doesn’t have to mean a 1R max on a barbell, it can be challenging yourself on your goblet squat, the amount of pull-up assistance you provide yourself, dumbbells in Hell Trots, box jumps, and every other single movement we do in the gym.

Get a little stronger, prioritize your nutrition, and watch your goals unfold quickly and steadily.

-Dave Thomas
@VirginiaDave

Suggested Reading:

How to Be Successful in the Gym Long-Term

The Science of “Bulky”

MJ Kafkas: How I Increased Carbs to Burn Fat and Get Strong

Brigid Miller: How I Burned 4.7% Body Fat and Hit PRs

Kevin McCauley: How I Lost 52 Pounds in 9 Months

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