Monday, May 30, 2016

Training: Stop making it so complicated.

Accommodating block conjugated periodised occlusion based eccentric triphasic dynamic effort Bulgarian HIIT HIT isometric energy systems based steady state interval training Karvonen Maffetone method. Confused? You will be.

All industries and professions like their specialised language and nomenclature, it's what separates a professional from a normal member of the public.

Now with unprecedented access to information and knowledge in the arena of training there are more and more complicated and advanced training techniques being used on a daily basis in gyms around the world.

Gyms have mostly moved on beyond rows of cardio machines and some chrome dumbbells.

But do the general public need complicated training programmes?

Now, if you are training for the Olympics or you are are at Westside trying to get your deadlift from 950 to 960 pounds then stop reading this article now. You need to do the things that give you the extra 1%. If not, then read on.

Intelligent and effective programming doesn't have to be complicated. However, complicated can be confused with effective.

As every Instagram coach knows...

If you are selling programmes then complicated looks good.

To use a nutrition analogy, for most people to lose weight and get a bit healthier the advice is obvious - eat less junk, stop smashing a bottle of wine and a pint of Ben & Jerry's every night and eat some more vegetables. But that doesn't sell many customised nutrition plans, where the coach has worked everything out to the gram. It also doesn't sell much bone broth, or gluten free bread or special powders.

As every instagram coach knows
  1. Complicated looks effective
  2. Most things work for most people most of the time as long as...
  3. .. they are committed and believe in the programme.
No one is going to pay you to write 5x5 starting strength, because it's too simple, it's available for free all over the place. And people like to think they are more advanced than they are, or there is a special secret sequence of exercises that will transform them.

Advanced training for beginners.

It's not unusual to see band resisted and chain resisted movements, and Olympic lifts in the average gym. The level of access to equipment is unprecedented. 10 years ago power racks were as rare as unicorns in gyms, now it's not unusual to have 2 or 3 of them in a health clubs or budget gym. When we first bought a power rack for the gym I work in, probably 8 or 10 years ago, hardly anyone used it, no one knew what to do, they kept doing squats on the beloved Smith machine.

Training programmes can become massive hybrids, coaches having people doing Russian squat cycles combined with Olympic lifting, add in some condition and WODs and don't forget to somehow combine body part split training with powerlifting training. Hint: If the kid is squatting less than 80kg you probably don't need to be doing all this.

See the picture below of Paul Anderson. One of the strongest humans that ever lived. No power rack? No problem, dig a hole. Also note the lack of a special Texas power bar or buffalo bar. Now I hear people complaining that there gym doesn't have Eleiko plates or bars or a freaking vibrating platform.

Paul Anderson: He's stronger than you. Can't find any weight plates? Get a couple of passing  'broads' to sit on some barrels. Picture source:

Looking at programmes of professional athletes, it is surprising how simple some of them are. Everything that doesn't work has been stripped away. There is a laser like focus on the goal at hand, to improve performance in one area, while preventing injury and burn out.

Joe Kenn, is the S&C coach for the NFL team the Carolina Panthers. In a presentation I watched he stated there are three guys in the NFL he would trust to do dynamic effort work with bands. And yet in the average gym you see average guys attaching bands to things all the time. Many NFL teams use machines to train, and completely avoid movements like snatches, instead favouring jump squats and less technical movements. Don't forget these are elite professional sports-people.

Read Verkhoshansky's Special Strength Training; Manual for Coaches,  and many of the routines for specific sports consist of two exercises. Depth jump and scissor jump anyone?

The difference is, the athlete is expected to do these with 100% intent and explosiveness. Not tack them onto the end of a leg workout as a 'finisher'.

Olympic lifting for who?

Training doesn't need to be advanced to be effective. I like Olympic lifting but it doesn't mean everyone should be doing it.

Go into the average gym and literally everyone and his aunt is wearing lifting shoes. I've seen people do their entire workout in lifting shoes including warm up. And the only people who should be wearing heels this much in a gym are Brazilian fitness models.

A complaint I here  more and more from people, is my knees hurt all the time squatting, invariably they are wearing lifting shoes for most exercises.

If you like Olympic lifting fine, if you are competing in Olympic lifting or crossfit, also fine. If you just want some general fitness and weightloss (90% of people in the gym) then you don't need to be doing a Bulgarian lifting programme, plus met-cons plus biceps plus low carb etc etc.

The average client does not need an overly complicated or technical programme. Spending hours with someone on a platform trying to get them to do something that they don't have the hip mobility or need for is a waste of time. You're basically trying to teach someone a sport. Would you take the average client and try and teach them to be a decathlete or high jumper if all they wanted was some fitness?

If an NFL pro is not doing overhead snatching then your fat loss client probably doesn't need to either.

In this example, you can replace Olympic lifting with any complex skill based activity such as plyometrics or gymnastic moves. If you really want to learn a new skill and love the idea of complex technical things, and you are injury free, then these are for you. If not, think again.

Special populations are the easiest.

In the UK, there are level 4 fitness qualifications. These are the highest fitness qualifications and are generally concerned with training so called special populations, like those who have had a stroke, cardiac issues, diabetes or blood pressure problems.

If you do one of these courses, you spend a lot of time looking at medications, stages of change models, working out % of VO2 max (which you will never use again) and so forth.

It is made to sound like these populations are the hardest to train, and the most complicated. In fact, they are the easiest. The nature of the population immediately narrows the options available to you.

They are starting at such a low base, that anything works. Guess what, going for a walk is one of the best things you can do. Add in some chair squats, step ups, and if you have access to resistance machines you can a few of them in too! No machines, grab some resistance bands.

It's all movement. If someone hasn't really been moving, get them moving and moving often.

Show up, take it easy at first, gradually progress, listen to your body. That's it, level 4 referral right there.

These populations are generally easier to programme for,  compared to trying to get someone ready for competition, dropping their fat percentage down to 5%,  or trying to finish top three in a race. Now you are dealing with the fine details, now you might need to be complicated. But what proportion of the population does this apply to?

Of course, there are some caveats to special populations, sometimes the details matter. For example, exercise for back pain. But these are not the type of things they teach you on a level 4 back pain course anyway.

What to do? This.

Most people most of the time need a total body training approach.

Do they need a specialised bicep day? Probably not. Does attaching a band to an exercise instantly make it better, probably not.

For the average client think:


Then get their heart rate up in some way.

Machines are okay, they are not some dark force sent by Globo gym, some people benefit from them. Scale the workout to the client. Use the tools you have available, but use them correctly, at the right time, in the right dose.


Squat could be bodyweight, goblet, back, front, or could be leg press or step up.
Hinge could be RDL, glute bridge, deadlift with kettlebell or bar, or guess what ,you might have to use the leg curl or swiss ball leg curl
Push - press up variations, DB press, shoulder press
Pull - rows, TRX row, low row machine
Core - pallor press, plank, dead bug

Rep ranges, don't get hung up, enough to get a response.

You get the idea.

Generally whole body movements for most people most of the time. Could be barbell, could be kettle bell or dumbbell, could be bodyweight, you might use some machines.

Paretos Law states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts or resource or customers. So it is with training, 80% of your training results are going to come from 20% of your exercise selection. This means the 20% that directly impacts your goals, the big compound movements. The rest is garnish, dedicated forearm and calf exercises and 1000 crunch variations are essentially garnish.

Of course, there needs to be some progression. And guess what it can be fun. Not everything you do has to come from a peer reviewed double blind study. But conversely hardly anyone wants to be a competitive bodybuilder, adding another complicated bro-science routine to the mix.

Sometimes, it's harder to think about what you need to take away rather than add in.

Anyone, can keep adding into a clients workout until before you know it they are training 3 hours at a time, and doing every exercise variation under the sun. If you love training like that, fair enough, bear in mind most people don't want to spend 7 days a week in the gym. If it's your hobby, your passion, you're in the minority.

We live in the age of distraction. This applies to fitness as well, so many machines, so many gadgets, so many exercise variations. It might seem like you need them all. But you don't. More does not equal better.

Do I need my Suunto GPS to tell me my average heart rate and recovery time in hours? Probably not. Does the client who is aiming to run a 55min 10k need a Garmin, does the client looking to lose a few pounds need a fitbit or should they just try and be more active during the day? Gadgets and variety are fun, but don't lose sight of what most people are in this for.

Only make your training as complicated as it needs to be. Your clients will thank you in the long run. Generally simplicity and hard work win.

Progression, habit and consistency are the keys to success.

Percy Cerutty, iconoclastic renegade running coach, leads Herb Elliot up a sand dune hill session. No GPS, no heart rate monitor, no shirt, no shoes. Source:

There is a quote by Michael Pollan about food:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Here is my paraphrase of this for training:

Lift (relatively) heavy things. Get your heart rate up. Mostly walking.