20 Most Important Training Lessons I've Learned, Part 2
This is the second part of my series on the twenty most important training lessons I’ve learned in my twenty years in the fitness industry. I suggest you read part one if you haven’t already done so.
Training Lessons 11 Through 20
11. Act your age.
If you’re forty and think now is a good time to take up MMA or Olympic lifting I have bad news for you. All you’re doing is likely setting yourself up for big injuries. There’s a reason why you don’t see guys over forty fighting UFC or competing in Olympic lifting events, just like there’s a reason you won’t find elite athletes competing in any sport at that age – biology is not on your side at this point. I’m not saying for a second don’t be active and work hard, but I am saying you need to pick activities that are suitable for you to do sustainably (see rule number seven).
12. Train appropriately.
This ties in with rule number five. Beginners need beginner plans. It also has no bearing on how advanced you are in another sport. If you take up a new activity then be patient and train like a beginner, pay your dues, and enjoy the learning experience. Trying to short cut the path usually leads to burn out or injury. Don’t assume that a training plan designed for someone else will work for you. Be smart enough to listen to your body and adjust as necessary rather than stick to a plan out of ego so you can tell your training partners you did it “as Rx’d” or followed a champion’s plan. If you can’t train for a month after because of injury what good did that do for you?
13. Help me help you.
My biggest pet peeve is people who carry injuries, or don’t let me know about them. I’m like Jerry Maguire – I’m here for you, and so is your trainer. If you are your trainer then quit thinking you’re tough or staunch and go get your issues seen to as soon as possible. If you have a blown disc in your neck or back and don’t tell me how can I decide what is a good way to proceed with your training? Likewise, if you hurt yourself in training (acting like you’re twenty years younger and doing MMA perhaps) and you don’t tell me that’s not going to help either. I can’t read minds. While it may seem like nagging constantly telling you to go to a doctor or have an MRI, I’m on your side and trying to help you. The longer you resist having that injury seen to the longer it’s going to take to heal and the harder my job becomes and the longer it will take you to reach your goal. So please, act like an adult and go get it looked at by a competent professional.
14. Don’t pick training or treatment based on convenience.
Picking your doctor, therapist, and masseur based on cost and location is like choosing to eat at McDonalds because it’s convenient. I’ve had bad bodywork done by a chiropractor before and it kept me off training for two weeks. Two weeks off due to treatment that was supposed to make me move better, not make me so stiff I could barely walk. Find a good team that has a sports physician, physiotherapist, and masseur. Don’t pick the cheapest you can find. Pick the best. You have one body, so treat it with at least the same respect you treat your car when choosing a mechanic.
15. Add movement before load.
You know why the goblet squat devised by Dan John is such a great progression for teaching the squat? Because it develops the mobility before adding substantial load. Too many people these days seek performance first. That’s like trying to make a race car that has wheels pointing in different directions go faster by putting a bigger engine in it. Until those wheels are all pointing in the right direction you aren’t go to really add much by getting stronger. At best you’ll just arrive faster at a corner you’re ill equipped to deal with and crash at a higher speed. Trust me when I say that if you make a mistake performing goblet squats with a 16kg kettlebell it’s going to be a lot better for you than making a mistake with a heavy bar on your back. There’s so many quality movement programs around – FMS, Primal Move, Z Health, to name a few – just pick one you enjoy doing and do it often until your movement quality improves. If you are over thirty-five I would recommend spending half of your total training time each session on movement alone.
16. Compete in something.
Training is for training. I’m not having a dig at CrossFit when I say this either. Going all out every session isn’t the answer you think it is. If you want to really show the world how badass you are at anything, then toe the start line and have a crack for real. While you may have some insecurity about everyone watching you or feeling like you don’t belong, I am yet to find a sport where people aren’t genuinely interested in helping newbies out. You’ll find that following a sensible training plan, perhaps more restrained in intensity than what you would usually do, allows for a real peak performance on game day that is a personal best by a long way. You learn a lot about yourself by signing up for any event. Most of the important lessons I’ve learned in life have come from regularly competing in sports events for the last thirty years.
17. Be an adult.
Dan John has this thing where he advises people to eat like an adult. I’m going to go a step further and say act like an adult. This ties in with rule number thirteen. I’m not nagging you because I enjoy telling a grown-up to eat better, but do you really think a coffee for breakfast, coffee two hours later, a burger for lunch, chocolate and a coke in the afternoon, and pizza for dinner is what an adult should eat? If you need a coffee to get going for the day what you really need is to go to sleep earlier (see rule number nine). If you can’t go without alcohol daily you are an alcoholic and I suggest therapy. If you come to a trainer and ask for help to get in shape then be prepared to do what is required to get in shape. That means treating it like work and doing what needs to be done. Go to bed early. Eat right. Train hard when it’s appropriate. And for god’s sake, yes, it does matter if you just have a little puff on weekends.
18. Functional work isn’t about what it looks like.
Despite what marketing will tell you flipping tires isn’t functional training any more than deadlifts or power cleans are. The goal of functional training is to make you better at a specific task. Maybe tire flips will help with that, but maybe they won’t. It says a lot to me when a smart guy like Mike Boyle says he tried all the strongman stuff with his athletes and got rid of it because it didn’t make them any better. I’m not saying it’s not fun, but it certainly proved to be non-functional where it really mattered – on the field. If you have a leg asymmetry a functional exercise for you may be single leg deadlifts. Or it might even be direct arm work. Whatever training makes you better is functional.
18. Isolation and hypertrophy work aren’t the devil incarnate.
There are times when isolation work is necessary such as in rehab phases or to bring up lagging weaknesses. See rule number seventeen above – if it makes you better it’s functional. The same goes for hypertrophy work – there are times when it is necessary. In sports like football and MMA there is a need to be physically big and strong. One of the best ways to determine biological age is by the amount of lean muscle tissue held on the frame. Dan John recommends a hypertrophy-based workout once per week for men over forty to counteract muscle loss as we age.
19. There’s no such thing as fat loss training.
I hate to say this but anyone who tells you they’re giving you a special fat blasting routine is lying to you. The single biggest thing you can do to blast fat is eat right. I’ve done experiments on clients and used everything from cardio-based routines, circuits, complexes, heavy power lifting, and just about any combination of training you can come up with over the years and the results are always the same – the ones who lose the most weight have the diet well and truly dialled in. Get your diet right and train in a way you enjoy and I’ll guarantee you’ll look great regardless of what the “experts” say.
20. Change is good.
No program will keep giving you a result forever. Sooner or later you’ll need to change a variable whether it be the load or the volume you’re going to have to change it up to keep advancing. But at some point you’ll need to swap things around more and the best thing to do is to go for something completely different to what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been doing 5/3/1 why not try a complex based routine? If you’ve been doing bodyweight only why not get back to some heavy deadlifts? This will actually help stave off injury and keep you mentally fresh as you get to experiment and practice new skills. These times give you the best education you’ll ever get in lifting as you’ll learn quickly what works well for you and what doesn’t. Over time you’ll be able to make sure that even when you change things up you keep the elements that give you the best result.
So there you go – twenty lessons on training that I hope you can apply. If you missed lessons one through ten, it's time to go back and do your homework.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.