Building Up Beginner Clients (From the POV of an Elitist Pig)
My name is Andrew Read and I am an elitist pig.
I’ve made more people mad than I can count when it comes to letting them know my feelings about what their physical capabilities are. It’s not that I’m excessively cold hearted, it’s that I don’t think anyone is well served by beating around the bush when it comes to performance and handing out medals for participation. I’ve spent a lot of time working with athletes of varying calibers and find that honesty is always the best policy. There’s nothing worse than telling your athlete they’re going to crush the opposition and giving them false hope only to have them turn up on game day and get annihilated.
Honesty, as my father always told me, really is the best policy.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very impressive athletes and while some certainly possess great sports skills as well as gym skills the vast majority do not. I’ve trained a MLB pitcher who can throw 94mph yet couldn’t do a push up. I’ve trained a six-time world champ who couldn’t touch his toes or walk without pain. Just because they’re advanced in their sport doesn’t make them advanced in the gym.
I often get asked, “How did you train so and so?” The assumption always being that these high level athletes need special things – Olympic lifts, speed and agility training, or whatever other kind of weird and wonderful snorkel based, one-legged, BOSU juggling is all the rage on YouTube right now.
But the truth is usually far from it.
I’m a big believer in basics. I was always taught in martial arts that the most important things are the ones you learn first – stance, straight punches, and keeping your hands up. A good jab/cross can win you a world title.
And lifting is no different.
We all recognize there are some exercises that just give more than others in terms of results. It always strikes me as funny that there are certain things we see as “beginner” or “advanced” exercises. For instance, when it comes to kettlebell training, just about everyone will teach the deadlift before the swing. So in this case it’s a beginner exercise. Yet if you deadlift more than double body weight it’s fair to say you’re nowhere near beginner status. So really the only difference is load when it comes to determining beginner versus advanced.
Just like winning a world title with a solid one-two combination, I believe that great results can come from hard work on just a few lifts. My favorite lifts for this are simple and straight punch basic.
The Basic Lifts
Get ups – if you haven’t already been introduced to get ups I urge you to get to know them inside out. From shoulder rehab and strength to a host of great benefits, the get up should be central to everyone’s training (and if you’re a grappling based fighter it should never be skipped).
Deadlift – Do I really need to go into this too much? From Pavel to Dan John, from using the lift for strength or for rehab, there are just too many very smart people espousing this lift for me to ignore. There’s another reason, too, that I’ll share next.
Planks, push ups, and crawling – The ability to stabilize the spine is paramount if we aim to do anything well athletically. The midsection is the force transmitter for our drive off the ground; if it is weak all the power we push into the ground will be lost when the ground pushes us back. The harder we push the ground, the harder it pushes us, and the faster we can go. Learning to hold the spine steady is like turning up the volume for our power production. When a client can hold a plank well we can easily advance them to a push up, which is just a plank that is held while the arms produce force. Once we’ve mastered two arms moving at once while maintaining our plank we can add in both sets of limbs and try crawling and all of the variations contained within the Primal Move sequences.
This “hold the plank” idea holds true for just about every exercise I can come up with. From deadlifting – a plank that is held while we produce power through the lower body, to squatting, or pressing, or even running – hold that plank at all times and watch your results sky rocket. Along with the plank involved in push ups and crawling there are also a number of great benefits from the closed chain nature of these movements from shoulder prehab/rehab to strengthening many of the muscles of the upper body.
Energy system work – At Hardstyle Physical Training we usually use kettlebell swings or snatches with our clients, but I am also a fan of all of our clients getting outside for a thirty minute walk daily or easy aerobic running. I’m convinced there is something really special for the immune system about being outside. Once I started making an effort to train daily outside years ago my hay fever stopped and I haven’t been sick or run down since. Getting some Vitamin D is super important to the well being of our immune and hormonal system.
Putting It Together
I like to build volume first at moderate loads before worrying about adding intensity and load. A simple plan would be six to ten get ups total (done alternating sides as three to five on each hand), followed by some sets of three to five reps of deadlifts, with double that number for push ups. The number of sets we will generally build up from six sets to twelve or fifteen before adding reps or weight. When people are getting fifteen sets of five at a certain deadlift weight with good form they are more than ready for a 10kg jump and to go back to five sets of three and begin that build up process again. For swings we usually start with around sixty total done in sets of ten and build up to about one hundred and fifty before adding weight and dropping back to sixty or so.
If the client trains a third time for the week we usually use the third workout as an easy circuit that allows him or her to practice various kettlebell drills without too much pressure so skill can be built. This allows us to advance quite quickly once we’ve got this beginning stage out of the way. For reference, I count the beginning stage as done when the client can hit a body weight deadlift for five reps for multiple sets. That lets me know the client possesses a decent base of strength and work capacity so we can begin in earnest.