Are You a 7 Or a 2? How to Spot the Best Trainer for You
In Dan John’s latest book, Can You Go, he includes a very cool Venn diagram that depicts where potential clients are in a visual format. Most men, he argues, are in need of a hybrid of mobility work and fat loss, which makes them a two in his system. I’m a two, and so are the majority of my customers.
But in the middle of this diagram are the superstar clients who get denoted as sevens. Sevens are those people who combine fitness, good body composition, sound movement, and strength all into one athletic package. In my current list of clients, I have only a single seven.
If you’re looking for a trainer, I’m going to give you a tip. Don’t look at what they are doing with their sevens. Truthfully, you can do just about anything with these people and get a good result. But show me the twos. That’s the test of whether or not the trainer and/or your training plan is any good.
The General Client
The needs of a two are simple - lose some body fat (“tone up” in traditional gym speak) and gain some movement skill (flexibility and mobility). The end goal of a two should be to become like the Navi in Avatar - supple, strong, lean, and athletic. I would pick Erwan Le Corre as a fantastic real-world example of what the end goal should look and perform like.
Clearly not many people walk into a gym for the first time in a decade with the raw material to be trained like a seven. But I hear so many stories of people going to their first session and indeed being treated this way.
"Chances are that despite what a great athlete you think you were in high school or college, you’re a two now."
From a sales perspective I can totally understand why you’d show someone a seven workout - it’s fun. Sevens can get away with the kind of workouts you might see at the CrossFit Games Regionals. Sevens get to have fun. Sevens get sexy workouts.
But the rest of us need unsexy. The rest of us need to spend time on tissue quality and length. For us middle-aged guys who spent some time getting beaten up while younger, followed by too much time sitting thanks to work, we’re going to need something very different from the sevens.
We need to spend time on what Dan John calls “inefficient training.” Inefficient training is ideal for fat loss because the body has to struggle to do it. This makes sandbag carries, crawling, kettlebell ballistics, trail running hills, and rucking fantastic fat-loss exercises. Think Rocky IV, when Rocky was in the shed training for his fight with Drago. That’s inefficiency at it’s finest.
Rocky's training montage illustrates what 2s really need when it comes to getting fit.
Finding Training Balance
But exercises come with downsides. Anything that can be done for extended periods of time will stiffen you up. Even intermittent exercises like kettlebell swings will eventually lead to stiffness because you work only a specific and limited range of motion. This is where the mobility aspect of being a two comes into play. Not only will twos need mobility work in the warm up just so they can attain the correct positions in training, but they’ll also need it during the workout and afterward, too.
I see plenty of people talk about mobility work as if they’re 100% devoted to it, yet most are really only paying it lip service. SEALFIT does a great job of introducing people to what Mark Divine calls Warrior Yoga. I have to say that I have been doing some of his flows for almost a year now and they’ve made a great difference in how I feel post training.
When it comes to prioritizing your training needs, mobility is king.
Then, there are groups like Gymnastic Bodies that have a corresponding mobility exercise to go with every single strength exercise, but no specific warm up or cool down. (Although they recently brought out a fantastic stretching series that could be used in this way.)
But mostly what I see when I see people doing “mobility” is a waste of time. They’ll spend five minutes on a foam roller, do some kind of dynamic warm up, hit their strength work, and then walk out of the gym once they’ve stopped sweating.
In my head, a two is going to need to allot about ninety minutes for every workout. While, as twos, we need to get sweaty during the inefficient exercises, we also need to spend extra time on mobility because five minutes of a few passive stretches tacked onto the end of the workout will not do much for us.
"If you see a trainer having his two undergo the type of training I’ve outlined here, then you’ve found the right one."
Most twos have spent years either not moving or moving through limited range. Five minutes done a few times per week for a total of twenty to thirty minutes each week won’t result in anything noticeable. This is why people claim stretching doesn’t work.
Charles Poliquin says tangible results in increasing range of motion come from committing six hours per week for six weeks. If we do thirty minutes before every workout, add some extra mobility work in between exercises like Gymnastic Bodies suggests, and then hit some Warrior Yoga afterward for fifteen minutes, then we will get something more like an hour’s worth of mobility each session. That’s an amount that will actually bring change.
My Best Advice for New Exercisers
I’ve been told I should write a book on this next bit. But I don’t think there’s anything to be made from common sense. The unsexy two needs just a few things:
- Optimize your daily nutrition: It’s only in rare cases that you’ll be able to be 100% focused on diet for more than a few days at a time. That’s just how it is in the real world. Instead, aim for 80-90% compliance, don’t get down on yourself for making mistakes, and remember that no great story ever started with, “…and then I had a salad.”
- Stretch: It doesn’t matter whether this comes in the form of SEALFIT’s Warrior Yoga, Animal Flow, Ground Force Method, the Ido Portal’s fantastic Corset Protocol, or just good ol’ fashioned relaxed stretching. Take the time to do it daily.
- Train movement, not muscles: Dan John has made a career of telling people there are only three things you can do with weight - pick it up from the floor, put it overhead, or carry it. None of them are terribly efficient, especially if you do them with odd objects like kettlebells, sandbags, or even another human. A workout that consisted of a single big lift for the day to stimulate muscle, like the squat or deadlift, and then finished with a circuit of carries and sprints would be a terrific fat-loss workout that still added strength.
Effective Isn't Always Sexy
This approach isn’t complicated, but it’s also not sexy. Chances are that despite what a great athlete you think you were in high school or college, you’re a two now. If you’re a male, then the chances of that are more than double.
So, don’t be misled by what the sevens are doing. If you see a trainer having his two undergo the type of training I’ve outlined here, then you’ve found the right one - because a program like this will help create sevens.
Check out these related articles:
- "Can You Go?" - Dan John's Design Resource for Athletes
- 3 Training Lessons Learned While Chatting With Dan John
- Minimalist Training 2.0 - the How and Why
- What's New On Breaking Muscle Today
Photo 2 courtesy of Breaking Muscle.