If you are reading this blog, you probably train regularly. You also likely are following some type of training program. However, the big question I have you for you today is, do you have a solid training philosophy? If you want to be successful in reaching your training goals, you have to ensure that what you do in the gym each training session is built on the foundation of a solid training philosophy. Recently, I had a conversation with colleague and he asked me about my training philosophy. Today, I want to share my training philosophy with you. This will help you understand why I write what I do on this site and give you some ideas to formulate your own training philosophy. Enjoy.
It all comes down to safety and results
Everything we do needs to be measured on these two elements. If we do not get these, then it is wrong and we need to find a better way. When it comes to designing training programs, writing, teaching or speaking, I want to always strive to give people what will give them the best results. If that happens to be something they have heard of before, I'm okay with that. If I have to choose between right or unique, I will choose to be right.
Train – don’t workout
Working out is about the feeling and experience. Training is about exercising to achieve a specific goal.
The goal dictates the program
Bigger goals = less options. If your goal is to play recreational croquet, you have a lot of options. If you want to have average body composition (note: in North America, average is overweight), that is easy. If you want to be an elite level athlete, gain 50lbs of muscle or have a six pack, then there are many fun things to do in the gym that will be useless in getting you to your goal. The bigger the goal, the more restrictions you have in and outside of the gym.
4 goals for almost everyone
With the exception of those rare individuals training for world record, a gold medal or a Superbowl ring, most people should strive for the following for goals:
- Health: your training, nutrition and lifestyle habits should be enhancing your overal quality of life
- Body composition: seek to build or maintain a good level lean muscle and seek to lose or maintain good body fat levels
- Performance: this can be sport or life performance. Your body should be at a fitness level that allows you to easily exceed your daily phyical requirements (Note: for those who just want to look good, improving your performance on your main exercises will help get you to your goal)
- Longevity: be smart and cautious enough with your training today so that you can train at a high level for the rest of your life
Strive for synergy
The real magic with training is in the synergistic combination of good training, nutrition and lifestyle habits at the same time. Think of your training results sitting on top of a tripod. One leg is your training, one leg is your nutrition and one leg is your lifestyle. You do not have to be perfect in each area, but as with a tripod, if you are insufficient in any of these areas, your results will collapse.
First move well, and then move often
I stole this from Gray Cook because I wholeheartedly agree with him! Training needs to be built on a foundation of quality human movement. If you cannot move properly, you need to fix this before you start training hard or you will just get injured.
Always strive to get stronger
Strength is a fundamental fitness component that helps you get to your goal quicker. Low levels of strength will limit your ability to gain muscle, burn fat, improve speed and power and increase your conditioning. For most people, the key type of strength is relative strength. Basically, this means that no matter how big you are, you should be stronger than you look (i.e. if someone watched you train, they should be shocked at the amount of weight you can lift). For more information on this click HERE.
Be balanced in your strength
Many athletes and fitness buffs get caught up in the lifts that they are naturally good at. However, for athletes (or those who want to look and feel like one), being good at all the major lifts is way more important than being great at a few and bad at most. For example, while I’m not anti-bench press, I agree with Mike Boyle that for performance training, if you are going to suck at a lift, I hope it is the bench press (i.e. if you are an athlete who is great at squats, deadlifts and Olympic lifts, but poor at the bench press, you are way better off than if you were the opposite).
Athletes have huge demands on their time (e.g. school work, practices, games, travel, eating, sleeping, social life, community service, etc.). For most non-athletes, life (i.e. work, school, family, etc.) is also busy and training time is limited. This means that training time has to deliver the biggest possible return on every minute you spend in the gym. This involves many factors (e.g. structure, order of exercises, minimal effective dose, etc.) but the biggest and most important thing is pick the best exercises. For more information, see Time Efficient Training Part 1 & Part 2.
Pick the best exercises/movements
I know a lot of exercises, but I know very few great exercises. Anyone training to improve performance, build muscle, burn fat or just be time-efficient must pick from a very small list of movements. As a result, the majority of your training should focus on the following movements:
- Speed/Power (Olympic variations, sprints, jumps, throws)
- Hinge (deadlift and hip extension variations)
- Push (vertical and horizontal)
- Pull (vertical and horizontal)
- Loaded Carries (e.g. farmer’s walks, sleds, etc.)
Select the most appropriate version of the best exercises
Because I work with a wide variety of different body types, I believe it is inappropriate to expect every body type to fit into the exact same exercise variation. When designing team training programs, I will often give variations of a main exercise for athletes to choose from. For example, for squats I might let athletes choose from: front or back squat. For more information on this, check out Selecting the Best Exercises for Your Goals Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Get better at the best exercises
Once the best movements with the most appropriate variations are selected, you have to get better at these exercises. If you are squatting and deadlifting now what you used to do last year, do not expect to run faster or jump higher.
Earn the big weights
With progression, many trainees make the mistake of making false gains (i.e. they increase the weight, but also do something such as cut the range of motion that makes it easier). You want to be progressively lifting more weight, but only when you can do so while maintaining proper form and range of motion.
Gender note: many ladies need to be encouraged to lift more weight and most guys need to back down a bit and do it right!
While the big movements listed above should be the priority in a program, there is also a small spot for accessory exercises. These are smaller movements (often single-joint) which are used when a specific part of the body needs more attention for reasons such as:
- Structural balance (balance out what sport or life is doing to the body – e.g. extra upper back and hamstring work)
- Metabolic work (for fat loss)
- Improve performance on a main lift (mostly for advanced trainees)
A fundamental key to successful training is individualization. Everyone is made differently there are often changes that need to be made to a program to account for this. These changes result in variations to exercises selection and training variables. Here is a list things that need to be considered with an individualized training program:
- Goal (main focus for that athlete: fat loss, conditioning, strength, speed, lean muscle)
- For athletes: sport (yes, I know you knew this) and position with the sport
- Body type (ectomorph, mesomorph, endomorph)
- Body structure (e.g. long limbs and short torso vs. short limbs and long torso)
- Training level (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
- Injury history (may require additional rehab exercises or modifications/removal of main exercises)
Always keep training
With the exception of a few weeks off (e.g. Christmas holidays), training should happen year round. However, the focus, frequency, duration and intensity can vary. If get injured, you should still train and do what they can safely do (with doctor’s permission). See my previous post on Training Around an Injury for more info.
Study broad, focus narrow
My study includes: powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, bodybuilding, gymnastics, track & field, exercise science and physiotherapy. However when studying these areas, I ask one simple question: how can I apply this to the training of the team sport athlete or to those who want to build muscle or burn fat?
Always keep learning
My goal is to always be humble, teachable and be willing to change as better (i.e. not just new and different) ways of doing things are discovered. I will let my training philosophy grow and evolve as I do.
Here are a few more aspects of my training philosophy that specifically relate to training athletes
The sport is the athlete’s #1 priority
Nothing is more important for athletic performance than playing and practicing a sport. Athletes should be athletes who lift, not lifters who also play a sport. Most athletes make the mistake of either avoiding the weight room entirely or training as if they were a lifter (e.g. powerlifter). The former is a weak, dysfunctional athlete who plays below his/her potential and often ends his/her career prematurely because of injury. The later has his/her sport performance suffer as the result of fatigue (fatigue masks fitness) and ends up with overtraining symptoms and injuries. The athlete who prioritizes their sport, but lifts intelligently for the sole purpose of improving sport performance and reducing the risk of injury is the one who gets better and stays in the game.
Injury prevention is the top priority - especially with high-level athletes
I work mostly with athletes at the university level. These athletes are already some of the best in the country when they get to us. At this level, if the athlete is good enough to get to this elite level, then my #1 job is to help keep them there. This does not mean silly little exercises. Injury prevention involves:
- Getting into therapy and dealing with existing problems
- Learning to move well (e.g. landing, stopping, FMS & proper lifting technique)
- Improving structural balance (athletes need to spend time hitting the muscles that are not used as much in their sport to keep them balanced)
- Increasing relative strength (the weaker an athlete is in relation to their body weight and size, the greater their risk for injury).
Proper sports-specific training
Failing to address the specific needs of a sport is obviously not helpful. However, trying to mimic a sporting skill in the weight room is often not a good idea. Especially with team sport athletes, there are many common needs (e.g. movement quality, mobility, stability, relative strength, power, speed) that most sports share. Then there are other needs (e.g. collision with other athletes) that sometimes need to be addressed. There are also common injuries in certain sports (e.g. groin pulls in hockey & soccer) that need to be accounted for. The majority of training time should be spend on dealing with these things mentioned above. Then, a small amount of time should be devoted to very sport-specific exercises (note: this is usually done in the late off-season). Note that sport-specialization creates dysfunction. You have to be very careful with sport-specific training – especially in-season (also, here is part 2 of that post). See this post on Sport Specific Training for more information.
Well, now you know where I am coming from. A proper training program needs to be built on a solid training philosophy. Please feel free to "steel" from mine as you develop yours. Also, feel free to share aspects of your training philosophy in the comments section below.