This year marks the twentieth year of personal training, and while it hasn’t always been full-time, there hasn’t been a time during this period that I haven’t had at least some clients to hold my hand in, and in my opinion, most of the learning comes from mistakes and I’ve made many – so many mistakes that one could write an article about them. The following are the first ten lessons I learned from my twenty years of training. (Read part two for lessons eleven through twenty.)
Training lessons 1 to 10
1. Nobody knows everything.
People like to have faith. We like to believe that for every problem we have, there is a single underlying answer, be it financial, religious, or health. But training is not black or white, and no single thing or person is the solution for everyone. Paul Chek had some great ideas, but there were also problems. Charles Poliquin is also incredibly smart, but misses a lot. The same goes for Boyle, Cosgrove, De Franco, Cook, Tsatsouline, King, Tate, and Francis. But one of the things that sets these men apart from many of their contemporaries is that they recognize the gaps in their understanding and try to fix them. Mike Boyle and Pavel Tsatsouline in particular have always impressed me with their uncompromising advance and their efforts to improve an already very stable methodology. A good education is a mixture of many topics – don’t limit yourself to one ideology.
2. Don’t just have a hammer.
When you need to fix a car, you need a large tool kit. One of the problems people have is they tend to get attached to a single topic or person. Taking the RKC as an example, there are many awesome kettlebell instructors out there, but if you remove them from their only tool, they are lost. I have to quote Alwyn Cosgrove here: “I’m not a kettlebell type or a body weight type. I’m a result type. ”Choose the right tool to get the job done as quickly as possible.
3. Do the opposite.
The first person I ever heard of was Charles Staley, who wrote an article on how to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing if you want to really be successful in the gym. If you are training the upper body with isolation exercises, you are training the lower body with compound lifts. If you are doing three sets of ten, you should do ten sets of three. When using machines, you should use free weights. It’s simple advice, but it’s really powerful and works well. For coaches, I add that this works in a business sense too, and I owe it to one of my bosses, Christian Marchegiani from Thump Boxing, for telling me: Whatever everyone else is doing in relation to their business around you, just turn it around and do the opposite. Trust me it works just as well as Staley’s similar tip for training.
4. No cookie cutter programs.
I just can’t stand the typical general stuff you read about a “soccer plan” or a “running plan”. Everyone has a different body and needs based on their injury and exercise history, as well as other factors such as personal life and eating habits. If you don’t take all of this into account, will likely end up with customers who just don’t make great strides. Let’s take speed training as an example. You might have two customers who want to go faster. One could be strong but slow while the other could be explosive but weak. The first has to become more explosive and the second has to become stronger in order to maintain this explosiveness over a longer period of time. While the end goal is the same, the process will be different.
5. You are not an elite.
I have a simple test to see if I’m coaching a top athlete – I look around his neck for a medal at all national championships and above, or for a professional contract for his sport. If you don’t have any of these, you are not elite, so stop trying to train for who you are.
Second, you have to stop trying to train like an MMA Combat Navy SEAL who does parkour on the weekends between missions in the Space Shuttle. Pick a few things that will benefit you the most and try to become incredibly good at them. I would recommend starting with standing up, deadlifting, push-ups, and running. You’d be surprised how much more athletic you’ll feel if you don’t train like an action movie hero year round or do a lot but are very little good. The advantage of movement lies in adapting to it. If you change what you do too often, you will fail to adapt and slow progress.
6. Stop eating trash.
I like simple tests for things. My nutrition test is even easier than my top athlete status check – if it comes in a package, it’s most likely junk. The more ingredients there are on the side of the pack, the more likely it’s rubbish too. Have you ever read the contents of an apple? And show some restraint while you’re at it. There’s nothing masculine about eating so much meat that you can’t see your toes in six months. Overeating the right foods ultimately still leads to being obese and unhealthy. While I don’t think the BMI charts are the be-all and end-all of weight and health, there is a lot of research to suggest that having a healthy BMI will go a long way towards a healthy life. If your BMI is in the unhealthy range, do something about it.
7. Consistency is the best training plan.
It doesn’t matter if your training plan was written by a PhD supervisor who worked with an Olympic champion if you don’t follow their advice. Repeatable sessions are key to getting in shape. Tour de France legend Miguel Indurain trained five or six days a week with just one hard ride a week. The remainder of the drives were about five hours at a constant pace. I think this is one of the reasons you can still train old bodybuilders, but you won’t find old CrossFitters in a decade – the intensity is just too high for Metcon type work. In contrast, the work of hypertrophy is typically around seventy percent of your maximum, which can be easily sustained throughout the year. Likewise, aerobic running typically makes up about sixty to seventy percent of your maximum and is just as sustainable. Who will be in better shape a year from now – the guy who works out three days a week but is so sore he can’t move, or the guy who works out six or seven days a week all year round?
8. Don’t train yourself.
This really should be at the top of the list. There’s a very real reason why the top performers in every physical area have coaches. Exercising yourself, or worse, trying to rehabilitate yourself, just doesn’t work very well for most people. They lack the objectivity and self-discipline to address their weaknesses and then stick to a plan that can feel like they suck for months. But that’s how you get ahead – you train your weaknesses. In addition, an experienced coach has taken this path many times and knows the pitfalls and possible problems and can help you to counteract them before they even become visible.
9. Adaptation = work + rest.
The purpose of training is to build the body over time. The only problem is that with each session you actually get a little bit worse than you did before you started. Your glycogen stores are depleted, muscle damage occurs, and fatigue reduces strength production. But when you are adequately rested, you will experience increased performance. There is no magic formula for how much rest you need for the amount of work you do, but if you’re a daily trainer, you need eight hours of sleep and massage every week. If possible I would just add one session for mobility and flexibility. Every third or fourth week should be a Deload week. “But coach,” you will moan, “I don’t feel like I need it.” And that’s exactly the point. You shouldn’t feel down and exhausted all the time from exercising. Regular off-load weeks prevent injuries and ensure that you move forward and backward in a two-step format that goes well with point seven.
10. Go outside.
Despite what the equipment manufacturers tell you, there is a massive difference between running on a treadmill and running outdoors. The same applies to all common indoor fitness methods such as stationary cycling and rowing. Research shows that running outdoors at the same speed is ten percent harder than running indoors on the treadmill. That’s ten percent more calories from a fat loss perspective. Over weeks that adds up to a big difference.
There’s a wonderful world out there too, filled with sunshine and vitamin D. Research shows that even minimal exposure to natural sunlight is of great benefit to mood, cognitive function, and body fat levels. I also believe that many of the allergies people suffer from are due to their being cut off from nature. Since I started doing at least a few hours of outdoor activity a week a few years ago, my hay fever has gone down to zero. You don’t need a treadmill to get in shape or a gym membership to use this treadmill. Walking and running are free and available at any time of the day or night without time restrictions right on the doorstep.
Read part two for the second set of ten lessons I learned in my twenty year training.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.