The single most important variable in any training programme is you.
Let’s make some broad assumptions. You more than likely have two arms, two legs, a head and a torso and want a combination of leaner, fitter, healthier, happier, stronger, faster, to be in less pain and so on. Let’s agree therefore that while you might be special, you are probably not THAT unique.
I have never had a consultation with someone and been told ‘yeah I’d really love to pack on some body-fat, and if you could help me wake up tomorrow with a crippling injury and perhaps some mild depression that would be just fantastic’. In the same vein I have also never been asked to provide a training plan for someone with two heads, no torso, three arms and one leg so exercise prescription from person to person may look similar at times and that’s ok.
But what about the perfect programme for you?
Well, there are no perfect people, so there really can be no perfect programmes. Your upbringing, genetic make-up, skills, schedule, budget, individual psychology and perception of things like fun, value and intensity all mean that what is great for someone else may not necessarily be great for you. Bad coaches will tell you there is only one way to do something. Be wary of these guys and gals. Good coaches have developed their own philosophy that takes the following things into account into their programming that is applicable to all physical movement:
- It should take how you move into the equation. Some people may not be able to perform a specific exercise because of various limiting factors. You might have poor ankle mobility, you might have an old injury, or you might just not understand the movement. Your programme should address that issue while allowing you to keep training towards your goal. Keep this point in mind particularly if you train in a class environment.
- As we discussed in the previous article it should have a start point. It does not matter whether you choose to do spin classes or take up powerlifting you simply must establish a baseline. Without this how will you know if you are making progress? So if you want to get fit then how fit are you today? Want to get strong then how strong are you today? Want to get leaner then what are your skinfolds today etc.
- Train, don’t test. The training should build towards end goal. This is one of those things that should go without saying but if you want run a 5k race then your programme should help you do just that. Eliminate imbalances, build a broad base, learn to run more efficiently, gradually increase intensity and look for markers of increased performance along the way. A great way to NOT do this would be to train exclusively like a weightlifter, never run, and just hope for the best OR just have you run 5k’s seven days a week from day one as fast as you possibly can.
- Movement first, volume second, intensity third. Too many people jump straight into the intensity zone (that sounds so cheesy it’s beyond belief). Seriously though, while you can stand, walk, sit down and turn around that doesn’t mean you understand movement for exercise yet. That’s ok! It’s not a criticism, but it is the first place to start. Learn to breathe, learn what neutral spine is, how to brace your core and the difference between (among other things) bending at the knee and bending at the hip. If you can’t do these things for example you are probably not getting as much out of your kettlebell class or weights training as you should be.
- When you have good movement you can then move more. When you can move with greater frequency without form breaking down you can do a host of really cool things like adding weight or moving faster. Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t the perfect athletic specimen after one day, these things take time.
- You have to believe that what you are doing is the best way to do it, and it has to be fun and challenging in equal measures. You can equip yourself with the most perfectly designed programme using compound exercises, the right support movements and mix of energy systems development but really if you’re not going to turn up and do it because you don’t believe in it then there is probably a better option out there for you that you haven’t discovered yet.
- Know that what is perfect today may not be perfect in a month. We are biological organisms, we adapt to new things not the same things and controlling the flow of new and varied stimuli is the key to progress. The definition of madness is repeating the same process expecting a different result so what gets you some of the way won’t get you all of the way. If after five years of doing the same circuit with the same kettlebell progress has stopped then it’s time for something to change.
- There should be a series of nutritional and lifestyle changes that accompany the exercise. Doing a spin class probably won’t do much in the long run if you eat six croissants for lunch a large packet of maltesers for dinner and only sleep three hours a night.
Long story short irrespective of your chosen mode of training you will probably have to do things at some point that you and your body does not want to do. These points apply to weights training every bit as much as they do to swimming, jogging or doing classes. Want to lose weight but never change your diet? To get strong but never train hard? You want to get fit but never want to sweat? Tough! Just make sure to know where you are starting from, learn good movement, build and rebuild towards something specific, eat to support the exertion and don’t just grind yourself into dust every time to exercise you are very likely on the right track.