GOLF TRAINING PART 1 – WHY SHOULD GOLFERS STRENGTH TRAIN
Golf and I
Golf is likely the last activity most of you would associate with me. However, it actually used to be my main sport, along with football. Football in autumn and golf in the summer. I played seriously from the age of 13 to 19, at which point I started taking weightlifting (Olympic lifting) seriously, bumping my training up to 6 days a week, often twice a day. So, I stopped playing golf… for 23 years.
I just got back into it, and the way my brain works is that when I get into something, I need to understand everything about it. And in the case of golf, it led to blending my passion for training and my resurrected love for golf.
Sadly, my quest for more information about golf-specific training left me on my appetite. I see way too much majoring in the minor, tons of balance and stability exercises but very little focus on strength and power work (there are exceptions).
In this article, I will present to you my views on how one should train to improve golfing performance.
SHOULD GOLFERS LIFT HARD?
Golf has always been seen as a game of precision and skill more than one of raw power and strength. I remember when I started playing, no pro golfer exercised, let alone trained. And the likes of Craig Stadler, Rocco Mediate and Corey Pavin did nothing to reinforce that golfers needed to be in good shape to be successful.
But the game has changed. The top pros now differentiate themselves from the rest of the field in large part because of driving distance.
To be among the best, you need to hit it long (and straight of course). Rory, DJ, Rahm, Koepka, Bubba, Finau, Dechambeau, Adam Scott, etc. all drive it way over 300 yards on average, routinely reaching 350+ in competition play.
And I’d go as far as saying that the average player who is passionate about the game would gladly give one inch of penis size to gain 20 yards of driving distance!
That’s why you have tons of amateur players buying a new 600$ driver every year: they hope to get a few more extra yards with every upgrade.
Surprisingly (or not) over the past 15 years the average driving distance for the average golfer has not improved at all while that of the pros went up 10-15 yards.
One significant reason for that is the increase of strength and conditioning work among high-level golfers. From the S&C programs that are part of the college golf programs to the regimen that the tops guys are doing even in-season, the top guys understand that training can help them hit it farther and avoid injuries.
The best example of this is Bryson Dechambeau who was first ridiculed for wanting to “bulk up” during the 2018 off-season… only to prove everybody wrong by gaining 20 yards of driving distance in one off-season. For someone who was already hitting it close to 300 yards on average, that is huge.
Here’s the scoop
Drivers are tightly regulated. A driver’s face has a limit to how “reactive” it can be. It’s called the coefficient of reactivity (COR) which is correlated with ball speed. Simply put, drivers cannot become ‘hotter” than they are now. Drivers from 2015-2016 are just as long as the brand-new models on the market. The only thing they can play with to increase distance is to improve the aerodynamic of the head and the length of the shaft (that is also regulated though), look at Taylor Made: their drivers come with a stock 46” shaft instead of the more normal 44 – 45” length, which can give you a few miles per hour of clubhead speed (but less control).
The newer drivers are more forgiving, but not long and it will continue on this path.
So, if you want to gain driving distance you should not look for a new driver as a solution, but to physical training.
DISTANCE AND THE VERTICAL JUMP CONNECTION
The Titleist Performance Institute found an interesting correlation after analysing a lot of PGA pros: driving distance is correlated with vertical jumping capacity.
Those who jump the highest normally hit it the farthest.
Why is that? After all, golf is a rotational sport while jumping is linear.
It has to do with the way the modern pros swing to hit it further.
The longest hitters, from the big guns on the PGA Tour to the gorillas on the long drive circuit, apply a lot of force on the ground with their front leg during the downswing. They do that to increase rotational speed. I will explain how in a second.
The guys who hit it long all do it. In some, it is more visually striking because their front foot actually leaves the floor because the push is so powerful.
The two best examples on Tour are Bubba Watson and Matt Wolff, who literally jump back when they drive.
Here is a video of Matt Wolff, look at his left foot.
Same thing with Bubba Watson:
While Rory doesn’t jump like Bubba and Wolff, look at the action of his left leg; we can clearly see the powerful leg extension. And while he doesn’t jump, his left heel leaves the ground when he extends.
On the long drive circuit, it’s even more noticeable. Look at Kyle Berkshire, he literally jumps back around 6-8”!
Here, Jaimie Sadlowski does a smaller jump back, but it’s still noticeable.
What is really interesting about Berkshire and Sadlowski is that they were world champs despite being on the smaller side, in large part because of their dynamic lower body action.
But even the bigger guys do it. Look here:
Why is the jump back creating clubhead speed?
The reason is simple when you understand how a rotational system works.
Here is what a rotation system looks like. There is the axis of rotation, in the golf swing that’s your spine, and then one “lever” on both sides. For golfing purposes imagine that this is looking at you from the top of your head and the “A” lever is your left hip and the “B” lever is your right hip. Both levers being part of the same structure, they rotate together around the axis; your spine.
If I apply force on one of the levers, the other side will move in the opposite direction, just like a teeter-totter:
If one side goes down because you apply more force, the other goes up. Just like if one side goes up because the kid jumps, the other side goes down.
Now, imagine that this image represents your hips. The axis is your spine, the “A” side is the right/lead hip (for a right-handed golfer) and the “B” side is the left/trail hip.
If you push into the ground with your lead leg with a combination of vertical and horizontal forces, you make your lead hip moves back. And if your spine stays stable, this will make your trail hip move forward in a rotational pattern.
The more force you can apply to the ground, the faster will your lead hip move back and, consequently, the faster will your trail hip move forward. This means a faster hip rotation.
In reality, the golfers who jump back are really driving that front big toe forward and into the ground, which makes the foot move back and up. If you do it with enough force and speed, the foot will leave the ground and move back.
This will help you hit it longer for three reasons:
1) a faster hip rotation makes the whole body rotate faster. The faster the body rotates the faster will the clubhead speed be.
2) the faster the hips are, relative to the torso and arms, the more you stretch the core and upper back musculature. Stretching a muscle creates a stretch reflex that increases speed even more.
3) When the hips rotate faster than the torso (and especially, arms) that’s when you create lag. I’m not a golf coach and this is supposed to be a training article, but those of you who know golf, know how important creating lag can be.
Those who can jump higher can apply more force into the ground which means that they can make their hips spin faster. That’s why there is a connection between jumping high and hitting it long.
HOWEVER, this is for those who use the ground well during his swing. An amateur golfer who doesn’t use his lead leg to apply force into the ground will not improve his driving distance by improving his jumping capacity.
I believe that proper golf training depends on the person’s swing. More on that later.
For a long time, people believed that getting stronger and more powerful would not help you hit the ball longer.
Which is not unlike how baseball was 40 years ago. Yet, nowadays, every baseball player worth his salt is engaging in serious training.
Also, consider that the biggest hitters in baseball all tend to be large and strong. Aaron Judge is 6’7” and a lean 285lbs, Mike Trout is 6’2” and a jacked 240lbs (he also hit the gold ball a looooooong way), Pete Alonso is 6’3” and 250lbs, Jorge Soler is 6’4” and 230lbs and so on and so forth.
And need I mention the “steroid era” hitters. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa looking monstrous and Barry Bonds turning from a contact hitter to the best slugger in baseball after gaining 30lbs of muscle mass.
That’s another issue, right? If strength didn’t help you hit it longer, why use steroids to play baseball?
I’m not suggesting that baseball players or golfers take steroids. What I’m saying that the fact that these are rampant in baseball indicate that strength will help with hitting longer.
Steroids do not improve technique or reaction time; they make you stronger and more muscular. And the fact that they became rampant in baseball, indicate that they worked at improving performance and therefore that getting stronger indeed help you hit it further.
Of course, what I suggest is getting stronger via training, not drugs.
While the baseball bat is heavier than a golf club, both movements are very similar in mechanical structure as well as the physical capacities required.
“In the past, a lot of golfers hit it very long without strength training!” you may say.
But a lot of baseball players hit it far without training too. But ever since training started in baseball, a lot more players hit it long and the longest hitters hit it longer. Those with the natural gift to hit far might not need training that much. But these are the minority. The people with average genetics will need all the help they can get.
I can also point out to another rotational sport in which strength training was frowned upon for a long time but is now part of every serious participant: figure skating.
Figure skaters were among the first athletes I got to work with.
I worked alongside Martin Gervais, who incidentally had been my golf coach and has been a competitive golfer for over 30 years.
While we used a lot of abdominal and rotational trunk work, we also used strength exercises like the power clean, power snatch, squat, split squat and push press. In fact, a few of our skaters were good enough to qualify for the Quebec Games in weightlifting! One of the girls went as high as a 185lbs power clean and jerk and a 135lbs power snatch… at 15 years of age.
It is worth noting that one of the skaters we trained was Joannie Rochette, who ended up winning silver at the Vancouver Olympics.
Why am I talking about figure skating? While the connection between hitting a baseball and hitting a golf ball are quite obvious; the link between skating and golf is not as apparent.
However, the jumping part of figure skating is very similar in nature to the modern golf swing.
In many jumps, the Axel series, for example, skaters use a plant and push off the leg to speed up their rotation, allowing them to spin 2 or 3 full turns in the air before landing. For women to be able to land a double Axel, they need a lot of leg strength/power, not to jump higher but to create more rotational speed so that they can spin faster in the air, getting more turns in before landing. Those who can hit the triple Axel have extremely strong and powerful legs.
While we think of the core, especially obliques, when it comes to spinning in the air, a large part of the rotational speed comes for a strong leg drive combined with the horizontal movement before planting the leg.
It’s similar to the golf swing. The same things that will make a skater spin fast will make a golfer turn his hips fast.
If you look at the training for skaters, it gives us our first clue about how to train for golf performance. While skaters do indeed use plenty of stability/balance, abdominal/core and rotational work, they also perform quite a bit of basic strength (squats, split squats, deadlifts) and power (power variations of the Olympic lifts, plyometrics, throws) work.
Obviously, they don’t jump into those later exercises right off the bat, but they must work toward them to reach elite performance.
Figure skaters need even more flexibility, coordination and stability than golfers. Yet, they include a good amount of big basic work in their training. There are no reasons for golfers to be afraid of strength training.
To me, another great comparison for golfers are shot putters and, especially, discus throwers. Both rotational sports like golf. And if you look at the lower body action, it is very similar to the modern golf swing.
Throwers are among the strongest and most powerful athletes in the world. They often power clean in the high 300 and even 400lbs range (some shot putters have cleaned in the 500) and squat in the 600-800lbs range. And despite their size, they also are extremely explosive and fast. Often registering vertical jumps in the 36 – 40” range (remember the TPI vertical jump vs. driving distance connection) and broad jumps of 10 feet or more.
And if you look at the delivery phase of a throw, it is very similar to the downswing action, especially with the modern technique with the front leg explosion.
Obviously, there is a difference between throwing a 16 lbs shot or a 4.5 lbs discuss and swinging and a 0.6 to 1.1 lbs golf club. The formers obviously are more strength biased and do require a greater level of strength. But still, both actions are similar and golf swing speed can be enhanced by getting stronger just like a thrower can gain distance by working on their strength and power too. Golfers just don’t need to reach the same levels as the throwers, but the same exercises will be beneficial: power cleans/power snatches, squats and partial squats, jumps, core work, medicine ball throws as well as specific overspeed actions. Throwers throw implements lighter and heavier than their competition weight, golfers should do the same with underweight and overweight “clubs” (more about that in part 2).
FORCE = MASS X ACCELERATION
This is one of the most well-known physics formulae and it is super important for golf performance, specifically for clubhead speed.
It means that the force applied to an object (the golf club for us) is equal to the weight of that object in kg (mass) multiplied by the acceleration imparted to that object in m/s2. Force itself is given in Newtons.
What is important for us to understand is that since the mass we are moving will not vary (unless we change driver at every shot, and even then, most drivers are approximately the same weight) the more force we apply, the greater will the acceleration be.
For example, let’s compare someone who applies 50N of force versus one who applies 75N of force to a 0.3kg mass (300g, roughly the weight of a driver).
50N (the Force) = 0.3kg (the Mass) x Acceleration
In which case acceleration will be 166,67 m/s2 giving us the formula 50N = 0.3kg x 166.67m/s2.
In the second case we have:
75N = 0.3kg x Acceleration
And now the acceleration goes up to 250m/s2
Quite a big difference. And even more important is that the greater the acceleration is, the more velocity (clubhead speed) you can create.
By the way, that formula also explains why you swing a lighter club faster without even trying. For example, if you have 120 grams steel iron shafts and then go to 80 grams graphite shaft you will swing a few miles an hour faster with the same effort. Why? Because if I lower the “mass” part of the equation but maintain the same “force” output, then “acceleration” goes up.
Let’s go from 340 grams down to 300 grams:
75N = 0.34 kg x Acceleration
Acceleration will be 220m/s2
75N = 0.3 kg x Acceleration
Where acceleration will be 250 m/s/2
Force is created by your muscles and levers. And all other things being equal, the stronger your muscles are, the more force you can create. The more force you can create, the more acceleration you will be able to produce, and the higher will be the resulting velocity.
This explains why getting stronger, i.e. improving your muscles’ capacity to produce force, can help you increase your clubhead speed.
An extreme example is 5-times world long drive champion, Jason Zuback. In his prime he could power snatch 127,5kg (281lbs), clean & jerk 172.5kg (380lbs) and squat/deadlift way over 600lbs.
Here are some common “doubting comments” that will arise when you mention strength training to golfers.
I’ve tried weight training and it didn’t help me hit it further.
This will be addressed more in the “What is specific to your swing” section of part 2 of this series. But the fact is that what will be effective in the weight room depends on how you swing the club.
In the introduction to this article, I talked about the modern swing technique in which the golfer applies a lot of force into the ground to speed up hip rotation. People using that approach will be able to improve swing speed by making their legs more powerful. However, if you don’t apply the same ground force with your legs (pretty much no mid-handicapper does it) then gaining leg strength and power will not lead to a significant improvement in swing speed.
However, getting the core and back stronger will very likely help.
If being able to produce a lot of force is so important, then why aren’t powerlifters, strongmen and bodybuilders good at hitting a golf ball (in most cases)?
For the same reason that bodybuilders and powerlifters are not necessarily great baseball players, sprinters or football players.
The capacity to produce force is one thing. But it’s not the only element that is important.
The first and most important factor at excelling in golf is to have an efficient and repetitive swing. Applying a lot of force to faulty mechanics will simply amplify mistakes. That’s why you see a lot of athletes from other sports who are able to hit it a long way but are often 50-60 yards offline and hit the ball correctly once every 10 shots.
Also, strength is only the foundation. Past a certain point, getting stronger will not increase clubhead speed. Why? Because a golf swing is fast and doesn’t last long. Meaning that you have a very limited time to apply force in the downswing. Often less than a second.
Here’s the thing: the faster you need to go, the less force you can apply. To be able to use your force production potential you need to go slower, you need time to ramp up force production. This is called the Force-Velocity relationship.
You can be super strong, if you don’t have the capacity to produce force rapidly, it will be wasted.
That’s where explosive work comes in. Stuff like jumps, throws and the power variation of the Olympic lifts. These can improve your body’s capacity to produce force rapidly and thus will allow you to be able to use more of your strength during explosive movements, like a golf swing.
That’s why getting a stronger will, at first, certainly be helpful. But eventually, your focus will need to shift to explosive exercises (still keeping some heavy work to avoid losing strength).
Sticking to only heavy lifting forever is a mistake. But focusing on jumps, throws and other explosive movements when you don’t yet have a foundation of strength is also a mistake.
See, explosive exercises are often called the “bridge” between strength work and sport skill. The explosive work essentially develops your body’s capacity to use a greater proportion of the strength it has, during fast movements.
If you have a very low amount of strength to start with, jumps and other explosive movements will lead to very little improvements in clubhead speed: because even if you increase your capacity to use the strength you have in a fast movement, it will not do you much good if you don’t have much strength in the first place!
Plenty of golfers hit it long and are not doing a lot of strength work, why should I?
Look at any sport where speed and power are involved, and you will always find examples of elite athletes who didn’t use strength training and still reached the highest level.
Kim Collins ran a 9.84 / 100m without ever lifting heavyweights.
Pretty much every baseball slugger prior to the 1970s did it without lifting.
Let me be clear: if you have genetic advantages for your sport, you will be able to perform at the top level without strength training, often being a lot better than workout warriors without the same advantages.
For example, if a sprinter is born with 5-10% more fast-twitch fibres than other high-level sprinters and naturally has a more efficient stretch reflex, he will not need much (if any) strength work to be explosive.
In golf, the ratio of fast-twitch fibres can make a HUGE difference in swing speed. That’s one of the reasons why a guy like Jaimie Sadlowski can swing it so fast despite being all of 170lbs.
Another thing that can be huge for distance is height and arm length.
If you are tall and have long arms you will have a distinct advantage when it comes to driving distance. That’s because longer arms increase the length of the clubhead path which allows you to build more speed. And also, because in a circular system, the further away the end of the chain is to the axis, the faster it will move.
I’ll give you an example. If you increase the length of your driver’s shaft by 1”, going from 45” to 46”, your clubhead speed will go up by a few mph (2-3 mph) without changing your swing (it makes it harder to have a quality impact though).
Same with the irons. If you look at the table below you will see that a PGA pro will swing his 5 iron 4 mph faster than his 7 iron. The swing is likely not different (it’s not like comparing an iron to a wood). The difference is the length of the clubs. 36.75” for the 7 iron and 37.75” for the 5 iron (normally). In that case, one more inch led to 4 more miles per hour.
If you have long arms, you essentially have the same benefit as having a longer shaft, because the arms are connected to the club and spin around your spine.
If you are a guy like Dustin Johnson, who is 6’4” with long arms for his height AND lots of flexibility, you start with the golden ticket for distance! And if you add to that his explosiveness on jumps (he can do some spectacular dunks) you have the recipe for 350-yard bombs down the middle of the fairway!
But we are not all born with optimal levers and muscle fibre make-up. For those who are less gifted, anything that can help increase clubhead speed will help even the field. And don’t forget that, when it comes to the driver, each mile per hour will give you 2-3 yards on solid hits, you don’t need something to give you 10 mph to be beneficial.
What about golfers who have never used resistance training? Or seniors? Surely, they can’t focus on heavy and explosive work.
Well, there is a difference between golfers who have never lifted and seniors. Someone who is 25 years old and has never lifted will be able to work up to fairly heavy strength training relatively quickly provided that they don’t have injuries or limitations.
If someone is 70 years old with a bad back, heavy and explosive work is likely not in the cards. But the good news is that these people have a very low threshold for performance gains, meaning that even doing lighter work, while doing the variations of the basic movement patterns that they can do safely, will help them. Because their starting point is so low, that any increase will have an important effect.
But obviously the key here is scaling the exercises selection and training parameters to the person’s level and capacities.
I believe that it is important for a golfer to train the squat movement pattern, the hip hinge movement pattern and the single-leg movement pattern. However, that doesn’t mean that they have to use the back squat, power snatch from the hang and walking lunge!
Look at the table below for an example of a regression/progression that you can use for these patterns. </p
I play golf 4-6 days a week and I sometimes practice on top of that. I have no time to train.
That is a real concern. I find myself struggling to find time to train too. I have a home gym which makes things a bit easier. But I get how that can be problematic.
And we can’t all be investing 6-7 hours a day on training and playing like Tiger is doing (Tiger does his training program at 5 am before he starts his practice).
There are two possible situations you might find yourself in: you can live in a country where the golf season is 4 to 7 months long (like me in Canada for example). In that case, you can train seriously during the off-season. Three or even four solid workouts per week. And when the season starts you can keep one workout per week to maintain what you developed during the off-season.
Maintaining strength is quite possible with one weekly workout per week.
That might mean playing one less round per week, but if it allows you to perform better at every other round isn’t it worth it? And if you are dead set on playing almost every day, once or twice per week you can play 9 holes instead of 18, and you will have enough time and energy for a workout (that’s what I do).
The second possibility is that you live in a place where golf is played year-round. Florida for example. In that case, the fact that you can play year-round means that you don’t need to play 5-6 days a week all the time. Why not play 4 times a week and train once or twice? Any solid training is better than no training at all. Afraid of “losing your game” if you play less? Be honest, how much has it improved recently?
WHAT do YOU nEED TO TRAIN THE MOST?
In part 2 of this series, I will address the best exercises for improving golf performance as well as how to plan training. But I want to conclude this first one by talking about what muscles will be the most important for improving your golf.
I already addressed the importance of strong legs. If you use proper ground force application, getting those legs stronger will absolutely help you hit it further. But other benefits of stronger legs include being more stable against strong winds and in uphill and downhill lies.
The core (abdominal, lower back, quadratus lumborum, transversus abdominis, etc.) is the second most important region. It needs to both be stable and strong/explosive. A stable core is important for injury prevention (nothing will kill your game faster than a bad back) but also for performance; we all think about swinging fast to hit it far, but once you’ve hit the ball with maximum velocity, you need to decelerate the club to avoid tearing something in your back or hip.
To quote golf strength & conditioning specialist Jason Glass: “Your body will only allow you to accelerate what you can decelerate”.
A strong and stable core is one of the key elements to decelerating the club once you’ve hit the ball. The stronger it is, the better you can decelerate, the more your body will allow you to accelerate.
The upper body (torso, shoulder girdle, arms) are not as important as the lower body, although it is always better to be decently strong overall.
But two upper body parts play a significant role in your swing: the upper back (latissimus dorsi and, to some extent, the rear delts and rhomboids) and the forearm/hand muscles.
When you properly sequence your swing, the hips rotate faster than the torso and arms, which will stretch the latissimus dorsi.
This muscle is connected to the hips (iliac crest, sacrum), the spine and the arms (intertubercular groove of the humerus), so when one part to which the lats are attached rotates faster (hips) than the other (arm), you stretch the muscle. Stretching a muscle is like stretching an elastic band or pulling on a bowstring: it increases power potential.
Having a strong upper back will make the latissimus dorsi more rigid (higher muscle tone) which increases power potential, even more, when stretched: if you take a loose elastic band and a tight one, and you both stretch them by the same amount, the tighter one will produce a lot more speed when you release it.
As for the forearms and grip strength, both can help you keep the clubface square when you hit out of thick lies. It will also help prevent the clubface from opening up when you hit it on the toe part. And for those with a lot of wrist hinge in their swing, stronger forearms and hands can help produce more speed.
There is honestly very little need to spend too much effort on training the pectorals, deltoids and arms directly. You can certainly train them, but from experience, gaining too much size there can hurt your swing. Look at my backswing here. Mechanically it’s fine, but the size of the deltoid makes it impossible to keep seeing the ball.
By the way, I have changed my mechanics to involve more hip rotation since then. That was at the beginning of the season.
Pectorals that are too big could also make it harder to keep the lead arm connected to your body (well, it will be connected, but if the chest is bulging too much, the arm will be too far forward). And finally, too much pectoral work could decrease your external shoulder rotation range of motion on the trailing arm, while will make it hard to shallow the club on the way down.
Lower body, core, upper back, forearms, in that order. This is what you need to focus on if you want to improve your performance.
Sorry, for being so long-winded, without even yet discussing training, but I feel that to get the most out of training, you need to trust that what you are investing your time and effort it will work. This article was in large part to explain why golfers should strength train. Thrusting the process is the first pillar or motivation, which is the real key to successful training.
In part two we will see the best exercises to improve golf performance as well as how you should program training sessions, weeks and phases.
Training While Confined: Are Mass Gains And Fat Loss Still Possible?
So here we are… Everywhere on the planet, pretty much half of the population is confined to their houses. Talk about the experience of a lifetime. I mean, our grand-parents lived through World War II. Us? We will have to contend with COVID-19 crisis. I’m not saying it’s tremendously impactful in many ways though. For a lot of people, it can be a long and painful moment. For others, it will be heart-breaking. Whether it’s because you lost a loved one to the pandemic, lost your job, fell into debts, etc… The negative impact can be emotional as well as economic, if not both.
We don’t have control over the progression of this situation (well, not directly). The only thing we can do to help is to stay home and take all the necessary precautions. So let’s be proactive. Better do something in order to get as positive an outcome as possible.
But there is also an endless list of things you can take the time to do to improve in your lives. Since you are a Thibarmy follower, why not evaluate the elements that affect your training and diet since that’s what we are good at.
What to do with your diet?
In the last week or two, this question has been asked very often. People are now training at home. Unless you are part of the lucky few who have a full home gym, most of us must rely on their bodyweight or very few pieces of equipment. Does that mean you are doomed to lose all your hard-earned gains? Not at all. Solutions do exist, such as Christian Thibaudeau’s Beat The Apocalypse programs.
No matter how you train though, it will require some adjustments to your training methodology. But the main objective is still the same: finding ways to make a simple bodyweight exercise harder. This is exactly what our Beat The Apocalypse programs workout series does. Like most of you, we, too, have had to find innovative ways to continue to train our customers and ourselves.
First things first: what to do with your diet? Honestly, do you think I would have created a ”confinement diet”?? Or the “anti-COVID-19” diet?? As in, what’s the best diet to fight the coronavirus? And promises such as “How to boost your immune system so you won’t catch this virus”? I hope not. I will never be that disrespectful to you and I know you are smarter than that.
What I can do however is help you tweak your diet so you can keep pursuing the goal you were striving for before all of this happened. You’re probably feeling like your training sessions are not as efficient at building muscles or strength. That’s possible. But then, what of the calories you eat and macro split? Well, to counter that, what you can do is to try to make the training sessions as productive as possible. And just like with training, the nutrition side of things need some adjustments to fit these new training sessions. So here are some quick tips you can apply to your diet and still achieve your goals.
Fat loss is probably the simplest and easiest goal to pursue, even when confined. The equation is the same: you have to burn more calories than what you are ingesting. Now it’s possible you feel like your training sessions are not as hard as they used to be, and that consequently, you don’t burn as many calories in a single training session. While that might (might!) be true, you can compensate with different types of activity that will make you burn more total calories, whether daily or weekly.
Here’s an example:
One of the clients I work with was on a 1950 kcal/day diet, with a macro breakdown of 40% protein, 30% fat, and 30% carbs. A standard and well-balanced plan. Now that he is confined at home and not working his usual desk job, he is doing lots of manual labour and yard work. He lifts and carries a wheelbarrow full of rock every day. After a couple of days, he texted me and said that he was feeling exhausted as if he was not recovering enough from a usual workout. So I had him write a daily log of his activity and exercises.
Here is the rundown of a typical day:
7:00 am – Hill walking or mid-pace jogging outside for 30-40 minutes in a fasted state.
8:15 am – Breakfast
10:00 am – Workout with bodyweight exercises and resistance bands for about 45 minutes.
Noon – lunch
1:30 pm to 4:30 pm – Working in the garden, renovating his house
5:30 pm – Dinner
7:00 pm – Walk outside for 30-40 min
Now compare to his former, pre-Covid19 training regimen and daily activity:
6:30 am – breakfast (and all the usual family stuff such as driving the kids to school and face traffic to get to the office).
9:00 up until noon – office work, seated
noon – lunch
1:00 pm up until 4:40 pm – office work, seated
5:00 pm – Workout for about an hour and a half with moderate volume and 20 minutes cardio
7:00 pm – Dinner and relax until bed
10:00 pm – Go to bed
That client was still able to lose fat and fuel his workout with 1950 calories daily and a little daily energy expenditure, save for his workout session. But now, he is moving around a lot more, lifting heavy stuff, walking and jogging. Even if bodyweight workouts leave him feeling like he is not working as hard compared to squatting and benching heavy, he is still burning a lot more total calories in a day. No wonder he felt like he was not recovering!
Bonus point, working in the yard is not something that he is used to, which represents a new kind of stimulus. This explains the new aches he felt every day.
The solution was to increase his calories, mainly carbs, to compensate for his increased glycogen need. We increased his calories by 400 kcal, increased the carbs and reduced the fat intake a bit. The end result was more total calories in the form of carbs. We played around with his macros until he was again losing fat while being able to sustain is increased workload.
Fragment your workout
Believe it or not, the present situation may be a blessing in disguise for your body composition goal. This is especially true if you are currently working remotely or not working. While the latter is not great financially (sorry for you if that is the case), there are still a lot of things you can do to be proactive with your exercise regimen. After all, you have more time on your hands and there are a lot of possibilities for activities that will burn more fat. Let’s focus on that silver lining.
One simple method I recommend to increase your daily caloric output is to do multiple short workouts instead of a longer one. Doing a quick cardio session before each meal can be a significant help in the fat loss game. It will also improve macro-nutrient partitioning, which is the way you metabolize your foods. For example, another client I work with kept the same meal plan but the following: he added a 15-minute cardio session (just a brisk walking at a 110-120 bpm pace). This kickstarted his fat loss. We also split is a bodyweight workout in two sessions. One session is done in the morning, and the other one in late PM. This client now feels fuller all day and benefits from a better partitioning of his macro-nutrients.
What about adding muscles?
Yeah, I know: gaining muscle with bodyweight workouts seems impossible when it’s already hard to gain muscle with a gym chock full of heavy barbells and dumbbells. Well, think again! Gaining muscle is all about the tension and the volume you put on your muscles.
A few easy examples on how to train hard at home:
Find push-up variations that require a less advantageous lever.
Slow down the eccentric of your pull-up
Give single leg squat a try
Put some water bottle or food can in a bag and curl it up. There’s a myriad of ways to make the most basic exercises harder. If you have more time to train, you can add more total volume, fragmenting your workout and increasing the frequency to your workouts. The only rule is to apply more tension and more training volume to your muscles.
The rules don’t differ from what you are used to do in the gym; you just don’t have the barbells you used to.
If you apply these tips properly and still train hard, you will still need that calorie surplus to build muscle. And this, my friend, is no different than any diet plan to add mass. You won’t get fatter because you can’t train ”in” the gym. As long as you can justify these calories to your body, you’ll get the same results.
So instead of waiting for the gyms to reopen and worrying about losing all your precious gains, take the bull by the horns and kick your butt with the hardest possible training.
The world may be in a significant era of change. Maybe we won’t live the same way after all this. We will surely have to rethink some of our lifestyle habits (for the better, I hope!) But one thing is for sure: the way your bodywork won’t change. And achieving your goals is not a matter of the equipment available to you. The training rules have not changed. The same goes for nutrition. The rules for fat loss or muscle mass are the same.
Remember, the essential thing you muscle needs to grow is ADAPTATION.
And the same goes for yourself: adapt to the situation to succeed.
When you are passionate about training, not being able to go to the gym can be a mental (and physical) torture! Not only because of the fear of losing your gainz but also because hard training gives us a neurological response that makes us feel good and can frankly be addictive. I know that when I can’t train for a few days I become more aggressive, less positive and have more frequent mood swings.
All is not lost! There are plenty of things you can do to make the most of this frustrating situation.
1.CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Here are several things you can do to avoid going insane and maintain or even improve your physique and capacities.
Not being able to go to the gym for a few weeks can be a blessing in disguise by “forcing” you to work on things that you need to work on, but rarely do because you don’t like to, or because you’d rather lift.
Here’s an example. Gabriel Chiasson is a bobsleigh athlete I train. Gab decided to take a year off from competition to focus on getting as strong, powerful and fast as possible so that in the pre-Olympic year he would destroy every bobsleigh Canada physical tests.
We first started focusing on strength and power. He brought his squat up to 265kg (585lbs), his front squat to 220kg (485lbs) and his power snatch to 137kg (300lbs). All up more than significantly compared to where we started.
By doing that we stopped sprinting to allow for more lifting days and better neurological recovery.
But he became addicted to strength gains and wanted to keep focusing on that until he hit specific numbers he had in mind.
But his sport is about pushing a sled as fast as possible. And while strength and power are important, speed is at least as important, if not more so.
Because of the COVID-19 all gyms are closed in Quebec.
Instead of freaking out about losing his gains, Gab will now focus on his sprinting. Which, arguably, he should have done sooner.
You might not need to sprint fast for your own specific goals. But why not look at this unplanned layoff from heavy lifting to focus on things that you would normally not train but could help you in your future progress?
You could work on mobility, on mind-muscle connection (by doing isometrics or long-duration sets with isometric holds or a slow eccentric). You could read a lot about training or watch videos to learn as much as you can so that your understanding of training becomes a lot better, allowing you to design a better training plan.
You could work on conditioning or fat loss by doing intervals or even steady-state cardio: being in better cardiovascular health can actually help you add more muscle to your frame afterwards.
All of these things will make your comeback to the gym more effective.
Instead of thinking “I’m gonna lose all my gainz, bro” think “I’m gonna blow up when I come back to the gym”!
2. DO ISOMETRICS
Isometrics are as old as physical culture. They were likely around earlier than any other form of structured training. It consists of contracting your muscles without any movement. The version I will be talking about here is called “overcoming isometrics”: you are trying to lift a weight that can’t move.
For 6-9 seconds you are trying as hard as humanly possible to move that object. This is very effective to strength development: you recruit as many muscle fibers as you do during a regular max effort lift and their firing rate (the real key for strength) can be even higher!
The downside is that strength will be gained mostly at the trained angle, plus or minus 15 degrees (if you train the 90 degrees angle, you will gain strength mostly from 105 to 75 degrees). But the effect on neurological efficiency will be general and it will allow you to come back strong to the gym.
Here are three home examples. With some imagination, you can easily find exercises for every muscle group.
The first one is for biceps. Hold on to something immovable (in this case a tabletop) as if you wanted to curl it. Use an angle anywhere from 110 to 80 degrees and produce as much “curling force” as possible. Focus on your biceps, not front delts or traps:
The next one is for the front delts. Use a similar set up to the curl, but instead, simply put your fists on the immovable object and you will try to push it forward and up. You might need to use a staggered stance for more stability.
The last one is a classic that you probably did as a kid. Stand up in a doorway and try to push the sides of the doorway with your arms.
The method I like to use if you want to maintain/increase strength and size is to perform each set as follow:
6 seconds max effort/10-15 sec rest x 6… in other words each set has 6 reps lasting 6 seconds with 10-15 sec of rest between reps.
You only need 1-2 sets per exercise.
3. USE HARD BODYWEIGHT METHODS
Isometrics can help you maintain or increase strength. Bodyweight training, with the right methods, can allow you to maintain or gain muscle mass.
Let me be clear: if you are decently strong in the gym, bodyweight exercises, performed normally, will not be great at helping you maintain muscle mass.
The reason is that you are too strong for most of them. For example, when you do push-ups you are pressing roughly 60% of your body weight. If you are 185lbs it is equivalent to bench pressing 110lbs, which is even light for a warm-up for most of us.
Bodyweight squats are even worse. You are lifting 88% of your bodyweight (everything above the knee). But don’t forget that when you squat with a barbell you are also lifting 88% of your weight.
If you weigh 185lbs and your max squat is 400lbs, you are really lifting 562lbs. When doing bodyweight squats you will be lifting 162lbs. Which is 28% of your max. The mechanical loading on the fibers will be very small. So muscle damage and mTOR activation will be low, and these are the two main stimuli for growth.
To make bodyweight training effective at stimulating growth you need to rely on secondary factors like lactate production and growth factors release. These are less powerful than muscle damage and mTOR activation, but they can still allow you to get some growth.
To get both of them you need to reach the “pain zone”. Where the muscles feel on fire. Yes, you can do it by doing normal reps to failure. But on movements like a bodyweight squat, you might need to do 100 reps, which might kill you of boredom before the virus does.
Instead, you can use intensification methods like a slow eccentric (up to 8-10 seconds per rep) or holds during the set or at the beginning of the set.
Here Paul (pro football player) is including 5-15 second holds during the set, doing reps in between.
You can also use one long hold at the beginning of the set as pre-fatigue.
You would hold a position of high tension for anywhere between 30 and 60 seconds, then doing reps to failure.
The added benefit of these methods over simply doing reps to failure is that they improve mind-muscle connection a lot more. Which is an investment in future gains once you get back to the gym.
4. DO MOBILITY WORK
Let’s be honest: few of us really do mobility work. Moat lifters hate it. And we justify our avoidance of them by saying how ineffective they are.
They aren’t. They are not a waste of time. When properly done, they can help you improve the range of motion. Reducing the risk of injuries and helping performance in the long run.
I “rediscovered” this myself recently when I decided to get back to golf.
Years of heavy lifting and no mobility work to speak of left me incapable of doing a regular golf swing!
In fact, I had to postpone my “start” by a few weeks while I worked on my mobility. I did mobility work every day. I did static stretching for specific muscles as well as loaded stretching (do a search, I have written articles on the topic) and active mobility work, in that order.
Within two weeks I was swinging better than when I played competitively 25 years ago!
I could also mention the countless Crossfit participants and athletes that I worked with who couldn’t properly hold a front rack in a power clean/front squat: they had to “hold” the bar on their fingertips in the best case scenario, or simply couldn’t raise the elbows high enough to ut the bar on their shoulders.
They all were able to reach a full grip rack within 1-2 weeks of doing the proper mobility work.
You can absolutely improve mobility if you work at it, and this is the best time to work on this neglected training component. It will add years of hardcore training to your lifting career.
5. GET IN BETTER SHAPE
Jogging doesn’t require a gym.
Sprinting doesn’t require a gym.
Pushing your car like a prowler doesn’t require a gym.
Going bike riding doesn’t require a gym.
Going for a ruck walk with a loaded backpack doesn’t require a gym.
Sure, most of these won’t build muscle on you (pushing your car can do it) directly. But they will get you in better shape.
One of the guys I most deeply respect in our field is Jim Wendler. He was one of the first “big, hardcore” guy to put as much emphasis on conditioning as on lifting (if not more in some cases). Jim trains high school football players which is awesome, the best coaches should work with young athletes, and his motto is “strong legs, strong lungs”. He is 100% correct.
And even if you are not an athlete. You should still put an emphasis on being in good general conditioning. One of my beliefs is that when you are a natural trainee, your body will limit how much muscle you can build if your cardiovascular system is deficient.
Think about it: your body doesn’t care about looking jacked. It cares about survival. Your muscles require blood flow to bring oxygen and clear metabolites. The more muscles you have, the more oxygen you need, the more CO2, lactate and hydrogen ions you produce, the more blood flow you need.
Having an insufficient cardiovascular system is actually dangerous for your health. It will require a higher heart rate and will likely lead to high blood pressure.
As such the body will limit muscle-building if it “knows” that it won’t be able to support it.
In my opinion that is one of the main reasons behind the cardiovascular issues of bodybuilders: the steroids allow them to bypass this protective limitation of muscle growth. They can “force” the body to add muscle even if the cardiovascular will have a hard time supporting it. This leads to a higher risk of heart and kidney problems.
The take-home message that investing in your heart and vascular system will allow you to build more muscle in the future.
Don’t get me wrong: don’t become an endurance athlete who does 20k per day. That will surely be bad for muscle growth in most. But doing hard conditioning 2-3 times per week is also an investment in future gains. And when you can’t go to the gym for a few weeks, it’s the perfect time to do it.
You will feel smaller and depleted? Maybe, but in the moderate and long term, it will more than worth it!
There you have it; five simple things you can do to avoid going insane when you can’t do to the gym, retain or even increase your muscle mass and strength. But more importantly, improve future gains by improving elements that will make your body more responsive to future lifting programs.
46 800 hours…that’s about the time I’ve spent working as a coach for the last 13 years. Doesn’t look that much, you say? Let’s dig into these numbers a bit. That’s 3600 hours a year, about 300 hours a month, approximatively 75 hours a week. It is the average amount of time I’ve put into work for different tasks related to the work of a coach. Whether it’s building workout or a nutrition plan, a private session with a client, answering e-mails (and man, we get a lot of them!), or trying to read and learn stuff to stay on the page and improve your knowledge.
Now if you ask me, is it my dreamed job? Of course, I’ll answer. But living from a passion can also burn you to the ground if you don’t manage your schedule properly. I know it, I’ve been there. I’ve always enjoyed creating programs, sharing knowledge with others, training clients, and writing articles. But to make a living of it, forget the 9-5 schedule and the week-ends. At least when you start. You have to understand you are starting a business of your own. So if you are not ready to put on the hours, chances are you’ll get back to your old day job sooner or later. But there’s a time where you will need to resource yourself and have a break. Otherwise, you will lose this passion.
The problem is that being a coach is a very demanding job, mentally, as physically. Think of it; you need to teach people and show them how to train, pinpoint their weaknesses, correct their movements, find cues they can understand, write down programs, assess their results, question them, and find solutions when nothing happens, and this list goes on and on. And you’ll get kind words and references if you have results, but especially if the client does his/her job. And what about if the client doesn’t do his/her part of the deal? You’ll take the blame? Sadly, yes. You are a business. So when a client isn’t satisfied, whatever who’s fault it is, it’s your fault because this is the word that will spread around.
You also have to stay fit yourself. I mean, being Mr. Olympia is way non-necessary, but you need to get a sense of health and fitness. Otherwise, who would like to pay for someone who looks worse than them? It’s hard to hear, but it’s the cold truth. The vast majority of people who are willing to pay for advice are mostly training to look better as a primary goal. So you need to stand apart, and it’s usually done on the first impression, primarily if you work in a commercial gym where most people don’t care that you can lift 500 pounds on the squat. In the strength training field, that’s a bit different, but if you didn’t put on an impressive lift or a world record, you need to have something they haven’t.
Some coaches will also do great when they finally get a client who’s genetic is just freaking awesome. So even though they are not the most knowledgeable in their field, the fact that he/she gets into fantastic shape fast or that one of your clients get insanely strong will also spread some noise and attract the interest of others around. If you train competitive athletes, having one who finishes first will also give credentials to your business.
There are all sorts of ways you can build your business and suddenly have too much on your hand to deal with. Because whatever makes your company getting success, you need to be able to keep that motivation that led you to where you are. But every new client will only add hours of work to your schedule and cuts on other activities in your life. At first, we don’t think about it because all we want is for this business to work. You have to consider other areas of your life as the balance that makes you see your business as sustainable in the long run. There will be a time where you will ask yourself: ”How will I be able to do this all my life?”.
Since I’ve been in this situation myself, trying to keep my head over the water, I will share with you some straightforward tricks, yet very effective ways to make sure you are not drowning in your success. Trust me, at first, they can look quite simple and not that useful, but there will come a time where it can save your career and your sanity.
Your clients want to feel like they are unique and will like to feel like you do something unique and different for them. So when they get a new workout program, they expect a unique program built for them. Now, as a rookie coach, and I’ve seen this so often, we usually understand that we need to develop an entirely new plan out of our imagination. Something you never did before and that nobody could have put their hands on. Easy to do when you have 5 to 10 clients, but is your business will turn around those 5 to 10 clients forever? Will you produce new programs for each and everyone when you will reach 30 clients, 50 clients, hell when you will be a superstar coach and will be responsible for 100 clients.
One of the most significant errors I see from coaches starting in this business is to try to create a whole new program every time they get a new client or every time they renew a client’s plan. But you have to understand this; a workout is a trigger for results, an outcome, one of the tools to get to your client’s goal. If you need to nail a board, a hammer is probably the best, yet most straightforward tool to use. Most people know how to use it, and it’s pretty simple to use, and the chance of injury is usually low (ok, some people might hit their thumb once in a while, but hey, there’s always a minimum risk in each action; otherwise, nothing happen).
Now let’s move a month later, and you need two boards on the wall. Bigger job, yes, but still the same. The volume of work is a bit higher, but it yet the same thing to do. Would you use a different tool? I mean, the hammer got you successful the first time, so it will probably be of the same help this time. If you ask me the question, I would suggest you use a hammer again. I would suggest you use a hammer up until the workload or until the kind of job you want to accomplish ask for bigger or better or more complex tools. But for the moment and until then, the hammer is the tool of choice.
Now, why would you build an entirely new program every month? When I say a new program, I mean creating a whole new context of training sessions, where every exercise, sets, reps, rest, and tempo is different and probably leads to a different outcome. The average time of a training program is 4 to 6 weeks for most people. I don’t think you cover all weaknesses in this short of a time frame. I don’t believe that those exercises or the tool use in your last program have expired and are no longer valid. You heard that you need to ”shock the body”? Trust me; there’s no such thing as ”shocking the body”. The word is progression, and you don’t reach progression when you always switch things up.
What you want to do first: create some basic templates with a different goal for each. For example, you might have 2 or 3 different models focusing on hypertrophy work — 2 or 3 others on strength components – And finally, 2 or 3 where you work more on conditioning or endurance. From those templates, you analyze the need for every client you have and based on the goal of this client, you pick up the right model, the one you consider in line with his goal. Now you probably did an assessment and had a few variables you take notice of.
An example would be a client who’s got an injury, or maybe he has trouble with a particular lift. Take those specific notice, and make some corrections on the template. Correct one or two exercises, switch a back squat for another variation if it’s necessary. Makes small changes that will individualize the program and make this program great for the client. But for the sake of god, don’t start from scratch and build new ones off of the ground. You will lose countless times to do other more important stuff.
From those programs, make small changes at each renewal, and make them progress, make them see improvement, focus on the weaknesses you can see on each lift.
You need to schedule business hours
As a passion, and as our own business, we tend to answer clients every time they text us or send an e-mail. We plan our time around them, and not around our own life or family. The moment you start to do this is the moment you begin to dig yourself into the ground. Quickly, you’ll find out that your life is pretty unbalanced. You work crazy hours, rarely find time to disconnect your brain from work, put your family and friends aside, and slowly burn the candle by both sides.
Over time, your work will start to be less efficient, less original; each task becomes heavier and heavier. You lose ”the edge” you got when you started this off. Don’t forget, this ”edge” is what got you there. To keep that fresh energy, you need to schedule time off work. You need to give time to other spheres of your life. Talk with other people that don’t necessarily share the same interest. Learn other stuff. Give time to your families. To be specific, you need to have a life, not only a business. Otherwise, your business becomes your social network. And that’s profoundly bad. I mean, it should part of your social network, not all of it.
What I’ve done too late in my life, but at least I’ve done it before I lose my mind, is to establish a tight schedule, a calendar where you write working hours. Like you would do for a regular job where you check-in in the morning and check-off at the end of the day. I know it’s hard to do at first because you always fear losing clients or opportunities. But trust me, if someone wants to work with you, he can wait 24-48 hours. Otherwise, it only means that it wouldn’t have last anyway.
In your calendar, schedule time to answer clients, time to read and learn new stuff, time to write and build programs, and if this is the case, time to work in one-on-one sessions. Respect that schedule, don’t try to override it because you think that you don’t have enough time. Because if this is the case, and you feel that you’re missing time to accomplish all of your tasks, it raises a question: Maybe you have too many clients or your work structure lack sophistication.
If you have too many clients, that’s a definite problem but not a bad one. Because there’s something you can do about it. Maybe your business is ready to pass to the next level. Perhaps you need to hire someone to help you accomplish tasks. At first, you probably fear not having enough money or not capitalizing fast enough on your business. Because you will need to pay this employee, but if it helps you to run 30 more clients, trust me, soon enough, you’ll double your business size, rentability and will be less stress by all the work you have. Delegating work is probably the first thing we need to think about when we get too short on time. Learn your weaknesses and hire people who are good at these. Your services can only get stronger, and your work structure can only get better. It will help you to focus on tasks you’re good at and will make you appreciate your work even more.
Learn to say no
This one is gold! The word no has been the hardest word to say in my early career. But there’s a powerful meaning in this word. You need to learn to choose where you want to work, with whom you want to work, and the reason you want to do the job. Let me give you some examples.
There was a time where I would say yes to everyone who’d like to work with me. I think we all do this — whatever the reason, whether it’s for money, credential, more clients on your curriculum. But here’s the thing, you can’t do everything, and you can’t work with every type of client. For myself, I’ve never been comfortable with clients who have a lot of injuries. And one day I realized I add a lot of clients who needed to work on rehab more than they can work out and progress. And it was pissing me off. I was not comfortable training those clients, and it wasn’t motivating me. So my work wasn’t the best I can be for them. And my level of knowledge in that field wasn’t the best; a lot of other great coaches would have done the work way better. But the fear of losing clients was always there, and I felt like I was giving upon them.
But your goal as a coach is to be the best you can be to reach the client’s goal and keep him healthy. As soon as I realize that I wasn’t doing this anymore, but instead kept them from having better and more accurate services. That’s when I started to refer some customers to other coaches.
Best move I ever did.
Not only other coaches began to refer me to some clients, too, but even old clients also came back to me after they have corrected their issues and heal their injuries. I’m still doing the same thing nowadays. I can work around some stuff. But if my evaluation tells me you need rehab first, or a mobility specialist, and that we can’t go with further with the core of my services, I’m going to say no and refer you to another coaches or business. Understand me; my door is always open, but if you want to buy a race car but can barely ride on the highway, you maybe need to learn those stuff first and then come back later when you’re ready to drive the big workhorses.
It also creates a sense of responsibility in front of your clients. Saying no spread the message that you’re in demand, and people tend to gravitate towards a successful business. It’s also a great way to root yourself into a specialization or a trademark. For example, Jason Statham is a well-known actor. I like his movies, his great at kicking ass, always have a punchy line to say and is excellent at being a good, bad guy. He is an action movie actor and his known for this. It doesn’t mean he can’t play comedy or romantic roles, but what he’s good at is kicking ass. And that’s what’s making him hit the nail on every movie he does.
Hiring him for a romantic role is probably not where his talent last. What I mean here is, know where your good at, get recognized for this, build a name, a trademark, a brand, and dig deep in that field so every time people think about it, they will think of you. By saying no to clients that don’t correspond to your profile and focusing on clients who wish to learn from your philosophy, your knowledge, and applications, you are automatically creating that brand and that name you want.
Wrap-up: learn to apply these 4 basic points
You can work endless hours to build your business, but sooner or later, you’re going to lose your mind if you don’t plan some ways to be time-efficient
Individualization is not about creating ”whole new” ways of working out for everyone. It’s about assessing what your client needs, and find the right template for him. Build a model you trust in, and tweak them, make small changes to fit a client’s need.
Fix a schedule and respect it. Stop working a bit here and there, stop answering clients anytime, any day. You don’t get to the garage when it’s close; you wait until its open. Be a business, not an open house. Invest time with your families, friends, have other hobbies, play a sport, music, collect stamps I don’t care, and do things that make you a better human.
Say no to clients that don’t fit the core of your business, your philosophy, or that need things you don’t have in your bag of tools. Refer to other coaches or specialists. Be steady in what you want to spread as a reputation.
Before you read this article, you need to be ready to hear some hard stuff and truth about you or your human compatriots. This article is not intended to insult anybody, but to make a statement of the actual coaching industry. It’s very easy nowadays to have access to a coach. Anybody can declare himself a fitness coach with a weekend certification. It’s not my main point in this article.
Today, I want to talk about the other half of the problem — the client. Maybe you, or someone you know. And I want you to be very open by reading this because the only purpose of this article is to make you realize that hiring a coach worth nothing if you are not ready to be coached.
We live in a strange and contradictory time. While the weight loss industry generates an average of $ 20 billion a year, we are bombarded with fast food advertising. Despite all the money generated by the fitness industry, the growing number of obesity cases is not improving.
And the situation is not better even for those who want to gain muscle mass, a majority of people come to consult our services and wonder why they can not get gains even after several years of continuous training?
However, it’s not the information available that is scarce. I would say that more than ever, people come with knowledge far beyond what is necessary to get results. In fact, little knowledge is needed to obtain results from a training or nutrition program. The answer lay much more in the application than in the understanding of the scientific aspect.
But still, getting a coach to lead us is now popular. So why with a historical record of people making a living out of the fitness industry; are we still unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
You rationalize your own behaviour by avoiding blame
I’ve taken the time to analyze several factors in the last 15 years in this environment, and what I conclude is entirely behavioural and straightforward. The fundamental reasons are practically not related to training and the food program but instead to what I call our “avoidance strategies.”
For example, who wants to admit that he does not train hard enough? Nobody. Nobody in a conversation will start by saying, “I don’t train hard because I don’t have the courage to face the level of pain required to have results. I instead prefer to find justification on which I can bear the blame and thus feel better with myself. “
The human being is excellent at rationalizing his behaviours. Whether good or bad, right or wrong, one day or another, you will always find a way to streamline your actions to feel better about yourself. This is where a vast majority of your lack of results; lay not only in life but in almost every sphere of your life.
To put it simply, we lie to ourselves. You apply your training program to the extent that it does not exceed your degree of tolerable discomfort. This line is yours, and the moment you are not ready to cross this line, it is unlikely that you will gain significant gains. When you received your food plan, you may have decided to change some foods, and even knowing that the calories are not equivalent and that this is a change that will have a negative impact on your diet, you will ignore this message that your conscience sends you (we are also good at ignoring our awareness).
You justified this food gap with pizza and beer this weekend since it was the birthday party of your best friend. Everyone would do it, so why not me? Whether you are right or not, or whether it is a way for you to keep in touch and walk with a tolerable reality, the fact remains that you have been outside the boundaries of your plan and that reason you did it is of little importance, and your body does not care. If you give him the chance to gain weight, he will do it no matter how noble you were to cheat.
The best advice I can give you is to face who you are and stop justifying your actions. Be honest with yourself. You are not unique, and if everyone has to pay their dues to succeed and arrive at something, you too must do it. The belief that you can get there by turning the corners round is a lack of respect for anyone who pulls their heart out at work.
Analyze your deep motivations and stop always asking your coach to change your menu because it doesn’t motivate you, or trying to find a quick fix, or look for a new miracle supplement. Face the music and put yourself on the spot for real. If you don’t succeed, this is an excellent time to ask yourself the real question: What are you looking for in this process of physical change? Are you looking for improvement, or are you looking for a new social status? Are you looking please other people? Are you trying to fill your lack of confidence?
Get your shit together and deal with it before hiring your coach
We have identified that the human being is excellent at self-lying and that it’s going to be that way even to achieve goals, ‘human too often chooses to avoid obstacles rather than confront them. Now comes the saviour of all your problems, the one who will show you the light and answer all your questions: The coach.
So, a lot of people hire their coach, hoping that everything will go well as he can show them the way, give proven training plans, and a customized diet that will solve their problem. In short, to simplify everything, a motivation shot. And the words are right, not only do you expect your trainer to tell you what to do, but most of you hire a coach to get motivation?! Let him tell you that you are capable? That you can do it and not let go? Wouldn’t it be more of a need for serious validation?
I mean, after all, a coach is only another human filled with problems like you who has no more or less value, so no power to decide if what you are doing is right or wrong. Your coach should be the one who will help you put together a strategy to achieve your goal as much as it is realistic. Going beyond that is psychology, and I don’t think your trainer is qualified to handle that.
In fact, my main point here is to tell you that your coach is a useless investment if you do not solve your problems before. Worse, a good coach will put the reality in front of you and tell you the real things. But if you do not settle what holds you back from being a version of yourself lending it forward and changing, how are you going to perceive what it is going to tell you? That he is not listening to your needs? That he has no consideration for your situation? Worse, he has not individualized, and he treats you like all those other customers?
You see, when I hire a coach, I expect that I will be a customer, among many others. I hope to build my strategy according to my goal, and within a defined time frame, we will review the plan together to adapt it to the results achieved.
Its purpose is to plan the strategy according to my needs and possibility. Not accordingly to my emotional and relational problems. This part is for you to do before contacting a professional.
If your doctor tells you that you have lung cancer and you need to stop smoking for the treatment to be effective, are you going to do it? Probably, finally, I hope. In this situation, he did not calm you down morally or try to deal with the emotional problem that you started to smoke and that you have trouble to stop. His treatment is simple, stop smoking, and treat cancer.
So why do you expect your coach to treat something other than your training or diet? What’s emotional, you have to manage it or get some specialists to help you do it. In a favourable situation, I deal with clients in a super emotional state, and they are always clients and have resulted because our relationship is dedicated to the work for which they committed me, and we can we devoted to the useful task for our purpose.
Place yourself in a situation where you are ready to be pushed out of your comfort
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the recipe is to always push a little more, than the limit of your comfort. So be it that you must not only be physically ready for this adversity. This will require you to pay attention to your recovery, structure your sleep, your meals, your surroundings, your outings, in short, make room to apply the strategy that will be determined, and be able to place you first.
If you already have it over your head with your schedule, family, work, stress everywhere at the same time, and you are practically losing your hair; it may be time to review how you can position your training at through all that. Take the time to create a solid structure that you will be able to present to your coach, and he/she will be able to create a much stronger plan for you, and on the one hand, to expect you to perform it without putting additional stress.
Be ready to review your own beliefs. If you expect it to perform only what you want, you will not go far. The trainer will test you and try to work where you need to improve. If you are not ready to walk in these areas, pass your turn. The best training I had in my life was always done during times when I was totally out of habit or pushed into areas that proved to me that I was enjoying myself. In comfortable training programs. A good training plan will allow you to see your next weeks of training in another eye. But the most important thing is that you owe it to yourself to play the game. Do the program with the maximum of your abilities and give a chance to the method used to make its effect.
If you can’t apply what the coach is prescribing to you, see what you can before starting the process, do Tetris with your life, and contact your coach once you are structured.
I hope you’re not going to throw stones at me, but if you feel insulted or frustrated about this article, then throw me your insults. I can take it. My only goal is to awaken people’s minds to make your investment as profitable and satisfying as possible.
You have all seen them on social media or even on TV sports shows: athletes doing resistance training exercises aimed at mimicking the structure of a sport movement. The logic is that by training in sport-specific coordination patterns, you more easily transfer the strength and power developed in the gym, to the field of play. You also have other types of “sport-specific” drills, which are more about balance and stability (like squatting on an unstable surface).
The idea is appealing. After all, when you see an athlete performing these drills with mastery, your brain automatically thinks, “wow, that’s going to help them in their sport,” or “he is super coordinated and stable, he will be a great player.” But is it a smart way to train an athlete?
You have two schools of thought. On the one hand, you have the generalist who see strength training as a purely “general” (non-specific) training method. That allows you to get stronger and more powerful muscles. You tend to earn to apply that improvement in strength and power by practising your sport.
Proponents of that mentality will focus mostly on getting as strong as possible on the big basic lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift, and rowing. Some will also use variations of the Olympic lifts. Here strength is seen as the main objective of resistance training.
Good examples of this would include Mark Rippetoe, Jim Wendler, Travis Mash.
The other group is the sport-specific group. Their focus in one using a lot of movements and exercises that have a coordination structure that is close to sporting actions. While they also use the basic lifts, they use a considerable proportion of exercises designed to emulate sporting action with their weight loaded exercises.
From my travels around the world, this is a prevalent mentality among European strength coaches. A good example is Frans Bosch.
The sports culture of a country has an impact on how their strength coaches think. Take football (American football). An off-season will last 6 to 9 months, depending on the level you play. That gives you a lot of time to focus on building general strength and then have plenty of time to do speed and agility work to transfer the gains you made to the sporting action. You could focus on building maximum strength for several months then have some more months to learn to be fast and explosive.
If you compare that to rugby in Europe, for example, their season often lasts 10-11 months! That leaves a very short off-season. They don’t see it as a good investment to spend a lot of time on building strength, and also they might not want to push strength development to its limit during the season where they do lots of practices and games. Sport-specific drills become an option that will have a greater bang for their buck as far as immediate results are concerned (but may limit future progression if strength is insufficient).
THE LIMITATION OF SPORT-SPECIFIC WORK
I don’t like the term “sport-specific.” I prefer to talk in terms of “strength transfer exercises.”
I like to see exercises as development or transfer movements.
Development exercises will have the most significant effect on increasing strength (and muscle mass with the proper loading schemes). Transfer movements, by nature, do not build as much strength or power (in fact, they are pretty bad at this), but their coordination pattern allows you to learn to transfer the force you have to the more dynamic and complex sporting movements.
I like to describe transfer exercise as the bridge between strength training and sports practices.
I am not against transfer exercises. However, I am certainly against the improper use of said movements.
Take the bobsleigh guys I work. They squat close to 600lbs, front squat close to 500lbs. Deadlift over 600lbs. Gab power snatches 290lbs and Pat power cleans 355lbs.
In their case, the use of a moderate amount of transfer/sport-specific exercises will have a positive impact on performance. After all, their goal is to run faster to push the sled faster. Taking their squat from 600 to 650 lbs or their front squat from 480 to 540lbs will probably not make them any quicker.
Yes, strength plays a role in getting faster: it’s the foundation to power, and power is needed to sprint fast. Increasing strength will help you get faster… if your strength levels aren’t optimal.
But past a certain point just trying to get stronger will have a limited impact on speed. And it could be detrimental.
Strength is essential, especially for athletes who are not naturally explosive. However, increasing strength should mainly be a mean to boost power, which helps produce more speed and agility.
It is possible to undermine speed by having tunnel vision about strength. Many strength coaches focus on strength as their primary objective as a way to prove their competence.
Let’s be clear: increases in strength will also increase the potential for power, and thus for speed. However, making this the sole focus of training can cause more harm than good.
The three first qualities to be affected by neurological fatigue are speed, jumping, and grip strength. Training for strength, power, and speed all have a high neurological demand. Doing too much strength work can mask the ability to run fast by draining away the neurological resources, making them less readily available.
At a certain point, increasing strength will have decreasing benefits on increasing power, if any at all. Increasing a squat from 225lbs to 440lbs will increase power (and speed) significantly. Bumping it from 440lbs to 550lbs will still help heavier athletes. But taking it to 600lbs+ will not improve speed and power much more.
While the muscles adapt by becoming stronger, bones and ligaments stay the same. Tendons do not have the same rate of adaptation as muscles do. In the end, an increase in loading will carry more potential risks than rewards.
For example, Patrice and Gabriel don’t deadlift anymore. They can both lift 280-290kg/620-640lbs; the stress on the body is excessive for the potential benefits of taking that lift to even bigger weights. When they become capable of squatting more than 272.5kg/600lbs, they will stop pushing the back squat for maximum weights; instead, we will focus on the front squat. And if ever they get to a 272.5kg/600lbs front squat, they’ll switch to training mostly the split squat.
Hugo (short track cycling) increased his bench press from 100kg/222lbs to 140kg/308lbs. As a result, we stopped doing heavy bench pressing, as increasing it, even more, would have no added benefit for his sport. And it would increase the neurological demand and the risk of injury.
Except in rare cases, no athlete needs to go past 272.5kg /600lbs in either the squat or the deadlift, or 3x bodyweight for a lighter athlete. At this point, it is best to use exercises that do not need such high loads (such as front squat, incline bench press, Romanian deadlift, Olympic weightlifting) or to develop strength and emphasize the rate of force development (lifting explosively).
Don’t get me wrong: my philosophy is to get as strong, powerful, and fast as possible and then learn to apply those increased qualities to the practice of movements in sports. But you need to spend your training money where your return on investment will be more important.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH?
I hate saying to someone that they are “strong enough”. My specialty is getting people stronger. And I’m a firm believer in developing an optimal level of strength in athletes. But even I must admit that there will come the point where further athletic performance will not be improved by pushing strength even further.
What do you do to keep improving at that point?
You must switch your focus to more “rate of force development” exercises as well as on transfer movements (they are often the same).
Rate of force development movements focus on speed and explosiveness. Jumps, throws, loaded jumps, power variations of the Olympic lifts, for example. Single leg and bilateral. You can also include loaded sprints, but with these, you must be careful not to have a negative transfer on sprinting mechanics (more on that in a moment).
As far as regular lifting is concerned, you should still lift heavy. You do not want to lose strength. Strength is essential for athletic performance. But you should not invest the same amount of work and resources on driving the big lifts even higher. At this point, it’s best to focus on moderate-to-heavy weights done with acceleration or emphasizing the eccentric or isometric action.
THE PROBLEM WITH STRENGTH COACHES
But here’s the deal:
Very few athletes are strong enough!
Unless you are working with pros and Olympians, you will most likely train athletes that are FAR from being strong enough.
Understand one thing: “Transfer” exercises are there to help you learn to apply force and power in the fundamental movements like jumping, sprinting, throwing, or changing directions. They are the bridge between general strength lifts and sport skills.
But what if you don’t have much strength and power to transfer?
Here’s an example. Below is a progression of an exercise that I call the “Bosch clean” (from Frans Bosch):
The Bosch clean is essentially a single-leg power clean variation that includes a horizontal component as well as a vertical one. The main goal is to practice applying maximal force and power in the same vector as in a sprint.
I use it a lot with the bobsleigh guys I train (especially the level 1 which I very similar to the initial push of the sled) and track cyclists (mainly level 2 and 3). I also use it with football players.
But here’s the thing. If you go back to the two bobsleigh guys, Gab can power snatch 290lbs and power clean 350+. Pat hits similar numbers. They have plenty of strength and power to transfer.
I certainly would not use this exercise with a hockey player who can power clean 185-205lbs and squat 315. Focusing on getting stronger on the big basics will be a much better investment.
But exercises like these look cool. And in the competitive world of strength coaching, cool drills often take over effective ones because they help you seduce clients or look cutting-edge on social media.
THINK “TRANSFER” NOT “SPORT-SPECIFIC”
Trying to copy a sporting action against a load, for example, throwing a heavy football or sprinting with a heavy sled, might do more harm than good.
If the coordination structure of an exercise is similar to a sporting action, there can be a positive transfer of strength and power to the sport. As I mentioned, see this as the bridge between strength training and the sport movement. But if the coordination structure is the same as the fundamental movement, you could have a decrease in performance through changes in movement mechanics or contraction velocity.
I’ll give you an example: a bobsleigh athlete was extremely fast. He ran a 6.36 / 60m (laser) and a 4.19 / 40 yards dash. He decided that he would try his hands at track and field to become the first white man to run the 100m under 10 seconds (that was close to 20 years ago, Christophe Lemaitre was the first one).
He hired a track coach whose theory was that if you did all your sprinting work with heavier insoles, it would made you sprint faster once you took them off.
The opposite happened. The athlete got significantly slower; I’m talking from 4.19/40 to 4.45+.
What happened is that the weighted insoles changed the sprinting mechanics: the heavier “feet” would have more momentum when pushing back, the back leg would overextend (without pushing more), then the athlete would have to use a slight outside loop to bring the leg back. The stride frequency got slower. Furthermore, the athlete learned to push a bit slower (more load leads to slower movement; the nervous system learned to apply force with a lower rate of force development).
To quote Charlie Francis, if a resisted sprinting drill leads to a drop in speed of 10% or more, it will lead to faulty mechanics and slower force application leading to a negative effect on performance.
Here’s the important thing: the more complex the motor skill is, the easier it is to mess the coordination pattern by overloading it. For example, it’s much easier to negatively impact the mechanics and velocity of a sprint or throw than that of a vertical jump (the later having a simple mechanic).
That’s why loaded jump squats are effective at improving power and jumping height, but loaded sprints or heavy throws are not always good. Note that loaded throws and sprints can be useful as long as the performance drop-off is less than 10%. But even then, the risk of a negative impact on performance is more significant than with simpler actions.
That’s why I like to use prowler sprints as a transfer movement toward sprinting: its coordination pattern is close enough to the sprint to have a positive transfer, but not similar enough to mess up mechanics.
THE TRANSFER DRILLS THAT I USE
I use four main types of transfer exercises with athletes.
1) Accentuation strength drills
2) Loaded jumps
3) Olympic lift variations
4) Loaded sprints/Carries
You won’t see me use exercises that copy sports movements, though.
It’s a spectrum.
The transfer exercises do bridge multi-joint lifts and the fundamental motor skills involved in sports, like sprinting, jumping, throwing, etc. Mostly the transfer exercises are there to learn to apply force and power in the same coordination patterns as the fundamental movements used in sports.
Then the practice of those fundamental movements is used to transfer the physical capacities to the sport itself.
A loaded sport movement or something extremely sport-specific would fall between the fundamental movements and sport skills. And there is no need for that at all. Doing loaded sport movements would be a step backward on the transfer spectrum while trying to go forward. It would likely do more harm than good.
The principle of accentuation refers to doing strength work at the angle specific to a fundamental movement of a sports activity. For example, when you are sprinting, the smaller knee angle that you will have is 90-100 degrees. Being super strong from 90 to 180 (full extension) is thus something that will help you in your sport. And doing strength work in that range, provided that you have already built full-range strength, is a beneficial training approach to get there.
For example, with bobsleigh athletes, I will use the top half squats from pins during the transfer phase. To get them as strong as possible in the range of motion that is the most needed for their sport.
We can also switch to half squats (parallel) instead of full squats.
I do believe that full squats are the way to go most of the time with an athlete. But with someone with good full-range strength, the accentuation approach can be useful during the transfer phase.
You can also use the box squat for the same purpose. An international track cyclist that I train has noticed a direct correlation between his 90 degrees box squat and track performance.
Adding chains and bands while doing the full range of motion on the movement is another option. This still overloads the sport-specific amplitude while allowing you to keep training the full range of movement.
Loaded jumps are my favorite transfer exercises. They have the most significant impact on jumping capacities and will also have a moderate effect on sprinting speed. The loaded split squat and Bulgarian split squat will have a more significant effect on running, mostly by improving stride frequency if you do them the right way.
Before we look at the exercises that I use, I want to mention two caveats. First, loaded jumps are very advanced drills. They should be used only by athletes who have a solid foundation of strength training but also great jumping and landing mechanics already.
The selection of the load is also critical. I see people going way too heavy on these. The goal is not to progressively overload the jumps with more weight or to see with how much weight you can jump with. The goal is to jump with more power against a moderate load gradually.
The optimal load is the one with which you will have the highest power output.
For the loaded jump squat, we’re talking 20-30% of your maximum squat.
Using more weight than that will lead to less performance improvement and increases the risk of injuries.
Notice that we are not only focusing on producing as much power as possible on the way up but also on landing solidly, to develop the capacity to absorb force.
The second exercise that I use is the loaded Bulgarian jump squat. On this one, we use 10-20% of the athlete’s body weight. It is more complicated than it looks, at least if you want to get all of the benefits.
Let’s first look at the movement
The complexity of the exercises lies in the fact that you want to start by fully extending the drive leg on the jump, but then, as soon as you have reached full extension, you want to bring the knee toward your chest as explosively as possible. The latter is to improve stride frequency: being able to quickly bring the leg back after it’s done pushing on the floor. This is very transferable to sprinting.
If you don’t bring your knee up explosively, you are losing half of the benefits of the movement. But if you focus solely on bringing the knee up, you might cut your extension which will also not allow you to get all the benefits of the exercise.
The third loaded jump exercise that I use is the loaded jump lunge. It is similar in objective to the previous movement but has a higher level of complexity. That’s why I see it as a progression from the Bulgarian split squat jump. You would start with the BSSJ, and you would then move on to the loaded jump lunge.
To make the transition more productive, I like to use an unloaded split squat jump during the same phase as the Bulgarian split squat jump, to work on the coordination needed.
Then you are ready for the loaded jump lunge, on which you also use 10-20% of your body weight.
Notice that once again, the speed of the legs (when switching legs) is as important as the jump height. We have three key elements:
Full extension/maximum height
Fast leg switch
The Olympic lift variations are often seen as general exercises (Multi-joint free weight exercises), much like a squat or deadlift. And if we are talking about the full Olympic lifts, or at least about the power variations from the floor (power clean from the floor and power snatch from the floor), it is correct.
I personally categorize the Olympic lift variations from the hang or blocks (power snatch/clean from the hang, power snatch/clean from the blocks) as transfer exercises.
An athlete who has proper technique on the full Olympic lifts would use variations from the floor in the developmental blocks and then switch to lifts from the hang during the transfer blocks.
THE SINGLE LEG LIFTS
One type of exercise that I like is the Bosch clean progression. I feel that they transfer well to learning to apply maximum force with the push/drive leg during sprints. I think it is especially effective at helping with the take-off.
I posted the videos of the three levels earlier in this article, but I’d still want to mention a few recommendations:
Even level 1 Bosch cleans are still a single-leg movement. In the starting position around 80-90% of your weight is on the push/drive leg. There is only a small amount of weight on the swing leg, and it’s only for balance.
The key is the push/drive leg (the one that is fully extended at the finish), not the swing leg (the one ending up on the box). You should push with the drive leg right until the end. Finish with that leg fully extended and on your toes.
Even at the finish, you must have at least 50% of your weight on the back leg. If you find yourself losing balance or having the back leg bent, it’s because you have too much weight on the front leg.
I talked about using loaded sprints earlier in the article, specifically how damaging it can be to sprinting mechanics and speed.
That’s why I prefer to use prowler sprints over the more traditional loaded sprinting methods (speed parachute, sled). It is close enough to a sprint to help transfer strength and power to the sprint action, but not so close that there will be a negative impact on the coordination pattern.
I also like loaded carries like farmer’s walk, Zercher carries, and the like as a bridge between traditional strength work on fundamental movements. Producing force while moving is closer in coordination pattern than only going up and down with a weight.
Loaded carries are not as close to the fundamental movements as the preceding three categories of transfer exercises are, but they still have value.
WHEN AND HOW TO DO TRANSFER EXERCISES
It is important to reiterate that the purpose of transfer exercises is not to build strength but to learn to apply the strength you have in movements with a coordination pattern similar to fundamental movements like sprinting, jumping, throwing, or changing direction.
If you have a low level of strength to start with, you won’t have much to transfer, and the effect of these exercises on performance will be minimal.
Someone who doesn’t full squat at least two-times bodyweight shouldn’t focus on transfer exercises but rather on increasing overall strength.
The first introduction to transfer exercises would be the variations of the Olympic lifts (if you are competent at coaching them). Once an athlete power cleans at least 1.2 times bodyweight, he can think of introducing the other transfer exercises.
While you can keep a small amount of transfer work even during the developmental blocks of advanced athletes, most of it should be done in the 6-10 weeks before the season, or in-season. With athletes that have a very high level of strength, transfer, and rate of force development work can even become the focal point of those last two months of off-season training.
The way I program transfer work is as follow:
* In the early off-season of advanced athletes, I will use one transfer exercise per workout (usually 3 general movements), at the end of the session. I find that it helps facilitate the transfer in the future because you learn to practice applying force in a more “athletic” coordination pattern after you’ve just asked your muscles to produce force. At this point, we usually use the simpler transfer exercises.
Note that at this point, I often use the Olympic lift variations, since I consider them to be transfer exercises.
* In the later portion of the off-season, I often have 1-2 transfer workouts. In which we only do transfer exercises as well as the fundamental movements themselves (sprint, jumps, throws, agility work). These typically have 2-3 transfer exercises and 1-2 fundamental movements.
* During the season, since we can’t do as much work, I like to use 1-2 strength movements and one transfer exercise per session. In some sports where there is only one match per week or where there is not a competition every week, we could have 1-2 strength days and one transfer day per week — the transfer day being the workout closer to the match/competition.
How do we identify talent and ultimately develop talent? Let me start by saying as coaches we control around 50% of their talent progression. More often than not their DNA will dictate their pathway in their sporting career. I think it’s important as coaches we recognise and appreciate that.
So, if you constantly tap yourself on the back and as a coach/school/club/academy set up market yourself on the success rate of your athlete then you need to be transparent on how you manage talent. There are many variables involved in the pathway, such as stages of maturation, socio-economic background and ‘non-sporting’ reasons. All we can do as coaches is ‘control the controllable’ and pave the way for them to fulfil their potential that they already have. We are talent managers that are tasked with ensuring potential is fulfilled. We don’t create it!
The changes that happen along the way
As coaches and athletes, we often observe discrepancies in the progression and nurturing of potential. What works for one just doesn’t work for another and on occasion have a detrimental effect.
This is common. And the problem isn’t the program, the coaching ability, athlete work ethic, or genetics. The problem is that the programme didn’t fit the psychological and neurological profile – basically, their personality type.
Personality profiles are genetically determined by the balance of neurotransmitters. And neurotransmitters control everything.
Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers of the brain. They are involved in most things that take place in your body. They have a huge impact on personality traits, how well you perform under stress, anxiety levels, memory, capacity to learn, creativity, emotional responses, etc.
Three key neurotransmitter systems develop during early childhood. The dopaminergic system (dopamine), serotoninergic system (serotonin) and cholinergic system (acetylcholine). And while you can improve them as you are getting older, it’s really hard to make up for an underdeveloped neurotransmitter system once the brain is fully developed.
‘The human brain isn’t fully developed until 25 years of age. Everything is there except for the frontal cortex, which is the last thing to mature. An immature frontal cortex explains the spectrum of teenage behaviours: it’s what makes adolescents adolescent’. – Sapolsky
Neurotransmitters impact on all human behaviour. Poor development of either system determines behaviour and performance. Each system manifests itself in key characteristics.
Serotoninergic system: being able to deal with anxiety/stress, well-being, ease of adaptation
Cholinergic system: speed of brain operation, memory, learning, motor learning, information retrieval, creativity. Helps deal with stress
One of the best preparation coaches around the world, Christian Thibaudeau has developed a system that I believe is a game-changer for sports preparation training. It takes individualization to another level. It’s based on neurotransmitters and how they impact on all aspects of human performance.
Neurotyping is based on the ‘Cloninger Temperament and Character Inventory’ (TCI)
“The TCI is an inventory for personality traits based on a psychobiological model. In a nutshell, people have different personality types because they have different genetic levels of certain neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When scientists measured neurotransmitter levels and compared them to the personality types, they indeed found them to match up. This dictates how we perceive a training stimulus and how we can benefit from our training and coaching sessions” -C Thibaudeau
THERE ARE THREE MAIN BASIC PROFILE TYPES IN NEUROTYPING:
Neurotype 1: This type has low dopamine levels, so he or she seeks out novelty or new things to stimulate their naturally low dopamine. In psychobiology, they call this the novelty-seeking type.
Neurotype 2: These types have low norepinephrine levels. Since norepinephrine is associated with confidence and a sense of well-being, these people seek out rewards to boost their norepinephrine levels. It’s referred to as the reward dependent type in science.
Neurotype 3: This type is associated with low serotonin. They don’t like change; they like to master a repetitive activity. “Technique geeks” fit this profile. In psychobiology, they call this the harm avoider type
These can be split down further, which I will cover later.
The Nervous System is the Boss
The nervous system is responsible for the recruitment of muscle fibres, and the coordination of all movement. The quality of all sporting skills is determined by the efficiency of the CNS.
Your nervous system is also the control centre of motivation. It even plays a huge role in response to stress, and in how much energy, focus, and work capacity an athlete demonstrates during training and competition.
The key to training success is simply this: train hard in a focused way. You can’t do that, at least not for long, without motivation. And to be motivated it has to fit the neurological profile. Training to take advantage of neurological nature will aid in motor learning and skill acquisition. Boredom is the main enemy of progression and acquiring new skill.
Neurotransmitter Balance and Your Personality
Personality traits gives you clues about the neurotransmitter balance in every athlete/child – which neurotransmitters are high, and which are low. Behaviour is heavily influenced by these levels, whether we realise it or not.
That’s why I evaluate the personality profile of every fast bowler I coach. This evaluation gives me a very good idea of their neurotransmitter balance. I then use that information to plan their training accordingly. I have also neurotyped over 20 pupils at Wellington school and the research highlights an alarming trend in the modern-day child. I will cover those later in the article.
If the training doesn’t fit well with the profile type it can create fatigue, drops in motivation, a higher stress response, and even lead to injuries. And it certainly leads to a lack of progress. That’s why you can be on “the best program in the world” being coached by the best coach in the world and not get results. For optimum results, you must train right for your type.
In the Neuro Typing System, I’ll explain the three main personality types, which neurotransmitters are high or low for each, and how that should influence a child’s/athlete training, and sporting ambitions.
So how does this impact on training and coaching methods for young athletes
Type 1: The Novelty Seeker
This type is associated with low dopaminergic activity. This means decision making is run mostly by the need to increase dopamine. Baseline dopamine is low, and the receptors are sensitive. Under the right circumstances, these receptors can produce spurts of dopamine.
Since the receptors are so sensitive athletes can become “addicted.” They are always seeking that next dopamine rush. If they fall into this category, they need excitement and intense or high-adrenaline activities. They also get bored easily, are naturally curious, and can be short-tempered.
This type requires a variety of stimuli and challenges. They’re naturally attracted to non-repetitive activities. They get bored from repetitive events like endurance training or coaching method that are repeated over and over. Technique training with type 1 athletes/children is a nightmare, it’s just a worthless box-ticking exercise. They just simply can’t do. It’s just all too slow. They are also poor at endurance events mostly because of boredom, but also because they tend to have high serotonin levels. When dopamine levels are proportionally lower than serotonin, work capacity goes down.
Novelty seekers are extroverts and do well in social situations. They’re also very competitive. They welcome challenges and love learning new skills. This type gets excited about learning a new exercise or drill, even if it’s tough for them. It’s “new” and stimulating, and that’s all that matters.
However, using the correct intervention methods is essential to nurturing the undoubted potential they have. Type 1 is generally the ‘sporty ones’ who are naturally gifted and fast-twitch dominant. This is why a type 1 child often is misunderstood in the classroom. On the field they are gold dust, in the classroom, it’s a different matter. However, I question the quality of the teaching for boredom to set in!
Type 1’s need to be inspired and motivated. When they are they win matches!
When it comes to sports, they’re more attracted to high speed/octane and contact sport, like rugby and 100m, sprinting. Incidentally, the fastest bowlers in the world are type 1 athletes. Type 1 athletes can also be identified as the ‘mavericks’ and ‘non-team’ players. They need to do something exciting/novel to get that dopamine fix. After they’ve had that burst they will hit a low and go wondering during the remaining part of the game until they feel ready to get involved again. They can be a coach’s best player with the correct manging, or on the other hand, can be a hindrance if the coach is an authoritarian type and wants control and be the ‘boss’. With the right coach/mentor they can inspire the team and become a successful leader. Simply by their actions, especially at the younger age groups. We have all had one of them.
We as coaches need to realise, it really isn’t about us!
Type 2: The Reward Dependant
This type is associated with low baseline levels of norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter, along with amping you up, creates a sense of overall well-being and confidence. Low levels of norepinephrine lead to a depressive state, lack of arousal, and low motivation. To counter this, this profile type seeks out “rewards” to increase norepinephrine levels, but this can cause them to be seen as ‘high maintenance’-always in need of approval and guidance.
This is your typical “people pleaser” whose self-esteem is based on how others perceive them It’s very important for these individuals to be liked, respected, and even admired.
They’re equipped to do well in social situations because they need to feel appreciated. They’re sociable, empathic, and have a high sensibility to social cues which helps them make friends, which they need. They genuinely care for other people. But because of their affection for others and the desire to please them, they can be easily taken advantage of.
This type of personality will do anything to help others out, even depriving themselves. They’re driven by wanting to look good in front of others and be liked. Nothing is worse for them than disappointing someone. Because of that attitude, they’ll go to great lengths to reach their goals.
Again, with the right sensitive coach they make very good leaders/captains due to their empathetic nature. However, issues arise over respect as more often than not they are not automatic selections into teams.
Type 2 athletes tend to be more team players and are driven towards team sports. They are more comfortable when they can ‘hide’ around others who they see as a protective blanket.
They tend to choke more during individual events because they put a lot of pressure on themselves. As such, they rarely do well in individual sports, but they make great teammates. They’re rarely the “superstars” but they’re willing to do anything to help the team and earn respect.
Type 3: The Harm Avoider
Harm avoidance is associated with a low serotonin level which affects people’s way of acting and feeling. Low serotonin can make athletes more easily tired or have a lower baseline of energy. If they fit this profile, they want to avoid unpleasant situations, punishment, and conflicts much more so than other people do. They have to be in familiar situations that they can control.
These athletes tend to be more introverted. They have a higher vulnerability to criticism; even constructive criticism creates anxiety. Their higher level of overall anxiety leads to an overproduction of cortisol, which can negatively affect performance. So openly criticising them in front of others is a sure way of damaging their performance. Half time ‘honest’ talks should be avoided with type 3 athletes.
Unexpected changes of plans really upset them and cause a huge stress response. They’re careful planners, especially when a situation represents a potential harm or risk. Because of that, they’re very well organized. But under stress, they can feel inhibited by anxiety, which leads to procrastination and having a hard time making decisions.
The driving force of harm avoiders is to stay away from stress and injury. When it comes to training, it makes them attracted to more repetitive activities that they’ve mastered. Unlike the novelty seeker, this type of dislikes variety and new things in the gym/classroom and playing field. They get stressed when learning a new skill. They get anxious over anything that veers away from routine. A change of venue, a change of position or change of game time will disrupt their performance. They simply can cope with spontaneity.
They rarely push themselves in training when things get tough but when on task and happy in their environment they have great focus when they train. They’re great at sticking to a plan, sometimes bordering on training OCD.
In terms of sport, this type is more attracted to sports where fewer unpredictable events occur and with a lower risk factor. They don’t like contact sports or sports where random events are an important part of the game. Long-distance running would suit a type 3 athlete.
Neurotype closely linked with muscle fibre type
It is important to mention that Neurotyping can also be linked with muscle fibre type. They can move up and down the continuum, but permanent changes are very difficult. The correct coaching and training methods can have a short term impact on performance and well-being.
How can we develop these systems together?
All this science is all well and good but what does it mean for young athletes. So, do we just give up or can we do something to change their neurotype?
What I will say is that by the time they enter into various pathways post under 11’s their motor patterns and sensitivities to various neurotransmitters is set.
The dopaminergic system normally develops first and is accelerated when a child first learns to crawl to reach and object he is seeing. The dopaminergic works via the Effort —) Reward mechanism. You make an effort, delaying gratification so that you get a great pleasure sensation in the end. The more effective your dopaminergic system is, the great is the pleasure response in your brain when you succeed.
If you get more pleasure you more easily accept putting more efforts toward the goal, because the pleasure response is worth it. That’s why you need to let your child do things on their own. Even if they fail you should let them keep at it, not do it for them. By doing it for them you decrease the pleasure response, essentially programming the brain not to make efforts. The more a child is free to move around and play with their environment and try stuff, the better the dopaminergic system will develop.
The serotoninergic system develops when the child is happy and comfortable. When he/she is a state of well-being. Skin-to-skin with a parent; being held, napping with mommy or daddy. These things help develop the serotoninergic system. Also, being happy in many different environments, with different people or doing different things is important to optimize this system.
The cholinergic system is developed when a child is free to experiment on their own, with tons of different options. He/she needs to observe, touch things, try to understand how things work, create games for himself. Nutrition will also play an important role. Foods rich in choline (eggs, meat, poultry, fish, etc.) will help develop the system and help produce acetylcholine.
The science of Neurotyping
The neurotypes can be split down further into two subsections within each type. These are dictated by various enzymes in the body. I make no apology for the scientific detail that follows as it is essential to understand that the principle of neurotyping is not ‘Pseudoscience’. The following is heavily influenced by Christian Thibaudeau. His knowledge in this field is mind-blowing.
What is an enzyme and what is its function?
Enzymes are biological molecules (typically proteins) that significantly speed up the rate of virtually all of the chemical reactions that take place within cells. They are vital for life and serve a wide range of important functions in the body, such as aiding in digestion and metabolism. Enzymes have a huge impact on a person’s neurotype and ultimately will have an impact on all athletic performance.
There are 2 main enzymes that impact on neurotransmitter.
Catechol-O–methyltransferase(COMT; EC 18.104.22.168) is one of several enzymes that degrade catecholamines (such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine), catechol estrogens, and various drugs and substances having a catechol structure
Glutamate decarboxylase or glutamic acid decarboxylase(GAD)is an enzyme that catalyses the decarboxylation of glutamate to GABA and CO2. GAD uses PLP as a cofactor
How we methylate these enzymes is what determines your neurotype.
The Type 1 athlete can be split into type 1A and 1B. Type 1A are your WARRIORS.
Due to the slow methylation of COMT, a type 1A athlete can’t inactivate dopamine and adrenaline levels easily, so it stays high for a lot longer once released. The undermethylation [inefficient methylation cycle] will also limit the clearance of adrenaline. Due to the inefficiency in the cycle, they will always be running high until they crash.
The undermethylation also leads to low serotonin and acetylcholine. The Extremely effective GAD leads to very low glutamate and high GABA. This makes type 1A’s externalise stress by trying to control others. Their low glutamate will also lead to low empathy, so they don’t really care about hurting others when trying to control them. When they are on a high they have no desire to worry about consequences. They get the job done. The coach’s role is to ensure that type 1A athletes don’t negatively impact on ‘team morale’ and the new buzz word ‘culture’. Managing their expectations of themselves and others whilst embracing the athleticism when they are ‘on’ can be a difference between a type1A being a matchwinner or a ‘team energy drain’.
The Type 1B are your natural ATHLETE. The fast COMT leads to a rapid deactivation of dopamine and adrenaline once it’s released. This allows them to keep their receptors extremely sensitive to these two neurotransmitters. Dopamine sensitivity leads to high motivation levels, whilst serotonin and acetylcholine leads to great adaptability and performance under pressure. This can also manifest itself in looking ‘too cool for school’ and lazy unless they’re highly motivated in a certain situation. Coaching variety and novelty are essential for a type 1B athlete. When boredom kicks in, you’ve lost your best asset. The difference between type 1A and 1B is the sensitivity to acetylcholine. The high levels of acetylcholine and serotonin is due over methylation. This is what makes them faster twitch and tendon driven athletes. They rely heavily on the stretch-shortening cycle of the muscle and heavy strength training can often lead to performance regression.
The Type 2 athletes can also be split down into type 2A and 2B. Type 2A can be seen as ACTORS. Due to Fast COMT and normal methylation they possess average sensitivity of the dopamine and adrenergic receptors. So, they can get ‘amped up’ but are not as lazy at rest.
Normal methylation means that acetylcholine and serotonin are moderate, and also
moderate glutamate and adrenaline leads to a lack of confidence and the constant need the respect of others. They are the people-pleasers, which is why they are termed the ‘actors’. Always looking for that approval from others
Type 2A can also be identified as being PASSIONATE. The fast COMT leads to high dopamine and adrenaline sensitivity. However, the undermethylation leads to low acetylcholine, low serotonin which manifests itself in the reliance on emotions to perform.
Type 2B’S can be split into being ARTISTIC or CONFIDENT.
The high acetylcholine and high glutamate levels lends itself to emotional creativity whilst the high serotonin levels cause a lack of competitive drive and a more ‘chilled’ persona. They type 2B differs from type 2B due to higher glutamate and lower acetylcholine and serotonin levels which leads to difficulty in adapting to situations and the inability to deal with failures. They internalise everything and have the tendency to buckle under stressful situations. In terms of school education type, 2B children find exam periods difficult. As coaches in a school/university environment need to be wary of placing too much physical and emotional stress on them during higher academic-focused periods. From experience in a schooling environment and as a fast bowling coach it becomes evident who the type 2B and 2B athletes are. The type 2B fast bowlers simply cannot perform during the summer term in school, during exam periods. They just can’t do both. As coaches we need to be wary of this, with regards pressure, match day preparations, fixture list, workload, expectations and managing failure. Your team will not be effective in exam season if you have more than 4 type 2B pupils!
Finally, we have the type 3 athletes who are deep THINKERS. They form one group
They are similar in many regards to the type 1A athlete because of a slow deactivation of dopamine and adrenaline, low serotonin and low acetylcholine. However, the main difference is a genetic deficiency in the GAD enzyme which leads to a poor conversion of glutamate to GABA. The type has both low GABA and low serotonin which makes him a lot more prone to anxiety. Whereas type 1A externalise stress which can lead to aggression, the type 3 internalises everything leading to anxiety and overthinking. Type 3 athletes rarely play competitive team sports and gravitate to a more leisurely approach to sport and exercise.
The ’fragile’, ‘snow flake’ generation. Why has it happened?
Let’s make no bones about it, over the generations the desire to play sport has decreased dramatically as has the quality and natural creative talent coming through. Yes, manufactured and robotic athleticism has developed with a 16-year-old boy displaying feats of strength and physical development that was previously unseen. However, you only had to watch the recent world cup and the general amazement and excitement that happened when a rugby player threw a dummy or performed a side step. Seriously, these are basic skills, aren’t they? Why are we in awe when it happens. I’ll tell you why. It’s because its rare in modern-day, structured, manufactured sport that lacks creativity, flair and imagination. It looks different! It all starts at home. In my opinion and based on my newly gained knowledge on the brain and neurotransmitters the lack of creativity can be traced right back to the advent on laptop computers, phones and hand-held devices. This is one of the issues along with changing society and added external pressures on a young developing mind.
Here is a list of do’s for coaches and parents as they move along their journey from early childhood to adulthood.
What can we all do to maximize our athletes/child’s journey
So, what’s gone wrong?
Why is taking a one-handed catch in cricket or dribbling in football now an exception not the norm in sport?
Modern-day living has destroyed the dopamine neurotransmitter levels in the brain and desensitised the dopaminergic system. Creativity underpins talent. Type 1 athletes are now an exception! Modern-day PE programmes, schooling and sport, in general, constrains creativity. At home, before they even come to school the damage is nearly done!
Parents put them in contact (direct or indirect) with blue light-emitting devices (TV, smartphone, tablet, etc.).
Parents protect them as much as possible; they control their environment, keep holding them when they are moving/crawling/climbing. They can’t get hurt!
They leave them in their cradle or baby chair as much as they can.
They select with which toys to play and don’t give them too many options.
Overreact when they get hurt.
When they are learning new skills, parents help them as much as possible so that they succeed easily.
When they start to play sports the two approaches are to either don’t care about what they are doing (to avoid putting pressure on them) or to be “all-in” and show them how much they want them to be the best (no kid of mine will be a loser).
Coaches and parents have the belief that specialisation is the key to success. There is enough research that shows this to be incorrect. Just ask AB D’Villiers of SA cricket!
When athletes get into various pathways the belief is that they should be doing the same as a professional athlete. This leads to much too soon and often times injury. Respect the stages of maturation and perform exercises that work in partnership with the human body development stages. This is called synergistic adaptations.
Parents and coaches need to be honest with their maturing child. Be consistent with feedback and praise. Manage expectations, both yours and your child.
Size does not matter! If your child is playing hockey, netball, rugby and the likes they do need to be big. The biggest will not always get selected and focus on skill acquisition and not let mother nature dictate the perceived success of the programme. Ultimately when mother nature has dealt her cards, skill trumps brawn!
Putting it all into context. The modern-day dilemma.
Ok, here is how I have applied the knowledge gained from my Neurotyping qualification. My aim is to neurotype every child that comes into Wellington school as I’m a firm believer it’s the future of teaching and coaching. No more guessing and giving out detention to pupils who are unruly and disruptive for no reason. They may actually be type 1 and just simply bored with your lesson. So, improve your teaching and coaching instead of externalising and blaming the child! Honesty drives better performance.
Out of over 100 younger and older athletes, I have ‘neurotyped’ over the last 3 years, only 5 have been type 1 dopamine dominant. I was one of them! As mentioned previously this is also closely linked with testosterone levels and muscle fibre makeup and dictated by the ability of the body to methylate enzymes in the body. Over the last 3 years of coaching, from age group to IPL I have come to acknowledge a few things tied into Neurotyping. I feel that you see less “natural talents” in the modern era. Most naturally talented athletes in-fact develop outside the system/structure, academies and the confines of a rigorous structured training programme.
I didn’t start weight training until 18 and was never part of an academy. I played two professional sports. I would spend Sunday afternoons bowling on the road for hours or simply passing the ball around on my own on the field. On a different level take the West Indies bowlers and the welsh rugby players or Brazilian footballers in the 70s. They developed the athletic qualities through unstructured play, play itself, jumping and running on various uneven surfaces [they developed stiffness in their tendons which is key to moving in various directions quickly]. There was certainly no ‘high-performance centres’ around anywhere in the 70s. High performance was ‘free play’ with your mates at a level of intensity most professionals and amateurs would only dream of practising with now.
There were no large TV screens, mobile phones, app-based games and various electronic gadgets to keep them entertained and keep them indoors away from ‘free play’. There are two main reasons for lower dopamine levels in my opinion.
1. Lazy parenting [poor parenting despite best intentions]
2. Structured and constrained practice with a focus on competition
Parents don’t stimulate their kids enough when they are between 0 and 12 months old. This leads to an underdeveloped vestibular, proprioceptive and visual systems. They are never optimized. They are desensitized. Here is a question to all coaches: ‘how hard is it now to motivate your players to play a sport or participate in PE lessons [wellbeing as we call it at school?’ I suggest, very hard.
People call it the ‘snow flake’ generation where I see it as the ‘dopamine numb’ generation!
They’re a consequence of a lack of understanding of the impact the environment has on young athletes’ potential
TV screens and phones offer such a STRONG stimulation of the dopaminergic receptors that when a child (with an unstable nervous system) uses these too much they will desensitize their dopamine receptors. Add to that they are entered into highly structured play and encouraged to become specialists too soon and never develop their creativity – “CREATIVITY is the key to talent”
“Dopamine dominance used to be in 15-20% of the population. Now I’m guessing (educated guess) that’s it’s 5% or less.”- C Thibaudeau
I believe athletes reach the top-level ‘in spite’ of the system, not because of it. Parents are key in this development and what they do at key stages of the nervous system development can have a positive or negative impact on their development and ultimate success in sport.
The other key stakeholders in the process are the academies and age group structures. It’s beyond the scope of this article but I genuinely believe there should be no competitive sport before 11 years of age and no representative sport before 16 years of age.
Sport is a vital part of a child’s life. The benefits of sport and exercise goes beyond any physical capacities
‘According to researchers, there is an optimum amount of dopamine that should be present within the brain. This optimum amount can help improve cognitive performance on tasks, researchers report’– Source: Leiden University
‘The study participants were better at their tasks if the level of dopamine in their brains was artificially increased’
If we get it right, there is no need to artificially increase dopamine levels, we simply ‘LET THEM PLAY when they are young.
It’s a team effort! As parents, coaches and athletes there needs to be an appreciation of how everyone has an impact on talent development. Natural talent is a combination of genes, biological processes in the body, neurotransmitters, the neurotransmitter system, upbringing at home, coach intervention methods and the environment in which they are brought up. A child is a product of their environment. All aspects of sport, exercise, motor learning and physical activity is controlled by the CNS. The neurotransmitter system which in part is hereditary but can be impacted as a child grows determines the direction of their future. A child will arrive at school already talented. How you nurture and develop that potential to achieve is the key to coaching. Armed with the ability to identify key neurological traits, identified by Neurotyping can provide a coach with the right information to make the correct decisions that will impact on their future.
I have seen so many programsthat include all the methods and exercise variations you can possibly find in the history of mankind that yet still don’t produce the expected results. Volume is also another variable often overused in order to create more adaptation and provide results. Yet again, that still doesn’t produce results.
Then finally, people will think that since they can’t get results on high volume program, nor on a crazy multiple variations 3000–method program, they should go with a high-intensity program and lift very heavy, near maximum at every session, Yet still…that….doesn’t…produce…results.
In fact, with the latter, you usually get a fair improvement in the first 2 to 3 weeks, but often can’t finish the program. What you gain in strength, you eventually start to lose and feel like every damn training session is the road to hell. Every week, you end up feeling more beaten up than the previous one.
So, what’s the catch? Maybe you’re not made to gain muscle and strength? Maybe you’d be better at training for miniature golf? Really?! Nahh! Here’s the answer to most popular programs you can find all over the web (or even popular programs that have been used by superstars or even elite athletes):
A training program is only as good as your capacity to recover from it. It’s that plain and simple.
While elite athletes can potentially recover from this kind of beating, the thing is, you are not an elite athlete (well, most of us are not). And this is OK. Elite athletes are a mere percentage of the population and the majority of us are not geared to endure such a training methodology. Not only are we not built for it, we usually don’t have the kind of life that allows for the recovery these kinds of programsrequire.
So, what should we do? (Yeah, miniature golf can look fun, but we still have a taste for challenge, and we want to look good, be strong and feel like a superhero sometimes).
First things first, you need a program that allowssufficient recovery and also a frequency and volume that fits your training capacities. But since you want to improve, you will need to challenge yourself to become better. That’s whensome knowledge of the nervous system comes into play.
When you can’t recover sufficiently from a workout program, you usually end up with overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system. What does that eat in Winter? To put it simply, the sympathetic nervous system is an available mode of your nervous system that will take the lead when things become stressful. What I mean by stressful is anything that pushes the body for quick reactions, strength, and speed. Pretty much like fighting or running away from something dangerous, like a bear for example. It’s one of the oldest mechanisms our bodyhas to defend itself against possible threat.
Now, there is another kind of stress we discovered later in our history:psychological stress. Things we deal with every day:work, finances, relationships, spouses, kids, etc. While these stresses may not be life-threatening, they are pretty much present 24h a day. And for your body, the perception of these stresses is the same as the perception of something dangerous.
Now enter a third kind of stress you guys are all living a few times a week: Training! It’s a good thing to train and get fit, but up to a certain degree, it’s also a beating on your body and you need to recover from it. It’s also a lot more stressful if you are dieting and get yourself into a caloric deficit.
In every situation we’ve just seen above, your body activates its sympathetic functions, which will get you ready to “fight”:
Increased heartbeat and blood pressure to provide enough blood supply to muscles and increase oxygen transport
Better muscle contraction and overall tightness to push, pull, jump, fight, etc.
Reduced motility, because when fighting for your life, it’s really not the time for a no.2. Keep this for later.
Digestion is on a halt – Pretty simply, you need food to survive, but your body is pretty good at evaluating what’s life-threatening at the moment, and starvation is rarely something that kills you in a hurry, so better fight or flight than eat. If you’ve just eaten a big pie just before a squat session, this is why you feel like you’re going to puke all over the place.
Blood glucose increases to provide enough energy resources to supply muscles and brain.
Sexual functions are off – Do I really need to explain this? When the bear is about to catch you, if you think about sex, you really have a problem! When your life is in danger, your body doesn’t think about reproduction.
And all of this chaos is driven by adrenaline which is released when cortisol rises. And cortisol will rise every time you train, and every time you feel bad or stress about something in your life too. Historically, it should surge here and there to save you and keep you alive, but nowadays it’s all over the place and in constant elevation. So, don’t be surprised if you can’t train the same way you see elite athletes train.
Now when this system is activated too often and/or for too long, your body can also have a harder time getting out of it. This is called sympathetic overactivation. You can’t get the nervous system back to its alter-ego function, the parasympathetic state, which serves as a relaxing mode to conserve energy for future battles.
If this is the case, symptoms will appear that need to be addressed as soon as possible:
Inability to relax or chill
Tightness in muscles even if you didn’t train those muscles
Decreased workout performance
Increasedheart rate even at rest
A lot of people feel like this every day of their life and they just don’t know why. They call it anxiety, but simply, it’s an overactivation of your nervous system. And having the wrong workout can only make things worse.
So how do we improve recovery to get out of this state
There are different approaches you can use to get out of sympathetic overactivation. I usually recommend combining different approachesto have more tools to help you.
External Recovery Tools
This group of recovery tools are geared towards activities you can do to help put your body under ideal conditions to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic state.
Epsom salt hot bath (but not too hot, or it can activate your system)
Power nap – try one or two naps during the day, it’s really helpful. Try to keep it around 20 minutes so you aren’t groggy when you wake up.
Cardiac coherence – this is a breathing technique that consists of 6 cycles of complete inspiration/expiration in one minute for a total of 5 minutes. It sounds weird, but if applied correctly, it really works.
Internal Recovery Tools
This group of tools are what can help you internally, like supplements and nutrition. Ideally, you want to take them sporadically when training to help recovery, but when in sympathetic overactivation, you will probably need to take them for a longer period of time, sometimes up to a month to get back to normal function.
Vitamin B6 – It’s used as a cofactor for many neurotransmitters and has other enzymatic functions. When in situations of prolonged stress and anxiety, or when training a lot, you can quickly deplete this vitamin in your body and then you will be lacking the amount necessary to build the neurotransmitters that can balance your nervous system.
Magnesium – Probably the mineral with the most functions in your body. One of its main roles here is to pull out the nervous influx sent into the cells to release the contraction of a muscle. If you are depleted in magnesium, you can feel like your muscles are tight muscle and irregular contractions. Magnesium is a really good muscle relaxant. It is pretty good at regulating heart rate too, which can often get out of balance when in sympathetic mode for too long.
L-tryptophan – This amino acid is what builds up serotonin, the neurotransmitter that will counteract overactivation and help you feel good, calm and in control. This neurotransmitter synchronizes your brain functions. If you get too activated, you deplete this neurotransmitterand will need some raw materials to build it. L-tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin and is very helpful in stressful situations, or when you feel recovery is incomplete.
Adaptogens – Ashwagandha, RhodiolaRosea, Ginseng, Bacopa, etc. These plants have some amazing benefits to help your body fight stress. The good thing is they will not put you “down” or have any sedative effects. They make you feel balanced and calm, or even improve your performances in the gym. They are usually very well tolerated by most people and act pretty fast.
Stressful times are where you need to lower proteins a bit and increase your carbs. Carbs not only mitigate cortisol but have a lower digestion cost than proteins which are more complex to digest.
Try increasing your carbs consumption particularly around training and in the evening. Having some carbs before and intra–training can prevent too much cortisol production.
Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and veggies so you get more vitamins and minerals for enzymes and cofactors to support hormonal and neurotransmitter production.
Now would be the best time for a ‘’DELOAD’’ week. Lower the weight and the volume to decrease the demands on your CNS. Otherwise, each training will get you back into too much activation.
You can also start to program your rest periods based on your heart rate. For example, take your BPM when you are at rest a couple of times and calculate an average. Each time you lift, you can only do another set if you can get back at this average BPM. This method will help your body to activate the parasympathetic state between sets and helps a lot with recovery.
You can also try to switch for more low-intensity sessions and cardio. If you’ve been doing a lot of high-intensity intervals and sprints, switch to more steady-state and LISS cardio with a lower heart rate for more time. Brisk walking is an amazing way of calming the mind and helps yourest and recover while still moving and burning some calories along the way.
Working out is great! But it’s also stressful if you don’t allow for proper recovery. In an era of addictions and constant stress, working out can be of the greatest benefit, but it can also be destructive if you abuse it.
Program intelligently, rest properly, eat well and don’t remain constantly in a deficit. Improvement can only come if you can recover from what you are doing in the gym. If you feel like it’s getting hard to recover, try to apply some of the methods discussed. Don’t wait until it’s too late, apply them sporadically during calculated periods of deload. You can only become better and stronger after a proper recovery period.
Most people, even those with great genetics for bodybuilding, never reach their full potential. These methods will get you growing again.
Nothing will help you build muscle faster than doing the big lifts. Focus your attention there.
Building bigger shoulders and a bigger back makes you look much better than doing endless sets of curls.
While 3 sets of 10 reps work, there are other rep ranges you’ll need to use to maximize your genetic potential.
If you stop making progress in the gym, you probably need a new training split. You also need to stop doing “garbage volume” and get focused.
The only thing that guarantees progress is progression.
The Most Annoying Guy in the Gym
I’ve spent most of my life in gyms. Commercial gyms, powerlifting gyms, sports team gyms, Olympic lifting gyms, CrossFit boxes, you name it and I’ve trained in it. I’ve seen it all, from squat rack curlers to guys who only work out in jeans.
But the only thing that really bothers me isn’t the guy who reads the paper between sets while hogging the only squat rack… although I’m not really fond of that guy. Instead, it’s the guy with great potential that wastes it by training without rhyme or reason.
I’m someone who was born with the genetics of a worm. I had to work extra hard to achieve even a little bit of success. So when I see someone who has a great frame and obvious muscle-building potential doing endless sets of easy exercises, talk for ten minutes between sets, and doing the same pointless workout over and over again, it pisses me off.
I’d really like to slap some sense into them. Here’s what I’d like to tell them.
1 – Train hard on the tough, high-impact exercises
Many of these high-potential guys are born with a big structure. Tall, naturally athletic, broad shoulders, square jaw. They talk loud, and generally it’s to boast about something hardcore they did – the hockey game they dominated, the girl they brought home from the bar, how they work 12 hours of hard construction labor, etc.
Great. If you’re all that, surely you’ll tackle some sets of hard deadlifts after you’re done warming up with 20-pound curls? Right? No? Is it a bad back? Well it seems healthy enough to work construction for 12 hours and play hockey.
Anyway, from the looks of it, you seem to be using your back as much during your curls as you would during a set of deadlifts. I’m sure that girl over there is super impressed!
You’d think that a guy built to lift heavy things would love to show his strength and get a thrill out of harvesting it. Are you afraid of doing hard lifts because you’ll lose your aura of manhood if other guys in the gym (who are training properly) are lifting more than you?
Listen, every guy who hits the gym wants to be bigger and stronger. You might play it cool by saying that you don’t really want to get bigger but who are you kidding?
The fact is, you might have great genetics. You already have a solid build. But you could be something special. If you really push your gifts by training hard on exercises that are worth the effort, you’ll shock people.
Sure, doing curls, triceps extensions, and lateral raises is fun. You get a big pump, look good in the mirror for the time you’re in the gym, and those exercises don’t require much effort. They could even help you build a little bit of muscle. But if you’re serious about becoming a big mofo, nothing will help you get there faster than doing the big lifts. And not only doing them, but striving really hard to become beastly strong at them.
What lifts am I talking about? The lifts that make you work hard, those that you’re not looking forward to doing when you get to the gym. The lifts in which you’re moving the most weight. Move more weight, gain more muscle. I’m talking about:
Squat and front squat
Deadlift and strict row
Bench press and incline press
Shoulders: Military press and high pull
Arms: Weighted dips, close-grip bench press, and some curls
Do these before even thinking about doing something else. Become very strong at them and with your genetics you’ll look like a house.
2 – Do something besides 3 sets of 10!
Sure, three sets of 8 to 10 reps “work.” And if you’re born with good genetics it can give you good enough results. So, it’s not uncommon for those born lucky to get stuck in the 8 to 10 reps world. After all, they’re getting the same results as other people who do different things, so why try something different?
Guys who are satisfied with “good enough” piss me off! These are the guys that go on and on, bad mouthing coaches who are trying to find better ways to gain muscle and size.
The genetic freaks say things like, “You don’t need that crap, just train, eat, sleep and repeat, it works for me!” Well, you know what? Most people aren’t like you.
They have a hard time forcing their body to progress and oftentimes they’re lost when sets of 8-10 reps stops working for them. Lucky for them, some trainers are trying to educate people and help them find ways to keep on progressing.
Sure, you’re progressing, but certainly not because of your smart training or hard work! Why don’t you open yourself up to new methods? Yes, it means you’ll have to leave your ego at the door and admit that you don’t know everything, but the new progress you’ll make will be worth it.
While sets of 8 to 10 work, there are other rep ranges that will help you. And more importantly, changing the rep ranges you use every 4-6 weeks or so will lead to greater progress in both size and strength than sticking to the same type of stimulation month after month.
Sets of 4 to 6 with 80-87% of your max will stimulate a lot of overall growth and will give you strength to match. And if that isn’t enough, you’ll also look more solid and harder, even at rest.
Sets of 1 to 3 with 90-100% of your max might not give you a lot of size by themselves, but they will make everything you do that day (after the heavy work) more effective by increasing the recruitment of the growth-prone high-threshold motor units.
That zone will also help you get stronger faster than anything else. Don’t do it for too long; 3 weeks in a row is about the most I’d recommend as the joints might take a beating if you’re not used to heavy lifting.
Rest/Pause sets will require you to work extra hard and deal with discomfort, but they’ll give you more size than any other method you can use.
Pick a weight you can lift about 6 times in solid form. Do your 6 reps, rest for about 5-10 seconds and then resume the set with the same weight, trying to get an extra 2-4 reps. If you suddenly discover that you have some guts, you can try to add a second 5-10 second pause and try to get another extra 2-4 reps. This, my friend, will boost your genetically gifted body to cartoon proportions.
If you like to impress the girls at the gym with your big bench press, you’ll probably be interested in clusters since no method will boost strength as rapidly. What are clusters, you ask?
Well, each cluster set has 4 to 6 total reps. Pick a weight you could normally lift for 3 good reps. Perform the set one rep at a time. Do one rep, rack it and rest 10-12 seconds. Do another rep, rest 10-12 seconds, and continue in this manner until you reach the point where you can’t do another rep.
If you can do more than 6 reps, add more weight. Do 3 of these and you’re golden when it comes to stimulating tons of strength gains. Oh, and because of the volume you’ll get bigger and harder, too.
And if you want to “get your arm pump on” you should do it the hard way: by doing antagonist supersets. Do a biceps exercise followed by a triceps exercise (no rest in between). After the triceps exercise, rest just enough to regain some movement in your arm and get back at it.
I don’t like to spend too much time on direct arm work, but these supersets are very effective in stimulating growth. I like to do a pair using 4 to 6 reps (for 4 sets), one pair using 8-10 reps (for 3-4 sets), and a pair using rest-pause (3 sets). Now you’ll get the arm size needed to justify wearing those medium T-shirts.
3 – Stop doing random crap or just the stuff you think makes you look good
Having a plan is so unmanly. Asking for directions? That’s for pansies. So you certainly won’t plan your workouts in advance!
Seriously, it seems that I always see the same guys doing the same exercises, either those that they like or those they think make them look good. “Quick, gotta do a gazillion sets of curls before people see me without a pump!”
Listen, you’re spending $600 a year on a gym membership and spending a lot of time there, so I assume you’re serious or semi-serious about building your body up. If you want to build your body up to its potential, you need to at least train it in a smart way. And no, doing curls every day and legs once a month is not what I’d call “smart.”
And you know what? I won’t even use the overused line, “Squatting will make your whole body big, including your arms” to convince you. It’s mostly hogwash anyway. If you want big arms, you’ll have to train them. Squatting alone won’t do it.
However, I will tell you that someone who can curl more than he can bench and who benches more than he can squat looks dumb and is dumb.
Getting big legs or a big back might not be a priority, but you still need to build everything to a decent degree to look really good. And you know what? What actually makes you look good isn’t the same thing as what you think makes you look good.
You might think that getting huge arms will make you look good, but without big shoulders and back, bigger arms will actually make you look worse, not better.
In fact, bigger shoulders and a bigger back are what will make you look badass. And if you’re doing it for girls, they won’t care about your 19–inch pythons if your arse is flat like grandpa’s.
Additionally, if you always do the same thing when you hit the gym, at one point you won’t progress anymore. Yep, even with your good genetics you’ll stop progressing. (I see that often, and it’s funny to see those big dudes go seek the advice of the trainers they used to make fun of.)
The answer is to set up a basic plan to work everything. There are many ways to split your training throughout the week, and they all work, provided that allow you to stimulate everything properly.
Now, “training everything” doesn’t necessarily mean that everything must be trained equally. Training some muscles take a lot more out of you and hurts your recovery.
The split I use with an IFBB pro I’m training is as follow:
Day 1: Back and deadlift
Day 2: Chest and shoulders
Day 3: OFF
Day 4: Biceps and Triceps
Day 5: Legs
Day 6: Chest and Back
Day 7: OFF
This split is pretty good for the average gym rat. It allows them to work everything effectively, recover properly, and maximize the growth of the areas that make them look imposing. There are other possible approaches, of course, but this is a good starting point for someone who’s used to only training what he likes.
4 – Cut out the garbage volume
I see people doing this type of chest workout all the time:
3 sets of bench press
3 sets of flat dumbbell press
3 sets of Smith machine bench press
3 sets of selective machine flat press
It’s all the same thing!
Well, not entirely. Don’t think that a selective machine press is as good as a barbell bench press, but you are working essentially the same muscle groups using the same angle and pattern.
Not only that, 6 of your 12 sets use inferior exercises, so those 6 sets are what I call “garbage sets.” You’d be much better off selecting exercises working different angles or portion of the movement instead of redundant exercises.
I see this with chest and arms mostly. People are afraid of missing out on the one exercise that will give them a big chest or biceps. If you go with the split I gave you earlier, here’s how to select your exercises:
Day 1: Back and Deadlift
Exercise 1: Deadlift variation
Exercise 2: Horizontal row variation
Exercise 3: Vertical row variation
Exercise 4: Scapula elevation (shrug, high pull) variation
Exercise 2.2: Rear delt exercise (rear delt raise, reverse pec deck, etc.)
Exercise 3.1: Machine or cable/pulleypectorals isolation exercise
Exercise 3.2: Scapula elevation variation
Day 7: OFF
This is more of a bodybuilding split, but if you follow it you can’t go wrong. Yes, I do many programs using different splits and exercise selections, but if your goal is to get bigger and look better, the program above will work great if you make the right choices and train hard.
5 – Put the phone away and focus!
I’ve got nothing against smart phones, and God knows how important it is for all your virtual friends to know that you’re “getting a crazy arm pump, bro” at the gym. But I’m here to tell you that if you want to make the most out of your potential, you must understand how important workout tempo/pace is.
If you’re trying to build a lot of muscle, having a rapid pace to your workout is something you should shoot for. I’m not talking about rushing your workouts; you should rest long enough to be able to perform your next set at a high level so that you stimulate gains. But you should only rest long enough to be able to perform your set.
Moving quickly through your workout will keep you focused, it will increase overall blood flow, boost your metabolism, and will stimulate more growth through the release of growth factors.
Now that you have decided to stop being a poser and train hard to get maximum results, you should value focus above everything else in the gym. Getting and staying “in the zone” will do more for your gains than any advanced method you can try.
I know it will be hard to sever the link with your Twitter account for an hour or so, but during your workout there should be no “off time.” You’re either doing a set, thinking about the set you will be doing, or reflecting on the set you just did to see where you can improve.
Become intellectually involved in your training.
6 – Remember this: Progression is everything.
I often say something that on the surface sounds obvious, if not stupid. Despite the fact that it’s such a simple truth that saying it makes me sound dumb, 90% of the gym population doesn’t apply it.
“The only thing that guarantees progress is progression.”
See what I mean? Pretty obvious, right? Well, why then are you focusing on anything but progression?
Feeling the burn. Getting a huge pump. Driving yourself to the ground. Crippling soreness. Not being able to drive after leg day. That all sounds cool and most are considered badges of honor, but none of that guarantees that your workout was positive and will lead to improvements. Yet we prefer to focus on these elements rather than on objective progression.
In most cases, when someone is training to gain muscle I like to use the double progression method. In the double progression model your goal is to complete a certain number of sets for a certain number of reps with the same weight, like 5 x 8 with 200 pounds.
You use a rep range where there’s a difference of 3 or 4 reps between the low end and the high end. For example, 6 to 8 reps or 9 to 12 reps. Your goal is to complete all your work sets in the upper end of the rep range. If you select the 6 to 8 rep range, the upper end is 8 reps.
When you’re able to complete all your planned work sets with the same weight at the upper end of your selected rep range, you can increase the weight at your next workout.
If you fail to reach the upper end on some of your sets, for example if you get 8, 8, 8, 7, and 6 reps for your 5 sets that’s fine, but it means that at your next workout you should use the same weight. You don’t get to add weight until you can complete all your sets with the upper end of the range.
That’s progression. And that’s what you really need to maximize your genetic gifts.