A few weeks ago a friend of a friend reached out to us interested in having us write a program for her sports training. She asked what our training philosophies were and while the question is completely understandable, it caught me off guard. I’ve never really thought about it before. Growing up I was a huge Bruce Lee fan, I had all of his movies, and other paraphernalia. Bruce Lee’s “style” of Martial Arts was the “style of no style.” In one of his most famous scenes, Lee instructs a young student to”be like water.” That scene left a lasting impression with me. It inspired me to always find a balance in my life, and likely has been the source of many an debates as it cultivated in me a desire to always ask questions and play the devil’s advocate. Though this is a philosophy of life, it has made its way into my training and coaching. When the high intensity and interval training craze swept the fitness world, I like many others jumped on board, but it wasn’t long before I jumped right off, because I wasn’t seeing the results that I wanted, not just for myself, but for the people I was coaching. Sure the workouts felt hard, and initially there was some positive change, but the plateaus came all too quickly, and lasted way too long (if not almost indefinitely). This pushed me to question why I was doing the things I was doing, and forced me to define the principals I wanted to guide my training. But that is always what it has been…a guide. The potential client who reached out asking about our philosophy had said that her previous coach used the “Conjugate Method.” This is a method devised by infamous Powerlifting coach Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell gym. While Simmons derived his method from old Soviet Weightlifting techniques, a great place for any strength coach to build on their education, I’ve never thought it wise to base all that I do on a single training methodology. That’s not very water like.
Being dogmatic about training is a pervasive problem in the fitness world. Everyone is trying to sell their “method.” At Arkitect we take a different approach. instead of selling a “type” of fitness, we modify our methods to suit the clients needs and goals. This allows us to train a wide variety of clientele from high level athletes to first time exercisers, and those on 100+lb weight loss journeys. This poses a unique problem for us, as it has been said that “if your demographic is everyone, your demographic is no one,” which is exactly why so many fitness businesses sell a type of fitness, rather than being like water, and adapting to their clients needs. With that said, many clients have certain expectations of what their training will be like based on their goal. A classic example is weight loss clients expecting the majority of their program to be aerobic based. But there is a reason why (good) coaches have spent thousands of hours and likely even more money to become professionals, it is our job to get the client to their goals, and the best way to do that, may be different than what they expect. So while our training may not be considered a “system” or “philosophy” there are some underlying ideals and thoughts that guide us in what we do. Here they are in no real particular order. Some may be concrete, while others are more concepts, but they are the things we fall back on to keep things simple, but effective
1. Keep as Many Tools in your Toolbox as Possible
When the “functional movement” and circuit training craze took over, a lot of “old school” exercises got chucked out the window. The first time come to mind was any singe joint or “isolation” exercise. Movements like bicep curls, or leg extensions went from staples in any gym goers routine to being considered “vain” “inefficient” and “non-functional.” While these exercises may not be the best bang for your buck, that doesn’t mean they are completely useless. The problem with “desert island” arguments (if you were stuck on a desert island could only choose 5 exercises), is that we aren’t on a desert island. Of course this is one example, but at Arkitect we use a wide variety of training techniques and no two clients programs look exactly the same. We find the right tools for the job and apply them as necessary, even if other gyms or coaches think of those exercises as “taboo” within the context of their own training methods. In our gym you’ll find free weights like dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells. You will see people doing body weight training like handstands, pull-ups, pistol squats and crawls. In the summer time you’ll see people out in our parking lot running sprints, or timing themselves on the 1 mile loop we have outlined in our neighborhood. We’ve got rowers, bikes, heck we’ve even got a treadmill! You might see people working on breathing drills to help improve their posture, or guys cranking out curls super-set with shoulder raises to give them those nice beach muscles. As long as an exercise has a good ratio of low injury risk to high effectiveness (based on the goal) we’ll use it.
2. PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD IS KING
In short: Do more “today” than you did “yesterday.” This makes tracking what you do extremely important, that’s also why “constantly varied” or “randomized” workouts can easily plateau, because they are nearly impossible to track with out an overwhelming amount of note taking. There are three main variables in training: Frequency (how often you train), Volume (The amount of work or reps you do) and intensity (the load you use). All good programs will have some combination of these variables constantly increasing. How, what and why is a blog for another time, but here are some examples using running:
Frequency: You run 3x/week and then increase it 4x, and then to 5x. This is an increase in frequency. This could also be an increase in volume, but not necessarily. If you run 1 mile 3x a week your volume is 12 miles a month. If you up your training frequency to 4x/week but decrease the distance you run each time to a half mile that is only 8 miles a month compared to the 12 you were running previously. Again why would depend on a lot of different things but in this case, it is example of progressive overload of training frequency.
Volume: You run 3x/week for a distance for 1 mile each session. Eventually you progress to 1.5 miles each session. Your frequency has remained the same, but the volume of work you’re doing has increased.
Intensity: You run 3x/week, 1 mile each time and it takes you do a 10 minute mile. You cut the time down to 9 minutes each mile. Congratulations you’ve increased your intensity.
In order to see progress, one or more of these variables must increase over time. You can’t increase your work if you don’t track what you do. In general, increasing intensity is the most valuable, yet it is the one variable most people fail to track.
3. STRENGTH TRAINING SHOULD BE THE BACKBONE OF ANY TRAINING PROGRAM
Today’s athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever. Why? Because coaches and trainers have realized the power of strength training. Just because strength training is the foundation of your training, doesn’t mean you should do it the exclusion of other types of fitness. At Arkitect we use strength training, aerobic, anaerobic and interval training to our advantage to create comprehensive programs. I once chastised a friend for running being their only form of exercise. They retorted that all I did was lift weights…but when I lift weights I move things vertically, and horizontally. I push and I pull. I squat and I bend and I move side to side and I twist. My friend told me that they “cross train.” When i asked them what that was they said, they run hills, and sometimes do the elliptical. This would be akin to me only doing bench presses, incline bench presses, and occasionally using a chest press machine.
Strength training is a broad term, because it encompasses a wide variety of exercises, movements and techniques. You can do sets of 50-100 reps of an exercise with very light weight all the way down to a single rep with maximum weight, with lots of middle ground in between and get very different results. Strength training improves resting metabolism, increases bone density, decreases blood pressure, increases hormone function, increases flexibly, and more. The effects are long lasting as well. Many clients quickly return to their peak performance levels after a lay off. It also takes a longer time to develop strength than it does aerobic capacity, which is why a lot of our athlete’s off season training focuses on strength first, and phases in aerobic work as the season draws closer.
4. NEEDS COME BEFORE WANTS
Most clients want very similar things: lose weight, feel better about themselves, increase performance in some way, but they will all need different programs. Why? Because they are different people with different obstacles in front of them. Maybe that had knee surgery that limits their range of motion. Maybe they have back pain from sitting too much at work, maybe they have back pain from standing too much at work. All of those things will be cause for different training approaches. No matter what your goals are, our first job is to get you healthy. Building a healthy body is a great way to stave off injuries, and as you may know, injuries will kill your progress and keep you from your goals. As an example of putting needs before wants, I had a client message me last week asking (for a friend) how to lose 3% body fat in a week. There are only two ways this could be done: 1. liposuction 2. Complete and total starvation. Even with that second method I’m not sure it could be done. Obviously both come with serious risks, in fact when liposuction is done, it’s not to the degree that you would see that much decrease in total body fat percentage. Although these are extreme examples they demonstrate how and why we put client health before their particular goals.
5. NUTRITION IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS TRAINING
We’ve said it a thousand times, other gyms and coaches have said it a thousand times, you cannot out train a bad diet. Despite this being the opinion of just about anyone who’s opinion is worth anything in fitness, people still try to do it.
6. FOOD QUALITY AND QUANTITY ARE BOTH IMPORTANT
If training has 3 primary variables: Frequency, volume and intensity, nutrition has some too, but the big ones are quantity and quality. Ironically most people looking to get in shape pick one or the other. There are major problems with this. The food quality people call it “clean eating.” But what is clean? Is it
No meat? (Vegetarian)
No animal products at all? (Vegan)
No grains? (Paleo)
No Sugar? (detox crowd)
No processed foods? (JERFers)
No Carbs? (ketogenic dieters)
On the other end of the spectrum we have the calorie counters. They ignore food content for a “less is more” approach, but this doesn’t really work great either. Cut your calories too much and you’ll trigger a hormone response that slows your metabolism, you’ll also have a tough time recovering from your workouts and your performance and results will suffer. Furthermore most people have no idea how many calories they should eat, nor do they have any real idea how many they are eating. Do you need to eat less calories than you burn to lose weight? Yes, but any amount less will not do. Weight loss needs to be gradual so the weight that you lose is mostly fat, why would anyone want to lose muscle? You also want to lose weight while eating as much food as possible for two reasons:
- You need a margin or buffer for when you plateau. If you cut your calories down to 1,000/day and then plateau you don’t really have any where to go (except into dangerously low calorie restriction). But if you’re eating at a small deficit and plateau, you can take a way a few more calories each day, and still be eating plenty of food, and reignite your weight loss progress.
- Your progress will largely be dicated by your performance in the gym. If you’re not properly fueling your progress and recovering from your workouts, your performance will decrease until your workout sessions are weak and meaningless.
Eating whole foods is important for those who are trying to live healthier lives because they are more vitamin and mineral dense. They have more nutrients per calorie that your body needs to operate at a high level, but eating the right amount of food is still extremely important, especially the more advanced you are. If you’re a high level athlete and you’re not putting specific amounts of macronutrients into your body on a daily basis, you’re flat out doing it wrong. When it comes to nutrition both type and amount are important. Doing one without the other would be like exercising and counting your reps but not the weight you use, or vice versa.
7. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID
I’m a big fan of simplicity in training. So many coaches are always looking for the next “secret” to take their training to the next level. Here is the secret: THERE IS NO SECRET. Good training is all about the things listed above, and putting in the work. It’s the fantastic results we get with our clients that get new people interested in training with us, but a lot of times when people come in to our gym and see our methods first hand, there is a strong disconnect between what they thought they would find, and what they are seeing. When they were expecting magic exercises or top-secret methodology, they find people who are masters of the basics, people who practice fitness fundamentals regularly. Some people stay, and get those results for themselves, and other people leave continuing on their journey trying to find that one “secret” they are missing in their training.
8. TECHNIQUE BEFORE INTENSITY
This one should be obvious: Your form is more important than how much you lift, or how fast you get through a circuit. This is something that is often lost in CrossFit or bootcamp style workouts. At the end of the day, fitness is about having better control over your body. If you don’t practice that in the right way, and the same way every time you train, you’re missing out on a big part of what fitness is.
9. RESULTS COME BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE (EXCEPT SAFETY)
At Arkitect we do what works. Simple. You want results, we want you to achieve them. Many people shy away from things they aren’t good at, because it’s not as much fun, but it’s usually the things that you aren’t good at that you need to get to your goals. We all have more fun playing a game when we’re winning, and sometimes struggling through things we aren’t good at makes us feel like we’re on the losing side of a one sided beat down. Good training can help you turn your weaknesses into strengths. Our most successful clients are the ones who enjoy the process by “embracing the grind.” If you trade in your long term goals for your short term pleasure or entertainment, you’re going to be stuck in fitness purgatory.
10. ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
None of it is worth it if your attitude sucks! Be positive and believe in yourself. If you believe that you “can’t” do something, you won’t do it. Simple as that. I would rather think that I can, and take the chance that I’m wrong, then think that I can’t and prove myself right every time.