I love fitness.

I love strength training.

I love training my clients from a place of integrity, honesty and most of all scientific evidence.

Watch this before reading

I’ve invested huge sums of money into my education and learning from the best in the business (A process that is ongoing even at this point of my career). This has given me a great understanding of the principles of exercise physiology, strength and general training theory.

What it’s also done is give me a great ability to think critically and pick apart the claims of fitness charlatans.

This is both a gift and a curse.

A gift in that it allows me to separate fact from fiction, designing REALLY effective training programs for my clients.

A curse in that I can smell bullshit from a mile away and be forever frustrated by those that pedal it.

BOSU Squat

Really?

In an industry where there are many options for the consumer, there are unfortunately a lot of trainers and gyms that are missing the point of what good training truly is (this is not a subjective topic either).

This means lots of people paying for one thing then getting something very different.

Don’t get me wrong, the fitness industry has come along way in its levels of professionalism over the past 15 years or so.

I for one have a great peer group of trainers and strength coaches that I am in regular contact with.

 

They are doing great stuff. Giving people access to the type of high level training that a pro athlete or Olympian might access (and in many cases are actually training these athletes them selves).

There are just a lot of others out there who are giving the exact opposite.

Mostly it comes down to not understanding the difference between training and exercise.

Exercise – this is the practice of moving your body in a non -structured way with no long term objectives built into the programming. It’s beneficial for you to an extent, it will never lead to you expressing anywhere near your full physical potential though.

Training – A methodical plan to progress from performance level A to B. This will involve progression of exercises and mathematical formulas to determine training loads. You will hopefully (after following it for long enough) get close to expressing your full potential for strength following this method of training.

Pump Class

Beyond about 4-6 weeks, this will literally do nothing for you

So, what I’d like to do now is expand a little bit upon my claims in the video above.

Strength Training 101

Strength training serves many purposes. It will do all of the following when programmed correctly;

  • Increase cross sectional area of the muscle and total volume of lean muscle mass.
  • Increase resting metabolic rate (due to increase muscle) and with the right nutrition, decrease body fat.
  • Increase the strength and density of bones.
  • Increase the strength of tendons, especially when lifting near maximal loads or doing plyometrics.
  • It will increase life expectancy.
  • Improve hormonal balance and function.
  • Make you more glucose and insulin sensitive (very important for weight loss).
  • Increase cognitive function in the later years of your life.
  • Positively influence other fitness qualities by increasing neural drive.
Some of this

Some of this…

Now to enjoy these many benefits and maximize your strength potential, there are some commonly accepted principles that must be followed. These principles are old, they’ve been known for a long time and are tried and tested.

  1. Focus on compound/complex lifts (Squats, Deadlifts, Cleans, Presses, Rows). These lifts work best because they work big muscles and many muscles, ensuring that your time is best utilised. There is also great potential for progression via weight increases and doing more total work.
  1. Progressively increase the weight lifted.
  1. Improve form and technique to allow for further progression on point 2.

 

Now if you go to a gym that doesn’t have Olympic Barbells but instead is full of ‘Pump Bars’, TRX, BOSU balls and anything else but the Olympic Barbell, all of the three points above are near impossible.

Yes you can do the lifts above with the old Pump Bar, but beyond the first 4-6 weeks (of which most the adaptations are neural), the stimuli will not be enough (unless you are over the age of 80) for you to make any significant progress in your training.

This will also ensure that you are firmly falling into the ‘exercise’ category and not the ‘training’ category.

...and plenty of this

…and plenty of this!

The Magic Formula  :  WORK = FORCE X DISTANCE

Examine this formula carefully. WORK (which we are at the gym to do) is the sum of FORCE (or the amount of weight you have to lift) multiplied by DISTANCE. The distance part of the equation is a product of both the exercise selection (a pull up elicits more work than a bicep curl) or the amount of sets and reps completed (or indeed a combination of both)

Therefore, exercise selection and the progression to higher weights are the key to increasing how much work you can do and the subsequent progress that you wish for.

 

Progress, changes in your body and increases in strength will only happen if there has been sufficient stress. Without the ability to provide this stress (with increases in weight and volume of training (you’ll simply be spinning your wheels and not getting any better.

It’s also the key to developing a better physique, and yes, even for females. Don’t believe me, check this video of our good friend and current Miss Universe Hattie Boydle squatting 142kg at only 50kg body weight under the guidance of master Strength Coach Sebastian Oreb.

Fluffing around on BOSU balls, Pump bars and TRX can be a fun way to get a sweat on, it’s never going to elicit significant fitness and performance increases though, sorry.

The 70/30 Rules

So forget about the 80/20 rule, designing a good training program is about 70/30. That is, 70% of the lifts chosen should be the ‘bang for you buck’ lifts. The one’s that require you to chalk up the hands, hold your breath and bite down on your own gums.

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Presses (Bench, Incline, Decline, Strict and Push Presses)
  • Pulls (Chin ups, Pull ups, Barbell Rows)

Each of the patterns above will also have infinite Dumbbell and Unilateral (single leg or single arm) alternatives for variety and structural balance (whilst still adhering to the criteria of being an effective exercise).

It is these lifts that will get you STRONG!

Any program, gym or Personal Trainer that offers ‘Strength Training’ without these lifts is misleading you as to what their actual product, and indeed their level of knowledge is.

Yeah you can build some relative and base level strength with body weight style training, but the money is with the big lifts.

 

So what about the other 30%?

This is where we tailor to the more specific outcomes of the client.

If it’s a weight loss client, maybe we do some conditioning (sled pushes, assault bikes, rowers or other interval work etc.) to get the heart rate up and burn some calories

If it’s for muscle gain, we can do some isolation and machine work to focus on and bring up certain muscle groups via biochemical adaptations.

If it’s an athlete, we can focus on the specific loading vectras, contraction speeds and energy system development of the sport.

If it’s a PT client or a group training session, maybe we use some of the tools of variety to engage and provide a sense of difference.

The big and most common mistake that I see being made with programming these days is too many trainers are using the 30% as their 100%. What this results in is clients that never get strong and spend most of their training time on activities that should be complimentary and supplementary.

 

So, what does a good program (and the set up required to execute it) look like?

Firstly, the person writing the program should understand the objective or the outcome.

These outcomes should then be measurable using valid protocols.

Skinfold or some other measurement protocol for body composition goals, strength or fitness testing for performance orientated goals (something Crossfit does well).

As us Strength & Conditioning Coaches say, ‘If you’re not assessing, you’re guessing’.

The other part of the puzzle is to then use the exercises and combinations of exercises that will get you the best return on your time (this is where the available equipment once again becomes important).

Below is a table where we list the differing outcomes and a general rule as to how the programming should be organised to achieve this.

Goal Optimal Training Style Optimal Rep Ranges Nutritional Considerations
Body Composition (Decrease body fat, increase lean muscle) Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Pulls, Lunges, Sled work and any other supplementary lift that will facilitate the above listed lifts being executed better.

Plus, some HIIT or Cardio based training (for best results though you should prioritise lifting with that making up between 70-80% of all training).

6 – 20 Manipulate total energy balance and macronutrient ratios of C/P/F
Increase muscle mass Compound/Complex movements periodized to move you towards being as strong as you can, with varying time frames spent developing both volume and intensity. 6 – 12 Increase Protein and Carbohydrate intake along with total calories.
Improve sporting performance Specific to outcomes but as a general rule, improve strength and power with the key lifts. 1 – 6 *

* Can vary depending on the specific needs of the athlete and the phase of training.

Summary

Good training is not about entertainment. It’s about the tried and tested methods that have worked forever and a day. A great trainer will engage you in the process of getting better, moving better, understanding WHY strength is important whilst continuing to move you forward.

The inexperienced and unknowing trainer will distract you with fads, fallacies and ‘entertainment’ training, resulting in very little long-term progress or tangible results.

These principles are scientifically validated and widely accepted by educated fitness professionals as gospel. There is nothing new in fitness, only new people trying to recycle the stuff that works and the stuff that doesn’t.

About the Author

Daniel Lowry

Daniel is a Strength & Conditioning expert and the Co-Founder of the gym concept GTT. He has been in the industry for 13 years, training a broad range of people from Army Special Forces to general populations. He has also worked with professional athletes, specifically in mixed Martial Arts. Daniel has worked with and learnt from the best of the best in the industry, names like Mark Buckley, Charles Poliquin, Dan Baker Phd, Gavin Heward and many more. Daniel considers himself a product of the great mentors he has learnt from.

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