Before I even begin, I’ll confirm any suspicions you may have from the title of this post: Yes, it is going to be a rant on poor exercise selection and training. I’m glad we got that out of the way…
If you weren’t aware of it, I love discussing training. I’ll have a conversation with anyone, from an elementary school student asking about why people exercise, to classmates and coworkers who want to talk about the sliding filament theory, to older folks who realize that a fitness plan will help them maintain function and ability while they age. Hell, I even talk about training with my 90 year old grandma! I love sharing information with and learning from others, but sometimes I wish I could expidite the process. Recently, I’ve been observing some things that cause me to make this face:
The largest problem that most people have is overall program design, or lack there of. The same folks tend to be at the gym when I am, and I tend to notice patterns in their training, or having a pattern of no pattern. Without a plan, you’re not going to get anywhere; it’s like getting in a car for a road trip without having a map. Developing a complete fitness plan would be the best plan for these folks, and while generic recommendations may get them started in the right direction, a personalized plan would offer better results. Generic recommendations are fantastic, but instead let’s get into some specific examples that lead to that awesome face above.
Poor exercise selection and sequencing. Given the variety of fitness goals that each person has, it’s valid that any exercise could be appropriate for any person given their structure, history, and goals. After considering this, I’m not sure it’s ever appropriate to walk in cold and hop on a leg extension machine, or spend an hour doing abz. There are safer and smarter investments of your precious time. If two specific issues could be addressed here, I’d say that it’s choosing isolation exercises before compound exercises, as well as using machines over free-weights. In three words; Don’t do that. If you’re tackling the big ‘bang for your buck’ exercises with body weight and free weight intensive training, it’s going to be unlikely that you’ll need to spend that much time using isolation training and/or machines. Sure, you may want to, but it’s not very likely. Chin and row before you curl. Push-up and press before you focus on your triceps or shoulders. You’ll see some incredible results when you develop a strong deadlift. And for all that is important in the world, please don’t curl in the squat rack.
You only ever train with one method, volume, or intensity. I find this issue to be much more common with endurance athletes (and females brainwashed by the media), but it’s true for everyone. If anyone is using the same program week after week, month after month, they’ll stop seeing results; your body will stop adapting. Men will occasionally get into a funk by repeating the same exact program ad nauseam, but they’re more likely to learn new exercises and experiment with different training protocols. While it’s certainly not 100% true, I’ve found that it’s much more common for women to find ‘the’ plan and use it for weeks at a time without increasing any of the training variables. It’s the same weight, same number of sets, same number of reps, week after week, eventually leading to an increasing amount of boredom and little else. If you’ve been stuck in the same program for a while and haven’t been increasing any of those variables, you should really try to implement some change in what you’re doing.
Ain’t nothin’ sexy about bad technique. Now, more than ever, I’m finding this to be true. Just while training tonight, I noticed someone wrap their knees, tighten their belt, then quarter squat 405 for four or 5 reps. I noticed this while doing some technique work for my front squat, focusing on a long pause in the hole. Ironically, a friend who was keeping an eye on my form in that deep position asked me how I felt about their herculean efforts. Simply, I’m not quite sure what it’s good for. If you’re abusing your body and butchering exercise technique purely to stroke your ego, then by all means continue what you’re doing. I’d advise you befriend a physical therapist or orthopedist who you can consult about the impending injury you’ll likely develop.
You should own a movement before you load it up. If we use technique failure to determine the end of a safe set, what’s the point in starting from rep number one with bad form? It’s purely ego lifting, either from a desire to lift heavier weights, or from stubbornness and/or impatience when it comes to learning proper technique. When I look back at my own training, I’ve certainly made the mistake of pushing myself beyond what my technique has allowed, and I’ve learned to hold back on loading the bar and striving to own the movement. It’s much easier to put in some focus and mental effort on the front end, which allows for greater physical effort and a reduced risk of injury. Take the time to learn proper form, so you can lift stronger for longer.
While I may have ranted and raved a little bit, it’s for a good cause. I’d like you to reflect on which of these mistakes you could be making in your own training, and what can be done to improve on the results that you’re getting. You may need to simply relearn technique on a few of your favorite exercises, or maybe you need to learn those exercises in the first place. Wherever you stand on training experience or ability, I’m sure that a little personal analysis and thought can lead you to better workouts when you’re at the gym.