Principles: Good Masters

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Good or bad, reality is there is more information on training in these times than has ever been imagined in years and decades gone past. Considering that I trained my initial clients back in 1983, I have seen quite a lot of trends and fads come and go. With every new “best” system or method comes the obligatory b.s. to go along with some good, sound, and usable information. ‘Half-truths’ are the primary lure to get people’s attention but these are still fallacies, and this is where the unnecessary arguments start and the confusion begins.

The ever-increasing amount of blog pros, infomercial icons, YouTube experts, and Internet trainers over-saturating our field (with some pretty ridiculous, yet entertaining, stuff) has only served to add to the confusion with information overload. Like the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”, it’s at point now where ‘you can’t see the principles for the systems’

“you can’t see the (training) principles for the systems”

Due to the constant demands of work with clients and athletes, I have taken a nearly-10-year hiatus from writing. This time away has allowed me to do a significant amount of reading and observe the direction our field is going in. While there have been some marked advancements in a few key areas such as assessments, soft tissue and joint health, and nutrition, for the most part, the subject of program design and application has taken a few leaps backwards. The root of this regression is the focus on catchy, hyped systems and the ignorance of foundational principles.

The Unique Perpetual Process of Learning as a Fitness Professional

Without a doubt, I am a dedicated advocate of continued education and learning, and having been in the world of professional performance and physique training for nearly 30 years I’ve come to realize that, especially at this stage in my career, much of this “learning” is not so much an issue of acquiring more information but a matter of sifting through the clutter and dusting off some tried and true gems from the proverbial storage bins. Being that my clientele includes both competitive athletes and general population, the topics of the “stored” information crosses many paths.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past several years I’ve seen what is referred to as some “new, functional, cutting edge, real-world, you-fill-in-the-blank” drill, technique, or method become highlighted as some intelligent, ground-breaking training solution when in reality it’s nothing more than an ignored component that got lost in the tidal wave of our field’s high percentage of attention-deficiency. In essence, the old becomes new again through a new coat of paint , and the forgotten becomes the new-found star via a sexy marketing campaign.

When student is ready…teacher re-appears

From the start of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have some honorable mentors. Many of these men are now well into their 70’s and have exemplified the longevity that every dedicated professional should aspire to. As well, all of these extremely knowledgable and accomplished men, without exception,  are still learning.

With one of these mentors, the not-close-to-70-yet Charles Staley, being in town at McConnell Athletics last week for a seminar and videotaping, it was an opportune time for me to do some reflection and ‘professional housecleaning’. Charles is well known for his “visionary”-like , if not controversial, teachings. If there’s a better way to describe Charles than saying he is a proponent of “the common sense approach to training” I can’t think of it. He has a way of getting you to not only question what is “generally accepted as fact”, but also has answers that fill in the void when a “false fact” has been exposed.

It’s really all quite amusing to Charles that he is considered one of the authorities in our field. He’s quick to humbly say, “I fear the day when people get this all figured out… because I’ll be out of a job”. The fact that Charles is a master at keeping the simple things…well…simple, in no way implies that he is not capable of throwing some heavy science at you as well.

Matter of fact, its science that is the very foundation of what Charles’ “simplicity” is based on. This brings me to the topic of this article: principles are all that really matter. And, coincidentally or not, one of Charles’ best contributions to the field of strength/conditioning and fitness, Escalating Density Training (EDT), is the ideal symbolic tool to use to address what I believe is the most important (read: ignored) lesson to be learned in our line of work, and can serve as a microcosm of sorts to life in general.

For those not familiar with EDT, it’s basically a “system” of progressive workload based on high-quality reps and fatigue management. In reality, EDT epitomizes what effective training is all about. The parameters (re: reps, sets, time) used in EDT are simply in place to make the best use of the principles the system is founded on. More on this in a moment.

‘If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, your growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.’

To make clear, it’s an understatement to say Charles and I don’t fully agree on everything related to training. Matter of fact, there are several issues we appear to be on opposite sides. Ironically, it’s this fact that enhances the overall learning and growth process. It should never be a goal to be in total agreement with other coaches or trainers in order to  learn from them, or vice versa. If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.

A few examples of Charles’ and my personal training-application views will reveal how our seeming disagreements are actually a means for each of us progressing in our work: Charles sees little need for the regular presence “warm up”, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or single-leg training.

At McConnell Athletics our “warmup” sometimes looks like the actual workout, stretching is a regular part of most clients’ program, you’ll find kettlebell drills in most every program, and it’s rare you’ll see a workout sans single-leg training. However, I don’t implement mobility/activation drills, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or unilateral exercises for their own sake. They are simply “tools in the box” that I deliberately choose to use to best utilize basic training principles with my eyes on progress. The key point here is NOT the “disagreements”… as, obviously, there actually isn’t one!

The relevant issue is that our principles are congruent no matter the individual manner we are applying them. I fully understand why Charles has the position he does on what he does as does he with my work. For example, Charles sees no need for dedicated stretching due to him, and/or clients, not experiencing limitations in range-of motion for the particular tasks they perform. I apply stretching drills where they are needed but not for sake of some legalistic, pseudo-standardized law that says stretching is a must in every program. Charles and I are going in the same direction no matter the different “vehicles” or “mapped route” we may be using.

Before commencing a process of training, here’s two  ‘should-be-obvious-but-is-ignored’ facts: 1) Properly defining your general objectives and specific goals in training is necessary to the success of your efforts, 2) Designing an effective and efficient course of action to accomplish your objectives and goals is necessary

Once you’ve arrived at a general training objective, and some specific goals, your next duty is deciding on the aforementioned program or ‘course-of-action’. This program is best to be built on a “system” where you can regulate the needed workload and assess both your short-term and long-term progress. This all sounds relatively simple and rhetorical. However, ironically, this is typically where the problems begin.

Systems are excellent servants but horrible “masters”

When it comes to an effective training program, there are certain components that must exist in order for the program to produce the desired results. Each workout is performed as nothing more, or less, than a stimulus to cause a response for muscular, and systemic, progress. A ‘system’ of training can be highly effective at coordinating each workout as well as subsequent workouts. Systems have tremendous benefits in giving your training direction, clarity, organization, and compliance.

However, if a particular system is deficient of sound principles, it’s efficacy is benign and the only actual “benefit” to you would be helping you be consistent, and boosting your psyche into feeling as though you could be accomplishing something.

That being understood, the hidden common problem is when the system becomes the objective in itself. That’s like when one becomes “identified” with a particular diet without understanding the principles the diet is based on. The diet is then doomed to eventually fail.

Stop Out-Thinking  Your Progress

With Staley’s EDT, the apparent simplicity brings with it the potential for an abundance of unnecessary confusion. This system exemplifies sound principles and, appropriately, leaves plenty of room for individual application.  I’m certainly not saying that EDT is the best way for everyone to train each and every workout (though you would do well to keep all of its principles intact). I’m simply using the ‘down-to-basics’ Escalating Density Training as a microcosm of  our “state of the union” tendency to “out-think” our progress.

‘The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system.’

EDT, like other proven systems, is based purely on sound, effective, proven principles. That’s ALL the system promises. The manner in which one applies these principles is a unique issue to each individual. The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system. By over-analyzing the system, you’re paralyzing the principles.

Training, in any system, is the exact same way. As long as you keep the goal…the goal, and do not allow the system parameters to overtake the system principles, you will experience progress, and success, with the system you are using. Principles are all that truly matter. The manner in which they are applied, as proven for well over a century, are unique to the individual.

VM

Be sure to check out my audio lecture,  ‘The Role of a Personal Strength & Conditioning Coach’, at movementlectures.com

For more information on McConnell Athletics, go to McConnell Athletics

For more information on Charles Staley, go to his website at  Charles Staley

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Comments
  1. I enjoyed the reading. I too have been in this since the 80’s and have some of the same thoughts. I spent last weekend with mentors who are also in their 60’s and 70’s now…we discussed some of these things you speak of today. These mentors are women who used to have to sneak into the gym after hours in the 60’s when it was frowned upon for women to lift weights. It is nice to know others in our field agree to disagree, which is a beautiful thing. Like your friend Charles they continue to have an influence on me. We are very lucky indeed.

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