What really works, and what doesn’t?

Gaining Perspective

I never claim to have created some amazing, never before discovered workout plan that will increase your size and get you shredded in weeks. If I could live with myself after getting in front of a camera and saying bullshit like that, I’d probably be rich. But I can’t, so I’m not.

I don’t train for money. Of course, I want to be paid for my experience and the results I deliver to my athletes and clients, but I want to be able to train how I want to. That means that I can never put the money first, I have to put the training first and not compromise that.

That being said, I’ve developed my training methods over a few decades and through some very unique opportunities to observe and work with literally hundreds of people over that time people. For example, the first gym I worked in, and subsequently became very serious in, was in fact the greatest laboratory I’ll probably ever witness. That gym was full of convicts, inside of a prison, and was undoubtedly the most hardcore gym I will ever step foot in.

I was constantly able to observe guys come into the gym fresh: older, younger, big, small, overweight, skinny…guys with workout experience and those with no physical background at all. I watched all of the different body types and genetics, and observed how each one of them adapted to the different strength, bodybuilding and conditioning methods being used.

I saw the difference of training with a real, necessary purpose (survival) vs training for aesthetics, image or leisure. I watched guys give it their all in ways I’ve rarely seen before or since. I watched skinny guys who were terrified that if they didn’t put on some size fast they would be eaten alive.

This was an amazing opportunity at the very beginning of my career in strength and fitness. I learned some very important principles that have stuck with me to this day, like genetics do matter and some people are pre-disposed on average to adapt well to certain training methods. I learned that programming rep ranges, intensity levels, intervals of work and rest, and using different training methods not only produced different results, but it produced differing results for different individuals.

When I moved on from there and into the world of professional coaching, I had 10 years of experience coming with me. In that professional capacity I learned the more scientific side of it, the anatomy and physiology as well as the all important nutrition component. I was able to, over several years, spend time helping hundreds of people from all walks of life transform their bodies and their lives into something much better.

I never stopped learning. Over the years, I’ve watched fitness trends and methods come and go. Some have stuck around, whether they are great or not. I’ve learned that popularity and success in the fitness world often has more to do with marketing and selling things outside of fitness (like image or “community”) than it does with actual goal-oriented training.

Conversely, coaches and trainers who thirst for knowledge and are not married to one particular system are constantly learning and searching for methods and techniques that will help them solve the athlete and client puzzles of individual optimization. They have a wealth of experience and have spent time trying different methods on themselves and experimenting with their athletes to find better ways to get better.

This type of coach will develop a strong “coach’s eye” to see movement patterns and tendencies, and immediately can use their intuition and experience to diagnose and program to correct or improve what they are seeing. Their toolbox is well rounded and full. Their biases are minimal, which allows them to pull from systems and methods that would be outside of the box for many of their counterparts.

That coach will not just blindly hate on other methods, because he or she knows there are great, proven results that can be looked at from just about every system out there. They know that the magic is in knowing when and where to apply it, and they spend their lives developing that “magic” (and as we all know, it’s not magic, it’s just the right information with the right application at the right time).

I definitely categorize myself in that latter group. Even though I have spent over a few decades with the barbell movements and conditioning workouts, and through years of training and coaching in corporate gyms, crossfit boxes, fight/boxing gyms, and hardcore powerlifting and bodybuilding joints, I still never stop learning and studying. In fact, I try hard to learn something new everyday. Doesn’t always happen, but I still try everyday.

So, what have I learned about what works??

First of all, let’s be clear that we are talking about specific goal achievement as opposed to newbie gains. Any program will work for the first few months if it’s the one that got you off the couch. But when it comes to pursuing specific, long-term goals, it’s going to take more than that.

As I said earlier, what works is the right information, with the right application, at the right time. 

The right information:

  • Knowing the problems we have to solve, the imbalances, weaknesses or other limitations of the athlete that we have to overcome and correct in order to reach the desired goals.
  • Knowing the details of multiple methods, techniques and systems that could be applied to correct those issues.
  • Knowing the psychological parameters of the client and what they would be both motivated by and capable of maintaining.
  • Knowing the lifestyle and stresses in the athlete’s life and how to factor them into the programming.

The right application:

  • Choosing the best methods to correct the imbalances, weaknesses or limitations without creating or encouraging other problems or imbalances to occur (like employing powerlifting to build strength without causing limited mobility or loss of endurance).
  • Applying the right methods or techniques in the best order to achieve the optimum adaptations without also creating negative consequences.
  • Staying within the athlete’s capabilities and mental capacities with the programming and not overwhelming them or burning them down by overtraining, all while keeping them motivated with the all important buy-in needed for success.
  • Programming the athlete’s finite resources by correctly figuring in their daily life, work load at their job, family life, etc. (Stress is stress, no matter where it comes from, and we can only recover from a limited amount of it.)

The right time:

  • Knowing when to go after specific problems or imbalances
  • Knowing which problems should come before the others, and how to see and determine the unapparent root causes of apparent issues allowing you to hit the correct issue in the right order and spending the needed time on each issue.
  • Allowing the athlete to auto-regulate at some level, not peaking or backing them off by some arbitrary schedule that has nothing to do with their own biological clock.
  • Knowing when to push an athlete and when to back them down based on issues outside of the gym, how to read the signs and ask the questions, and then program based on the mental state at the time.
  • Programming the right amount of time for the athlete to be under tension, working out and investing overall.
  • PERIODIZATION!! Look it up if you don’t know what sports training periodization is. Choosing all of the above and applying it at the right times is essentially intelligent periodization, and it is mandatory for long-term success.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start for figuring out what works and what doesn’t. There’s way more to this than grabbing some cool workout off the internet and going at it. Those templates will work for a little while, maybe, but you could end up going backwards, too. 

And trust me, if your program does not address your specific imbalances, weaknesses, postural problems and movement pathway deficiencies, it will not optimize your results. It most likely will exacerbate the problems by pushing you into loading a chassis that is misaligned and unprepared for loading. This is as true for the group fitness class as it is for grabbing an equally random template online.

The last thing I will say is this, part of the right time is the amount of time invested. There are 168 hours in a week. Take off 8 hours of sleep a day and 5 days of 10.5 hours of work, and you have 59.5 hours for you to spend on home life, family life, social life, hobbies and health. And you want to give 3 hours a week to your fitness?

You have to do better than that if you want transformational level results. If all you want is to get in a little better shape, maybe maintain so you don’t go backwards, then 3 of your 60 hours might be ok. If you want real transformation, above all else, your desire to get there will be the ultimate determining factor.