We all associate a great workout with heroic efforts, puddles of sweat and red faces. While that’s all well and good, gasping for air and sweat drops don’t define a workout. Many of us fall into this trap of believing that our training sessions need to leave us yearning to lay on the floor.
While heroic efforts are great, consistent efforts are more impressive.
We can have great workouts by showing up, practicing good movement, getting quality repetitions in and taking care of your body. This idea that your workout is punishment for whatever poor lifestyle choices you made makes me want to scream.
If that’s your main motivation to train, you have some issues. Not only is that unsustainable, it builds on the unhealthy relationship of moving and working out by requiring you to do something “bad” in order do something “good.” It’s crazy. And it’s how most people think about fitness.
Motivation and willpower diminishing resources. You can’t always rely on them to produce superhero like workouts.
So where does that leave us in our definition of a good workout?
A good workout is anytime that you take care of yourself.
Anything you do to make your body feel better or to move more.
So while coming into the gym to do some mobility drills, some specific core exercises and some rolling may not feel like your accomplishing much, you are! You are taking time out of your life to deliberately take care of your body.
You should workout to feel better, not to punish yourself. That means, sometimes an easy workout is okay, and probably necessary.
So, stop being so hard on yourself. Focus on consistency, your body will thank you.
Brainwashed by the fitness industry. Scammed by fake results and promised unrealistic transformations.
Transforming your body and your lifestyle isn’t out of reach – but it’s going to take much longer than you want it to. It’s going to take you longer than promised.
None of this is your fault. Our society wants immediate results. If my Amazon package takes more than the promised 2-day delivery, I get way too upset. We’ve lost our patience, and that is exactly what we need to see results.
Patience, consistency and the ability to handle the mundane. You must be able to show up, day in and day out. The stuff that gets real results is monotonous work on the fundamentals. Most of us, don’t get the fundamentals down before we get bored. Start looking for the next thing. The thing that will work this time!
Guess what? It’s right in front of you, it’s what you’re doing. Stick with it, deliberately practice. Focus, learn, test and continue progressing. Skimming the top, then moving on – that’s how you spin your wheels. Handling consistency is how you transform.
I was listening to a podcast recently, when the guest was asked to give advice on how to get strong, his reply, “squat heavy once a week for 10 years.”
How are you going to feel in 10 years? 15 years? Stop thinking short term, lose your need for fast results and stick with a process, no matter what it is. Stick with it, and stop expecting your body to become supermodel status in a matter of days. There is nothing that will do that for you.
This goes back to making sure that you have some performance goals. Something to measure your real progress with. Aesthetic goals will only take you so far. Rather, they will take you as far as the next diet fad, infomercial workout, or super-vitamin-detox-green-smoothie weight loss shake.
Focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like. Performance is about how well you can do something, i.e., can you master it? Outcome goals, how much, how fast, how many – never seem to work as well.
Let’s focus on the process and get comfortable living there. There is no finish line.
Is deadlifting heavy weight, squatting high reps and being super picky about push up technique normal? No, it certainty isn’t. Is rolling around on a lacrosse ball, foam roller or doing dedicated hip mobility work normal? Definitely not.
See, this whole functional fitness thing, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t normal. Living with some sort of pain has become normal.
Not being able to effortlessly walk down stairs is normal.
Having to take the day off from work after a weekend hike is normal.
Needing help carrying groceries inside is normal.
Icing your lower back after a morning in the garden is normal.
Missing full range of motion is normal.
Not being able to stabilize your spine is normal.
Not knowing how to do a real push up is normal.
Fueling your body with fake foods is normal.
You only get one chance with this body, why would you put crap in it? Because that’s normal.
Don’t be normal.
Pursue strength as a skill. Spend time doing maintenance on your body. Move more and treat yourself like the fascinating piece of machinery that you are. Be respectful in how you fuel your body.
Going through life without a care about your physical being is normal. Don’t be normal – fight off aging, feel your best and don’t let anything slow you down.
Don’t be that person that says “what till you’re –insert age here-.”
Guess what? You don’t have to be like that you’re that age.
Passionately fight against the norm now and take care of yourself. Make it a priority, a sustainable practice you can do forever.
Put the work in now, even if it seems strange to your friend and peers. They are probably normal, anyway.
Runners, mastering a squat movement is one the best things you can do to improve your running ability. Think of learning to squat as learning a new skill that will have immediate transferability over to you on the road, trail or track.
Let’s talk about a good running position. You need to make sure that your trunk is braced, i.e., you’re stabilizing your spine. You also need to be getting movement from certain areas and not compensating through other areas.
You need to be able to do that over the entire duration of your run. Mile after mile no matter the distance or intensity. When you can no longer maintain the proper positions, you risk injury or develop compensatory patterns, that may lead to injury in the future. If that isn’t good enough reason for you, you will also lose power and speed. Resulting in slower times and harder runs.
Here’s where the ability to properly squat comes in. Now, make sure to note that I didn’t say squat 300 pounds. That isn’t what is important here. But doing some box squats or goblet squats or even a bodyweight squat will allow you to spot any mechanical breakdowns that may happen in your running technique. If you always turn your feet out on goblet squats on the last few reps, you can bet that you may turn your foot out when running. Missing hip extension? We can see that at the top of the squat. This, along with many other examples can provide a coach with guidelines to improve mobility or stability in the proper places.
As mentioned earlier, while running, you need proper spinal bracing. If you arch your back to lower yourself on the box, you may be running in an over extended position. That can also show that you don’t know how to properly keep yourself in a strong, braced core position. Proper squatting, with guidance from a knowledgeable coach (there are a lot of people who teach poor squatting out there, be careful who you get advice from) requires you to brace your core to move your extremities, just like running.
By squatting, we can spot potential breakdowns but we can also practice good positions.
Carefully bending over to grab something off the ground, and there it goes, your back gives out. No warning, no prior symptoms, it just happens. And it happens to all of us. I have had my fair share of back problems from abusive years playing ice hockey and moronic training.
We also see our fair share of people who have back pain at GAIN, given our client demographic is middle aged to 70+. Almost everyone I have a consultation with has some history of back pain, they say that about once a year, no matter what, their back gives out for a week or so.
I don’t have the magic solution for it either. However, improving strength, learning how to stabilize and owning ranges of motion certainly make your body more robust. Seeing a qualified physical therapist if you are in pain is non-negotiable. If there’s pain, get some help.
Here’s what I like to see people who have back pain improve upon:
Can you properly hip hinge?
A hip hinge is one of the fundamental movement patterns that we see often in everyday life. We make sure to do some type of hip hinging, whether bilaterally or on one leg, at each and every workout at GAIN.
We think it’s that important of a skill to own.
Hip hinging, when done properly, keeps your back in a solid, braced position, forcing you to get the range of motion from your hip joints and not from moving your spine and becoming unstable. It loads the posterior chain muscles like your hamstrings and glutes, and uses those to stand up, opposed to the back muscles.
The problem I often run into here, is that people are unwilling to trust their hinge. That happens, and it is part of the learning process. But doing a weird, super-wide stance, squat type of thing, is just a Band-Aid. You need to know how to pick stuff up. You likely need a regression to start, especially while you work towards gathering the requisite range of motion.
This is common at GAIN. We love barbells, but realize it isn’t he right tool for every job. Doing kettlebell or dumbbell deadlifts or even something raised higher than that can be a good teaching tool here to build confidence in a strange movement.
How’s your hip mobility?
If your hips are ultra-wound up, it may be difficult to hinge properly. If you cannot flex, or close your hips, think folding your belly on your thighs, it is going to be difficult to get to the ground or the object without losing spine position.
This is where you can work with a PT to improve range of motion or add in some dedicated mobility training to your plan. I like to see improvements in hip flexion and ankle dosiflexion for anyone who has trouble getting to the bottom position. This is another time that we would modify the lift – so we can still get a training effect, while working within the safe range of motion. Then, before adding more weight to the bar, we can progress the movement by adding in a bigger range of motion. Eventually adding load to challenge to new found positions and ranges.
3. Can you get stable?
Can you create a stiff trunk?
What I mean, is can you get into a proper braced-neutral position, without any load. When we teach deadlifting, the first position we teach is the finish position. This helps you maintain stability throughout the lift.
The purpose of the hinge is to challenge this braced position while requiring the hips to move, i.e., keep the torso stiff while the legs do the work*. Ever hear the saying lift with your legs not your back?
We teach stiffness (the popular thing to say is a strong core) using other exercises to demonstrate, and educate you on what it is supposed to feel like.
For example, if you are someone who sags their hips when doing push ups, I’ll be willing to bet that you have a hard time keeping a stable core when deadlifting. So we can work on creating the proper stiffness through the anterior core when doing push ups, loaded carries and a host of other plank and core progressions. That way, when it comes time to deadlift or pick something up – you know what right feels like.
A common problem is excessive arching of the lower back. We find that when people have trouble creating stability, they hang on their spine to find it. This especially holds true with formers athletes and many runners we see.
So what can you do?
Find exercises that allow you to train around any painful ranges of motion. Single leg exercises are typically ideal here, along with sled pushing, upper body movements that allow you to stay stable and low level core drills to practice the proper positioning.
Work with a coach to develop a proper hip hinge and core stability. It’s all about positioning and body awareness here.
Work with a PT or a coach to improve range of motion – if you need to. Sometimes, this lack of range of motion can be a stability issue – meaning, you have the range of motion available, but cannot access it because your body feels unsafe in those positions. Developing core strength, total body strength and the ability to properly brace and breathe are all invaluable here.
At the end of the day, training and spending time in the gym is about getting you outside of the gym. Train to make these new positions and movements your default. It takes time, dedication and effort, but you don’t want to blow your back out picking up a pen off the ground. Create awareness, practice diligently and be patient.
What if I’m starting from scratch? Will this be too much for me?
Short answer, no! We take pride on meeting people where they are, scaling exercises accordingly and making sure you only work within your own limits.
I’m dealing with an injury, can I still participate?
Yes, in fact, many of the clients that come here are dealing with some sort of injury. Either actively working around it or being cautious of something from the past. Modifying certain movements to still get a training effect, while ensuring we do not aggravate the injury is something we are very good at.
I’m an older person, will I be able to keep up?
Yes, building off the previous answers, we are able to modify to make sure you are working within your own limits and not the limits of the collective class. We train many clients in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. If you’re worried you’re too old, there’s probably someone older already working out here.
I have back pain, is this safe?
Yes! We will work within your own limits, and teach you how to safely load your hips and les, opposed to your back. We place an emphasis on being able to create a strong, stable torso, commonly referred to as the core.
Isn’t squatting bad for your knees?
Squatting poorly is bad for you knees! Above all else, we focus on mastering techniques and skills before layering on top of them. We never let you do anything with bad technique or anything that will injure you.
Is there cardio involved?
Yes. Our program focuses on building strength, balance and stability, along with improving mobility and increasing what we call work capacity. We define work capacity as how much effort you can put forth. Meaning, it won’t feel like your typical cardio party on an elliptical, but we set the workout up to give a similar training effect, while also building strength!
If you’re interested in learning more or signing up for the class – click here to be taken to the website
What’s the purpose of all this training if you aren’t going to use it, test it and challenge it in new ways? As I battle to get the message out that training is much more about what you can do than it is aesthetics, I must also get you to use your newly tuned up performance capabilities.
Getting out of your comfort zone is a great way to realize how far you’ve come and how your consistency and effort has paid off.
Break out those cross country skis, try that black diamond, even though you haven’t been on it in a decade or even just run around your yard with your dog.
How long were you able to shovel last year before calling it quits? I dare you to try the whole driveway. Heavy wet snow, no problem for you now. After all, what are those deadlifts for?
When I got a text message from a client last week, saying that they created a GAIN team, called Gain Gang, for a local 5k, I was thrilled. What a perfect example of getting out of your comfort zone, setting a realistic, yet challenging goal.
If you would like to get involved, whether you are a runner or never ran a mile in your life, you can find the details about the race here.
Running not your thing? That’s okay, it doesn’t have to be and it isn’t required to be “fit.”
However, you have to do something. Shovel your driveway, stomp through the snow in some snowshoes, try something new and try something challenging. Use your fitness to spend more time doing other things, get outside and challenge yourself.
That’s never been more apparent for myself. Over the past 6 years or so, I have been constantly asking myself, “what am I training for, what’s the point?”
My answer constantly changes and evolves, as it should for you, too. But now, my answer as to why I train, is to get outside more and use this fitness that I have acquired.