Blog 2019

Stick to the Basics

A whole lot of the life and the world is very similar.

I study exercise recreationally.  I was a personal trainer for a hot minute there, but I gave it up because, well, frankly, used car salesmen are more honest.  But I still do strength and conditioning advise on a regular basis and get the itch occasionally to get back into it.  Neither here nor there.  I read about athletes training programs across the spectrum.  And what amazes me is how often people seem to conflate being the best with being the hardest working with being the top-performing with being the most popular.

Yeah, I know.  There’s a whole lot in there, which takes a second to unwrap, but that’s kind of the point.

If I were to advise an NBA player, a UFC fighter, a high school baseball hopeful, and a 60-year-old retiree with some minor osteoarthritis, I would give them all relatively similar training programs.  Oh sure, the specific exercises might be different.  I might recommend barbells for one and machines for another, but ultimately, the programs would be fairly uniform.

But they all have different goals, right?  Actually, they don’t.  If they’re engaging in a strength and conditioning program, their goals are fairly uniform: they want more strength and they need to be in better condition.

When people protest, they often cite the paragons of weight training.  They cite power lifters and bodybuilders.  But what they lose sight of is that both of those are sports, one athletic and one aesthetic.  When those athletes train in the gym, they are engaging in their sport.  When a basketball player, an MMA fighter, a baseball player, step into the gym, they aren’t engaging in their sport.  Why bust a basketball player’s lungs when he or she then has to go out onto the court for ten-twenty hours this week?  It’s counter-productive.

We mistake one aspect of a pursuit for the entire process.  Strength and conditioning is one small block in the performance of most athletes.  Why then should it take up so much of their training time?  Boxers who spend more time in the gym than in the ring don’t perform very well.  The same is true across the spectrum.

But when you get rid of the preconceived notions about how one is supposed to train (IE you stop thinking everyone is supposed to train like elite-level bodybuilders), you also realize that most people need the same exercises, regardless of their pursuit.  Sure, the difficulty needs to be scaled.  And programs need to be individualized to make sure specific needs are addressed.  But in general, 90% of the world can get just about everything they need from a push, a pull, a squat, and a hinge.  Do some push-ups, some pull-ups, some squats, and some good mornings and you’re golden.  Would you rather bench press, rows, pistol-squats, and deadlifts?  That’s just dandy too.  But there’s no need to overcomplicate this.

And yet time and time again, people feel like they need to.  What about ab work?  What about my arms?  Don’t my calves need training?  What about my neck?  Metabolic work?  Explosive eccentrics?  On and on.  When in fact, the basics will serve just about everyone just about perfectly.

The fitness industry makes a living selling the unsustainable to the uninitiated, the uneducated.  And it’s an easy sell because they play on our own uncertainty.

But the basics are basic for a reason.  And one of the biggest and most important lessons anyone can learn is to not underestimate the basics.  And to not assume because they are ambitious, the basics are inadequate.  Odds are, if you don’t know for absolute certain that you need something, you probably don’t.

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