I hate it when my inbox is full and cluttered. It frustrates me to no end to have an email sitting there that’s either unread, or read and labeled, but not archived because it’s still semi-important.
I suppose I’m very Type A in this regard, but it just bugs the crap out of me. This article was born our of the need to get rid of a bunch of those emails I’ve been staring at since February.
A few months ago on Facebook, I made this status update:
Then I emailed everyone who responded, and labeled each response as Crossfit Contribution. Ever since, I just haven’t mustered up the gumption to write anything on the topic because I kind of forgot, and something didn’t sit well with me.
Before I even begin, let me tell you that this article is not about bashing any particular training method – it’s more about being civil, rational, and objective.
It’s about removing yourself from any mindset you may have, and looking through the lens of another, if you will.
“Your Program Sucks”
You might have had someone say this to you. Maybe not the exact phrase, but something similar. They could’ve said “oh, you’ll never make progress with [insert program of choice here], or training like a bodybuilder won’t get you anywhere.”
Regardless of their exact words, I know you’ve been there.
One week, Crossfit might be the go-to training style, and the next week, it’s all about the Olympic lifts if you want to get jakt.
A few months ago, I got a call from a really good friend of mine. He’s actually a young guy in the industry who’s been working his tail off since I initially reached out to him. He’s even been featured in Muscle & Fitness already and he’s barely 21. I’m super proud of this guy and am thrilled he’s in my life.
Most of the time on the phone he’s pretty upbeat, and always has something positive to say. However, this particular day was different.
He’d just gotten a call from someone who saw an article of his where he wrote a program for beginners on his website (it was solid info – JC-approved, etc). Turns out it wasn’t the same training style he’d learned from a former group of lifters he trained with and this person was mad that he wasn’t teaching the true training methods.
This person basically chastised my friend, and revealed their disappointment in him for not following what he’d been taught.
As you might imagine, he was quite upset. He asked me what he should do and how he should handle it.
I asked him one question. “Do you feel the material you presented is factual, your own interpretation, but most importantly, that it will help any beginner who takes the time to read and implement it?”
His answer was “of course!”
I then replied with “so stop stressing, and tell whomever you just talked to which bridge to jump off of.” You can believe me when I say that I was much more vulgar with my recommendation of said bridge.
I had a hard time sleeping that night.
It frustrated me beyond measure that someone in this industry – someone who is known as a professional, and has actually helped THOUSANDS of people – literally told my boy that he was in the wrong … all because they couldn’t look past their own training style and closed-minded beliefs.
It was as if they were saying no other training methods work and everything else is inferior. Umm, really?
This is not uncommon, you know. We are humans. We all have these big brains that are largely self-serving. We have egos, too. As a result, we’re not too good with rationality all the time.
We get in our own way.
Ever wonder why the fitness industry has so many cliques, circles, and, ahem, cults? Please understand I use that word loosely. I haven’t found anyone sacrificing his or her first born to a barbell shrine or anything, so cult is used loosely to make a point.
But seriously – have you noticed how attached some people get to a certain diet or training program?
The first things to mind for me are Paleo and Crossfit. I’m not picking on them, nor do I think there’s anything inherently bad about either subculture. But people tend to take things out of hand.
Ever been to a party and met someone who was an active Paleo dieter? Oh god, you better not bring up nutrition to them or you’ll never get them outta your hair. And then, if you disagree with them, you might be ridiculed.
Ever meet with another Crossfitter who swears their training method is the best programming to hit planet earth? I know I have.
I’m no different. I’ve made the same mistakes. I used to tell others “hey, you’re doing this wrong, or it would be better if…”
But the truth is that while what they were doing may or may not have been best for their goals, I was too hung up on what I believed to be true to even consider what they were actually doing, much less what their goals were.
And this leads me to my next point, if I actually have any with this post.
It’s All About Goals, Brah
Whether you’re a seasoned coach, or especially a new trainer, I want you to think about something for a second.
You’re probably pretty smart. You may even have a thing or two figured out, but if there’s anything I can tell you from being one of the younger guys in the industry, it’s this: you have so much to learn.
Don’t take that negatively – I have a lot to learn too. We all do.
After chatting with various coaches and trainers, I think we all go through similar growing pains. When starting out, we usually have a pretty good (some not so good) set of training principles that we adhere to.
As we gain more experience, we find that either these methods are working or not. If they are, we tend to stay pretty rooted in what we know. If the methods aren’t working, we scurry to find something that will get better results.
The problem is, depending on to what we’re exposed, we sore of get stuck in a one-track mind. I did this for the LONGEST time.
But then I eventually figured out that there are SO many ways to train that all produce results. It’s all a matter of the persons temperament, their belief systems, their experience, and what they’re willing to allow into their life (in terms of taking advice with training, and diet – typical fitness stuff).
So when I program training these days, I don’t see everything in the same box that I used to. Two or three years ago, well, that’s a different story.
You see, training is a means to an end for most of us. I mean I actually enjoy training, while I’m sure many of you do.
We’re all doing this for a reason other than just doing it. We either want to get stronger, look better, improve our health, or mobility. There’s always an end goal.
Some people are training for a big snatch or a big clean and jerk. They are known as Olympic weightlifters.
Others are training for a big deadlift, bench, and squat. We call them powerlifters.
Some people want to train and diet for 20 weeks to get all oily, tan, and butt naked in front of an audience. We call these people crazy. JUST KIDDING. They’re bodybuilders!
If you look each of these 3 training styles, they’re very different from each other in terms of structure, volume, and intensity.
Let me give you an example
Olympic weightlifters typically train anywhere from 6-14 times per week. Yes, I said it… 14 times! That’s twice per day. Don’t worry, I did the math. It’s two times per day.
And not only that, most of them are doing some form of squat and pull every session. Most of them are working up to a heavy triple or single almost every single session too. Now, you must understand the daily volume is fairly low. Well for most, anyway – I’ve heard the Chinese actually use bodybuilding accessory work to bring up their weaknesses, but that’s secret stuff, ya dig?
Powerlifters are known to train 3-4 times per week, either utilizing a full-body or upper/lower split. The popular Westside conjugate method uses bands, chains and all kinds of other neat tricks to help them prepare for competition day.
They typically have Maximum Effort(ME) days in which they focus on lifting high percentages of their one-rep max, followed by Dynamic Effort(DE) days where they do more volume at a lesser intensity.
This is MUCH different than Olympic style weightlifting.
Even the squat form is different. Olympic lifters use an ass-to-grass (full squats), high-bar squat as it carries over to catching the clean or setting up for the snatch.
However a powerlifter utilizes what we call a low-bar squat, and a wider stance, which allows them to use more weight, and use more of their hips and hamstrings when driving out of the hole.
Both methods are great for building strenmpf, and both do it very well. However, the approach to programming is drastically different.
So what do you care? Really? What does it matter? If someone’s goal is to be strong, and they have the time to train daily, why would you recommend Westside over Weightlifting?
And then we have bodybuilding – which is much more different than either of these training styles. We’re typically hitting each body part less frequently than an Oly lifter, but a metric ton more volume, while using a lower percentage of our one-rep max.
When I do bodybuilding training, I’m doing lots of accessory work with sets of 5-6 of 12-20 reps. My main movements will be 4-5 sets of 5-10 reps depending on the cycle I’m in. I’ll often train daily, but rotate body parts and emphasis. One day I’ll focus completely on chest and shoulders, and the next day will be legs, with a quad emphasis. It might be 4-5 days before I even hit my chest directly again.
I’ll stop here, but I hope you see my point.
We all have goals. We must first figure them out, and then seek out the best method for said goals.
Sometimes It’s The Best Program For That Person
A while back, I posted up some results from an athlete I was working with named CT. It got a lot of views, and Bret Contreras posted it on his Facebook page.
He congratulated both of us for the work, and then someone on his page said something to the likes of “well, this guy must just be a genetic marvel, because I diet and lose strength and muscle.
I hadn’t seen any of this until much later in the day, and Bret basically responded with, “it was just the best program for him at the time” (paraphrased).
And I couldn’t agree more. Some of us do really well with certain training styles.
Here’s a personal example.
I am not a genetic marvel.
If I don’t squat semi-frequently (more than twice per week), I have a really hard time gaining much strength above and beyond what I possess now. My legs are naturally big from all the lower body training I did when I was younger, but I probably don’t have the genetic potential to ever squat 3 times my body weight like the Oly lifters I idolize.
I am, however, one of those people who can adapt to just about any type of training rather quickly, but I attribute that to my experience, and to the fact that I know my limits.
This is why I can do pump/bodybuilding training for days and days without a lot of backlash, because I naturally auto-regulate my training. If it’s heavy, I hold back, and on the days I feel really good, I go for PR’s.
It takes a while to develop this type of temperament, usually years of experimentation.
So What’s Good For You?
I got an email from a lady a few weeks ago, and it was more of a confirmation than anything.
She basically wrote “okay, I’m only asking because I need to hear it from someone else, but I was told that basic strength training is inferior to Crossfit, meaning I can’t reach my goals as quickly with traditional training – is this true?”
My response was fairly pragmatic as I reassured her that people have been getting fit, lean and healthy with traditional barbell training, long before Crossfit was ever popular.
Does Crossfit have its place? You bet your sweet britches it does.
But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, nor is any other training method. And that’s especially true for athletes. I’ve never understood how some Crossfit advocates could recommend this type of training for athletes.
Sure, some athletes could benefit from similar programming, but what about a baseball player? Someone who is using one arm a lot more than the other (throwing the baseball), can’t afford to put themselves in danger of injury by doing heavy and/or high-rep Olympic lifts that place a lot of stress on the shoulder.
I had a chat with Tony Gentilcore the last time I was in Boston and he mentioned they (at Cressey Performance) make a lot of their baseball guys focus on push-up variations for a bulk of their upper body pressing. Definitely no straight bar benching due to the stresses it places on the shoulder girdle.
So who is Crossfit for?
Definitely not for certain athletes, that’s for sure. It’s definitely not for raw beginners with no training experience, in my opinion.
It is for those who love competition, and who have training or athletic experience, though. Crossfit programming is not the absolute best for raw strength, but it can make you stronger.
It’s probably not the best for building up your max endurance, but I guarantee your conditioning will improve by participating.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any particular training method as long as it’s in line with your goals and expectations.
If you come to me and say “JC, I want to be as big and strong as my genetics will allow,” I’m going to recommend you do a lot of weight training with heavy loads, fairly frequently, with a lot of food and rest.
There will be very little cardio training, aside from the occasional walks with the significant other, or taking your dog out to pee.
Things To Remember – Why Context Matters
There’s no point in arguing and bickering over what training programs are superior to others when our personal goals, or the goals of our clients are specific.
I don’t want to hear why you think I should squat once every ten days due to ‘recovery purposes’ when I’m clearly excelling with my daily bodybuilding training, and while my clients are making gains squatting 4 times per week.
As trainers, we all have our own preferred methods and ways we like to do things. That’s fine – if someone comes to you with goals outside of what you like or feel comfortable programming for, please pass them onto someone great who can serve them. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it will be in their best interest.
It’s all about context.
There’s no reason to have an endurance athlete do Westside Conjugate.
There’s no reason to have a busy mom perform the Olympic lifts when all she wants to do is be mobile enough to play with her kids again. We can accomplish that with basic body weight training and a lot of mobility work.
And lastly, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Yes, there are certain methods that work very well, and can be applied to a certain type of client, but that doesn’t mean it’s for every single person. Don’t get caught up in that mindset.
Always ask these two questions:
- What are the goals?
- What’s the best method to get there?
Now go find the method, model it, and do the work.
Don’t waste your time arguing and telling everyone why his or her program is rubbish and yours is superior. If you honestly feel your way is superior, you’ve got another thing coming.