There are few major, but easy to fix, training mistakes that strike a tuneless chord in my cerebral cortex. If you feel like your training and progress feels like driving a rusty, Moses-era-Swedish-Saab, held together by duct tape and chewing gum, the handbrake permanently on, running on prayers and borrowed time, try doing (or, stop doing) these.
Following the same training program for too long
Most of my clients get around six sessions with the same training program before it’s time for an update. This doesn’t mean I will overhaul everything. But I change few things around depending on how they’ve done. This is mostly done by progressing a movement or changing load, reps or sets. Or, if the training goals change, there might be a bigger shift on things. This all depends on the training-age as well.
That being said, if the trainee is a beginner we progress from an exercise to another in the middle of the program. Or if I’ve made a mistake when writing the initial program we might have to regress an exercise.
Why? (or, as they say in the Saab factory in Sweden, varför? )
If the program was done specifically for you by a coach who knows what they’re doing, it was the best possible program for you to follow, at that time. But eventually it’s time for you to progress.
Done right, your body will adapt to the challenge it is given. The body wants homeostasis (fancy word for stable, fuzzy, warm and comfortable. Like drinking chocolate milk in bed) and only progresses because it has to. There is only so much you can get out of doing hip bridges on the ground before it’s time to advance to movements that delivers further adaptations. Same goes for the load, reps and sets. Do the same thing over and over and you’ll get no further. The definition of insanity, and all.
And if you are a true beginner it’s possible that the six exposures can be cut down. The goal is to get you to movements that are the most effective for your goals. Whatever they might be. If you compare a hip bridge to a deadlift, you know where the money’s at.
The opposite of staying with the same program for too long. Most of us know someone who’s always looking for the next best thing instead of putting in the work to get the most out of the current program. The coach designing the program has a reason why certain exercises are done in a certain phase. This is to “build you” from the ground up. Strengthen what’s weak, mobilize what’s tight (within reason) and add consistent and safe progression while doing so.
When you jump from program to program you reset the clock and never achieve what the program was meant for. You are constantly in a limbo without ever getting anywhere. It’s like taking a train from Sydney to Melbourne and getting off in Canberra with a puzzlement of why Canberra doesn’t look like Melbourne. “Oh well, maybe I’ll go to Perth next…. Wait, why does Perth look like Adelaide?”
Like Dan John said, and this is one of the hardest things for people to do, “keep the goal the goal.” You can’t be at two places at once. Not with the current railroad technology anyways.
Trying to progress at every session
In a perfect training world this would be the holy grail. Being able to pick up a heavier kettlebell every time you do a goblet squat. In a real world it doesn’t work like that.
When you are a complete beginner the progress can be amazing from session to session since your body has so much unused capacity to dig from. Just improving a technique or increasing the range and control of a one joint can make you stronger (well, this is true for more experienced too). But even then, progressing every single session isn’t always the case. Once your training-age increases the progress feels as slow as when waiting for a microwave to heat up a bowl of onion soup.
That’s why I like the Easy Strength approach to training where the goal is consistent improvement over a longer period of time. Even if the load stays the same, but feels lighter today than it did two weeks ago, you got stronger.
Your performance in the gym can be exceptional if you show up to training fresh after a day of rest. But, if you just blew a major presentation and got verbally abused by your boss with an onion breath (from that soup you just microwaved for her), I bet money that your performance is down.
It’s not just poor sleep and eating that affects your training but also your mental state and level of stress you’ve got going on for you. In the end, and I am risking sounding full of new-age-bullshit: Your body and mind are a one.
To reinforce my message, here’s a quote from Buddy Morris, Strength and Conditioning coach for the Arizona Cardinals:
“Your program is a living, breathing organism. It has to adapt to every different circumstance and environment. I hate when people say, “Progressive overload.” It’s not progressive overload. Even in Supertraining, it says, “Fluctuating overload,” which is the ability to handle where your readiness is for the day.”
Sure, his clientele is high-level athletes, but don’t let that fool you. You have a stress of life, family, your sick pet parrot and a boss with an onion breath. That adds up, and usually means that you’ll have to be even more accommodating to the fluctuations of life.
If your readiness for the day means that you need to halve all the weights and focus on going through the movements with ease, so be it. In the long-term scheme of things, this is the best thing to do. And if you come in for a movement and mobility session but feel like John Rambo smelling first blood, by all means, get after it.
This auto-regulation becomes easier as your training-age increases.