It’s easy to get overwhelmed when stepping your foot in a gym: rows of machines to choose from, there’s kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, bands, benches, suspension trainers, balls, walls, chin up bars and the mysterious “thing” that looks like a medieval torture device, once reserved for the witches. Quite frankly, the list reads like the inventory of your local hardware store.
You yearn clarity because it shaves time off your training while improving your results, so you can spend time on other, perhaps more pressing tasks. Such as finding your favorite left sock that’s been missing since Saturday.
So how to navigate through to what’s vital and what’s not? Let’s take a step back before even stepping into the gym. To gain some clarity and focus for your training there’s three questions worth asking yourself:
What do you want to achieve?
This is the simplest of these three questions. Do you want fat loss, muscle gain, general fitness, strength, pain free movement or longevity. Hell, maybe you want to master a solid set of 25 in chin ups. Again, the list of possibilities is as long as the earth is round and there is no wrong or right answers. It truly comes down to what you want
Yet, if you don’t know what your end goal is it’s impossible to focus on anything. Without a focus everything seems shiny. And when everything seems shiny, you get blinded by it and can’t see clearly. And once that happens you’ll end up raging around like a headless crow searching for the silverware.
Once you have an end goal you can focus on the process itself.
Got clear on your goal yet? Great, let’s move along.
Why do you want your goal?
The most meaningful question of these three. Your “why” is the driving force behind your actions. Maybe you want to avoid diabetes, heart attack or other nasty things as you get older. Maybe your why is to be able to run around with your kids without feeling like you are about cough up your left lung. Or as most people, maybe you just want to look good “nekkid” to improve your mating options.
This is where you want to spend most of your time. If the why is not strong enough you will not be able to push through when the going gets tough.
In the past, I’ve gone in-depth how I’ve struggled with my goals because the end goal didn’t tie in with my why and values.
What do you actually need?
By far the hardest question to ask yourself. Before dwelling too deep into it let me give you a point of reference.
The first problem with a typical gym goer
The typical gym goer, in a city environment such as where I work, has a sedentary office job that involves 8 hours of hunched up sitting each day. An hour before and after the day at work is spend commuting to and from work for a total of 2 hours of so. Then the day is capped with 3 hours of sitting to watch tv at night.
When I see the same folk coming in to sit on an exercise equipment, do ab crunches to get more hunched up or sitting on a reclining bike I often wonder if that’s what they need? More sitting and hunching?
No. They need the opposite: work to get out of the hunching pattern. The body was meant to move, not to sit on exercise machines while curling your legs. You were meant to do things while moving: squat, press, pick thing off the ground, carry stuff around and roll and crawl on the ground. That’s what human body was designed to do.
If you avoid doing all this the body will forget these crucial movement patterns. The brain will start pruning itself by reducing neural connection. When you are not using certain movements frequently enough the brain thinks the movements are not necessary for us to keep. Overtime this equals poor movement quality and accelerated aging. To give you perspective: The Tinman’s movement flow will end up looking fluent compared to yours.
The solution: build your training around squatting, hinging, pulling, pushing, jumping, throwing, slamming, carrying and crawling. And if you’ve never done any of that don’t jump straight into the deep end. Rather, progress there slowly.
The second problem with a typical gym goer
I hate to generalize, but I do anyways: most guys want to lift heavy-ass weights and bench 8 days a week when they need some additional mobility work sprinkled with some conditioning. Don’t stop benching if you need it like a bird needs it’s wings. Just balance it out with other stuff.
Again, I apologize for generalizing but most of the ladies could use some heavier strength work to complement yoga, Pilates and other classes or the usual sets of tricep kickbacks-to-death. This doesn’t mean stop doing yoga or Pilates, but add a bit of variety.
If you only keep doing single type of training over time, one thing is guaranteed to happen: your body will reach a breaking point. Too much lifting without mobility is no bueno. Too much yoga without lifting is no bueno. Too much of any single activity throws you off balance.
Unless your goal is to squat a million kg or be part of the Cirque Du Soleil “stretching section”, you are better off by adding variety to your training. Especially if you hate the thought of doing so.
I love pressing heavy, banging out chin ups and general panting while lodging heavy stuff around. I love it because, although I am not quite herculean-strong, I am good at it. What I hate is mobility work and all sorts of nitty gritty corrective work. I hate it because I suck at it. It’s a hit on my ego every single time. Yet at the same time I desperately need it.
So here’s how you solve this questions: you need what you find annoyingly hard to do. In order to have a well rounded, pain-free body (and folks, so that you don’t look like The Hunchback of Notredame from all the benching or sitting), you need to do stuff that you suck at.
So all that being said, what is it that you need to supplement your normal training routine with?