For most people the first introduction to exercise is all about losing weight or keeping the weight off. Sure, there are those few rare exceptions that just start because of some other reason, but even then it’s often “I have a [insert a non-fat loss problem or an injury]. But I would also like to lose weight”.
And I get that, combating sedentariness and all the the weight gain that comes with it is one of the biggest issues we are facing today. I am not talking “we” as in the fitness industry but as a society. It’s a growing issue and it is not going away with the tactics we are using.
Start looking beyond boring fat loss and focus on building independence instead.
So, I propose a little change in attitude towards training. First off, we shouldn’t think of training as something that we have to do. We shouldn’t treat it as a punishment for our unhealthy food choices. As long as we keep doing so we put a negative spin to something that really is a privilege. We get to go and move.
Instead of looking your training through the fat loss pipe you could look at it as a way of building more independence. The more thought-out and frequent your movement plan is the bigger your base, aka independence, will be.
Less fat = better movement = more independence = systemic cycle of awesomeness
If your training goals are to become more mobile, pain-free, improve coordination and most importantly, to become stronger, you will have a bigger base. You will keep your independence for longer. And what usually comes with a frequent movement practice and increased independence is fat loss:
When you are not overweight the better you will move. And the better you will move the more independence you will have. Your joints will hurt less because you are carrying less weight. And the less excess weight you will carry and the better you move and the more independence you will have the better you will feel…
You follow me? It’s a systemic cycle of awesomeness!
MOVING FROM FAT LOSS GOALS TO MOVEMENT GOALS
As boring as it sounds “training for tomorrow” is one of the best goals you can have. By focusing on improving yourself for tomorrow you will naturally focus on the following:
Body composition: because the less fat you carry (to a point) the healthier you can be.
Strength: because it will make most things in life easier. You are more capable of doing things. And stuff.
Power: because this will deteriorate at a rate of 1.5 times compared to strength as you grow older. Power can be as simple as being able to catch a step when you trip.
Mobility: because if you are in pain and not moving well, you are not really getting the most out of tomorrow. If you don’t use it today you’ll lose it tomorrow.
Sure, there are times when you want to focus on one of the aspects more than the others. Strength is a good example, maybe you want to build up to a heavy get up or break your deadlift record. You get after the strength goal while other aspects take the back seat and you only do enough to maintain each.
Over time this cycle should go through all of the four aspects of training to keep things in balance. And during busy times you just do the minimum to maintain all of them without really trying to build on any. That’s cool too.
So if independence equals fat loss, what kind of training should you do to build independence? This is so simple, yet not easy. The independence comes through mastering humble bodyweight exercises as they require the most control and you can’t rely on an outside resistance for stability. You have to create it yourself. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, let’s focus on these big three ‘ups’:
Sure, you can build up with a heavy weight but a cup half filled with water is where it’s at. Failing that, you can also balance your shoe on top of your fist (without the water). This movement requires stability and mobility as well as a zen-like focus. In more modern terms, you need to be lazor sharp.
The Goal: x 1 each side with a shoe balanced on your fist. If you’re a badass balance a half filled cup of water on your fist. A nod to Dan John for the water idea.
HOW TO BUILD TO A GET UP
- Check you’ve got the required mobility to get your hips and shoulders into the position they need to go. Back to wall shoulder flexion is a must, as well as a an active straight leg raise where your ankle clears the opposite knee.
- I like to break the get up into parts focusing on the roll, reach, tabletop, sweep, half kneel, and standing. Hammering each sequence until you are ready to progress.
Side note: It’s as much about the arm that is on the ground as it is about the arm holding the cup, the shoe or the kettlebell.
Side note two: if you don’t have the required shoulder mobility to go overhead, only build up to a point that you can safely go to. As with any exercise, your range of motion and control guides your limits.
One of the most under utilized exercises in a gym and oh so frequently butchered. And no, you are not too advanced for it. Neither am I.
This will tell more about your body than you might think since a proper push up requires tension throughout the entire body. I train general population and value this exercise more than I value the bench press.
The Goal: x 30 or more for men at their prime. As you get older these will start to decline (unless you’re a badass).
x 10 or more for women at their prime. No “female push ups”. That term makes me want to run head first into a jungle made out of razor blades.
HOW TO BUILD TO A PUSH UP
You don’t have to be able to do a full push ups right out the gate. Here’s a progression format that I successfully use with my clients. Start at a level where you are currently and once you’ve cleared that level you can progress to the next. Don’t skip steps as it will come and haunt you later on.
Level 1: Straight arm plank x 30 seconds. If this is too hard, we might have to work on bracing and dead bugs.
Level 2: Plank walkout x 5 on each side.
Level 3: Elevated push ups. Elevate your hands high enough so you can do three sets of of eight push ups. This could be on a box or even against a wall. Once you can do 3×8 move to a lower box.
Level 4: Negative push ups and isometric holds at the bottom position. This is a good tool to have if you struggle to drop low enough when on the ground and have a tendency to do “Bondi Push Ups”.
Level 5: Full push ups. The secret to getting more and more reps out is to practice the exercise frequently without tiring yourself by going to failure. Finish each set while still feeling fresh.
See, at no point did I say “female”, “girly” or“kneeling push ups”.
Again, this exercise requires more than just strong pulling. You have to be able to stabilize through your entire body. And no, you can’t train this while sitting on the lat pulldown machine.
The Goal: x 10 for men, but ideally 15 if you’re badass. Which you obviously are since you are reading this blog.
x 3 for women But you do 10 and you are in an extremely rare group of badasses. Which you obviously are since you are reading my blog.
HOW TO BUILD TO A CHIN UP
This is a longer process than the push up so don’t get discouraged along the way.
Level 1: Standing scapular retractions. To show that you can control your shoulder blades.
Level 2: ½ kneeling cable x-row. To show that you can do the above with resistance.
Level 3: TRX Rows. To show that you can do the above with core control. (If you don’t have the shoulder mobility to go over head, this is where you stop until the mobility is there.)
Level 4: Hanging scapula retractions. To show you can control your shoulder blades in a hanging position.
Level 5: Isometric chin up holds. Not going to failure and doing these frequently is the key to success here.
Level 6: Chin up! Woooohoooo! As with push ups, the secret to getting more and more reps out is to practice the exercise frequently without tiring yourself by going to failure. Finish each set while still feeling fresh.
Keep coming back to these three ‘ups’ every 12 weeks or so.
Once you’ve got all those achieved, go and find something else to do with your training. Maybe it is that deadlift or the latest kettlebell challenge.
But keep coming back to these three ‘ups’ every 12 weeks or so. Even if it’s just to check that you’ve still got them. They answer your question: am I improving my independence for tomorrow?
And there’s definitely some space for more deliberate power work with medicine balls, jumps, ladder drills or even Olympic lifts. The key with power is to know your level. Elite athletes power work is different compared to someone who’s training for tomorrow. You have to think of the risk to reward ratio.
Start looking beyond boring fat loss and focus on building independence instead.