Call them rules or principles, either way it’s reasonable to expect that you have a set of them guiding how you live your life. Even if you don’t have them written down, there’s that inner compass of values that you reflect on as you navigate life. You know, don’t lie, treat others with respect, don’t be a dick…
As with life, principles in training matter because they keep you close to the track of what’s important for you. Here are the rules that guide my training. Both with clients and in my own training. And I just so happen to think that more people would be better off by adopting them.
1. Warming up can often feel like an annoyance, but it’s important
The idea of a warm up is to raise the tissue temperature and to prepare the ranges of motion you’ll use in the day’s training. Spending the extra time in the beginning means you’re less likely to pull, strain or do something else that won’t feel nice tomorrow. And you’ll get more out of the workout itself.
But warm up also acts as a vestibule to your mind. It’s the mid-space where you transition from a busy, work-filled headspace into the mental spaciousness and overall “on-ness” required for training. Now that sounds fancy.
2. Be present
Carrying over from the “on-ness” above, you’ll get more out of your training session when you’re with it, so to speak. Simply, it allows you to focus on the parts of your body you’re meant to be using during a certain exercise.
Mindfulness gets sickening levels of hype these days, but it’s not without a reason. Save some of it for your training sessions and you’ll get more out of the workout itself.
3. Have a one main goal per training session
Unless you have the luxury for lengthy training sessions to incorporate elaborate warm ups, mobility, training and conditioning parts, it’s impossible to get everything done. Be clear on what the goal for the session is, or you’ll risk going through a half assed workout that doesn’t move the results needle in any direction.
Work on what’s most important for your overarching goals. Usually it’s either fitness (this includes strength and other parts we expect to be included in the word fitness) or mobility. Improving your mobility isn’t always a must if you know how to choose the exercises that allow you to reach your fitness goals with the mobility you already have.
But most rules have an exception. Here the exception is to think of your single training session as two separate sessions. First session is for mobility. The second for fitness that helps the body to press “save” on the new mobility just created.
4. Never train through pain
Seriously. There are exceptions. But seriously, don’t do it.
5. Don’t train to get tired
Unless that’s your goal. Which to me seems a bit silly.
If you’re stuck on feeling tired, I recommend having a kid. Or if you’re not fond of kids (or have already done your fair share of raising them) adopt an older dog with a weak bladder who needs to go out 5 times between 11pm and 4am. You’ll be tired. All. The. Time.
Instead of chasing tiredness, train to get better. Progress equals success, which means that the next principle is going to come real handy.
6. Have a plan and track your results
If you have a specific goal, you need to reach you better have a trackable plan. When the goal is strength related, it’s mostly about what you do in the gym. Track your weight, sets, reps and anything else that’s paramount for you to gauge progress.
As a side note, when the goal is fat loss it’s a whole lot more about what you do outside of the sessions. Keep a food journal. You don’t have to walk around with a food scale in your back pocket. Hand portions will do. But track it.
7. Challenge yourself
Someone way more articulate than me once said that you can’t just keep doing what you’ve always done and expect to get better results. Or something along those lines. You know the quote.
Challenge doesn’t have to be a hero-training-mode-fuck-everyone-I’m-Troy mindset. In fact, I discourage it. But if you want to keep getting better, you need to stretch your comfort zone a bit and put yourself into situations where you might (safely) fail.
Whether it’s learning a new movement skill, getting stronger or improving conditioning. But as you’ll discover below, it’s not about blindly changing numbers (unless you’re single and on a steamy dance floor).
8. Master the weight before going heavier
This is the one thing I wish I would’ve understood earlier. And the one thing I have to keep frequently reminding myself of. And it sort of contradicts the principle seven.
Patience is the name of the game. In strength training, get really strong at the current resistance before jumping to the next one. It’s not sexy, but it’s the safer, more sustainable option. I even wrote a full article about it.
9. Leave some in the tank for next time
Reasonable done with consistency shits on extreme. The quicker you recover, the faster you can come back and do it all over again and get closer to your goals. It’s difficult to recover enough for the next workout when you walk out of the gym smoked each time.
Competition is another story, save it up and bring your best then. But this is about training for the competition. Don’t try to be a gym hero. Or a dick. Or a hero dick. Unless of course, your name is Dick Hero. In which case, we should hang out. And, I don’t know, maybe talk about your parents.
10. Homework can be even more of an annoyance than warming up. Still, get it done
The more homework you can do at home, the more you can focus on the stuff that counts in each workout. If confused, see number three above.
The principles that deliver sustainable results are far from sexy and “Instagrammable”. It’s all about consistent hard work. Ideally done with a limited amount of egocentric behaviour.