Learning to Train
A former client has been frequently getting in touch with me for advice on her training. From what I can tell, she is trying to build what I would consider a foundational fitness base – that is, a general degree of fitness across multiple aspects, with some work on yoga and gymnastic skills. I’m happy to help, mostly because I kind of miss being a trainer and because this particular person is someone I was hoping to work with.
Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised and impressed with her questions, especially in comparison to another person who has asked me for fitness advice. The latter – someone I’ve previously criticized, both on this blog and in person – prefers to ask “Yes or no” questions, having a tendency to try shoving things into his program with little critical analysis. The former tends to begin questions with “How” or “Why”, which leads to a longer line of inquiry that ultimately leaves room for reflection. This, I feel, is the right way to gather information.
First, asking a “Yes or no” question tends to hand off responsibility. For instance, if someone asked whether he should foam roll and instantly added it to his regime because I said yes, he could – should it fail to produce any improvements – claim it was my faulty advice that caused him to waste time. He himself made no mistake except to listen to someone who was wrong. On the other hand, asking questions such as “What are the benefits?” and “How would this help me?” eventually, if properly answered and analyzed, lead to the trainee himself being forced to answer the question of whether he should do it. In this case, responsibility falls where it should: on the person who actually benefits if he’s right.
Now, I understand that this might seem counter to the point of having a coach or someone similar to guide you in any way. I contend that a coach’s job is not to order you around, but to advise you on your options and help you along. Similarly, when you ask for advice, you should not be trying to get someone to tell you exactly what to do. You should be asking someone to help you gather enough information and be critical enough of it to make the right choice.
Second, pursuing a line of questioning displays curiosity and a willingness to self-analyze, both of which are crucial to developing a successful training program. Each aspect of the program should be geared towards the individual’s objectives, which entails careful study of both existing and prospective components. If you think you should learn to power clean, you should be ready to ask yourself why you would need to do so and whether the time and effort in learning and improving the lift could better be spent on something else. Moreover, you should be ready to ask others to help you answer those questions.
Third, what would you do if you asked a simple “Yes or no” question of ten people and received different answers? This is one way in which deciding to answer the final question yourself is vastly superior to fobbing off responsibility. While it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of conflicting information, being inquisitive instead of outright subservient narrows the questions down to what you, personally, think you should do, and whether you trust yourself. You aren’t trying to decide whether this person or that is more reliable, but whether you did enough that you think you can make a good decision. Generally, if you’ve done your due diligence, you can rest easy with your choice, knowing it was the result of a comprehensive study and is ultimately for your benefit.
If we accept that what separates training from simply working out is the pursuit of a goal, then we should also insist that we treat it as an educational process. Asking whether you should learn a new lift or integrate a new training tool should never be a simple question; it is a micro indicator of the entire training process and the trainee’s willingness to seek out the best option. By all means, go to a coach and ask a friend. They can guide you along and hopefully teach you everything you need to learn. In the end, though, it’s your success that hangs in the balance, and you should be willing and able to lead the chase.
4-way Jumping Jacks, 30x each
Uneven Push-up (hand on medicine ball)
Goblet Squat @ 5kg
5 sets of One-arm Push-ups. (Rep count: 4/6/4/4/8 on right, 6/8/6/6/10 on left. 90s rest.)
3x20s work / 20s rest per exercise
KB Front Squat @ 2x16kg