Open Your Mind
Amateurs think in absolutes. Pros think options.
One major advantage of having worked in a minimalist gym is that I became very creative with what equipment we had. The TRX suspension trainer was our main gear, and I developed several ways to use it that have to date not appeared in any TRX training course that I am aware of. Weight plates were used for complexes training all three planes of motion, ViPRs were used as barbells, and even foam rollers were brought into play to train unilateral strength.
In short, I became a very good lateral thinking trainer. I can now look at a single piece of equipment – or even something as simple as a door – and come up with multiple ways to train with it. Some credit does go to my degree in Development Studies, where the key skill was thinking on multiple levels and in different directions. We never once said anything like “This is the only way to do it” because we knew that the issue of development has been tackled in multiple ways in multiple areas.
In contrast, a lot of trainers I meet seem to be unable to think laterally unless given exact rules that explain such thinking to them. Yesterday, during our SX-B (suspension training basics) course, several people expressed surprise at the different ways a suspension trainer can be used. It was the same as when I took my Group Suspension Training certification back in 2013: some people asked whether the TRX could be used in the same session as weights, or whether it was meant for stretching. On both of these days, the trainers in charge answered very professionally that there were few limitations on how the equipment could be effectively used so long as it was in the hands of a creative and capable trainer.
The difficulty as I see it, then, is how to develop this creativity. There simply isn’t time enough to master every bit of fitness gear in existence, so taking courses in everything isn’t a plausible option. Furthermore, it isn’t what I did. I would say that one way to do it is focus on a movement-based foundation which can then be expanded as necessary. As long as I know how to push – which muscles are involved, what joints and joint movements are used – I can find different ways to develop strength in that area. Barbells, suspension trainers, and the floor are all possible training aids.
Another issue is the limited way in which people tend to look at certain aspects of fitness. Strength can only be developed with heavy weights. Cardio can only be done with long-distance steady-state runs or bike rides. The focus is on the application rather than the underlying principle. Rap – yesterday’s trainer – demonstrated the difference very well by pointing out to my bodybuilding classmate that if bodyweight training couldn’t develop strength, he should have been able to do handstand push-ups given the weight he could press overhead (Hint: he couldn’t). If one looked at the overload principle of strength rather than the common technique of shifting a heavy barbell, one would see that a high degree could be developed with any tools.
I think that the fitness world is shifting to a more holistic, open approach to training. I do have to give at least some credit to CrossFit for proving how an elite athlete can be developed using multiple modalities, but I believe this multidisciplinary training model has actually been long recognized by the elites of sport. NFL players know the value of heavy weights and sprints. Gymnasts know how to master bodyweight moves alongside heavy carries. Marathoners know how to deadlift heavy as well as run.
What has to be done now is bring this understanding into the mainstream. This is not the job of elite coaches, but of people like me who work at commercial gyms and deal with office workers and weekend warriors. For us to effectively help them reach their vastly different goals through different means, we must step back from our specialties and modalities – strength through iron, weight loss through cardio – and focus on mastering the basic principles that can then be expressed.
This comes back to my earlier question: How do we train the creativity necessary for this?
I don’t have a solid answer except that if you want to be a good trainer, you should never approach a single piece of gear with the belief that it can do exactly one thing. Weights, bars, machines, suspension trainers, medicine balls – these are tools, nothing more. How much use you can get out of it ultimately comes down to you.
30x 4-way JJ
3x Pull-up + 2x per round
5x Pike Push-up + 2x per round
10x Squat + 2x per round
Max alternating 2/4/6/8/10 ladders in 10min
Max alternating 1-4 ladders in 8min
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