When people join a gym, and even when they hire a trainer inevitably they become a bit stumped with the sheer overwhelming amount of information that they need to process. There are so many times I get asked “what is the best thing” or watch as people go through a really complicated list of exercises designed for whatever they think it is doing for them. When I tell them the truth about strength and proper movement they get almost shocked like they have been lied to over the years. So here’s the fundamental truth:
If you train with fundamental movement patterns in mind, and train specifically for what you want to be able to do, that’s all you have to do. Push, pull, squat, lunge, bend, twist. Some people include tilting and righting, and some will include bracing as well. A maximum of eight different things – that can be applied in hundreds of ways. My point is that if you train with these things in mind, you can make yourself really strong, fast, powerful and/or be able to last forever. The rest is just using physics, gradual adaptation and specificity. It’s not nearly as hard as you think it is.
You can actually get away with three exercises that cover moving and strengthening most of the major joints in the body (ankles, knees, hip complex, lower spine, thoracic spine, shoulder complex, elbows). Three. Could take the average person about twenty minutes a couple of times a week and you’re pretty good in terms of maintaining or developing strength and reducing risk of injury. But people persist in doing ten or fifteen exercises, and trying so many different applications and programs it would make your head spin. My only addendum to this is if you are trying to train for something specific like bodybuilding or an athletic event – then things change – a lot. But for the average gym goer who just wants to be strong it really isn’t that hard. Even 70-year-old Nana Sue can benefit a great amount from strength training, and yes, with the right coaching and application, even she can do a pull up!
One way modalities like CrossFit have it right (not that I’m condoning CrossFit in any way, shape or form) is that they stick with fundamental movement patterns and (in a well coached environment) teach the stuff really, really well. Things like pull-ups, proper squats and deadlifts and push-ups are something that everyone should be able to do. Unfortunately in most CrossFit workouts they are doing it too fast, too soon, and with too many different types of movement involved for the nervous system to be able to take it. There are other reasons why I’m anti-CrossFit but that’s not what this article is about.
The problem with our industry in general is that people who work within it constantly are marketing things that might be effective for a short time, but often never really take into consideration the individual or their individual goal. They will use gimmicks and tools that are completely unnecessary in order to generate more revenue for themselves, usually without caring one bit about whether it will help the person that they are applying it to. Even magazines are filled with workout after workout that somehow are new and revolutionary, when they are just variants on very simple movements. In fact, I’m willing to bet if you purchased a magazine 12 months in a row, you would probably see the same exercises many times, just advertised as different things.
So why does it have to be complicated? The truth is, it doesn’t. Stick with the basics – especially at the beginning, be smart and consistent with your effort, and progress will come. Then, when you figure out what you want to apply it to, just adjust what you’re doing towards the goal you have in mind. Working out and being strong and healthy doesn’t have to be hard. We have just spent years making it that way.