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You Can Lead A Horse to Water, BUT…

I have been studying and practicing strength training myself for some years now.  With every passing year and every book I read, I come to have a deeper respect for the great scientists, doctors, trainers and athletes who have pushed this science of human performance forward.  I have immense gratitude for the authors of this great information:  Simmons, Siff, Rippetoe, Ajan, Baroga, Tsoutsaline, Zatsiorky, Verkoshansky, Medvedyev, and Kurz,  These are just a few of the most valuable names on the list of folks who have imparted such useful wisdom and knowledge.  Some of course, have different points of view, but there are many common elements on which they more or less agree.  Consensus on these essential points helps to make strength training knowledge a rather elegant thing to dispense to others.

Effectively communicating strength training ideas that will deliver success involves some relatively simple, proven steps.  First, introduce people to the rudimentary science – the physics and physiology behind these methods.  Also, introduce them to the coaches and scientists responsible for this knowledge and the great athletes who have practiced and expressed these training methodologies with great success.  That would cover the “why?” part of things.

Next, teach people the basic free weight exercises correctly, along with the basic assistance exercises.  In doing so, explain how to properly warm up, the basic equipment, racks, platforms, chalk, etc.  Throw in the basics on adequate rest and nutrition and give them simple, proven programming for beginners.  That would be a good start for the “how?” part of the equation.  From that point on, keeping an eye on new folks for form or programming errors, takes a relatively small amount of time.  When they plateau, tweak their program appropriately or put them on a slightly more advanced program.  Along the way, you can introduce them to new exercises, bars, chains, equipment and more advanced progressions.

This process will be mostly autonomously managed by the practitioner.  Most of the attention is required right at the beginning and then a little supervision and coaching along with answering questions is primarily all that is needed for success.  Coaches and trainers are really meant to be guides on this journey of introspection and self-awareness.  Along the way, simple truths will be revealed.  Guidelines such as “show up and concentrate” before you decide that you don’t feel like working out that day, or think you might have a lousy workout.  Another one is to always “explode” and execute the working sets with much speed as possible.  The great news that “Less is More” regarding time and work at the gym is also well received by folks who are new to this highly effective type of training.

I can speak to this personally.  I went to big commercial gyms in my younger years and used their uninformed, misguided approach.  I would ignore the power rack (if there even was one) and do my Preacher’s curls, leg extensions, delt raises and use all the cool machines over and over and over again.  If the odd rare soul at those gyms was doing dead-lifts, squats or power cleans, it was almost assuredly with incorrect technique and with less than adequate equipment.  I just didn’t know it at the time.

Back then, when I followed a “program”, its provenance began and ended with a “bigger guy” who told me about it at the gym, or another guy like me who had heard about it from a “big guy” at the gym.  Of course, I graduated to the odd “muscle” magazine article written by a famous body builder that promised “Gargantuan Size” or “Truly Massive Guns”.  Yup,… been there, done that.

Forsaking the great teachers, scientists, and athletes, who have collectively created and provided the proven body of knowledge regarding optimal physical improvement and performance is sort of like walking into a chemistry lab and just tearing up the periodic table.  It’s like telling a geneticist that you have a better idea than that whole “human genome map thingy”.  Yet, this seems to be a strange byproduct of the diet and fitness industry.  Somehow the novelty of our modern diet and fitness pop culture has created grand misconception.  Some folks don’t realize that improving human performance is a scientific discipline, just like physics, or bio-chemistry, or any other science.  Strength training has its own brilliant Phd’s.  These people are also experts in the fields of physics, statistics, biology, chemistry, psychology, kinesiology, and bio-mechanics, (among other sciences), all related to human performance.

A fitness gym is one of the only places where people who have been “going to the gym” for a few years somehow come to the conclusion that they have it all figured out.  For those who make this mistake, stagnation and mediocrity are the prevailing results.  We see it all of the time.  These are the same folks who will tell you that they are doing quarter (instead of full) squats because they don’t want to hurt their back or knees.  They are also the ones who don’t keep track of what they do in the gym – that is, they don’t keep a log of the # of reps and sets or the amount of resistance they use.  These folks rarely get any stronger.  They often gravitate to all of the isolating machines, and stay away from the free weights.  Their workouts are mostly unplanned and completed in an almost random way.  Unfortunately, even after a few years, the result is a physique that remains the same with no discernible improvement, even after all that work and time at the gym.  They might as well have just gone to the park and taken a walk.

Yet, it is so easy to take advantage of the great lessons learned from the experts in this field.  For those who wish to respect the wonderfully effective, proven methodologies of the fastest, strongest people on the planet, essentially they just need to start with 2 simple steps:

1.Learn the correct technique of the classic, biomechanically correct free weight exercises

2.Get on a proven program utilizing those exercises, based on your skill level and experience

People who ignore either of the above look the same and physically perform the same, month after month and year after year.  If one’s goals are stagnation or just hanging around in a gym then I suppose that makes sense.  Yet, advanced methodologies will allow that maintenance with much less work and that is much more rational approach economically.  Further, individualization will be a wonderfully inherent part of many programs, allowing your weaknesses to be attached and customization to further ensure your improvement.  The long and short of it is that you will get somewhere.  Goals will actually be reached because you will be using the most proven effective tools.  Some people just need to be pulled out of their “personal fitness knowledge vacuum” before any of this can possibly happen.

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