Then vs. Now: 3 Confessions of a Physical Preparation Coach

I place a premium on continuing education.  Because I'm a strong believer that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse.  There's also nothing as frustrating as living the same year over and over and over again - which was me when I had a "marketing" job.

To prevent that from happening ever again, I keep track of the amount I spend each year on continuing ed.  The goal is to surpass that number the following year, and I've always succeeded in doing that.

As a result, I'll often look back to my programs from 6-12 months ago, do my best Gordon Ramsey voice, and say, "What in the bloody hell was I thinking?"

Rarely are there big changes, most of it being small. But admitting mistakes is how we all grow.  With that in mind, here are three ways that I've changed my mind in the few last years:

1. You Get Strong on Two Legs, Not One

Four years ago, I looked forward to my weekly "Meathead Workout."  It consisted of:

  • 5 reps of rear foot elevated split squats with a heavy dumbbell (100+ lbs) in each hand.
  • With minimal rest, 5 reps of dumbbell bench presses using the same dumbbells.
  • After 5 sets, somehow - anyhow - crawl back home.

I think you can understand where the title came from.

Was it fun? You bet.  But looking back, it didn't make me any better or stronger.  And for context, my other days were similar with assorted heavy single leg exercises.

There's no such thing as a bad exercise, but few people would perform this well.

There's no such thing as a bad exercise, but few people would perform this well.

Unfortunately, it led to significant lower back pain.  The irony, of course, is that single leg training is supposed to prevent back pain.  Oy.

It took me a while to connect the dots as I never felt back pain during or after my workouts.  Rather, it was cumulative.  The combination of all my lower body training being on one leg, and my gross extension pattern, made me one unhappy camper.  I realized that even though an exercise may feel OK and look decent to the untrained eye, it still might not be the right fit for that person.

If you'd like visual evidence, take a look at this ugly video of myself from 2014.  The inability to keep my toes on the ground, my knee collapsing medially, my hips shifting laterally, and the overall instability make me want to vom.  Unfortunately, too many people start to look like that when they really load up their single leg work.

Don't get me wrong, I still love single leg training.  It helps people 1) learn body awareness, 2) create context for sports and everyday activities, and 3) gives me a chance to slow people down and get them to move correctly.  But thanks to the Postural Restoration Institute, I now think of single leg exercises as a supplement to someone's training - not the main way to build lower body strength.

2. Long, Slow Cardio Will Benefit Almost Everyone

I've touched on this point before but it's worth repeating:

What people need most is not intense, hard working intervals; it's long, slow, boring cardio.

Sexy, it is not.  It's also against the current trend of high intensity intervals.  But most of us need a bigger aerobic base, not the feeling of "working hard."  

Why?  Because the aerobic system is the straw that stirs the drink. 

When we get tired during hard intervals, it's because our powerful, but less efficient anaerobic system is being maxed out.  But the better our aerobic system, the less our anaerobic system even has to turn on in order to produce energy.  Translation?  You'll feel less gassed during hard intervals if you have a better aerobic base.

Even more, our aerobic system helps clear the waste of our anaerobic system and recharge our energy, helping someone recover better between exercises and between workouts.  Hmmm, better recovery and harder work? That sounds like a win to me. 

If I haven't sold you yet, long and slow cardio also has these benefits:

-Improved cardiovascular function (lower heart rate, higher heart rate variability)

-More restful sleep

-Less stress and anxiety

-Fewer daily aches and pains

I know not everyone "buys in" when I explain the benefits of long, slow cardio and how it could really benefit them.  That's cool.  But the few people that have listened are moving better, sleeping better, and have less chronic pain than they used to.

In an ideal world, we're looking to keep our heart rate between 120-140 beats/minute for 30-90 minutes.  That's the pace at which it'll help us destress and promote an eccentric lengthening of our left ventricle.  Heck, you can even watch Netflix while you do it.  Or you know, talk to someone on an actual telephone.

3. Give People What They Need, Not What They Want

Being in this industry is a give and take.  People pay to see me because they trust my brain or because they like my witty(?), off-beat humor.

At the same time, it's a service industry.  And sometimes people just want what they want.

When I was younger, I fell into the trap of tipping the scales too far towards giving someone what they want.  It's understandable, as who really wants to have potentially uncomfortable conversations and get outside of their comfort zone? But the problem was that nobody really got better.

Take the above scenario.  If a client of mine wanted to do high intensity intervals when I was younger, I would have acquiesced - overlooking their trouble sleeping, the fact that they don't move well, and/or their nagging knee pain.  They would have felt like they worked their butt off, but they weren't really improving anything. Just throwing themselves into a wall.

Now?  I'm going to take time to fully explain why the opposite approach is what they need, softly leading them to understand why.  I'll tell people exactly why something like high intensity intervals isn't what they need, and how it'll run counter to what they want to do. I credit much of my continuing education with making me more confident with taking that approach.  And the fact that I can deadlift a quarter ton, for reps. :)