3 Confessions from a Physical Preparation Coach (Part III)

It's January.  Like late night NYC pizza joints after 2 am or Jon Hamm doing H&R Block commercials, that means it's busy season for Strength and Conditioning professionals.

Zero shame.

Zero shame.

Unfortunately, that means my writing has taken a back seat.  Between working with clients, my own Tactical Strength Challenge prep, and trying to win The Bachelor Fantasy League, there really isn't enough time in a day.  But that doesn't mean I've stopped thinking.

In fact, I'd like to revisit my "Confessions from a Physical Preparation Coach" series I started last year.  Part advice and part memoir, the topics below don't quite have enough "meat" to make up a full post.  But they've been learned in the trenches and are every bit as valuable.

1. Controlling your breathing and face are the easiest ways to improve your conditioning.

When I went to my StrongFirst Certification last summer, I vividly remember the sound of everyone panting after one of our afternoon workouts.  Suddenly, Brett Jones's booming voice demanded, "Control your breathing, or it will control you."  

And, well, the heavy panting stopped rather quickly.

What I also remember from that weekend was how gassed some people were after only a few movements.  You could tell people were trying to be absolutely perfect in their demonstrations, but they were actually expending way too much energy and impairing their efforts.  Why?  Because stress, man.

Any good conditioning program will work to improve someone's anaerobic threshold, aerobic fitness and other markers.  But being able to consciously control our energy expenditure is one of the best ways to last longer with more power.  And isn't that the goal of conditioning?

If we're stressed - like we're in a new environment, are learning new exercises, or are in the spotlight - we're not going to be thinking about our energy control.  It's just like when someone runs a race and they start at too quick of a pace and gas out before the end.  If they could've controlled their energy, they would've lasted much longer.

To that end, the next time you condition try looking as relaxed as possible and try to control your breathing.  It may help more than you think.

2. If Get-ups and Deadlifts make up ~50% of your program, you're doing it right.

You and me both, Darth. You and me both.

You and me both, Darth. You and me both.

Five years ago I heard Gray Cook say "if all you do are get-ups and deadlifts, you have a balanced program."  Lacking in knowledge but making up for it with naivete, I vigorously shook my head in agreement. It's only been in the past few years that I could fully comprehend what he meant.

The Turkish get-up is a wonder of a human movement. Rolling patterns, shoulder stability, glute and lat activation, as well as neurological coordination - and that's just in the very first step!  Each successive step of the get-up teaches our body to learn and walk through its fundamental movements. I've seen more people improve their movement and overall resiliency with a steady diet of get-ups than with any other exercise. 

At the same time, you can't be surprised the deadlift is my other go-to exercise.  In an anteriorly shifted world, the deadlift is one of the few exercises that can target the posterior parts of our body, while also allowing us to regain our center of gravity.  There's also few exercises that have such carryover to everyday life as safely picking up something heavy and putting it down.

Squats, push-ups, pull-ups and other core work are all nice to have as well.  But when push comes to shove, improving movement and strength are going to the biggest game changers for 95% of people.

3. Continued success requires constant work.

When people begin an exercise program, the results are usually pretty exciting. They often increase their deadlift or get-up quickly, run faster mile times, lose a bit of weight, or just feel better on an everyday basis.

But eventually, plateaus happen.  Success is not linear.  And that's when people get, and feel, stuck.

So instead of inserting some motivational quote, start thinking about what else in life could be affecting your progress. Are you getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating like a grown up?  Or is there something you need to address? Most often, what got you here won't get you there.

Using myself as an example, I'm known for posting some ridiculous videos on my Instagram and YouTube accounts.  But even though I love my life, it's not all that exciting.  Here's what I mean:

  • I consistently get 8 hours of sleep every night. When I can only get 7 1/2, I consider that an "early" wake up. And yes, I know that will eventually need to change.
  • Eating correctly is a priority.  Luckily for me, I don't tend to find fast food or convenience foods all that appealing.  And if it's a day that ends in "y," I've had at least one full mixing bowl of salad.
  • I need to drink 56 ounces of water before I allow myself to train, and I drink less than 1 beer/day.  In fact, if I can finish my entire beer in a night, I consider that a small victory.  (And tall boys?  Forget about it!)
  • I measure my heart rate variability and resting heart rate each morning to monitor my recovery and readiness to train.

My rigidity - or borderline OCD - is one of the biggest reasons I've seen such progress.  This isn't my way of saying "just be more like me," because not everyone wants to become a Beast Tamer and deadlift 600 pounds.  But when you can nail down your healthy habits outside of the gym, it's only going to help inside as well.