In the first part of this little blog series Graeme Marsh, one of the few personal trainers who has spent over a decade working with desk bound workers in the City of London, talked about a few general recommendations for health and nutrition when working with the general population. It seemed only natural to expand this into the actual training aspect; what we do in the gym with our clients and why:
First up, to avoid attracting the barbed quills of keyboard-based trainers out there, we should qualify a few things about our typical clients. They are usually over 30, or more commonly over 40 and have more interest in their general health than they do achieving ‘X’ % body fat or ‘Y’ Kg Bench Press. Most of our clients, but not all, do very little ‘training’ on their own, but often enjoy recreational activity. These girls and guys are also really smart, and can smell the kind of bullshit the fitness industry likes to peddle from a mile off, so we keep it simple, direct, and straightforward. Our clients are the definition of the time poor professional, so the training and the advice we give is designed to work with their lives, not against it.
As with the previous post, I haven’t bothered to find references to back everything up. So-called ‘bro-science’ is very out of vogue these days and if you aren’t referencing ten papers per statement you now risk being ostracised for being ‘non-scientific’. I’m all for sports science, I even got an MSc in it 7 years ago, but as usual the pendulum has swung the other way and we are forgetting that training people in the real world is a long way from studying university students in a lab. I spent a lot of time when I was younger writing from a position where my academics outweighed my experience, but with over a decade in the city training clients now I feel confident that a combination of the two is a good place to come from. Besides, you won’t find many studies on how to train a 45 year old banker, so you’ll just have to trust me on some of this. However, that said, I’m reasonably confident most of these conclusions are borne out in what evidence there is.
- Most people do way more than they need to (particularly when starting out) and often way more than they should do when it comes to work sets. This is a double edged sword, not only does it seriously hinder recovery, it is inefficient, tiring, and usually done at the expense of other less-trendy fitness qualities (such as flexibility or endurance)
- There is too much focus on how much weight is lifted and not enough on how it is done. Unless you’re competing in a strength-based event, the actual number on the weights is merely a tool to measure progression. Effective muscle recruitment demands an attention to technique often missing in the average gym member.
- Much like nutrition, exercise is a lifelong habit, therefore long-term compliance to, and confidence in, your methods is of importance.
- It’s really fine to stretch people first. Really, it is. They aren’t about to leap up and try for a 1RM snatch or 30m sprint so if people have restricted range of movement in the hips and shoulders don’t expose their joints to risk by loading poor movements. I’ve been doing it for ages without seeing any negative effects, to the contrary I’ve seen good improvements in clients movements and self-reported feelings of improvement and progress through making flexibility a focus in those that need it. Combined with an appropriate warm up this way seems more effective at building better movements. Once these movements are well established, less work is needed to maintain them.
- The Tabata protocol is misunderstood, overused, and under delivers. If they aren’t on a wattbike hitting 170% of Vo2 max, then it isn’t ‘Tabata’ -Swings and Planks don’t cut it. Conventional interval training, adjusted to target the desired energy system, is though far more time efficient than steady state training both for fitness and body composition. This doesn’t mean that we should discourage people from doing any exercise that they actually enjoy and feel the benefits from. A bit of lower intensity CV work or recreational sport should be encouraged and most people are more likely to do this anyway.
- I prioritise high intensity weight training with female clients, but I do so because it is the thing they are least likely to do on their own due to the atmosphere in most weight rooms around the city.
- The fitter and stronger the client, the better the tolerance of both intensity and volume (and greater the need for adequate recovery when working at higher levels). You’d think this common sense but you still see people with a 4 week training history being pushed to max rep deadlifts……that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen
- Train their arms directly. I know, I know, chins train the arms – if you can do them for sets with good form. Most people can’t – so, if you want to get stronger and better looking guns start close grip pressing and barbell curling. How curls ever got relegated in favour of ‘functional’ training I’ll never know.
- Speed of movement is a really effective training variable when followed, but some people just don’t have the attention span. Slow and Fast works for them. Pick your battles.
- Timing rest periods is a fundamental of any competent trainer or trainee. If you aren’t timing your rest periods then you may as well use random weights and reps for every set too.
- Single Leg and Single Arm stuff can be great, but it doubles workout time and therefore reduces workout efficiency by 50%. I tend to use it sparingly and generally when people are starting out. So-called ‘unstable surface’ training is pointless and ineffective.
- Making someone ‘really sore’ should not be used as a reference for the quality of the training session (same goes for making someone throw up).
- The Good Morning has to be one of the most underrated exercises out there for people who spend ages at desks and on planes.
- Unless competing in a strength contest, your primary goal with resistance training is to recruit muscle effectively. Too often the movement and the load are given priority over the muscles used to achieve it. This is training for injury not injury prevention.
- It’s better to use exercises with short learning curves. You can often achieve the same results but with less time spent mastering technique than using more complex movements.
- Sure, full squats and deadlifts are great, but new clients have a whole training life ahead of them so don’t feel like they have to be doing those movements from week 1, especially as most people who’ve spent 20 years at a desk will lack the muscle recruitment and movement patterns to perform them in a way that doesn’t make my teeth hurt when watching. Set an effective foundation from the start so when they start with the big movements they can experience success long-term.
- Continually working to failure week-in, week-out is probably the fastest way to stall someone’s training. Time spent mastering reps at a level close to but below technical failure (or as Ian King coined the term, their ‘Technical Limit’) builds confidence and volume at higher loads. Cluster training is brilliant for this as is Progressive Wave Loading.
- Periodisation in it’s purest form is great for Olympians but a sledgehammer to crack a walnut for average city folks. Life itself provides a ton of natural variation. Have a basic idea of what qualities you want to focus on but be prepared to moderate/increase/reduce dependent on nutrition/rest/stress/mood.
- As far as periodisation goes, we will sometimes focus on one quality more than another, but rarely at the total expense of another. Generalised training outcomes (lose weight, tone up etc) don’t require overly specific means.
- Measures of health tend to mean more to us than measures of ‘gym fitness’ ie: body fat %, strength in certain lifts, or overall muscular size.
- When people say their ‘core is weak’ they really mean ‘my back is weak and my glutes need to start working for me’. I barely do any ‘abdominal’ work with people, but we do a ton of back strengthening, particularly before we start squatting or deadlifting heavy. See earlier point on the Good Morning.
- Most guys aren’t as obsessed about ‘getting big’ as the fitness industry itself is.
- If someone struggles to even get to sessions on time due to work and life commitments, don’t bother trying to get them taking supplements – it’s a waste of your time and their money.
- Yoga movements make brilliant warm ups, they’ve now become known as ‘dynamic warm ups’ in an American rebrand.
- Every now and then mix it up and reverse ‘conventional’ exercise order, it creates a stimulus for adaptation and prevents imbalances in training developing.
- High volume workouts tend to leave people too wiped out to go back to their desk, let alone come back and train two days later. Use volume sparingly as it will create a ‘recovery hole’ quicker than other programme variables. Doing large amounts of sets in one line of movement also requires balance with others and this can be difficult to achieve on 2-3 x week schedules. It doesn’t mean I never use it, but right place, right time is key.
- City workers tend to work late, sleep late and poorly, drink regularly, and have high stress loads, but by some sort of Darwinian career choice they seem to thrive on this far better than most. Experiment to find the right balance of volume and intensity for each client. Women tend to tolerate greater volumes but this may be because they generally tend to spend less time training near their max. Performance can ebb and flow, tweak routines accordingly, sacrifice volume before anything else (both in terms of resistance training and interval/energy system work).
- You don’t get to work in a highly paid city job where you can hire an expensive personal trainer twice a week without knowing a thing or two about determination, dedication, and motivation. But, they may not find exercising as fun or interesting as a PT does. It is the trainers job to bridge the gap and find a way to keep the client well-informed, accountable and motivated. Results are a good place to start, as is accurate empathy, honesty, and integrity. The ‘best’ way may not always be what the textbooks, training courses, or even people like me on the internet tell you it is. Find your own path.
Most of this is common sense but quite a bit of it seems to go in the opposite direction to what is currently popular within the fitness industry and media, so that’s about it before this turns into more of an essay than a blog post. . As the Philosopher John Locke said “I will not deny, but possibly it might be reduced to a narrower Compass than it is; and that some Parts of it might be contracted: The way it has been writ in, by Catches, and many long Intervals of Interruption, being apt to cause some Repetitions. But to confess the Truth, I am now too lazy, or too busy to make it shorter.”
You can read the first instalment of this series here: http://www.foundryfit.co.uk/blog/healthdreamsvsreality/