Choosing the Right Program in 2011

One of the “Miyaki-isms” I repeat almost daily in my training business is this: training for performance is different than training for appearance.  That slogan has been sprinkled over various articles and posts on this site.  As the New Year approaches and everyone starts setting their goals and resolutions, I thought I’d take a moment to readdress that issue.  I want to ensure the training program you choose in the New Year matches your training goals.

I would say that most people’s New Year’s goals are related to appearance — we want to change our body composition and lose fat.  Great.  But here is the problem for you.  Very few trainers these days are prescribing programs that are appropriate for physique development (and on a side note, maybe that’s why there are so few trainers who are actually in shape themselves — ever think about that one)?  New-age, “innovative” trainers are focusing on things like functional training, balance, unstable training, sport-specific training, multi-directional/multi-movement complex exercises, etc.  These are all fine and have their place, but they are not ideal, or lets say efficient, for changing how you look.

There has been a blending of strength training concepts in today’s program designs.  This results in a jack-of-all-trades and expert at none kind of a thing.  That’s cool if that is what you want, but if you just want to look good/change your appearance, you need to prioritize, and focus solely on the training principles that emphasize specific physiological adaptations.  Here are some different responses your body can have to training protocols:

1. Balance:  This is mostly a nervous system response, not a muscular one.  The body gets better at recruiting the muscles/motor units that stabilize the body.

2. Strength: This is also mostly a nervous system response, with some muscular side effect.  A lot of strength development is the body getting more efficient at turning on all of the motor units in a given muscle group, and generating maximum force for a single lift (or 1-5).  This is good for producing force, but generally the muscle fibers do not spend enough time under tension for an adaptive response.

3. Endurance:  This is mostly a metabolic response, not a muscular one.  The body gets better at dealing with lactic acid, and becomes more fatigue resistant.

4.  Multi-directional/multi-movement exercises.  These have become more common-place in the gyms — twisting, lunging, one arm-thrust curls.  Again, because of the complexity of the movement, this is more of a nervous system response than a muscular one.  The body gets more efficient at moving in multiple directions and planes of motion, but none of the individual muscles receive enough tension and overload for physique development.  Rhythmic gymnastics helps you move in multiple directions too, but its probably not going to help you look much better, unless you are Will Ferrell in Old School.

5.  Power:  This is all about learning how to generate a lot of force and accelerate through a movement.  Golfers generate a lot of power, but most golfers are fat.  Are you beginning to see the theme?  This is more of a nervous system “thing” then a muscular “G-thang”.

6. Flexibility: This is about improving your body’s range of motion.  It has nothing to do with physique development.  Sorry folks, but yoga and stretching are not going to get you ripped.

7. Muscular development:  Finally, what we really want.  Building muscle shapes the body and boosts the metabolic rate (which in turn helps you burn fat).  This is about tension and overload on the muscle.  This is best accomplished with basic exercises — compound and isolation – working the muscles through their natural functions and planes of motion with enough resistance AND a certain amount of time under tension and volume.

Here’s the thing, most programs these days focus on 1-6, very few focus on #7.  Fancy multi-directional movements and training on unstable surfaces are about 1 and 4.  Boot camps, group exercise classes, and cross-training programs generally highlight 3-5.  Yoga and stretching are about #6.  And guys loading up the bar with too much weight, using shitty form, screaming, and eeking out 3 horrible reps is about #1, if anything at all.

I feel bad for the consumers who have no clue about proper training and come into the gym in the New Year.  They get hooked up with trainers who have no idea how to train people for physique development.  They think they are training for body composition change, but when you analyze their actual programs, you discover they are training for anything and everything BUT their goal.

Take some accountability for your own results.  I highly you suggest you read my Body Composition Training 101 Series.  This will give you a knowledge-base so you can critically analyze different training programs, and find one that is appropriate for your specific goals.

Maybe if you educate yourself, you won’t have to make a resolution next year because you’ll finally accomplish this year’s goal.