7 Fitness Questions

This was done for another site, but it seems like a good re-post here:

1.      What’s your favorite movement assessment and why?

For me, this has evolved a lot over the years. Nowadays, I really just watch basic movements and how I see people moving tells me where to test further. However, one thing I always do is a head to toe assessment of basic joint mobility. Do the joints work like they should, or do other parts of the body compensate and try to do the work instead? This involves basically having the athlete do joint circles or articulations. 

For example, most folks have no control or sensation as to what their scapula is doing. Ask them to move just the scapula and they move either their spine or their elbow instead, or maybe both!

I use assessments from many different systems that I’ve studied over the years, plus a few of my own, but those interested further I’d direct to the FRC system (Functional Range Conditioning) to learn more, as I feel this is the best resource. 

2.      What’s your favorite way to test fitness and why?

This is tough to answer, as I usually want to test something that is very specific to what the client’s needs are. (eg: sports specific) With that said, the one thing I try to always test is where the athlete falls on a slow twitch/aerobic -> fast twitch/anaerobic continuum. This is important to know for proper programming for both strength and energy system development work. 

Without doing muscle biopsies, we can only rely on indirect tests. But, you can definitely build a pretty clear picture this way. Two methods I like are the 85% of 1RM AMRAP tests and speed preservation tests in cyclical modalities. 

For those unfamiliar, the 85% test involves testing your 1RM at tempo, then resting 10 min, followed by doing a tempo AMRAP set at 85% of the 1RM you just established. Lower reps tend to suggest a more fast twitch makeup while higher reps indicate more slow twitch.

Speed preservation tests compare one’s times in varying distances. For example, based on a mile run PR, if an athlete’s 5k and 10k times are faster than you’d expect while the 400m and 800m times are slower than expected, this would suggest a slow twitch and more aerobic athlete. 

Both of these tests require that one be fairly experienced before you try them, and they can be skewed by one’s training history. The speed tests, to be valid, require one to know how to properly pace each distance or else the results may be off.

As an example, with this knowledge, one can program aerobic work in a manner that is actually individualized. A fast twitch person will use more anaerobic processes and more glucose at every effort level. They will therefore need to work at a slower pace to develop the aerobic system than an athlete who is more slow twitch. They will also need more carbs in their diet to recover between sessions than one who is more slow twitch. 

3.      From what you’ve seen, what’s the biggest thing that separates those who succeed and those who don’t in their health/fitness goals?

Persistence. Those who always show up to do the work and plan out their meals have a far better success rate than those who don’t. They have a realistic training & nutrition program, and they work it into their life so that it becomes automatic. Then, they stay at it long-term. 

Those who are always training hard for a while, then fall off the wagon – repeating this cycle over and over, they never seem to get anywhere. Also, those who do train regularly but program hop – never staying on one program for long enough to reap the benefits, they also suffer from a poor success rate

Now, there is a predictable reason for the on again/off again person. Most success-driven people want to do everything at a high level. They often take on training plans designed for a young, gifted person with plenty of time to train and recover. They try to cram this into an already packed and stressful schedule and predictably get either injured or burned out, or realize they can’t maintain the schedule and would rather quit than try a more sensible program. 

So, pick a realistic program, find a way to get it done, and stick with it.

4.      If you could change anything about the fitness industry, what would it be?

This is hard to nail down to one thing, as there’s quite a bit I don’t like about it! 

I’ll say it’s the quick-fix mentality that pervades almost all marketing and even popular expectations. Nearly everyone says if you just do this one thing, or this differently, or add/subtract that, then you’ll make great progress quickly. If it really was that simple, everyone would do it and it’d be a no-brainer!

If we are really going to get people as fit and healthy as possible, then it must be a slow, progressive, life-long approach. Listen, you didn’t get crappy mobility, extra bodyfat, low strength & endurance in just 4-6 weeks –  you are certainly not going to reverse that fast either. 

The problem is that what works in the short term (4-6 weeks) often is not sustainable AND actually makes the root problem worse. For example, doing a low carb diet combined with mostly high intensity training may work well for 4-6 weeks. But, both of these are significant stressors and both will lower one’s metabolism over time. So now, the person who was carrying extra weight from a low metabolism and too much stress now has even more daily stress plus an even lower metabolism. So, the weight comes back and is very stubborn now, and no clean eating or harder training is likely to budge it. The sad thing is that the client always blames themselves when it was really a bad training program for their situation.

5.      What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made in your own training?

Another hard one to say, as I’ve made lots…  but the worst would have to have been following a low calorie/low carb diet while training fairly high volume Crossfit and gymnastics. A fast twitch individual + high glycolytic training + low carb diet = fast track to hormonal and metabolic disfunction. And, I slogged away for several years doing this and dug a pretty deep hole. I’m thankful though, as this taught me that the road back requires patience, as it can take a while, and I learned a lot along the way.  

6.      If you could give one piece of advice to a novice in the gym, what would it be?

Patience – don’t rush to advanced programs or high complexity. Newbies can progress very well with the basics and riding newbie gains as long as possible helps to keep the gains coming way into the future.

This was another thing I learned the hard way. Advanced techniques and programs don’t work all that well for those not yet prepared for them. Assuming one doesn’t get injured or burnt out, they’ll end up being a lot of work for much smaller gains than you were hoping for. And, if you expose your body to advanced loading methods before you really need them, then they don’t work as well if you get to an advanced level and actually need them, since your body has already been there/done that!

7.      If you could give one piece of advice to an advanced athlete, what would it be?

Take some downtime every year or season. Most sports have an off season, but most fitness sport athletes (or those who train as if they were) take minimal to no time off. The benefits of taking time away from training, while staying active outside the gym, far outweigh any small loss of fitness than may occur. This allows the mind to clear and re-focus, restores hormone levels, reduces inflammation, may allow nagging injuries to heal, heals the gut, and more. Whatever fitness you lose will be regained quickly, plus you’ll make new gains as you start with a fully charged battery. 

Not taking an off season means you’ll be starting the new training phase on top of accumulated fatigue from the prior season – not an ideal situation to make continued gains!