“Where are you at with your fitness training?”
This is a question I ask when anyone contacts me with training questions. Technically there is no right or wrong answer. I simply want to hear the verbiage used to describe whatever actions the person is taking when they “go workout.”
As I sit here tonight, reflecting on my training log from the last three years, I realize it isn’t a useful product to anyone else because it doesn’t accurately document the true state I am in while I exercise.
Challenging but rarely hard
My workouts are challenging some times but rarely hard. My workouts are not very defeating in terms of volume, number of lifts, or percentage of intensity. I do not feel particularly spent, tired, or “wasted” afterward.
Looking at the numbers and goals met, my workouts are productive. This is indisputable.
When people talk to me about strength training, they often say something along the lines of, “you are strong, but are you conditioned?” This comment is an effort to comfort themselves because they make a pointless comparison between they and I.
“Of course I am,” is always the answer.
“Well…How many miles can you run?”
“I am required to run 1.5 miles for my AFPT, and I always do.”
“No, that’s not conditioning Adam.”
“Ok, as an RKC I am required to snatch a 24kg kettlebell 100 times in 5 minutes. “
“No that is not conditioning either….”
Really? Are you certain? Did I just give you two examples of conditioning? Well, let’s look at a special belief system–it’s time to roast some cows.
I have reviewed many online training logs this evening. I logged on to a very popular message board, and reviewed the workouts of 15 individuals selected at random.
Across the logs, I see the words “hard” “plateau” “soul crushing” “demoralizing (LOL)” and “puke” in many of them. I see a progress pattern which looks like a flat line with little bumps.
As far as total weight moved, PRs, and time lines…I find I am not particularly impressed with their choice of training model.
I see a predictable pattern of injuries. Most annoyingly, I see other people posting comments like “great job!” in the same blocks where vomiting, shoulder pains, and knee aches are described from the “WOD,” whatever that means…
They are training hard
Without a doubt, these people are training hard. They are training so hard that they are breaking themselves. My issue is that they have been told this is a positive thing, something to strive for.
Sacred Cows of Conditioning
Let’s search for the Sacred Cows of Conditioning work: is it challenging or hard? Productive or defeating?
Can you explain the difference? Would be able to tell me what your program is, and why?
The difference is not always easy to spot for everyone. I think our society avoids challenges and immediately thinks that the word means “hard.” I think people make things hard when they do not understand how to make it properly challenging.
The guilty party in my mind is the collective group of us who choose to train others. Trainers, coaches, whatever title you like to carry. Many trainers do not know how to stack a challenge to change someone; they only understand how to make things harder.
The guiltiest of the guilty are those who are training people for “conditioning.”
On this site you have read about specificity, you have read about adaptation, and you have read about progress. Review those pieces and ask a simple question:
“What is conditioning, and how do I get it?”
Hopefully you are sharp enough to realize conditioning is a very specific item!
When many of you talk about conditioning, you are thinking about the ability to sustain movement in a specific way. A marathon runner would not be impressed with my “conditioning” because he expects me to run, and I am not impressed with his conditioning because I would expect him to do…well…I do a lot of dumb shit which he can’t do at all.
Conditioning = effective and efficient
So we are speaking directly on specificity, and we are talking about being effective while being efficient. This is conditioning. Being able to continue on, being able to do more, with renewed and continued energy.
If you want to be conditioned for a mixed martial art contest should you train like a kettlebell lifter? Should you train like a marathon runner? Should you train like a speed skater, or what about a linebacker?
Let’s rearrange the above question, Should a linebacker train like a mixed martial artist? What about a downhill skier? Should the linebacker train like a golfer?
Wait a minute….
A mixed martial artist should train like a mixed martial artist. In this case you don’t need to get better at swings, or squats, or kipping pull ups, you need to get better at punching, kicking, sprawling and wrestling…or did I miss something?
What about life conditioning? Do random high intensity exercise sessions prepare you for life? Does high rep squatting make my life easier as a ground combat instructor for the United States Military? No.
What about you as a banker, are you better prepared for a hard day at the office with an aching knee from hard tabata burpees?
Conditioning is all about specifics. This is why the most conditioned marathon runner will lose in a swim against the most conditioned swimmer.
What if the runner wanted to prepare for this swim meet, should he do 800m runs, combined with box jumps and handstands? Oh come on, that would be really hard!
Did I lose you?
Does it make sense to do a lot of random activities and hope you will be good at all of them?
I have an Arm wrestling meet coming up. If I can stay in the tournament I will be expected to go at least 6 or 7 times in a few hours. I need to get conditioned.
Should I train like a marathon runner today, a kettlebell lifter tomorrow, power lifter the next day, a baseball pitcher the next day, and a tennis player the day after?
Do you think I will do well at the arm wrestling tourney this way? What if I TRY HARD every day? Do you think that will change it? Surely if I TRY HARD I will do even better. I will try so hard I will puke my lunch out every day, but will I win the trophy?
Larger implications than training
What if I apply this model to career selection? I shall be discharged after a decade of honorable service very soon this spring. My options for career path are wide and deep.
Tell me, what if I choose to be a cook on Monday, a banker on Tuesday, a car salesman on Wednesday, a bricklayer on Thursday, and a doctor on Friday. Would you expect me to be successful with this approach? You know I will TRY HARD; some are certain that would be the key.
Is it the same or different? Is this productive? Are you trying to be average or are you becoming great? Are you a martyr or a master?
Martyrs can hold a “jack of all trades card” and they work hard to maintain it.
Being average at everything is not conditioning. It certainly is not mastery. Being good enough to suck at every sport is a poor way to spend your time training, why not become exceptional? It is your birthright to do so.
It is your responsibility to challenge this belief system, and if you choose to hold on it is your burden to deal with the consequences. Your body right now is the exact body you have earned. Life is not fair, and hopefully it never will be.
By the way, someone really did suggest I play tennis to get better at arm wrestling…as you can expect they did not beat me when we decided to test that one.
Adam T. Glass
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