Train Like You


The easiest thing in the world is to believe you’re right. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is “Don’t believe everything you read, and don’t just read what you already believe.” In the world of training and conditioning, you can find a way to support almost any one of your pet theories.

Is running good for your knees or bad for your knees? Runner’s World will tell you one thing, and Bicycling might tell you another. You can go one level higher, and find “scientific” support for both ideas. Is walking effective for weight loss? Is CrossFit the be-all-end-all of conditioning programs? Does the Ideal Protein Diet work? Adkins?
The answer to each of these questions is most definitely “yes.” And, more often, “no.”

Each of us is an individual with different needs and abilities and experience. To try to fit yourself into any fixed program is likely to end in frustration. The better plan is to look at what you really want to get done, figure out a way to measure it, and build a plan to improve those measurements. Maybe eating fewer carbohydrates will help and maybe walking will improve your results, but maybe you need something different. Maybe you need to train like you.

What we know beyond doubt is that even an ideal plan for a given athlete only remains ideal for so long. Any time progress stops, we need to look for the “weak links” and focus on them. Every three to five weeks, an athlete needs to “unload” or rest to see future progress. More importantly, every person should be working hard enough that this unloading period feels necessary. Most importantly, each athlete needs to understand that boredom and injury come not from training too much, but from training wrong.

We’ve been training wrong for years. Don’t misunderstand; every coach does the best he can with the tools he has. The difficulty lies in getting the tools and learning to use them.

When I first started training clients, it was in a big warehouse-style gym with loads of machines and a few dumbbells. We used machines and dumbbells. We generally did 3 sets of each exercise about 3 times a week and assigned three hours of “cardio” on off-days. The success rate was terrible, but the trainers at the gym didn’t care because there was a virtually endless supply of “prospects”; new members looking for help in the gym. A plan like this still might work for a few exercisers, but no one I train wants to spend 3 hours on the damned elliptical every week.
We also used to think that fatigue and soreness were the hallmarks of a good workout. What we now know (also beyond a doubt) is that the effectiveness of training is not measured by the amount of fatigue it produces but rather the degree to which it improves the qualities you are trying to develop. Think about it…if you rolled your car while driving recklessly you’d probably be exceedingly sore the next day, but I doubt you’d consider it good training. Likewise, sitting on a plane all day can be very fatiguing…and you know how fit business travelers always look.

A good training plan has two critical elements. One, it has to fit in your schedule. Second, it has to do what you want it to do. It follows, then, that a training plan that asks for thirty minutes a day is superior to one that asks for 60. It also follows that the plan that produces measurable results, whether it be weight loss, strength gain, or performance in a specific event, is better than just working out.
The take home here is to avoid scheduling more than you will actually do. We’d rather schedule three hours and have our athletes over-deliver than to schedule four and see them fail. More importantly, a plan has to work – if you build a plan around a goal and see no results within two to three weeks, the plan sucks. Throw that one in the trash and start over.

– Steve Bechtel