"To associate with other like-minded people in small, purposeful groups is for the great majority of men and women a source of profound psychological satisfaction.” - Aldous Huxley It’s already almost time for our annual Breakthrough Holiday party and I can’t wait to celebrate the season with our amazing members this year! As the resident game master, I like to take advantage of this little gathering to get a good crowd playing together yet again, and I’m so grateful that our members always come ready to play. The environment at Breakthrough Strength & Fitness is more positive and supportive than ever as we close out 2022, thanks to the wonderful community of people who make it their go-to training studio. I’m excited to share that we now coach more families training together than at any point in our history. After all, prioritizing health and wellness is powerful medicine and sharing it with loved ones and friends only increases the potency of it’s effect. Truly, you just won’t find a nicer group of athletes to train with. So what is it that has brought these like-minded individuals together?
With the tremendous diversity in our group, an outsider might be hard pressed to discover the through line that connects all of us. It’s not anything obvious like a particular age group or interest in a sport or a similar taste in music that brings us together. Instead, we are united in a belief of what “training” is, how to do it, and why it is so important. There are lots of diagrams of training pyramids out there, so I’m hesitant to contribute yet another one, but if you Google “training pyramid” you won’t likely see one quite like this:
This pyramid upholds our core values and our promise to the group of like minded individuals who train with us. It just so happens that many of those who excel in their chosen sports, activities and are attractive to others, are also often in good health and quite generally physically capable too. Highly competitive personalities who focus only on their fitness capabilities often do so at the cost of remaining healthy, feeling good, or even having that many friends. Those who only prize a particular skill in sport or simply their appearance above all else tend to be fragile and unhealthy. We’ve found that by establishing a foundation of feeling good and moving well, we are able to safely stack a formidable block of physical preparedness on top of it and then balance any sport specific skills, special interests or aesthetic goals like a cherry on the top of the sundae. Now this might all sound great, in theory, but it can also seem a bit conceptual and intangible; so how might we structure our fitness journey in favor of maintaining this balance? Without going into too much detail or overthinking it, the most successful people make sure they have these first:
A periodized program (if we’re trying to get from one place to another, we need to follow a map created by someone who has made the trip before.)
A coach (if you knew you had to get in the boxing ring and trade blows with a real opponent a few months from now, would you try to train for that fight all by yourself?)
Training partner(s) (these days they can even be on a video conference, they don’t have to be on the same program, but they do have to be as committed as you are.)
Assuming we’ve got these "big three” bullet points in place, the next component to successfully implement this philosophy has to do with how we choose to carry out an individual training session. We recognize that feeling good and moving well starts in the brain. Just like the muscle improvements gained through resistance training, benefits for the mind, spirit and character take place because of (and not in spite of) the way we structure our exercise regimen. Following a very specific format enables a set of specific results; both physical and otherwise. These are the results that adhere to our pyramid. If there’s a wrong way to do it, there’s also a right one, so here are the 7 elements our members expect from a training session that fits our paradigm. 1. Start your session with some form of “reset.” - This might look like a brief breathing meditation, myofascial release with Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls, vestibular or nervous system training or even all of the above. This helps to quiet the mind, relax the body and serves as a bridge to move the focus from concerns outside the gym to a time focussed on self-improvement. Making a conscious shift to embrace this outcome right as we begin, will noticeably help increase a session's productivity.
2. Take some time for movement preparation. - Including a section that explores range of motion, improves mobility and balance while also performing a program-specific muscle activation "systems check" prior to getting into any strenuous movements isn’t strictly necessary, but it is so obviously helpful in keeping us safe and improving our results that it seems credulous to eschew it. Joint mobility drills and individualized corrective exercises prescribed by a coach are excellent ways to begin training or make an off-day more productive. 3. Train your core for strength and skill while you’re fresh. - Practicing a low volume of high tension and rotary stability skills with the muscles of the “core” near the beginning of a session accomplishes a couple of very important things. First, it allows us to train the core for strength before we’re fatigued and distracted from other resistance training which enables higher levels of muscle activation and focus. Second, it primes the muscles and skills used to protect the spine during the heavier or harder sets which are about to come. 4. Include an element of power development, agility or other athletic skill. - Some of our programs work on explosive power and agility throughout, some of them just have a power devoted section in the beginning or the end, but all them have it built in somewhere. A recent study concluded that the critical power output level required to perform the basics of independent living is about 23.7 watts per kilogram of bodyweight. If we fall below this threshold ability, just getting up out of a chair and moving around becomes too much of a challenge. Maintaining a foundation of good health means that we also maintain power and coordination. This translates to more years with the power to move and function independently.
5. Prioritize strength training. - Strength is the mother of all physical attributes. Greater strength will improve the performance of anything. I grow tired of saying this but… Yes! Strength remains a priority for those with body composition goals too. A body with a higher proportion of lean muscle takes more energy to maintain and as such, will burn more calories, even at rest. A muscle that is stronger is capable of producing more force. With more force being produced, the farther each step will carry you, the more powerful each swim stroke, punch or swing of the bat or racket, the higher each jump will be… the list of movements we can improve with resistance training is truly exhaustive. 6. Train movement patterns, not body parts. - The human body is made to move. Movement is life. Movement is based on the performance of an action, not the isolation of a limb. The human body can (and should) squat, hinge, push, pull and twist. Training these patterns and their variations (single leg stance, vertical vs. horizontal, moving in different planes etc.) results in a body that is ready for the action of sport, work or recreational activities and whatever else life demands of us.
7. Save high intensity intervals and other cardio for the end of a resistance training session or another day entirely. - Generally speaking, getting yourself “smoked” and then trying to move something heavy or do something hard just isn’t smart or safe for a training session. Remember that this is training, not testing or competition day. If the schedule doesn’t permit endurance work on it’s own day or days, then using an element of it to conclude a strength session is an acceptable compromise. A properly structured training session can work wonders for not just the body, but also the mind, spirit and character of a trainee. It’s now pretty common knowledge that those who exercise regularly experience positive boosts in mood and lower rates of depression. This is attributed to the release of endorphins which occur during training that interact with brain receptors that reduce the perception of pain and also create a positive euphoric feeling. The social support gained by training with others who encourage us only increases these positive feelings and results. Haphazard bouts of exercise performed all alone can be downright dangerous and won’t likely do much in the name of progress. Although lots of people will do “work outs," comparatively few people take part in actual training. Fortunately for us, we have an ever growing community of amazing athletes that gets even stronger as it grows, and is united in our belief and commitment to training.