I’m about to bite the hand that feeds me.
It’s not that fitness needs to suffer any more than it already has. The shutdowns of the past year have impacted gyms in a massive way. And seemingly, in our neighborhood anyway, it seems like most will not be reopening their doors at all.
But I’m nothing if not a straight shooter, so here’s the cold hard truth:
Most fitness doesn’t work.
We all know people who have gone to the gym for months, years, even decades with absolutely no substantial change to their strength, body composition or cardiovascular fitness. They are the gym version of that candy dish in your Grandma’s house. For 10 years that thing has been in the same spot, sitting atop that same doily, holding that same candy that no one really wants.
Why people would spend their days repeatedly doing something that doesn’t yield the desired result is a fascinating topic but is not the point of this article.
Because while most fitness doesn’t work, some of it actually does. And lucky for you, your favorite beefy, bald gym Uncle is here to generously hand you the three critical, practical mandates that will turn your fruitless trips to the gym into a veritable cornucopia of gains.
But first, you may be wondering, “how the fuck do you know what works when so many people don’t?!?”
That’s a fair question, glad you asked.
Firstly, I did it for myself. I was one of those people who religiously went to the gym and put in an effort only to not have my fitness dreams realized. Then I employed these three principles and saw my strength, physique, confidence and bank account all change (three of these four things are actually true, I’ll let you figure out the one that isn’t).
These are my well worn before-and-after photos and I apologize in advance for using such a cheap fitness trick (I also apologize for the body oil – YIKES!). But they do illustrate the power and efficacy of what I’m about to share with you.
Secondly, and more importantly, we’ve helped literally thousands of people at this point add much more meaning and results to their fitness by applying these techniques. And when you see something work over and over and over again, it gets your attention. Or at least it should.
OK, now that I’ve established some proof of concept, here are the three things you need to employ in your training program in order for it to be effective. (SIDE NOTE: We included these in every program we run here at The Fort. That’s how much we believe in it).
You MUST load the spine.
Holy Hannah! We start with the most controversial one first. Your spinal column is the main conduit of your central and peripheral nervous systems. Getting it stronger reinforces the nervous system and, as we are learning more and more through research, the nervous system is the key to motor unit recruitment, performance, strength and recovery.
Now before you put your chiropractor on speed dial, keep in mind that there is a responsible way to load the spine and an irresponsible way to load the spine. Back Squats, Deadlifts, RDLs, Front Squats, overhead presses and countless other exercises we utilize in our programs are remarkably effective when done with proper technique and good positions.
There are people out there who will tell you to avoid these movements at all costs. That they’re dangerous. And, sure, performing shitty squats with a weight you aren’t ready for can be risky. But I’d argue that avoiding these movements will put you in more peril than learning to do them correctly and making them a staple in your training programs.
Get A Grip.
Sorry, that subheading is lame. But the fact remains that just as the eyes are the windows to the soul (Jesus, that’s also a lame reference. I’ll stop now) your hands are the key to getting stronger which, in turn, will help drive up other important fitness qualities.
Your hands send a lot (A LOT) of information to your brain. And exuding a strong grip on whatever implement you are using is an unconscious way of exuding confidence. A strong grip is kind of like an early Kelly Clarkson song. It screams “I’m here. I’m quite angry. I’m about to fuck shit up.”
Exercises as varied as the Deadlift, Kettlebell Swings, Farmer’s Walks and Pull-Ups are really effective ways of training the grip.
TL;DR: A strong grip allows you to load a heavier bar which makes you stronger, sexier and more like a singing contest winner turned pop icon.
You Have To Have Fear.
If I see the words “50 calorie Echo Bike For Time” on the training program, I will have sleepless nights. I’ve seen the words “Pig Squat Workout” written on the wall and left the gym. I’ve walked up to a heavily loaded bar and said to myself, half-jokingly, “I have no idea how this is going to go.”
While, of course, you don’t want to do anything dumb or injurous in your training, your workouts should – at least at times – be daunting enough that you freak out slightly at the thought of them.
Otherwise, you are just going through the motions. And that rarely, if ever, leads to any substantial change.
To paraphrase Gordon Gecko in Wall Street, fear is good. Fear is right.
There are two types of people in the gym. The one who walks up to their heaviest set of back squats for the day and has to swallow a little bit harder to get up the nerve to unrack the bar and the one who thumbs through People Magazine during their unwarranted, never-ending rest period between “working sets” at 40% of their max.
I’ll let you figure out which one of these people is actually making progress in the gym.
Can you improve your fitness levels without incorporating these three principles? Honestly, no (you thought I was going to hedge there, didn’t you?). If your goals are to get stronger, more muscular, leaner, more toned, more fit you are, at some point, going to have to add these factors to get to where you want to go.
Because if Gordon Gecko and Kelly Clarkson have one thing in common it’s a 500lb deadlift.