Training vs Working Out

That isn’t just a semantic difference.

Working out is about the individual session. It’s measured by how sore, sweaty and tired you feel afterwards. Or it could be by the number of calories burned. Most people work out in the hope that if they string together enough sessions that progress will be made – they’ll get stronger, lose body fat and gain lean muscle.

Working out, especially when you’re first getting started can be productive, but it’s not your best bet.

It’s sort of like “just studying” and throwing time and effort at a problem vs making sure that you develop study skills – knowing how to take effective notes, how to practice, and how to make sure that you know the material so that you can learn more effectively.

Training is where you work skillfully. When you train, you assess and get a good sense of where your Point A is and you follow a plan to get to Point B. It takes out a lot of the confusion and makes you think more logically about how to get there.

First, know that strength is the limiting factor. You can’t force your nervous system to grant you more strength, you have to train for that particular quality without setting off alarm bells.

You can get in a lot of practice in a style that’s often called “greasing the groove” and as it feels appropriate add more reps or weight. I’ll go over that later in this post.

Another simple method is progressive resistance training. This comes into play in class, but if you have access to a weight room and you want to add another day to your training schedule, then this could also work.

You can add more weight and reduce the number of repetitions. The intensity goes up, so the duration has to be reduced. That means that you might finish before the timer goes off in class, but that isn’t a problem.

What might this look like in class? Let’s use the example of overhead press.

The first round you might go a bit lighter and do a few more repetitions. Then in the second round, you go up by five pounds. You might do a couple fewer repetitions. Then you go up again for the third round by five pounds and you might even need to just push one weight overhead.

The weight goes up each time but without sacrificing form and without getting over worked.

It might not burn as many calories per session as churning through as many repetitions as possible, but over time you’ll actually address the things you need and will actually go from Point A to Point B.

Next, let’s talk about Grease the groove.

This is a short, daily practice lets you get in a lot practice reps without a lot of stress or soreness. If you’re pressed for time and you can only manage fifteen of focused training, then this might work well for you.

Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Pick three to four movements that you can go from one to the next with very little set up time.

Do the same thing a lot. In fact, stick with the same movements for at least four to eight weeks. The weights, leverages, and reps will go up as things feel like they’re getting easier. You don’t need to constantly change movements to keep your muscles “confused”.

The four movements: Knee dominant, hip dominant, pull, and push.

If you prefer to make it even more streamlined, then just do a leg, a pull, and a push.

Your goal isn’t to get sore, it’s to get through the movements with good form, still finding that path of most resistance, but without it being any sort of a big deal.

You can see how that would very quickly become too easy. You could add repetitions, add weight, or choose more challenging leverages. When that becomes easy, you could pick harder variations of the movements and drop the reps back down.

And you can see how that could get you from Point A to Point B.

Point B might be your first pull-up or set of ten straight leg push-ups. Then you might pick another couple of goals for your next Point B.

That’s how you get better. Not by trying to run through brick walls. Strength is a skill. Moving well is a skill. You get what you practice.

Hide the effort. Your last rep should look as good as your first.

Seriously. This is not about burning calories or getting sore. This is about building the quality of strength. You cannot force your nervous system to give you more strength. It is not something you have to suffer for or to earn through pain. This is not moral theology or Special Forces selection.

Grinding out ugly reps and getting really sweaty will not do it.

To quote Doctor Evil: “How about noooooo?”

Strength is the glass, it is the container. All the qualities, all the reasons we work out are the stuff that fit inside the container. The bigger the container, the more good qualities. The bigger the container, the more wiggle room you have in your diet. Think long term and big picture.

Workouts are the “moral victories” that the Cincinnati Bengals used to have.  (If you were a fan in the late 90’s and early 2000’s you know.) No amount of moral victories got them into the playoffs. The results of training and getting stronger are actual victories.

Designing a training program is pretty simple.

Pick four main movements that only require a couple of seconds to set up.

Criteria for selecting movements:

  • A movement should work a lot of muscle, not just an isolated one. (Push-ups or overhead press over triceps extensions)
  • It should allow for a long range of motion with good control.
  • It should be skill appropriate. (If you need to hold on for balance, that’s fine.)
  • It should address problems, not make them worse.

To progress the exercises over time

  • You can add weight or repetitions
  • You can pick more challenging leverages
  • You can go from double leg movements to single leg
  • You can go from assisted to unassisted

Four movement categories

Holding onto the bar is your highest ROI for shoulder health, grip strength, and unloads the spine.

Let’s say that you’ve got a reasonably heavy kettlebell or dumbbell and a pull up bar. A sample grease the groove session might look like:

  1. Goblet squat x 5
  2. Bulgarian Goat Bag Swings or Swings x 10 to 15
  3. Single arm overhead press x 1 to 5 per side
  4. Straight Arm Hang for 15 seconds – can add knee raises to get some ab work.

Here’s a short video showing a few ideas for using the kettlebell in this context.

As you get stronger you can get a heavier bell, add a few reps per movement, add more time on the bar, and so on.

If you prefer using a dumbbell, then you can get the old school adjustable ones at Walmart and as you get stronger, just get an extra pair of ten pound plates.

Let’s say that it’s just you vs gravity and all you have is a pull-up bar. Your training session might look something like this:

  1. Split squat x 5/5
  2. Hands elevated push-ups x 5
  3. Straight Arm Hang for 15 seconds
  4. If you have a stability ball or sliders you could do bridge + leg curl or if you have a bench, then you could hip thrusts

Here’s a short video showing a few ideas if you prefer to start with body weight training.

If you’re in class three days per week, you might want to add a day or two of this style of training. If you’re feeling the mileage and need to unload your spine, then body weight is probably going to be the correct answer. If your back is tired, then let those muscles recover.

If you’re in class two days per week, then a couple days either with a weight or body weight should work. As a practice, start with things that feel too easy and work your way up.

Again, this is about building the qualities of strength and coordination. If you treat it like a practice, then you can get more reps without feeling beaten up. This is not a workout in the usual sense. It’s like the difference between just trying to throw really hard vs learning how to throw a proper pitch.

And just like any other skill, practicing the same thing a lot really helps. If you spent the next eight weeks with a narrow focus, two or three days per week on your own, working on split squats, push-ups, and holding onto the pull-up bar, you’d be shocked at how strong you’d get even in ten to fifteen minutes per day.

The most I’d recommend for the majority of people is five days per week of training. It’s not what you can do, it’s what you can recover from.

As for equipment, when in doubt, start with what you have on hand and then as you need, go out and make a purchase or two.

I hope that helps!



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