Why Elite Training Systems Injure Everyday People (And How You Should Be Training Instead)
Commando Training! UFC Combat Systems! US Navy Seal Body Tactics! Train like Usain Bolt and get the body of a sprinter! Elite Athletics Gym! Celebrity Body Fitness! Train like an elite gymnast!
Do any of these sound like a facility, fitness slogan or training program near you? Most of the adult population in the western world are completely sedentary. Most gym members and regular exercisers still tend to spend more than ten hours per day sitting in a chair. Is it any surprise that when said human trains like an elite athlete, elite performer, elite gymnast or elite military, they become injured?Is it any surprise that when said human trains like an elite athlete, elite performer, elite gymnast or elite military, they become injured?Click To Tweet
A Few Truths About the “Elite”
I once trained a Shakespearean actor whose goal was to appear strong while wielding a broadsword on stage. Cool goal, right?! Through him I had the pleasure of taking the entire cast for movement, balance and strength training to help with their stage presence. As per usual, I started by testing their current abilities. I was staggered when I witnessed them performing a face-the-wall squat with feet together and hands together overhead. Almost all of them could go all the way down with toes touching the wall!
Elite performers and entertainers have generally never had a desk job. They’ve been playing around and moving their bodies three dimensionally for many hours every day for most of their lives. Their balance, coordination, and mobility tends to be superhuman. Surprisingly, back pain is also very common amongst these mobility ninjas. In my opinion, it’s because they lack the stability to control their amazing range of motion. This is certainly the case for professional ballet dancers, which many average humans tend to think of them as at the peak of athletic ability.
To include elements of gymnast training in your program can be hugely beneficial and most effective at improving strength, muscle mass, mobility, balance and stability. Training like an elite gymnast, on the other hand, would not only completely ignore cardiovascular fitness but could cripple you for life. Elite gymnasts have never had a desk job and have incredible proprioceptive awareness. If an average person tries performing some of the advanced flexion moves that are fashionable in gymnastic training circles (such as the Jefferson curl), they are bound for (serious) injury.
Do you have the proprioceptive awareness to consciously create space between your lumbar vertebrae during flexion? Do you completely own the movement of your diaphragm, transverse abdominis and pelvic floor? Do you have complete control over your lumbar-pelvic region in all movement patterns? If the answer is no to any of the above questions, don’t listen to the crowd (or any coaches who only train elite-level gymnasts and promote disc compressive movements like this for that matter). Do yourself a favor and stay away from it. There are much more effective, and less risky, methods of improving flexibility in parts of your posterior chain without becoming a candidate for a prolapsed disc.
But don’t listen to me about the Jefferson curl, read some of Dr. Stuart McGill’s work. If you aren’t familiar with his books, rest assured that he is arguably the world’s authority on backs relating to performance and rehabilitation.
Elite military are far from athletic. In fact, training like a special forces operator could be the fastest path to failure and injury of them all. I love some aspects of military training, especially the focus on building mental resilience and a high cardiovascular capacity. However, in many aspects it’s literally decades behind the curve in terms of intelligent training principles. The military practices extremely unhealthy methods that lead to broken humans in the long term.
The most important abilities that special forces operators possess that make them special/elite are superior weapons skills, combat drills, tactical awareness, new skill acquisition, tolerance for discomfort and tiredness, efficiency with kit and equipment and highly specific skills geared towards carrying out special tasks.
To pass the selection process, special operators must hold a very high cardiovascular capacity and be able to demonstrate an ability to ignore pain signals and push themselves beyond normal limits. This is a necessary quality to achieve the task at hand in highly stressful and hazardous situations. Although a high base level of cardiovascular fitness generally exists, physical preparedness for any operation is an afterthought. For the rest of us, pain signals are there to be listened to.
Within most special forces units across the western world, physical training tends to be completely geared towards either bodybuilding, high intensity anaerobic training or power endurance depending on which cycle of duties they are assigned to. The main goal is rarely specific to a forthcoming operation, it’s mostly to do with looking good naked. This “ignore pain” mentality, mixed with a complete lack of respect for the ability to move and a testosterone fueled need to kill yourself in the process of training is the reason why career “elite” soldiers are physically broken.
If elite military physical training focused on the ability to move as a priority they would increase their career longevity and boost their performance in all other aspects.
Elite Sports People
Elite sports people care for one thing only — playing or participating in their sport. Elite sports people reach the peak of their chosen activity through years of sacrifice, hard work, luck, environmental factors aligning to their advantage, genetics, cultural factors and they tend to be amazing at compensating around weak links in their bodies. Their training is highly specific to their sport and in many cases training an aspect of fitness that they are weak in could well make them worse at their sport.Elite sports people care for one thing only — playing or participating in their sport.Click To Tweet
If LeBron James (basketball) started working on endurance and stamina, it might decrease the number of fast twitch fibers in his body and negatively impact his jumping ability. If Serena Williams (tennis) started working on her raw strength in the hip hinge or squat movement patterns by increasing her deadlift or backsquat, she may well become less able to locomote around the court as athletically. If Tony Woodcock (rugby) focused on becoming more flexible he may lose his ability act as a solid immovable object at the front of a scrum.
So How Should You Train?
Steve Maxwell once shared a brilliant little insight. During a seminar, he asked everyone around the room what their current training goal is. The room mainly consisted of fitness professionals and goals such as the bodyweight snatch, half bodyweight press and muscle up were very common. Steve then challenged us to consider whether or not the goal that we’re working on right now would make our lives better when we’re 80.
That was a game-changing moment for me and many others in the room. After much consideration, I now believe that every exercise in a workout, every daily activity and every bite that we eat should also be answerable to that same question: Will this make my life better when I’m 80? In the vast majority of cases, training like the elite will not.Consider whether or not the goal that you’re working on right now would make your life better when you’re 80.Click To Tweet
We ordinary people just need to be able to move well enough to avoid discomfort or injury when we put ourselves in natural human positions. We should be strong enough to lift the things we need to (including ourselves). We have a healthy enough heart and lungs to walk up a long flight of stairs while being able to hold a conversation. We should be powerful and agile enough to break a fall or jump out of the way of incoming danger.
Are you focusing on a strength goal but lack the ability to move well? Are you focusing on a cardiovascular based event such as a half marathon but lack a base level of strength? Are you training for power or strength but get out of breath when you walk up hills? Do you ever pick up even the smallest twinge or injury in your own training? If the answer is yes to any of the above, we’re here to help!
We train to make ourselves better at everyday tasks. We train to make our lives better when we’re 80. We continue making mini gains in all aspects of complete fitness, indefinitely. We enjoy our training and we want to see long-term results. We train smart and train with purpose. We focus on our weaknesses to make the whole organism stronger. We are Everyday Athletes.
This sets the tone for the next blog where you’ll learn about the way we have broken down complete athleticism. You’ll learn how to self-assess so you can categorize yourself as a Rookie, Explorer or Pro. After that, we’ll take you down the path of how to train and how to program specifically for your own ability and training goals.