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8 Things 2017 Taught Me About Training

Image result for 2017 to 2018

It’s 4 hours and 50 minutes until 2018 commences as I sit and type this post. As you should know, I’m not a fan of new year goal setting; I believe the here and now is as good a time for any when it comes to having aspirations, ambitions and dreams, no matter how lofty they may be.

Rather than vowing to do all these wonderful things just because it’s January very soon, how about I reflect on 2017 and use my experiences to hopefully benefit, inspire and educate you?

2017 was hands down my best year in every department – training, education, smashing my comfort zone, financially and I guess I could even say spiritually, even though I’m far from a ‘spiritualist’.

8 Tidbits To Get Much More Results From Training……..

1) Expand your horizons and seek out those better than you. 

It’s so easy to enjoy being a big fish in a small pond. The only reason we hate jumping into a larger pond and being smaller is our old foe, the ego. I never see competition as a bad thing, if anything it’s a catalyst for growth and progress. One of the best things I did for my calisthenics progress this year was go to Lee Wade Turner’s small group workshops throughout the year.

Doing so exposed so many weaknesses; many I knew but it was nice having it confirmed by someone who is an inspiration to me. It feels like a call to action.

Of course this can be done in any way. You can further your education with seminars or just train with people stronger or more experienced than you. Keep an open mind and remember: There’s something to be learned from everyone if you look hard enough.

2) Consistency trumps intensity………ALWAYS.

One psychotic workout that makes you puke and keeps you bedridden for 3 days isn’t worth half a workout where you add a rep or 2 and leave yourself reasonably fresh for the next session, which should be 24-48 hours away.

Getting results at anything in life requires repetition. One monster session to impress ‘friends’ on social media isn’t what gets you better. It’s consistent and progressive effort that gets you to paradise. This year, for the first time, I stopped going all out and instead, started paying attention to total reps across my sessions. Keeping that number increasing while maintaining technique is what creates magic.

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3) Respect all exercise modalities.

I hate running and cardio. I also am no dancer and don’t move all that well. However, it doesn’t stop me admiring those who complete marathons, people who dance and have incredible mobility as a result. I get this a lot with calisthenics, which has changed my physique far more than weightlifting/bodybuilding ever did. So many guys ask how I got my arms bigger and why I’m carrying 5+ kg more weight this year and when I tell them I don’t use weights, they look perplexed. They seem to think only skinny teenagers do ‘bodyweight workouts’; push ups and pull ups is all there is, surely?!

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I was guilty as charged of this too. I didn’t respect the value of a good handstand. Because I wasn’t naturally good at it, I told myself it wasn’t all that important. Foolish. Think of other areas of fitness that are simply jigsaw puzzle pieces which when collected, make you a better athlete. 

Trying something new keeps you out of the comfort zone. Comfort never bred notable change. Remember that.

4) Prehabilitation work is essential.

Pre-hab work is the boring shit you wouldn’t even tell anyone you’re doing, let alone put it on Instagram. It might not be sexy but neither is being injured or in pain. I’ve written about this many times (How I Put My Shoulder Impingement To Bed In 2017 & Muscle Mass Vs Movement) and I’ll probably always preach this as long as I’m a coach, but once you have an injury and are stopped from doing what you love, you’ll never have the same ignorant approach.

Everyone will have different needs in this regard. A good personal trainer or coach can always steer you in the right direction. But as a generalisation, most people’s upper backs (horizontal pulling and external rotation) are weak compared to the lats and pecs. Another area of weakness is the glutes and hips; most people’s lower backs are in agony as a result of dysfunction here (More on that here: Fixing Lower Back Pain – Is My Lower Back Weak?!).

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Eventually the time spent working on weaknesses will result in much more strength overall.

5) For leg growth, weight isn’t all that important. 

We’ve all seen the skinny kids deadlifting twice their bodyweight but sporting twigs for legs. They blow everyone’s mind; how can seemingly zero muscle move such high weights?

We see the same with squats. Guys weighing nothing and having 19 inch quads squatting 1.5 -2 X bodyweight for sets of 3. So what gives? More often than not these guys have good leverages for squatting and only use low rep, low volume training approaches.  Legs are mostly comprised of endurance muscle fibers – think of the muscular development of cyclists, tennis players and skaters……..their sports are about repetition. These guys rarely ever do anything for legs under 12 reps and usually perform WAAAAYYYYYYY more reps than that.

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Quads of cyclists- nothing but HUGE. 

I remember doing a 5×5 program and squatting way above my bodyweight for reps and having pretty small and undeveloped legs. Nowadays I use much less weight and more volume and have much more leg development. Go figure.

Another bonus of not going so heavy on lower body moves is you avoid the central nervous system stress they tend to come with. If you’re capable of a decent load on the deadlift, go and max out then see how you feel for the next few days. Guaranteed you’ll be battered. And I like to use my CNS output for difficult calisthenics upper body moves; by doing lighter weight leg exercises I ensure I don’t look like a pelican and I get to still make progress with my goals.

6) Full body workouts have expiry dates. 

Some people believe full body workouts can last forever and others will tell you splitting things up are the way to go. Up until this year I always stuck to full body training but decided to try splitting things up. The theory is: once you get reasonably strong full body workouts just take too much out of you, and it’s only the first or second exercises in your routine that get decent amounts of energy dedicated to them.

I split my workouts up into heavy and light push/pull days. I included one exercise for legs in either (Front Squat for push & Single Leg Romanian Deadlift for pull) and this allowed me to train 3/4 days per week and feel fresh in every workout. Accordingly, no areas have lagged in terms of progress. This approach has also allowed me to work on weaknesses much more; will you want to do 8 sets of upper back prehab work after doing a 20 set full body workout?

Not if you’re sane.

7) There’s a reason the strongest people around use high rep burnout sets. 

I absolutely hate high rep sets by nature. Anything over 8 reps feels like a cardio session to me. Give me a set of 3-5 and tell me to give it every ounce of power I have and I’ll sing into the sunset. Ask me to do a set of 20+ and I’ll weep at your knees.

While low rep sets certainly build strength and muscle, they don’t tend to induce much fatigue. The fatigue effect is also important for muscle development and more importantly, conditioning of the connective tissue and tendons. Not to mention it’s a good way to ‘finish off’ a muscle.

I believe your training should make you a better athlete, meaning you should be able to handle challenges and different physical tasks. Having all power and no endurance doesn’t accomplish this. Getting winded after powering up a flight of stairs but ‘working out all the time’ is embarrassing, frankly.

Some examples of how to put this into practice are: High rep push ups at the end of a pushing workout (dips could also be used), high rep body rows (or pull ups), high rep bicep curls or tricep pressdowns (for the bodybuilders reading this). For legs and lower body, an all out set of lunge jumps to finish a leg workout or even leg presses; there’s loads of ways you can do this.

8) Warming up is important. Period. 

This is a very individual topic and one that splits opinion beautifully. I’ve tried multiple approaches: not warming up at all, very short warm ups, average warm ups, excessive warm ups, specific warm ups, voodoo warm ups and super-galactic warm ups……..

On days where it’s the height of summer and I’ve been on my feet all day, I’ve got away with little to no warming up. On days where I’ve been awake one hour and it’s the dead of winter, I’ve spent 20 minutes warming up – sometimes more.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the stronger and more advanced I get, the more time it takes to ease my body into the heavier weights/advanced moves. A practical example for you: take a deadlift, one guy can deadlift 200 lbs and the other can deadlift 450 lbs. You don’t need to be a physicist to know there’s so much more force going through the spine and joints in the 450 lbs example compared to the 200 lbs one.

More weight or more leverage equals more sets needed to adjust to the greater load. Sounds simple, often ignored.

The best formula for warming up in my opinion is some light cardio (3-5 mins if you’re feeling cold), followed by joint rotations of all joints involved in that workout, then some lighter sets of the move you intend to work on that day. With these warm up sets it’s important to keep the reps fairly low, as you don’t want to induce any fatigue. Another good tip is to explode forcefully on the positive phase on each rep during these warm up sets. Doing so activates your fast twitch muscle fibers which will help make the working sets feel easier.

Have a happy, safe and productive 2018. Thanks for reading. 


JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

33 thoughts on “8 Things 2017 Taught Me About Training Leave a comment

  1. Legs have been bugging me lately. Prior to going full calisthenics/GST I was following a powerlifting style workout (used to compete years ago), hitting heavy deads and squats every week. On top of that I’ve been bike commuting for about 5 years now, 4 miles oneway, which is short enough that I do a lot of sprinting. End result is I’ve ended up with pretty bulky legs (not quite like those cyclists though…) and more and more I’m viewing that as an obstacle to calisthenics progress, given that lower body weight is multiplied by the mechanical advantage in all the lever-style movements and holds (not being very tall is a plus in that respect at least). What are your thoughts on the “optimal” lower body mass for someone who is primarily focused on calisthenics progress? I’ve been thinking of scaling back my weekly deadlift workouts — the only weight training I still do — which would also be in line with your recommendation for lower intensity/higher rep lower body work (totally agree about the CNS demands of heavy compound lifts btw). I hate to lose quad mass but I gotta say, I’ve been struggling to get a strict muscle up long enough that I’m about ready to make that trade if it means I can pull myself above the rings 😉

    • Hey Kurt,

      I really do think leg mass is a hindrance to calisthenics progress. Case in point, there are lots of guys taller than me (I’m 181cm/5’11 and a tad) with similar amounts of upper body mass, yet they weigh sometimes 5 kgs less! I can only assume the weight difference is in the lower body. I will say there’s still hope though – Daniel Vadnal (FitnessFAQS) and Dominik Sky are both heavy guys (mid to high 80 kg range) and have decent leg development, yet can hold planches and front levers etc…..

      I think the honest answer for ultimate calisthenics progress is FUCK LEGS altogether, haha. But like you, I don’t want to look imbalanced and be weak as shit on lower body movements. So I accept a trade off. It’s funny I was just thinking this the other day because I’ve gained some weight lately (from 80-81 kg to 83/84 kg), whether I should just stop training lower body? But I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I’m still able to get stronger at these heavier weights. I’d say if you’re plateauing in calisthenics completely, then scale the deadlift workouts back a bit.

      Strict muscle up on rings or bar? I assume the bar?

      • lol… yeah I was afraid that was the case. Guess there’s no cheating physics, so I’ll just keep grinding until my upper body gets strong enough to handle the leverage. Dominik Sky is definitely impressive, but he’s years ahead of me with this type of training.

        I’ve been working through the GMB Fitness Rings 1 program the past few months. Kind of fell in love with the rings, which is why I’m bitching about my legs — they’re mostly dead weight on that apparatus. So yeah, strict muscle up on the rings is my #1 goal right now. Making progress but it’s been a grind.

      • Haha… either neglect them or just try to be in the heavier calisthenics club. Anyone in the know will respect you more though! 😉 Ah, rings one from GMB! I’ve heard it’s good and it certainly looks it. A while back I vowed to do rings 2 but from speaking to people who are at a decent level, they say rings one is PLENTY hard? I was well on my way to getting proficient with ring muscle ups but my shoulder impingement screwed it all up for me; the heavy internal rotation just caused too much pain 🙁

      • I came across the #heavyweightcalisthenics tag on IG the other day… might have to start using that one. GMB Rings 1 has been an asskicker but in a good way — right at the edge of my abilities (following the “B” track) so I’ve made solid progress over the past few months. I’d absolutely recommend it. I’ve only got 2 weeks left in the program and thinking I might repeat it aiming for improved quality before tackling Rings 2 — that’s the level I’m striving for but I don’t think I’m ready for it yet.

        Too bad about the shoulder impingement but sounds like you’ve been able to rehab that pretty well? I’ve been lucky with my shoulders being pain-free so far and don’t take that for granted…

      • Are you over 80kgs then? If so, welcome to the ‘club’ haha. I think I was a bit arrogant to assume I could jump in on level 2 without doing level 1!

        Yeah the shoulder impingement is a nightmare! It’s taken over a year to fix and it’s left me terribly weak on certain moves (overhead pressing) but I’ll get there eventually…….I promise!

        Do you have good flexibility in your shoulders? I’m ok with extension but overhead flexion is poor thanks to my super thick and over-developed lats 🙁 Definitely don’t take shoulder health for granted.

      • Yeah I’m about 78 kg right now. Experimenting with tighter carb restriction currently to see if I can lean out a little and maintain strength.

        I hadn’t done much ring work prior to starting R1 so it was the right level for me. I definitely needed to build some endurance for longer flows and R1 has been good for that. The most advanced moves are shoulder stands and strict muscle ups so if you’ve already mastered those R2 might be right for you. I’m planning to attack that one as soon as I dial in my strict MU and do some more targeted should stand work. I’m lucky to have decent shoulder mobility but I’ve still seen improvements with R1. Rings are awesome for working shoulder ROM.

      • I remember being 78 kg haha. Seems like ages ago now! Are they the ultimate goals of R1 then? I know for R2 the prerequisites are 5 strict muscle ups and a ‘solid’ RTO L-sit.

        The sad thing is, I had those before my shoulder injury. I can hit 5 strict muscle ups on a bar and still hold a good RTO L-sit but just need my rings muscle up game back on point!

        How long do you have left on R1?

  2. Great post. Interesting point on the full body workouts. I’ve always liked doing them and teaching them. Although they do take a lot out of you. I always feel like it’s so hard to get everything in when I split my workouts to hit all muscle groups ( I usually like to run several days a week) I do periodically switch to split up muscle groups and enjoy that type of training too.

    • Thank you!

      I think it comes down to how much time or days you have to train. If you don’t have very many then full body is definitely the way to go. But if you have the time available and enjoy training more often, the split is a no-brainer.

      What are your current goals at the moment?

  3. Excellent piece! Consistency is probably one of the most important things one needs to succeed.

    • Definitely. I almost see it as 2 different training systems – one you train your nervous system and the other you train your muscular system. The effects on your body are way different too. I love low rep work but have started seeing the beauty of high rep work much more lately. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Im a big fan of what you said about seeking someone better than you. I have come to notice that the best workouts that I have ever gotten were with my football team in highschool. Why? Because there were a lot of people who were stronger than me in certain things. This caused a little competition in the weight room, which helped me to grow more than ever. That one last rep to beat the person next to you might be the one rep that helps you win on the field.

    • Thanks Bobby. It’s so true. If you don’t surround yourself with people better than you, you eventually get used to being a big fish in a small pond. I find some people like being humbled and some people are scared of it, and I think it’s the difference between average and great.

  5. Great read. Lot of good points. My fitness improved when I added regular yoga sessions and a 5k every few months to my standard gym training. It’s important to challenge yourself with things outside of your comfort zone. And right on with consistency. It’s the key to any long-term, sustained growth and improvement.

    • Thanks for the comment 🙂 That’s a nice way of incorporating stretching and endurance training into a normal gym routine. Doing so will keep you a well rounded athlete which is what we’re all aiming for! Consistency and a CLEAR goal is vital for achieving great things in my eyes.

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