If In Doubt Train Like An Athlete - 98 Gym
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Emma Brown

If In Doubt Train Like An Athlete

As our fitness industry becomes increasingly saturated with new trends, so do a host of fabricated reasons why we must do every single one of them!

The emergence of these new “fads” can leave us confused with what training to do, how often to do it and what the best protocol is to follow to achieve our goals. 

We should not hide away from the important fact that sometimes (pretty much always), we should come back to the basics. 

The question that you need to ask yourself is “What do you want to achieve from your training?”

For the vast majority of us who are not elite athletes, common goals and reasons for training often include the following;

  • Looking healthy and athletic, feeling strong (lose fat mass, increase muscle mass)
  • To live as long as you can as well as you can  (create strong bone density, increase muscle mass, maintain cardiovascular health)
  • To live pain free as you age (improve stability and strength in and around joints)
  • To improve/maintain your ability to run, jump and move fast if you have to (improve power by increasing the recruitment of your fast twitch muscle fibres)

The question remains – what can someone who isn’ttraining for competition, do to achieve and reach these sometimes (self-proclaimed) unattainable goals? It’s simple;

If in doubt, train like an athlete.

When athletes train, their minds aren’t focused on aesthetics (looking good, coincidentally, happens to be a convenient bi-product of effective training). Their focus is on aspects of their performance and movement, it’s on achieving the goals they have set out, day by day, week by week. Each session is executed with intent and focus, each muscle fires when it should, with zero skipped repetitions, whilst constantly remaining mindful of good form and movement. Every session is planned and programmed by a qualified professional, with a long-term plan in place, each individual session another step closer to reaching their ultimate goal. Even during off-season, athletes are disciplined and consistent.

There are 4 principles that can be followed when things get a little too complicated and your routine is screaming out for simplicity and consistency. 

  1. Find a programme. A good and effective programme will align with every goal we mentioned above. It will provide the following benefits;
  1. Periodised strength training across our fundamental movement patterns – this, along with adequate sleep and nutrition, will increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. Iit will also improve bone density by strengthening the bone structure.
  2. Conditioning. Cardiovascular conditioning improves our heart’s health by ensuring sufficient oxygen is always being supplied and as efficiently as possible, avoiding the narrowing of our cardiac arteries which is the number one cause of death in the world!
  3. Unilateral/ foundation building exercises, movements that involve single leg, single arm and time under tension may not be the most exciting but are imperative in any solid programme, They reassure you that your coach is mindful of longevity and balance. Building and maintaining a strong base is crucial and will help avoid injury and pain. 
  4. Power Training. Power by definition is “exercise which applies the maximum amount of force as fast as possible”. Both professional and everyday athletes will benefit from adding power training. It recruits type II muscle fibres (fast twitch), enabling us to move fast, jump, run change direction quickly and as we age, prevents falls and increases muscle mass.
  5. Lastly, a thoughtful and specific programme encourages us to take accountability when working towards an outcome. Having access to professional coaches who know the programme inside-out is essential. On top of this, a community of people to share your achievements with will keep you motivated and pushing forwards. 
  1. Perform quality not quantity. (not to be mistaken with not lifting heavy).
  1. Quality is the mechanics of the rep. If the rep is loaded up to 200kg but the rep is not mechanically sound, it is counterintuitive and is not an actual rep. Adapting this mindset is a game changer- working up to that same load over time with solid form requires commitment and results in true strength. It is important to respect your body and you know its limitations. Creating, using and maintaining a mind-to-muscle connection across your lifts will transform how you move, feel and lift. This sense of achievement is far greater.
  1. Set goals, regularly. Goal setting is a non-negotiable.
  1. You need a reason to turn up, a reason that will ensure you give your best on that day and a reason to do the session regardless of your head noise. Goals don’t need to be enormous – my current goals are;
    • Gain 2kg of weight
    • Increase my 3 RM Squat by 5kg
    • Improve my bike erg 4km time trial by 15 seconds
    • Increase my 1RM deadlift by 5kg. 
  2. If you are new to training, your goal may be to train x 3 days per week. Goals require accountability and deadlines, otherwise they will drift off into the abyss of ‘new year new you’s”.
  1. Appreciate the importance of rest. Overtraining and fatigue are the number one cause of injury.
  1. Once you begin ramp up your training and are moving with purpose, focusing on quality, shifting heavy loads well and training 4-5 days per week, you will need to rest your body. You will also need to rest your central nervous system (CNS). Resting 2 days per week is essential. Stay active however avoid heavy loads. Use these days to work on mobility, walking, spending time with family and friends. Enjoy them and acknowledge that they are equally important process as your training days – this is the period where all your hard-work starts to take effect.

Self care should be a priority for all, looking after your body as opposed to persistently trying to get skinny or shredded will deliver a far greater return. It instills discipline when motivation is absent, respect when what you see may not always be perfect, and education on your strengths and weaknesses, both external and internallly. 

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