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strength

Path to Pull-Ups

exercise, Programming, Strength, Training By August 6, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

For a lot of women, achieving their first body weight pull-up is a huge milestone. It’s a feat that requires adequate mobility, stability, and strength in order to perform it correctly.

Often times, when people ask how to do their first pull-up they often receive the answer: “Well, just do pull-ups.” Which is redundant and useless. If a person could already do pull-ups, they would.

So where do you start in order to get your first pull-up?

In general, you would want to progress to doing a pull-up as follows:

  • owning the isometric (being able to hang on the bar at the top and bottom)
  • owning the eccentric (being able to lower yourself  in controlled manner through a pull-up pattern)
  • owning the concentric (being able to pull yourself up through the pull-up)

Owning all parts of the pull-up will having you banging out your first full rep in due time. It’s all about developing the requisite endurance, stability, patterning, and strength to do the movement correctly and efficiently.

So let’s start with the endurance and stability portion by using isometric drills. You want to start first by building your endurance at the bottom of the pull-up and building your grip so you are actually able to support your own body weight in an active hang. Once you can hang from the bottom you can explore doing a flexed arm hang at the top of the bar. Work on holding your hangs for 30s-60s. I would recommend being able to hold for at least 60s in both positions before progressing to more dynamic movements.

Once you have achieved strong isometric holds with your hangs, you can work on doing scapular pull-ups. In this movement you will be initiating the beginning of the pull-up by pulling maximally with the shoulders, holding at the top position, and then relaxing the shoulders into a deadhang for 1 repetition. Build this movement in sets of 5-10 reps. The scapular pull-up will also serve to improve your grip strength. The scapular pull-up is going to help you with the movement portion of initiating the pull-up.

After achieving some strong scap pull-ups, you’ll want to progress to negative pull-ups (eccentric pull-ups.) This will allow you to pattern the pull-up with good technique so that when you do get strong enough to do them, you will be using the right muscle to perform the movement (primarily the lats and biceps.) To perform a negative pull-up, jump up to the bar or have someone lift you to the bar and then lower yourself down with a controlled tempo ranging anywhere from 10s to 60s. If you are able to do a 60s eccentric you are most likely able to do a full pull-up.

You can also use band assisted pull-ups to help build muscular strength and the concentric portion of your pull-ups. Make sure to use negative pull-ups and other progressions otherwise you will end up being reliant on the band to perform the movement. Bands are also a great tool to fine tune technique if you struggle to maintain to good form while performing bodyweight pull-ups. To perform the band pull-up, loop a band around your pull-up bar, then place on of your feet on the band to get into the bottom position. Initiate the pull, imagine you are closing your armpits in order to pull your collarbones up to the bar. The band will provide the assistance needed to help you up towards the bar,If you are swinging and bouncing around, you are not performing the movement correctly. You want your band assisted pull-up to be smooth and controlled, as it will translate better into your full strict pull-up.

Some additional assistance work that can help to get your first pull-up would be:

  • Inverted rows (rings or TRX)
  • Farmer’s carries
  • Biceps curls (especially preacher curls and incline curls)

There are many exercises you can do to get strong at pull-ups, however  any movement you do to help you build your pull-up skills should address the endurance, stability, movement patterning and strength aspects of the pull-up. As long as you address these attributes of the pull-up, you will be well on your way to getting your first rep.

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The Birthday Cake WOD

Programming By June 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

On  Tuesday, I celebrated my 25th year of life on this planet – Heyyyyy!

So I decided to celebrate by training my favourite muscle group – glutes. It’s been a while since I’ve done a good glute workout just for the pump so I wanted to do something really special.

I made a bodyweight glute circuit and I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would – so much so that I decided to add it into my regular programming two times per week. I originally shared the workout on Instagram and now I’m sharing it here on my website with instructional videos so you can have as much fun as I did doing this workout.

Let me lay it down for you.


 

THE BIRTHDAY CAKE WOD

A1) Reverse Hyper x 25 reps

A2) X Band Walk x 25 reps per side

A3) Glute Bridge with feet together and knees apart x 25 reps

Perform 3 rounds. Rest 1 minute in between rounds.

Are you ready for The Birthday Cake WOD? Get ready for that cake. And instant onset muscle soreness.

 

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4 Ways to Crush Strength Plateaus

exercise, Programming, Strength, Training By March 27, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , , , , No Comments

Few things are as frustrating as heading in to the gym day in day out and not progressing. The weights stay the same week to week and results are stagnating. You were planning on pulling a 225lbs deadlift but you seem to be stuck at 185lbs with no sign of getting stronger.

What can be done to solve this dillemma? Fortunately, there are lots of effective techniques to help break through strength plateaus. Providing that nutrition and recovery are sound – there are ways to manipulate the exercises and repetitions to maximize the results.

Back in November I watched the movie Creed and went to lift immediately afterwards – I set a PR on the deadlift that workout and pulled 245lbs. Although I like to credit Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the reason I pulled that personal record – that’s not a method I’m willing to rely on in order to get strong. Fortunately the following methods you’re about to be introduced to are true and tested – and adding them into your training will definitely help bust through any strength plateaus.

TEMPO MANIPULATION

Tempo in relation to exercise dictates the speed at which a movement is performed. It is usually written as a series of four numbers (eg. 4010) which indicates the duration of each part of a repetition.  The first number is the eccentric (lowering part of the movement), the second number indicates the bottom of the movement and how long it is held, the third number indicates the concentric phase of the movement, and the the fourth number indicates the count of the hold at the top of the movement.

For example if a deadlift is performed with a 3112 tempo, you will:

  • lift the bar up for 1 second
  • hold for 2 seconds at the top
  • lower for 3 seconds
  • pause for 1 second on the floor before doing the next rep

Tempo can be manipulated to create less or more muscular tension. A slower tempo will illicit a higher amount of tension versus a faster tempo – a 2010 tempo for 5 reps will be easier to perform than a 4010 tempo for 5 reps. The easiest part of a tempo to manipulate to improve strength is the eccentric portion as this is the easiest part of the movement to perform in general and will allow for a controlled movement leading to better muscle recruitment and motor patterning positively effecting overall strength.

The other best way to manipulate tempo is by adding pauses where the movement is the most difficult to perform. Adding a pause at the bottom of a squat it is a great way to develop strength for people who struggle to get out of the whole. Adding a pause at the top of a bench press would help for people who fail to successfully lockout the movement. Pauses can also be used in parts of the concentric and eccentric phases of the movement instead of just the top or bottom if that’s where an individual struggles.

RANGE SPECIFIC TRAINING

Range specific training refers to hammering out any issues there may be while performing a specific range of motion of an exercise. This can be done by extending ranges of motion, shortenining ranges of motion, or performing accessory movements that are relative to weakness in the movement.

If a person struggles to deadlift heavy weights from the floor but has no issues with performing a lockout – adding a deficit deadlift (deadlift performed while standing on a platform and the bar still on the floor) would likely benefit them and increase their deadlift strength. This works by making a longer range of motion forcing the lifter to pull the bar from and even lower distance than normal. This is one way to lengthen a range.

Conversely, strength can also be improved by shortening a range – for example if a trainee has difficulty with the top part of bench press they can move into an exercises such as a floor press – which shortens the range of motion and only trains the top half or lockout of the movment. Another way to shorten a range would be to perform a rack pull where you deadlift out of the rack from a higher starting to point to train the top half of the deadlift for a strong lockout.

In addition to manipulating the length of the repetitions we can also train parts of a movement with other exercises. To continue with the example of a deadlift – we want to look for exercises that simulate similar angles to the specific ranges where we struggle.

Bottom of the Deadlift 45 Degree Back Extension
Middle of the Deadlift Seated Goodmorning
Top of the Deadlift 90 Degree Back Extension

ACCUMULATION

Another way to bust through strength plateaus is by accumulating volume (ie. performing a lot of reps and sets) – in essence, doing hypetrophy training to elicit a gain in muscle size. The benefit of doing this type of training is that it creates high muscular tension while performing reps on reps on reps with a more moderate weight.

If this is confusing, picture it like this – a relatively strong lifter can perform a 5×5 program for strength, but if they plateau and decided to move a 10×10 training model they are:

  1. going to be using a more moderate weight allowing for better muscle control and coordination which equates to grooving an amazing and flawless movement pattern
  2. creating a lot of muscular tension allowing for better muscle firing
  3. putting on more muscle – which can be trained to move heavier weights

STRUCTURAL BALANCE

The last way to get stronger is by maintaining or creating structural balance between muscles. This can be one of the most neglected aspects of strength by trainees – as it can tend to not feel as rewarding because it usually requires movements (often remedial) with lighters weights or performing calisthenics that leave you feeling humbled.

Structural balance is extremely important to strength and the best way to understand this to explain it by building houses. Imagine you’re building a house, you’ve created your structure and then you’ve gone and reinforced it with extra materials to make it stronger, however the house has only been reinforced in certain areas. This house now has weak links that won’t be able to resist damage as well as the reinforced partsof the house. Meaning it isn’t structurally balanced. The way to correct this is by reinforcing the weak parts.

This house is your body, and essentially if there are any injuries or imbalances between muscles from front to back (anterior chain versus posterior chain) or side to side (dominant side vs non-dominant side) these muscles need to be targetted and  trained to bring them as close to structurally balanced as possible.

This is done by performing specific isolation and unilateral exercises to directly facilitate and strengthen or “rehab” the lagging muscles in training. Sometimes this will need to go a step further in terms of seeking out treatment methods such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, A.R.T, massage therapy, N.K.T, and physiotherapy depending on how severe the imbalances or injuries are and what has caused them. Don’t hesitate to seek extra care or help when addressing structural balance, especially if it’s something you’ve already been working on for a while.

 

Did this help you? Did you hate this? Hit me up and let me know your thoughts.

 

 

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3 Reasons to Focus on the Weight You Lift instead of the Weight on the Scale

Health, Mindset, Strength, Training By February 28, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

It’s very easy to become preoccupied with the weight on the scale and whether or not your body composition is changing. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change how you look, if it gets to the point where it’s breaking your spirit and effecting your mood on a day to day basis it may be time to shift your focus elsewhere.

For many women shifting their training focus to gaining strength can be very rewarding. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes with being able to do things like chin-ups or carry large pieces of furniture by yourself. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons why it’s awesome to focus on the weight on the bar instead of the weight on the scale.


 1) Your body becomes more durable: When training to get stronger and using progressive overload – your body will get stronger but you will also put on lean mass. While most people include muscle in lean muscle, they forget to include bone mass. This means you gain bone density and can reduce your risk for osteoporosis which is a very common health issue for women as they age.

Not only can training for strength prevent osteoporosis but it can also prevent joint pain – a common issue that arises as a result of weak musculature associated with poor posture. By following a balanced strength program you can improve your posture and also reduce joint pain in the elbows, knees, hips, lower back, and shoulders by strengthening the surrounding musculature. This is amazing because when you’re long into your old age you can be happy and pain free with bones that are strong and joints that don’t ache. There’ll be no need to run to your Grandmother’s medicine cabinet and grab those Lakota tablets.

2) You will be more independent: Having a solid level of base strength can give you independence in ways you’ve probably never even realized. Can you bang out a few pull ups? You probably won’t have any issues opening any jars thanks to your amazing grip strength. Can you deadlift your own bodyweight? Enjoy being able to carry groceries home in one trip and not worry about whether or not you’ll drop anything.

Moving into a new home? Have fun easily carrying pieces of furniture by yourself and not worrying about being sore or accidentally injuring yourself. Life gets easier when you’re stronger and allows you to do more things on your own that would generally have to ask help for previously.

3) You will gain a greater appreciation for your body: Maybe you love your butt, maybe you have some Michelle Obama arms that make you proud. Unfortunately when a lot women start exercising it’s usually because they have a feeling of dissatisfaction in regards to their appearance. In my experience, a lot of women start feeling a greater sense of appreciation for their bodies when they realize how much they can do instead of solely focusing on what they look like.

There’s a lovely transition that happens when women start focusing on the weight they’re lifting versus the weight on the scale. It allows us to take the emphasis off of our physical appearance and focus on our capabilities. And as we get stronger and improve our physical performance we tend to develop a more loving relationship with our bodies and have a greater sense of appreciation for what our bodies can do. We learn to view our body as an instrument rather than an ornament. We develop confidence in our physical ability and a more profound love for our body because we learn to appreciate it from another perspective. A greater love for ourselves directly impacts our quality of life and trickles into our careers, relationships, and day to day life. Who doesn’t want more of that?

If you’re ready to develop a more durable body, a greater level of independence, and a greater appreciation for your body get in touch so we can get you started on a sound training program and with practical nutrition skills so you can be strong, sane, and thriving.

 

Did you love this post? Did you hate it? I want to hear from you 🙂

Leave your questions and comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Exercises You Should Be Doing

Fat Loss, Training By July 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to do “cool” looking exercises like a single leg romanian deadlift while standing on a BOSU with the flat-side up. However the most effective exercises in terms of developing your overall strength, balance, muscle and physique really aren’t that “fancy” or gimmicky. The greatest exercises aren’t absurdly difficult to pick up and don’t require you to have been practicing gymnastics and contorsion since you were 3 years old.

It’s also easy to want to stick to isolation machine exercises because they are easy to pick up and figure out on your own however these exercises aren’t going to maximize your training potentially.

I was recently giving a client at my gym a machine orientation and she was asking me how I trained in order to get results…and so I explained to her, I generally focus on compound/multi-joint movements and try to do different variations of those movements regularly in full-body workouts. To train the full-body, you need several movement patterns a hinge pattern, a squat pattern, a pressing pattern, and a pulling pattern.

When it comes to weight training, without getting too hung up on minutiae, but there are five tradition exercises you should be focusing on that will help train your movement patterns. These moves were introduced to me as the “Golden Five” and I was told that they were what I should focus on the most while training.  To this day, I still believe 95% of the gym population would see better results if their focus shifted more towards doing more variations of these lifts.

The common denominator between the Golden Five is that they are all “full-body” movements and qualify as compound exercises. Compound exercises allow you to maximize the muscles used and joints moved which translates nicely into getting very strong, puting on more muscle, increasing your metabolism, getting leaner and geting the most bang for your buck from your workouts. The five exercises we’ll be focusing on are the deadlift, the squat, the bench press, the row, and the overhead press.

The Golden Five

1) Deadlift: The deadlift is the best exercise of these five for developing overall strength and it’s normal to see impressive and rapid gains on this lift in novice trainers. This exercises is awesome for developing the posterior chain, especially the glutes and hamstrings. When performed correctly it trains the core and is awesome for developing power.  It also the most metabolically demanding exercise of the Golden Five and should be implemented in any fat loss programming.

There are many different variations of the deadlift that can be used depending on your goals and training experience, some that I like to use with clients are: Kettlebell Deadlifts, Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts, Conventional Barbell Deadlifts, Trap Bar Romanian Deadlifts, and Rack Pulls. 

The biggest take away with this exercise is making sure that you’re using “neutral spine” throughout the whole movement – meaning you’re maintaing the natural curvatures of the spine and not comprosing on that form. Maintaining neutral spines ensures that you will be using the correct muscles and be able to perform the exercise safely and effectively.

Neutral spine in the start of the deadlift.

Neutral spine in the start of the deadlift.

**Note: All of your exercises should enforce good posture and spinal allignment. To have a better understanding of what that means refer to the following image:**

skeleton

Basic Cues for the Deadlift:

  1. Chin tucked in – neither looking down nor up. Look ahead.
  2. Shoulder blades pulled back and down.
  3. Keep your ribs down
  4. Lift with your hips, and squeeze the glutes. Think of it like you’re pushing the floor away from you.
image4

This is a Kettlbell Deadlift. A great variation of the deadlift for beginners to start learning and grooving the hinge pattern.

 

2) Squat: The squat is an exercise that is loved and hated by many. Few feats of strength or more impessive than dropping it like it’s hot while holding 200lbs on your back. While a lot of people may think squats and deadlifts are similar or even the same the fact is that they are not. They have similar overall benefits in terms of fatloss, strength and muscle gain…but they emphasize different movement patterns and muscle groups. The squat is excellent for developing the quads and the glutes but feels entirely different from a deadlift.

A big argument with the squat is whether not it should be performed to full or partial range. My stance on this is that it should be performed in a way that is most effective to the trainee based off of their needs, ability, and goal. I say the range ends when there is a loss of neutral spine. This range or depth can be improved through doing proper warm-up, mobility and stability work. However other factors such as bone structure of the pelvis and femurs will affect what range is actually suitable for the squat. Play around with the movement and find the range that is most suitable for you. Variations of the squat that I love are: Goblet Squats, High Bar Back Squats, Split Squats, and Box Squats.

The Basics of the Squat:

  1. Break at the hips and push the knees forward (yes, you want your knees to pass your toes.)
  2. Keep the knees and the toes inline.
  3. Keep the torso upright and chin tucked in with ribs down.
  4. Press through the whole foot while lifting – toes, ball and heel.
image2

Goblet Squat being performed with a kettlebell.

3) Bench Press: Now that we’ve gone over the lower body exercises it’s time to give some attention to the upper – starting with everyone’s favourite exercise to do on a Monday, the bench press. The bench press is used to develop, the chest, triceps leading to stronger horizontal pressing power and it can be done using many different implements, kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, etc. Other great options for working on horizontal pressing are push-ups, dumbbell or barbell floor presses, dumbbell incline press, decline presses, plate presses, or kettlebell presses. 

This biggest mistake people tend to make when performing the bench or other horizontal presses is forgetting to engage the core and glutes, and neglecting press throught the feet or in short “get tight” before the lift or movement. Press your feet into the floor and get the lower body fired up too, don’t just think about your arms – you really do want to be using your full body. In addition to that – in beginner’s there’s usually a lot of “elbow flare” which is okay if the exercises you’re trying to do calls for that, but if it’s not stated or demonstrated that way you want to keep the elbows tucked in. There’s a “sweet spot” between having your arms held out at 90 degrees and having them right along the sides of your torso – play around and find your sweet spot.

elbows

image2 (2)

Single arm kettlbell floor press – note the elbow tucked in versus being flared out in the bottom position of the lift.

image1

The top position of a kettlebell chest press – it’s like the floor press and plate press had a baby.

4) Row: The Row is our next upper body exercise. It is essentially the bench press of the back. It’s important to train the back in order to prevent and correct bad posture. It targets the romboids, lats, rear delts and traps. Depending on which variation of this exercise you do it will target these muscles different, but my go-to row movements are the Seated Cable Row, Standing Cable Row, Chest Supported Dumbbell Row, 3-point Dumbbell Row, Ring Rows, Inverted Rows, T-Bar Rows and Barbell Bent Over Row.

If you are already very comfortable working with body weight and have good mobility, other good exercises for your back that could be added in are Pull-ups, Chin-ups, and Lat pull-downs. To me being able to row correctly is a prerequistie before moving into overhead pulling, which is why I would prioritize rows before doing pull-ups with novice trainees.

Highlights of the Row:

  1. Keep the shoulders retracted – meanining pulled back and down.
  2. Think of this exercise as trying to bring your shoulder blades as close together as possible versus pulling with the arms. Squeeze your back muscles together
  3. Avoiding pulling with momentum or rocking the upper body.
  4. Add a pause at the end of the “squeeze” in order to maximize contraction through the muscles.

**Note: If you don’t feel it in your back, it’s not working your back.**

image3

Bent Over Row being performed with a kettlebell.

5) Overhead Press: Last but not least, we’re finishing off with the overhead press. This exercise is great way to develop your delts as well as your core. Any imbalances or weaknesses you have will likely be made visible while doing the press. The predominant muscles worked during the overhead press are the deltoids, while many other muscles (abs, glutes, triceps, traps, serratus anterior, etc) are firing and working in order to make the movement happen. The press does require a great deal of mobility through the shoulders and thoracic spine, if you are limited in these areas this is not a good exercise for you until you rectify those issues.

Some other alternatives to the Overhead Press are: Arnold Presses, Dumbbell Split Stance Presses, Half Kneeling Dumbbell Presses, Seated Presses, Z Presses, and Push Presses.

Points of Note for the Press:

  1. Keep the abs and glutes engaged, these are your stabilizers, get tight before pressing. Stand with your feet in a comfortable position (usually similar to your foot position for the deadlift or squat.)
  2. The path of the weight should start by your collarbones/anterior delts or below the chin, hold the weight just outside of your shoulders and keep the elbows close to the body.
  3. Squeeze the glutes and bring the head back as your start to press overhead, once the weight has passed the top of the head, push the head forward and finish into the top range of the lift.
image1 (2)

Overhead Press demonstrated with a kettlebell.

Implementation

If you’re not sure exactly how to implement these exercises into your workout, here’s a basic outline of a  German Body Composition workout that you could use for 3-4 weeks performing the workouts 3 to 4 times per week. You can run this on Monday, Wednesday, Friday type of schedule or a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday type of schedule depending on your recovery.

 

workout

The beauty of the Golden Five exercises is that they can be implemented in multiple ways. The deadlift, squat, bench press, row and overhead press can be altered through loading pattern, implement, and positioning. Any variaiton can be found and used based on your goals and needs, it’s just a matter of finding which variation is ideal for you. Play around, explore, find what feels comfortable and make sure you have some compound movements in your training – whatever progression or regression may be appropriate. Whatever you do, make sure you’re hingeing, squatting, pressing and pulling in one way or another.

Get to it!

Do you love or hate some of the exercises? Maybe a little bit of both? 

Did you find this helpful? Do you have any questions or feedback?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section or feel free to contact me by e-mail.

 

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“Lifting weights is pointless.”

Fat Loss, Training By June 14, 2015 Tags: , , , , , No Comments

As a strength coach, I expect to be approached by people and asked questions related to training. A lot of the time I’m on the receiving end of statements that are misguided and downright wrong – and in those cases I have to put on my big girl pants and try to be as tactful as possible while still getting the right message across.

Needless to say, I was having a discussion with someone whom I care about greatly and they expressed to me word for word: “Lifting weights is pointless. Weights are stupid. I hate it.”

The first thing that came to my mind was: “UMMM…WHAT THE HELL?! That’s not a great thing to say to a trainer. Do you know who I am?”

love lift

Decidedly, this is not a great way to respond to people…so I chose to say this instead:  “Well what do you mean by that? I would disagree.”

Essentially the reasoning behind their statement was that they didn’t feel like they had accomplished anything of value in the they time spent lifting. “I would rather get exercise by shoveling snow, working on a farm, accomplishing tasks.”

And I get that – I used to say that before I ever started doing any type of training. Unless there was a direct objective or something that was instantaneously accomplished I couldn’t wrap my head around doing it.

With that being said, I have obviously shifted my view on training seeing as I work as a strength coach and I try to promote training for health and general preparedness for an awesome life to anyone and everyone that I meet.

I would say that if you don’t feel like you’ve done anything of value after training it’s because you don’t understand what training is and you don’t understand why you are training.

What training typically entails is moving the body under load from point A to point B with good alignment to stimulate the muscles and the nervous system in cumulative fashion over an extended period of time.

However 90% of people train because they want a specific benefit from it – not because they want to move objects from point A to point B.

People are usually training for one of the following reasons:

  1. Preparation: you are in the process of changing the way you want your body to look or function. In this case training is getting you ready to do everything you ever dreamed of with ease while staying injury and pain free. This can range from wanting to have shoulders that look like pumpkins, fitting in to your old jeans, being able to walk 1km with a 5 bags of groceries in your hands, or playing with your kids outside for more than 10 minutes without feeling exhausted and gassed.
  2. Maintenance: Your body already looks and functions the way you want it to without pain or injury and you want to keep it that way.

Training is a means to an end – it is not the end.

Training is deliberate – there is an aim and an end result. It’s not immediate and there usually is no instant gratification unless you learn to enjoy the physical act of training. The results manifest through a cumulative effort of progressions.

So when you consider that the whole purpose of training is to accomplish a specific result albeit not instantly – it is anything but pointless every aspect of good training is purposeful.

Now if your view of training or weight lifting is just going to the gym and randomly moving objects without knowing or understanding why you’re doing it or what you’re doing it for…then yes, I would say that is pointless and probably a waste of your time and energy.

But that’s not training.

 

 

What’s on your mind?

Leave your comments, questions, or thoughts below – I want to hear from you.

 

 

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