In this day and age, we are a culture of doing more to get more. Training is no different. Most athletes think the harder they train, the more success they will incur. This approach often gets confused with "beating yourself into the ground" to make "gainz." I think most of us have subscribed to this approach at one point or another. In my 20s I often thought that if I took a day off I would lose everything I had been working for. It wasn't until some years later than I realized the higher my training age, the less training I actually needed to make progress.
From July 2010 to July 2011 I was deployed to Afghanistan. During this time I lost more muscle mass and strength than any other time in my life, including the time I spent in Basic Training. The reason is simple when I look back now: I wasn't getting optimal sleep (most days less than four hours), and when I did have time allocated to sleep, I opted for a training session instead, in hopes of not losing any of my fitness. But in my effort to maintain my fitness, I lost more of it than I thought would've been possible. Looking back now, I should have chosen the extra sleep and kept my training intensity and volume low, as my body was already in a state of constant stress. The moral of the story is this: informing your athletes of the importance of listening to their bodies is vital but often overlooked.
Listening to your body is key. When you need a rest day, your body usually tells you in more than one way. When these days come up, now I listen. If I'm just "not feeling it," I take the day off or do something less taxing to help facilitate my recovery. Conversely, if I'm feeling really good I might be more likely to try for a new PR or push the envelope. Overtraining is a real phenomenon that I've experienced multiple times in my more than 20 years of strength training. It's definitely not something that lends itself to motivation to train or eat healthily. Avoiding the signs of overtraining and not listening to your body is a recipe for disaster. I tell all my clients to tune in to the body's messages. Taking a day off is not going to halt your progress — in fact, it can do exactly the opposite.
Often times training programs call for a planned period of "deloading" where volume and intensity are significantly lower. With the conjugate system, the rotation of work, volume, and intensity is constant, so deloading isn't necessary. But there comes a time every 16 to 24 weeks that my body tells me to take a week off. Often, this is an opportunity to recharge your battery and return to your training even better than before. Not only does it provide great benefits from a physical standpoint, but the mental clarity you will incur from a planned week off is huge. If you get to that point, be receptive to these messages; you will come back to your training feeling a new level of motivation.
Giving Advice to Your Clients
Most times, clients' schedules prevent them training as much as they'd like. Well thought-out programming includes training that will help facilitate recovery, improve limiting factors, and build their bases. Group training classes should be no different. Unlike one-on-one training, we don't have the luxury of knowing when our clients are going to train, but this does not mean that we should assume we need to plan training that is going to put people through the ringer every day. Our job is to provide the highest level of service regardless of their commitment to the training.
In most cases, it's intelligent to assume your clients are going to make it to your facility at least three times each week, but in most cases, a large sect of your clients will train with you even more consistently, in an effort to get the most bang for their buck. With that said, if we program high-intensity pieces daily, we run the risk over time of wearing our athletes out. Conversely, if we don't program enough high-intensity work then our athletes don't incur the benefits of such training, which doesn't assist improving body composition and their basal metabolic rate.
So What's the Balance?
The answer is a well-rounded training template. To develop a well-rounded template we need to be somewhat versed in the science behind our training. We need to understand how to program higher threshold work, the desired effect of each piece, anaerobic versus aerobic, and how these things fit into our training structure. There are many options when considering how to develop a template that makes sense for you and your athletes. A few things to consider:
1. Placement of Higher Threshold Work
Think about having 72 hours between these sessions. The same concept applies to max effort versus dynamic effort work. You certainly wouldn't consider performing a max effort lower body session on Monday and dynamic effort lower body session for the same movement on Wednesday. Conditioning work is no different.
2. Aerobic Work
How are you able to fit these pieces into a 60-minute class while keeping things fun and engaging? The value of aerobic work extends to recovery as well as being more efficient with having ATP readily available for higher threshold efforts like one-rep maxes. And contrary to popular belief, you won’t lose muscle by doing 30 minutes of low-intensity work.
3. Building Value
Some of your athletes still may think they need to kill themselves to make progress. We know for certain this is not the case. Be confident in your approach, as this confidence will transmit to your athletes. Also, the proof is in the pudding. If they are making progress and are staying injury free then the training will build value on its own. Remember, you’re the expert and your clients should not dictate how you program.
4. The Why
The value of being able to articulate your “why” to your clients is important in order to create value and educate your clients on best practices. If your clients understand how your plan blends together and the logic behind all of your programming then it’s much easier for them to buy into the process. Don’t put something on paper unless you can fully explain the logic behind your programming.
Having fun with your training is key. If you're not having fun, you're probably not going to continue with this approach. Be creative but try to put yourself in your athletes’ shoes when writing a workout. Testing your programming is also important, as many times things that look great on paper don’t play out exactly how you plan.
Encourage your clients to track their results from the very first day and retest vital pieces every 12 to 16 weeks. This is where we can actually prove that our programming is effective and where your clients will really buy into your coaching. On the other hand, if a client is not progressing how they would like, we have concrete data that will allow us to delve into the reasons why they have not progressed. Often times there are many factors outside the gym that we would not be aware of without having data to initiate further conversation.
It's easy to tell your clients why you're doing what you're doing. It's harder to prove to them they will be rewarded for their efforts, as Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you're confident in your logic and willing to stick to your guns, people will eventually buy into your process. Encourage your athletes to be patient, continue building value in your programming, and be prepared to educate your clients.
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