Lee Boyce - The Brutul Truth About Training

Stuff I learned in 2012

Contrary to popular belief, the world did not crash and burn on the 21st.  Since we’re all still here, I’ll take on a different tone than usual. Randomly, I’ve decided to take a page out of most writers’ books, and give myself a “year in review”.  It definitely has been a good one, with a lot of accomplishments, and that many more learning experiences.  I’ll try to do this each year if possible, granted my scatterbrain can remember something so easy. A few highlights to close out 2012:

Now that I’ve finished tooting my own horn, it’s time to zero in on the stuff I learned this year, through my own experiences or viewing others’ experiences.

Heavy lifting is overrated.

I’m 26 years old.

There must be a phase that all young guys go through as, well, young guys – where they look up to the biggest, strongest, most athletic folks out there, and just plain want to turn into the hulk. When we’re under 20, we’re invincible when it comes to recovery, exertion and injury. Whether or not our training knowledge and skill level can beat out that of our 11 year old sister, one thing is for sure: whatever we do, we won’t be out of commission for too long.  I remember being in my street clothes between classes in high school, and passing my friends by on the basketball court as they play a fun game. I’d drop my backpack and just jump in, cold and all - Just to get a few dunks in.  If I did that today, my chiropractor would probably be accumulating parking tickets for his new Rolls Royce Phantom.  This example ties into the subheading because, as we grow older, our joints have taken more cumulative wear and tear from, well, life.  There’s not too much we can do to avoid it. We can limit the effects of this, however, by paying attention to our soft tissue, joint lubrication, and exercise selection.  There are dozens of benefits to lifting heavy weights.  It encourages bone ossification, stimulates the CNS, and releases key hormones, to name a few. I’m not saying we shouldn’t lift heavy weights. I’m saying we shouldn’t do it all the time, and we shouldn’t make it the centralized focus of our year in/year out training programs.  I will always believe the cumulative wear and tear on our joints to deal with lifting substantially more than our own body’s weight on the bar has more negative long –term effects than positive. Therefore, they just shouldn’t be used as often as lower intensity loads are.  Nuff said.

Ground work should be part of every program.

By ground work, I refer to bodyweight exercises and unloaded primal patterns. Dan John just wrote an awesome article on TNATION on this topic, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve come across clients I’ve worked with who are “weight training strong”. What I mean is, they have the big bench, they can pull press a tonne, and squat and leg press even more.  But when you assess their mobility, through an exercise like a dowel (or broomstick) overhead squat, or check out their form and muscular endurance during a set of simple push ups, a million weaknesses make themselves manifest.  Lifters looking to move to the “advanced” level need to consider their foundation. Push ups, pull ups, chin ups, hanging leg raises, inverted rows, lunges, planks, and all their variations can irrefutably act as quintessential “root” strength builders. They also help encourage many motor units to fire at the same time, to encourage fat loss. If you want dense muscles, and also to improve your overall athleticism, build your foundation with bodyweight staples and ground work.

Being married to one school of thought does nobody any good.

This is an important one. Earlier this year, you may have remembered a post of mine that ranted about the exhausting experience of refreshing my personal training certification.  Aside from talking about blanket cues that were mindlessly used, it’s more important to zero in on the fact that fitness coaches, gurus, and instructors alike are all part of an industry that is dominantly based on the opinions of pundits of said industry.  Sure, the opinions can be validated through research, and tremendous amounts at that. But they will still always be opinions.  Few things can be proven. A critical thinker may have a penchant towards one particular line of thinking where exercise philosophy and technique is concerned, but ruling out any and all other schools of thought will do nothing but bad in this industry. Straight up, there are too many contraindications, special cases, and arbitrary findings that can bring validity to OR invalidate as many teachings under the sun.  When it comes to acquiring theoretical knowledge, this paragraph may make one confused as to just what to think.  It’s simple.

  1. Be competent.  A wise and very well respected strength coach laid it out for me as simple as that. The way I like to interpret this is, is that there is a “baseline” that all coaches will agree on when it comes to “how to exercise”. Simple technical things to look for, the importance of learning primal movement patterns, basic positions to be able to achieve, physics of barbell movements, and so on.  Those are musts Whether or not you believe in foam rolling, or think high volume iso’s are more effective than total body training, or you believe crossfit is the saving grace of all mankind, is all irrelevant, as long as you know the foundational skills necessary to create basic movements, loaded or unloaded, safely.
  2. Keep an open mind. Don’t be quick to rule out other methodologies out there. There is good in every program if you dig deep enough. There is also bad in every program, if you dig deep enough.  I definitely believe the idea that exercise, especially weight training, is unnatural. We weren’t designed to hit the gym, grab an outside object and start grinding out reps and sets of various “patterns” in the quest for more muscle, less fat, or more strength.  With this in mind, what would make any single program design or thinking the “best method”?  it will help you develop your own abilities as a trainer, and likely help you avoid plateaus as a lifter if you keep your mind open to the thoughts of many respected coaches out there, applying their valid information.  After you apply point number 1 and learn the foundational basics of training, number 2 should be easy.


Exercise has lost its import.

 The way things are going in the world, people want more, sooner. Technology has facilitated that too. Hell, who ever thought you could have a face conversation or control your lights at home using your cell phone?  The consistency remains when we begin talking about exercise.  Quite frankly, exercise isn’t done by the masses for the sake of exercise.  The great majority of people exercise for the result, and nothing else.  Here’s where things get tricky.  When I say “the result” most people reading this will think of the obvious – lose weight, cut fat, build muscle, add size, get the bikini body – whatever have you.  This is true, but a growing number are looking more towards a result of the numbers they pushed in the gym during their workout, and basically nothing else.  These numbers, in their mind, are directly related to how “hardcore” their workout is, they are, or their fitness is.

It takes a true reality check to understand that the real purpose of exercise and training (less a few exceptions) is to improve physical health and fitness. Knowing this point creates a whole mess of questions.  I’ll leave those questions for you to ask.  

Squatting more than once weekly is awesome for gains.

I should have started doing this a long time ago.  It’s really amazing how much general strength goes up when you exploit yourself through the biggest movement possible.  When you up the weekly volume on squats in particular, I’ve found that general recovery time improves, your squat numbers skyrocket, and your strength endurance improves dramatically too.  Though it’s a bit harder to fit into all my pairs of jeans, I’ll take the benefits in trade any day of the week.

Envy solves nothing.

As I said above, we’re in the age of technology. That includes the use of modalities like the internet. What this means is there’s a free platform for anyone to put their information, thoughts, or anything they want on display for the world to see.  Everybody and their brother in the fitness industry is starting a blog, and trying to get their content out there.  I’ve learned that this industry is more of a community, and we really should be helping each other, rather than building up barricades or blockers to their good intentions. The reason most of us got into the industry in the first place was so that we can help other people reach their goals and ultimately have positive impact on their lives. Seeing a young, aspiring buck out there trying to do what his favourite coaches in the ‘biz are doing, or seeing someone get a quick break into the world of paid writing, should really be an encouragement if nothing more.  Granted, there are folks who may be doing this prematurely, or with a limited knowledge base, but that’s for another conversation.

Cupcakes taste good.

Jonathan Goodman said it best in one of his posts on the Personal Trainer Development Centre.  There seems to be a general thinking by outsiders towards the personal training crowd – basically, that we don’t look at junk food with the same eyes a “regular person” would. But the truth is, we’re personal trainers, but we’re also human beings. We enjoy a slice of cheesecake or fully loaded burger and fries just as much as the next guy. To pounce on us for not “providing a good example” by avoiding this stuff like the plague isn’t a great example of thinking things through.  Our occupation allows us to be mindful of our health and fitness (hopefully) and in doing so, not develop an imbalanced attitude towards consumption of bad foods.  I think it’s a sign of mental health when a trainer can enjoy himself or herself on a given occasion and veg out on some calorically dense, bad-for-you food. As much psychological imbalance is involved in leading someone to become a binge eater of the wrong things, ultimately causing obesity, I believe a measurable amount of psychological imbalance could exist for someone who shuts out the potential for now-and-then enjoyment of “junk food” in fear that it will ruin their temple of a body.  It’s all about balance, folks. 

I have an affinity for superhero movies.

I can now add this to the list right behind quarter pounders, blondes, and conscious rap music. Whether or not each of those items is good for me is something I'll save for another conversation. I saw The Dark Knight Rises the day it came out in theatres, and I thought it was fantastic. Perfect end to a trilogy and a great villain in Bane. It’s impressive how much fear that guy could instill as an actor when the only part of his face we could see for the whole movie was his eyes.  Looking back, I also was able to catch the Avengers, Thor, Captain America, and can’t wait for Man of Steel to come out in 2013. Superman’s always been my favourite comic book hero, but I feel it may be hard to make a movie that’s got enough depth to build a story around a bulletproof guy who can defy gravity, break the speed of sound, and can only be killed by one thing.  Looking forward to it!

 I need to blog more often.

It’s true.  I write for a lot of places, so that takes up most of my time, but I have to acknowledge that this is the one place where you readers can get a true idea of my thoughts with me as the editor, and not someone else. My goal for 2013 is to get at least a couple out per month, and keep them consistent as can be.   


That’s all, folks

What did you learn this year? Anything that you found surprising, or that changed the way you view your training methods or daily habits? I’d like to hear them, so feel free to post ‘em in the comments section below. 

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