Exercise is learning. The most basic kind.

A couple years ago when visiting World Athletics (now Altis) in Arizona, I asked Dan Pfaff how long it would take someone to develop physically at a basic level (in the context of the sport he coaches at an Olympic level, track and field).
In other words, generally speaking, if you took someone with no consistent physical training, and trained them to be physically competent in basic movement patterns, posture, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness (not highly specialized mind you), how long would it take? I wanted to see what someone working with people at the highest level would say, even though most of the answer would be “it depends”but I wanted to hear what came after that. As a mental marker, though I knew whatever time frame he gave me could never be specific to everyone, everywhere, in all sports. Ever.
 
“It depends” he said, “6 months if they learn fast. 2 years if they are a motor moron (have a harder time learning physical skills).”
 
Mind you, he was talking from his context: mostly <30 athletes that hadn’t yet been given consistent, quality training and coaching in track and field sports for the majority of their athletic careers.
 
He wasn’t even talking about general populations trying to be fit, which was the population I was thinking about, and he still said up to two years!
 
The majority of people exercising for health and fitness are on the middle to lower end of the spectrum of “natural physical abilities”. If you’re an elite competitive athlete, you’d know it. But for the big fat middle ground of people who range from very unfit, to pretty fit, you can usually include a couple significant variables; poor posture, work and life stress, poor daily habits, injury history, joint and mobility issues and sedentary jobs.
Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 4.34.17 PM2 years of quality training to make lifelong changes and sustain a higher level of fitness, doesn’t seem that long at all.
 
High quality training and programming for the 80-90% of “average” people that need to be fitter, relies heavily on improving their “physical learning” capabilities, and managing and improving the responses of their nervous systems  that are bombarded with a lot of non-physical stressors that take the majority of available attention (work, family, worries, kids etc).
Most programs assume certain levels of competencies that most people have not been given the time to develop properly.  Those competencies can effectively prevent a large majority of issues with joints, stress management (ability to recover), or lack of progress down the road. Those issues are often the result of a confusing cocktail of variables built up over the years, that take time to reverse, or require coaching. Perhaps there is a better way to program the basics for general population as a specific population with specific needs, without boring everyone to death.
Exercise is learning. The most basic kind. Our first kind, as humans. 
Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 4.33.29 PM
The goal, IMO, is not to add on corrective work, therapy, breathing/posture/yoga/chiro sessions, and any combination of a support system to your exercise, or lifting etc etc once “issues” begin cropping up.
The goal, when general fitness IS the goal, is to need them as little as possible, so more time can be spent progressively training harder and thereby getting “fitter”.
That can’t happen if your posture is perpetually a “problem”. To use an example.

Most programs advertised for strength, hypertrophy, powerlifting, bodybuilding etc with specific sets, reps and exercises assume a certain level of competency in regards to:

– Coordination
– Balance (huge!)
– Awareness or attention to program detail (if you want to train on your own)
– Posture (critical)
– Ability to generate intensity (appropriately!)
– The ability to feel muscle tension (women need this a lot)
– Joint awareness, the ability to recognize “good” form for an exercise (essential for training on your own)
– Consistent form and reps so set and rep parameters deliver the physical result you are aiming for (speed vs strength for instance. Are your 10 reps 10 reps, or basically 3 good, 3 mediocre, and 4 fairly shit?).

If those who are athletically gifted and competitive MUST respect mechanics, stress management, health and movement quality (though their nervous systems would let them perform with issues “ours” wouldn’t), why don’t we program for that for those who need it most? That is the foundation of athleticism. A level of athleticism (fit), as I am using it here, is what everyone is aiming for, no matter where they start. Strength and conditioning principles applied in very progressive ways, to training abilities needed first, is essential, before more “traditional” programs (as listed above) can be fully effective. 
Why are the basics boring? I don’t think they have to be. I think its more because it’s just hard to teach. And teaching fitness and exercise to people who are not so great at it, is hard. You have to mix motivation and support with a successful teaching process that allows for physical growth for people who have to fight for it. You also have to stress them out physically for positive adaptations, while competing with a large amount of other stressors that are usually negative.
Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 4.35.00 PM
Teaching is hard. Period. But exercise is learning. Being a trainer, is teaching.
The efficacy and success of any type of specific program, depends a lot on that broad base of capacities, that your average exerciser is far behind in, and that I think can be taught and programmed for better using the principles established.
This is what I am thinking a lot about right now.

 

 
 

Get Fitness Baddies In Your INBOX

I write articles all over the web - subscribe here for updates on all my latest articles from the blog and elsewhere!