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Exercise As Punishment

I’m annoyed.

Sometimes it is such an uphill battle fighting all the nonsense in the fitness/nutrition world that I just want to wave my white gym towel and say ‘Ok biggest loser…you win’. Obviously, I won’t ever do that, but the things people put on the internet – and worse, what people follow and share – is just mind boggling.

Take this little gem, for example.

Really?

Now, to be fair, this truly looks harmless enough. It gives a realistic look at what the calories in these items are comparable to, and sometimes that is necessary when deciding if something is really “worth it”. AND, frankly, the items listed are definitely treats that shouldn’t be consumed 24/7. But that’s as far as the compliments go.

First of all, whether we realize it or not, this attitude and behavior is the beginning of a very slippery slope to food restriction and over-exercising. If you literally think in terms of how many minutes you need on the stairclimber per piece of pizza, do you really think it will stop there? Every time you see a calorie label, your brain is automatically going to convert it into some ridiculous exercise plan that is going to have you going above and beyond the necessary (and safe) recommendations. Not to be offensive, but it is SO easy to rationalize poor decisions and putting junk in your body if you use exercise as your “morning after” pill.

Further, we are humans – not animals. And, contrary to popular belief with all this Paleo nonsense, I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t struggling to survive between meals. This adds an important component in regards to diet and exercise. You have control over what you eat, how much you eat, and why you’re eating it. You’re also in control of what you like to do for activity and what makes you happy. Using exercise as a “guilt trip” makes you resent food, and view working out as a punishment instead of something that can make you empowered and all around awesome. As well meaning as these charts might be, this really promotes the wrong kind of thinking. Dogs use the reward/punishment system. A brain as sophisticated as a human’s should be beyond that.

Lastly, just because you DO indulge occasionally, does not mean you have ruined all your efforts in the gym. This is a journey, and it doesn’t get ruined by a few cookies. It is so easy to get sucked into such negative thinking (ahem- refer to the above chart) when really you should be feeling proud of your efforts each and every time you eat something healthy, or spend time getting active. If you really made an effort to count your triumphs instead of your failures, by the end of the month, you’d actually see progress. This progress might inspire more progress, and then before you know it, you’re setting higher goals.

I’m just a big fan of everything in moderation. I also can’t stress enough that no matter what they look like on tv or on the competition stage, compensating social activity and occasional indulges for strict caloric intake and aesthetics is not healthy either. There are a lot of extremes out there, and too often we fall for them and then punish ourselves when we can’t keep up with ridiculous standards. Instead, take a step back, and start appreciating your body and yourself. Find people that motivate you, but don’t tear you down. And PLEASE don’t eat cookies and then do jumping jacks, because nobody wants to clean up after you.

Behind the scenes programming: #StrengthCoachProblems

Putting together a training program can be a daunting task, even when you know what you’re doing.  You can write the greatest program in the world, with every awesome exercise in the PERFECT ORDER ….but its almost a guarantee that you’ll be forced to deviate from it at some point.  That goes for anyone, whether you’re programming for yourself, a client, or a whole gaggle.

My peeps

There are tons of things to throw you off course: equipment (or lack of), weight room/gym hours, illness, crazy schedules…or, with teams: attendance (this is a big one with high school kids), coach’s requests, varying degrees of ability, small groups/big groups, etc.  Since punching most of these things in the face is not an option, you have to be flexible. When I finally wrote the workouts for lacrosse last semester, I had to make a lot of adjustments to accommodate the restrictions.  I wanted to share some of my experiences with this because too many times the emphasis is placed on “ideal” without a concept of “reality” – and part of being a coach/trainer/teacher is being able to adjust on the fly.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) since there is not a head strength coach at the high school, I was able to have full control over the days we worked out and the program I wanted the kids to follow.  It was cool because I already knew a lot of their strengths and weaknesses, so I went in there with a few clear goals.

The most important ones for our team were:

  1. Injury prevention/Technique – This should be the same no matter WHO is running the show, but I’m mentioning it anyway.  I have a group of high risk athletes, and a lot of them haven’t done proper strength training before.  It was important to me to assess them, teach them, and then have them doing exercises that would hopefully prevent major non-contact injuries.
  2. Dynamic movements – I wanted them to learn some dynamic warm ups and get used to the idea of preparing for a workout WITHOUT static stretching (see earlier posts).  Having them slowly get used to this idea would make for a smoother transition in the spring when the season starts. A-skips and walking lunges seem great *and easy* in theory, but if you’ve ever had inexperienced kids try to perform them…. its a hot mess. There’s a definite learning curve here.
  3. General conditioning – Both weight training days and field days had a component of conditioning built in.  I either programmed some metabolics after they lifted, or finished the field days with some form of interval training.  Lacrosse requires less endurance than soccer, but because of the number of speed changes and change of direction movements that occur, conditioning is a huge component.
  4. Variety of agility – I started every field session started with a few agility drills.  It is really important to program the agilities before anything else since they are the most neurologically demanding component of the program.  You don’t want them fatigued trying to cut sharply because A) the technique is atrocious [more than usual] and B) it just puts them at a higher risk for injury.  I had them doing T drills, L drills, short cone suicides, box drills, etc.  Simple but very effective and I was able to monitor technique.  We incorporated backward shuffles, lateral movements and also complete change of direction into these as well.

Now, logistically, I had a small group of girls – probably about 5-8 each session consistently – which worked out in my favor given the size of the weightroom and the lack of equipment.  The rest of the team plays soccer (a winter sport in sunny florida), so their conditioning and agility prep is already implied.  We spent 2 days in the weight room and 2 days on the field at the beginning, then, because of various school functions and vacation days, we transitioned to 2 days outside and 1 day in the weightroom.  Since I had to cut a day, I decided that the lacrosse specific movements/conditioning were more important at that point.  They were still able to do a lot of the dynamic/corrective work outside, so the important “prehab” stuff was still incorporated.

On weight room days, I programmed 2 tri-sets of corrective dynamic exercises for their warm up: all of the girls had similar issues [lateral sway in the hips, weak upper back, tight hamstrings, knees caving in, etc] so they were all able to perform these together as a group.  I had plank variations, split stance reaches, QL stretches, Y’s/T’s, single leg hip raises, etc.

Then it got crazy.  The 2 squat racks in the weight room are those ridiculous Hammer Strength/Smith machine contraptions (which, if you don’t know what these are, they are basically the US Air of equipment…. aka: a failure).

useless air

Knowing this, and also by seeing the issues the team had, I programmed almost exclusively unilateral lifts (overhead bulgarian split squats, step ups, various lunges, etc) and then used the excess amount of benches we had to do incline push ups.  The “squat” racks were used to do inverted rows and the pull up bars were used to do eccentric pull ups. It was all fine and good on paper, but when the girls were actually in there, it was like a traffic jam.

What else is new?

I had to change some of the pairings so no one would be standing around waiting for equipment.  I decided to partner them and go by stations.  I put 2-3 exercises per station using the same equipment (for example: bulgarians using the bench, push ups using the bench, then step ups using the bench).  I was lucky because we weren’t doing anything super heavy, so exercise order, while important, wasn’t as crucial as it might be any other time.  I knew going in that the workouts would be total-body focused, so there was no body part splits or other issues to deal with.  They needed to learn how to use their bodies as a unit, not in isolation, so for our goals this approach made the most sense.  It also gave me a lot of flexibility AND cut down on unnecessary “rest” time, which incorporated a bit of a conditioning.  I just had to be cautious about which exercises were more time consuming than others (step ups since they are done one leg at a time clearly take longer than push ups) so it was just something else to consider when making the stations.

The final part came at the end with a more conditioning focused circuit.  Typically I’d split the girls in half and have one group go through circuit A and the other through circuit B and then switch.  These were quick, intense, and used minimal equipment.  I had them do lateral jumps/skaters, snatch jacks, burpees, body weight squats, etc.  Sometimes I’d throw in a med ball to make it interesting, but I tried to keep it simple and effective.  This was a crowd pleaser since they were able to race each other through, which made it a “team” activity while keeping it intense.  Game on.

Exactly

As much of a self proclaimed meathead as I am, my favorite days were actually the field days.  I had more space, and all I needed for equipment was a few cones.  Agilities are one of my favorite things – you’re really only limited by your creativity.  This was also so much easier to plan – I would just split the group in half and have two drills going simultaneously.  I like to make them go through each one 3-4x: Why? I just noticed that after 4, they get tired/lazy/bored with it, but 2 times isn’t really enough.  After the agility section, I’d have them go through the main conditioning portion.  They ran field sections using the soccer field (sprint one, jog 3, sprint 2, jog 2, sprint 3, jog 1, sprint all 4) on some days, and various sprint distances on other days.  Then they’d finish with some stretching.

All in all these sessions took about 35-45 minutes, and the weight room sessions about 50-60.  If you’re efficient, you shouldn’t have to train for more than an hour.  Anything longer than that and the kids get lazy/tired and their attention span is out the door.  Even if its just a 30 minute session but its at a high tempo and you get your work done, it is ten times more effective than a 3 hour block of torture.  I also didn’t do anything fancy – as much as I wanted to try to teach them really cool things, I needed to be practical.  You have to take into account the learning curve and if its really worth spending a ton of time learning one complicated move.  For my purposes, having them execute the basics at a high level was more important.

Obviously it is all a learning experience and some days went a lot smoother than others – but in the end, it was really successful.  My advice: write down everything, including notes AFTER a workout.  This is where I was able to make the best adjustments because I could see exactly where things needed to be changed and then could go in the next session with a better plan.  Even if you’re just programming training sessions for yourself, take notes of the sticking points – not just your performance.  Did you use too much equipment?  Did the circuit flow the way you wanted it to?  If the gym is crowded, do you have an alternative?  It seems tedious, but trust me, it makes a huge difference.