Welcome to one of the first-ever Athletic Grit blog posts! Since I will be writing most of the blog posts for Athletic Grit, it’s very important to me that you understand two things:
- I’m currently a beginner level calisthenics athlete.
- I have never worked as a formal strength coach
Consequently, all of the information in this article, and the articles that will come after it, exists only to encourage critical thinking. I am not an expert in any style of strength and mobility training.
Of course, I believe that I have a very good understanding of the science behind strength. I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought otherwise. Just remember to think very critically about any of the information I give you. As you may know, it’s commonplace for influencers to get things wrong in the realm of fitness.
Let’s get into it.
Why I started Promoting Physical Education
As some of you already know, my athletic journey started at the age of 15. I decided to join a local boxing class where I met my first ever coach: Tom (prior to meeting him I played field sports in school). The day Tom introduced me to boxing was the first day I had a good reason to be an athlete: To get better at something that I love.
A summer past. At this point, I had graduated Tom’s beginner boxing class and a friend of mine, we’ll call him Hank, invited me to visit his martial arts gym in the city. I was at that gym for about a week, a week longer than I should have been. Although I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I knew I didn’t want a place to workout, I needed a place to train.
Simply working out isn’t enough to drive lifelong results. If you want long term progress, you’ll need to start training with a purpose first and with a plan to accomplish it second.
Time passed and I found a different martial arts gym where I trained Muay Thai for the first time. I had never been happier. I had a smile on my face for the whole hour I was there. I loved everything about Muay Thai.
When you find what you love, you’ll know. If you have to question your love for a sport, you probably don’t love it at all.
After one year of training Muay Thai at this gym, it too devolved into a place to workout. A number of the experienced coaches left to start their own gym following a conflict with management. While it was difficult to change settings and leave behind the people I had been training with for all that time, I knew it was necessary.
If your teachers and coaches aren’t making you a better athlete, you should find new teachers and coaches. Surround yourself with people who are better than you at what you do.
My membership at the previous martial arts gym had expired and it was time to find a new gym. Hank had relocated to a fairly cultural Muay Thai gym. From the first time I set foot in the gym, I absolutely loved it. It was truly unlike anything I had ever experienced. During most of the time I was there, the place was only for tough guys. The people who didn’t love Muay Thai quit. There was no other way to survive it. I can’t remember the number of nights I came home limping with a pulverized body and one or two black eyes. When I got home my family would ask me what happened. I’d smile wide and say: “I had so much fun”.
During my time at this gym, I purchased a weight training program and I started strength training. I lifted for about two and a half years and made, what most would call great progress. Other than a few plateaus, I had made serious gains. But there was one problem. I was slow. In the ring, speed beats power nine times out of ten. I realized that there was a serious problem with how I was strength training. Since I didn’t know any better, I stopped lifting. I assumed that the size and weight of my muscles was the reason for my slowness.
After a few weeks, my speed started to return. New problem: I was weak. I didn’t understand how to train properly. In other words, I was completely uneducated. The only science I had ever exposed myself to was bro-science. Not good. Not good at all. At the time I didn’t believe this mattered too much. From here I purchased a number of training programs. Many of them could have worked but ultimately I was doomed to fail. I either didn’t love them or I didn’t benefit from their style of training in the way I wanted to.
The arrival of Covid-19 on the world’s doorstep caused a worldwide shutdown. The gyms closed, and I stopped training.
During the summer between school years, I replaced the time I would have normally have been training with studying. I created a three-step process to learn enough about the inner workings of the body to create my own training program:
- Study anatomy
- Study strength science
- Study how training programs are developed
The Importance Of Anatomy
Understanding the anatomy of the human body is foundational. I believe that without a basic awareness of every trainable muscle in the human body and an understanding of their respective functions, you cannot create a high-quality training program. Remember how I said I was slow on the ring? It turns out that the strength training program I followed for 2 ½ years ignored a few dozen muscles that I should have been training.
If you want a functional body, I believe you have to train every muscle inside of it. If you want to train every muscle, you have to know about every muscle first.
Many people would argue that this isn’t entirely true. They’re right. If you want to train every muscle, you do not have to know about it. You can buy a training program. The mind behind your training program must be aware of every muscle. Whether that mind is yours or someone else’s doesn’t matter. That said, if you want to create your own training program, you need to know your anatomy.
Here’s the deal. At first, it won’t matter that you know your anatomy. You can easily progress past the beginner levels of strength and well into the intermediate levels without it.
This is how the problems played out for me and many of the other athletes I’ve known:
First, I hit plateaus in a few areas. It didn’t seem like a big deal, just kind of annoying. Then, the pain. An accumulation of injuries in the joints & tendons, in addition to the gradual tightening of untrained muscles, resulted in further plateaus, ruined posture, and caused chronic pain day and night. Here’s the important part: I’m very young. Under 20 years old. Even in my young body, I felt like an old man. How much more would you be affected if you’re in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc?
Even if you’re in your prime, you will get old one day. If you abuse your body by not training or training with a low-quality strength program you will reap the consequences in the years to come.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide who to trust with your body. For me, I care about my body too much to leave it in the hands of someone who may or may not get it right. My opinion may very well be biased because of my personal experiences. Regardless, I firmly believe that everyone is responsible for their own body. In my experience, shifting this responsibility to doctors, trainers, and other specialists is very risky. I respect these professionals very much. But the truth of the matter is you can never know what another person truly knows. Even if they have excellent physical education, no one has the same potential to know your body as well as you.
Understanding Athletic Development
In my opinion, a basic understanding of progressive overload is sufficient for maintaining a low level of strength. So you don’t have to study athletic development in depth to live a long healthy life. However, if your goal is to push your strength levels into the intermediate and advanced ranges, you need to have a very good understanding of strength science. In my opinion, a very good understanding of strength science is necessary, while an outstanding understanding is what an athlete should aim to attain.
Many of the athletes who try to gain a physical education chose to forgo studying anatomy and jump straight to studying strength. Big mistake. Gaining strength in an incorrect and imbalanced manner will likely cause harm to your body. It’s not uncommon for these accumulative injuries to be partially irreversible. This is not an exaggeration. These injuries are very real and have the potential to be very serious if they’re compounded over time.
Learning the science of strength is an important step to successfully develop as an athlete – especially if you created your training program.
Developing a training program
Naturally, this step is only valuable for those looking to create their own program. Way too many athletes just “wing it” when it comes to creating a training program. This step requires very little study since much of the knowledge you need will have been obtained through studying human anatomy and the science of athletic development. However, this step requires some critical thinking.
Creating a training program essentially consists of matching anatomical functions with a selection of exercises that matches your style of training. For example, I’m currently a beginner level weighted calisthenics athlete. Therefore, to train my lats I chose to train the pull-up. You repeat this until you have selected exercises that train every muscle. A complete physical education can take up to six months of casual study to complete. It takes time but the result is more than worth the sacrifice.
My Athletic Journey Continued
There isn’t much else to this anecdote. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be training calisthenics and weighted calisthenics. My current program is designed to bring me from a beginner level to an intermediate level of calisthenics.
If you found this helpful and you’ve never built a high-quality training program before, definitely keep checking the blog for more useful tips and tricks!
If you feel like something was missed or you’d like to see a particular subject covered in the near future, please let me know in the comments below.