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Using favourite movies to work out where the exercises should go…


22 NOV 2023

I love a good action or thriller just as much as the next person. But there’s levels to the game, isn’t there?

There’s something about clicking on IMDB, seeing that dreaded <6.7/10 rating, and knowing it probably isn’t gonna blow you away, but might, just might be an underrated classic. If you go ahead and watch it, you’re going to be expecting either some awful acting, bad writing, basic plots, very un-unexpected twists, or all of the above. You know, like the shoot-em-ups where you’re rubbing your hands together in the first 10 minutes of the all-action intro, going ‘oh boy, this could be a good’un’, until you find yourself still sat there 40 minutes later, watching the same car chase get more and more far fetched, as you dawn on the sad realisation that this ain’t gonna be the quirky classic you first hoped for.

There’s something about that lack of substance and depth we experience in that moment which rings true in everything that we do, and it especially applies in the world of strength training.

After all, a perfectly executed workout is like reading a great book or watching an incredible movie. The way it is told is what separates it from anything else you could have imagined. How it begins, how the drama unfolds and how it all ends - the best ones are perfect for a reason.

So we all know what it’s like when we chance it on that movie and it just doesn’t vibe with us. Why is that? Perhaps sometimes it’s to do with the opening - was it too slow? Not enough detail to the introduction of the characters? What about how the story unfolded - was it too simple or too complex? Too rushed? Not rushed enough? The meaty part of the story has to have just that right amount of intrigue and action, as well as give you an appetite for the finish. We don’t expect to be overwhelmed or confused at the very start of the story - that would be a shock to the system, right? We’ve all internalised these story ‘rules’ as individuals, yet they seem to be universal despite being unspoken.

Harking back to one of my more recent posts, understanding the concept of fitness ‘buckets’ is akin to knowing your deep from your complex in movie world. Knowing your friendship from your double-cross, and the difference in emotion between romance and bomb explosion. Developing your understanding of the various fitness components in a clear and logical way, is your ticket to razor sharp, effective training sessions, which help your workouts become an impressive, fluid, synergistic story that goes deep and makes sense.

They become stories that don’t try to be everything at once. A horror flick doesn’t attempt to win awards in the comedy and romance category at the same time. With practice, you begin targeting the right buckets at the right time, ensuring you always get the biggest bang for your buck from your sessions, which over time develops you into a human capable of executing a versatile range of athletic actions, whether running, jumping, lifting, carrying, rotating, enduring, and the list goes on.

Too often it’s common to see somebody who wants to get faster, putting sprints at the end of a session rather than the beginning - that’s watering down the story. Someone who wants to get strong is doing cardio sessions before they lift weights, or there’s a random set of glute bridges chilling in the middle of a workout. You might even see people doing max height box jumps as a finisher.

In terms of the ‘story’ of your fitness journey, it’s important to ask ‘where do these things really fit?’. If your story is about improving power (the ability to express high force at high speeds), the first thing to acknowledge is that the more fatigued you are, the less max force you can express and max velocity you can generate. So placing ‘power-type movements’ at the end of a workout means you are not sufficiently addressing your power capacities (because you aren’t capable of exerting the max forces required to trigger adaptation).

If the activity is lifting weights, there are ways we can manipulate volume, intensity and positioning of the exercise within the session, to ensure that the predominant adaptation our body makes (following effective recovery) is the one that we are seeking. If the story is ‘Jonny gets stronger’, Jonny better lift some weights that are so heavy he can’t get more than 5 reps out. If the story is ‘Jenny gets toned’, Jenny better realise being ‘toned’ is 2 things combined - muscle up, body fat down - so Jenny really needs to focus on a quality diet, sleep, hydration and loads of low intensity cardio outside of the gym, and then a hypertrophy/muscle mass emphasis during gym sessions, as well as strength, endurance etc. scattered either side of it.

The problem most people have is the story they want to tell, isn’t reflected in the workout they execute. They lift light weights for high reps hoping to get stronger, or fatigue themselves with cardio before strength activities, reducing the ability to exert big efforts (as well as blunting physiological adaptations at a molecular level). Here are some examples of activities I carry out and where they might belong in my story:

Walking/Low intensity cycling - a daily operation, I try to make these part of who I am, and do it regularly, sometimes for no apparent reason.

Mobilisation & Activation - Carried out at the start of a workout as a warm up to prepare for the main event - or in isolation just to continue to feel good and move good. They shouldn’t take forever. They should be targeted and deliberate to the muscle groups and movements I am going to be executing at high force or speed very soon during the session.

Throw / Rotate / Jump / Hop / Skip - Potentiation - A precursor to heavy strength activities or high speed activities like sprinting. This is where if I want to develop my power, it is vertical jumps/hops, or horizontal, or fast ball throws, slams etc.

Acceleration/Deceleration/High Speed Running/ Sprinting / Change Of Direction (Agility) - Potentiation (or can develop into the main event) - This can be another precursor to heavy lifting (in small doses) but can also be the main focus of a session if this is an area I need to work on.

Squat / Hinge / Push / Pull / Carry (Slow / Fast / Paused - varied speeds breeds versatility)

Strength - 1-7 reps (roughly) - 1st priority in the session (if all 3 are included)

Hypertrophy/Muscle - 8-15 reps (roughly) - 2nd priority

Muscle Endurance - 16-30 reps (roughly) - 3rd priority

So the number of reps I execute will gradually progress throughout the workout. There is an inverse relationship when it comes to the number of sets:

Strength - 4-8 sets (roughly)

Muscle - 3-4 sets (roughly)

Muscle Endurance - 1-3 sets (roughly)

Run/Bike/Swim - Vo2 Max and steady state activities - Carried out with a view to improving cardiovascular fitness in some way. Sometimes anaerobic activities like repeated sprints, sometimes threshold activities like a 5k run, sometimes chasing overall running fitness by just working at a moderate intensity for a long period of time.

These are the characters in my story, and the ways that I drip feed them into my sessions in a coherent and logical way so that the story makes sense. I also remember that sometimes (maybe 1 in 10 sessions) it is important to just play in the gym - I won’t even think much about the story other than it being - it’s time for a fun workout. We’re gonna lift heavy shit, slam, jump, climb chuck some things around, and walk away feeling great (after all, that should be part of the story too right?).

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