When it comes to strength training, the choice of picking a training method can be overwhelming for a beginner. “Should I pick a bodybuilding routine?” “Maybe I should do some powerlifting.” “Calisthenics also seems quite fun.” “But all my friends are into crossfit.”
If you have had all or any of these thoughts, you will get enough clarity after listening to today’s episode and be able to pick a style of training that gets you to your goals in the quickest time possible.
In today’s episode we shall explore the variables that should determine your choice of a training method. This will minimise any trial and error on your part and eliminate the need to experiment with training styles over and over. Let’s dive in.
What do you wish to achieve with your training? 🤔
The most important thing to do before you decide upon a training method would be to figure out your goals. What are you trying to achieve with your training? Do you want to become as strong as you possibly can be? Or do you want to increase your cardiovascular endurance to run a marathon? Or do you wish to put on some muscle or lose fat so that you can fit into your clothes better?
What is your exact goal?
Sit down and ponder over it. Visualise what you wish to achieve. Write it down in absolute detail.
This process is extremely important because most people lack the clarity when it comes to their choice of training. They have no idea why they follow a certain style of training. It is usually because their favourite celebrity or social media influencer speaks highly of some method. Or it is because their friends are all doing the same thing.
This is the reason why a lot of people hate their workouts, feel burnt out and on top of it, fail to see any tangible results. The difference that picking the right training protocol can make is immense.
Speaking of picking wrong protocols, it is common to see a lot of beginners pick Crossfit styled workouts as their preferred training method these days just because of how popular it is. But for most regular people, this is an extremely inefficient and sometimes also dangerous way to train. Let me elaborate.
Crossfit in its very essence is a sport NOT a way of training. The only reason for someone to pick crossfit as their prime training protocol is if they want to compete in the Crossfit games. Just like you wouldn’t play Tennis to build your forearm strength, it doesn’t make any sense to do Crossfit if your prime goal is to build your muscles. Crossfit also involves highly technical Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk done for high repetitions. This is a good way to invite unnecessary injuries if you are a complete beginner with no experience in any Olympic Lifting.
Plus, if your only goal is building muscles to look good or to get stronger, you don’t even need to do complex olympic lifts in the first place. But if you are interested in Olympic Lifting, a much wiser choice would be to hire an Olympic Lifting coach and make that your training method of choice instead. Not hop directly onto crossfit.
Similarly, if your goal is to get as strong as possible, the fastest way to get there would be to get into powerlifting. Powerlifting is based on the premise of getting as strong as possible on the 3 major lifts: The Squat, The Bench Press and The Deadlift. It would again make zero sense if strength was your primary goal but your entire training routine was based off of bodybuilding styled workouts with loads of machine movements and isolation work like Dumbbell Curls and Tricep Extensions.
You must have a fair idea by now why it is so important to have a clear vision of your goal. Don’t hop onto a program or style of training because it looks cool or just because everyone else is doing it. Make your choice to align with your vision.
What do you wish to achieve with your body? You must have a solid answer to this question.
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What are your individual genetic strengths and weaknesses? 🧬
The second factor to consider while picking a training method would be your genetic disposition. This is often overlooked but is a very important factor. While anyone can get immensely good at anything provided they work consistently at it, when it comes to your physical potential, a lot of things will be genetically predetermined.
Take Mike Tyson for example. The heavyweight division in boxing is usually dominated by really tall boxers: the average height of fighters in this division is 6’4. Mike Tyson however at just 5’10 competed in the same class at a bodyweight of 100kgs, which is unfathomable for most fighters of his height.
Mike’s ability to do so not only depended upon his rigorous training and hard work, but also his genetics. His unusually massive frame allowed him to add copious amounts of muscle which would be impossible for someone with a slender frame.
Hence, it is important to know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your own genetics. If you are someone with massive wrists, and really thick bones, your body is designed to handle tremendous loads. You can progress in strength much easily than most people with smaller bone structure. In this case, leaning towards more of a powerlifting styled method of training would not only make you progress fast, it would also be supremely motivating as you’d feel completely at home with heavier weights.
However, if you are someone genetically blessed with a thicker frame, chances are you also have a thicker waist due to wider hip bones. In this case, it would be extremely unrealistic to aspire for a look with a sharp V-taper and a tiny waist like that of bodybuilding athletes in the Men’s Physique division. When your bones themselves give you a 32 inch waist, there is no way for you to shrink down to a 28 inch tiny one. It is impossible.
Let’s talk of my own personal example. I have an extremely small frame. Even at 5’11, I just have 6 inch wrists. To give you a good comparison, Mike Tyson who we spoke of just now had 8 inch wrists at 5’10. This puts me at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to powerlifting styled training.
Not only do I not enjoy extremely heavy lifting, it also makes my joints ache just after 1-2 weeks of continuous lifting close to my 1 rep max. I also have to wrap up my wrists for lifting weights which many may consider not even close to their warmup sets. Hence it doesn’t make sense for me to aspire to be the next local powerlifting champion. Not only do I completely hate that style of training, my body is also not attuned to work in that manner.
However my strengths lie in having a smaller waistline and smaller joints. So, any muscle no matter how small I put on naturally looks more pleasing than the blocky look that most people with bigger frames have. I also have a hard time packing on mass than a lot of people with just bigger bones. Do I have the capability to be a competitive bodybuilder with my genetics? Possibly not.
But also on the up-side, I don’t have to struggle finding fashionable pants that fit me because of how humongous my legs are. In fact, I fit into most clothes extremely well which is what my initial motivation for getting into training was — to be able to look good in and out of any outfit. Not to become a bodybuilder or to max out my strength.
This is why it is very important to have your own priorities straight. So, figure out your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your own natural genetic disposition. Then work along with them and NOT against them to achieve your vision.
What excites you the most when it comes to training? 😍
The third thing that should determine your style of training should be your own individual interest. Some people just love the feeling of chasing the pump. The pump refers to when during training, the blood fills into your muscles and they are tight against your skin. It feels like your biceps are going to explode any moment. This experience can be really addictive and bodybuilders live for the pump.
Others love the endorphin rush that comes from running extremely long distances. Some love the feeling of power after demolishing a super-heavy set of deadlifts. It ultimately boils down to which of these things you value the most when it comes to the enjoyability your own training.
What gets you so hooked that you cannot wait to get back into your training outfit and start your next session?
A lot of people seem to miss the fact that physical training is a long term game. I often get questions like “How quickly can I get a six-pack?” “Can I lose my belly in the next 3 months?” “I really want to fit into this outfit for an event next month. Is it possible?”. It is possible to achieve some of your goals within the time frame of less than a year.
But to maintain the results requires a lifetime of time investment. So, you must pick a style of training that doesn’t feel like hard work. It shouldn’t feel like punishment when the time comes for your workout. It should feel like an opportunity— a privilege and an activity that you truly enjoy. Only when you are able to do this, you’d be able to keep up the habit long-term.
Otherwise, you’d just have an on-again off-again relationship with training which doesn’t get you results and also creates a negative experience for yourself. This is why it is not always the best idea to just start a program because all your friends are doing it.
If you are unsure of which activity you might enjoy, it is a good idea to allow yourself 8-12 weeks to get accustomed with a new style of training. See how you feel mentally before and after your training sessions. Monitor your stress levels and you would have a fair idea of how much you are enjoying the activity.
Should you experiment with different training styles? 💪
One thing to keep in mind however is that you don’t have to restrict yourself to one style of training throughout your lifetime. It is always fun to experiment here and there and pick up new skills.
If you have been doing a bodybuilding styled routine for years, adding a powerlifting block for a couple of weeks might be a nice change of pace. While I have personally never enjoyed cardio, recently I bought myself a jump rope to experiment with a couple times a week.
But your primary style of training that combines your goals, your genetics and your interest should remain your main go-to throughout your life. Everything else should be treated as an opportunity to learn and have fun alongside.
Because if you always keep switching between different styles depending on what suits your mood or based on what the latest trend is, you will never achieve your true potential.
To quote the famous stoic philosopher Seneca here:
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
Did this podcast episode help you gain more confidence regarding how you should go about your training? Let me know.
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