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Working Out is Not a Zero Sum Game

Too often I hear a workout, a movement, or some training protocol being called wrong.  Typically by someone who has only a passing relationship with the trainee in question. Being completely honest, a younger version of me would do this.  It is an easy trap for younger coaches and trainers to get into, and just as common for newer athletes and fitness enthusiasts to do. Let us break down this idea into its core ideas and failures.

1. All training should be measured in progress, not completion.

You are either making positive or negative progress toward your goal.  This is irrelevant of effectiveness or movement. This one is important and often misunderstood.  Here are two examples that look at it from both sides.

  • Goal 1: Lose weight and build lean tissue.  This will require a negative energy balance and resistance training.  No other solution will accomplish this exact goal. But, progress can start by using cardio to work toward a negative energy balance, or by dieting, or by resistance training.  While some are more effective than others, they will move the needle in the right direction. But, if we started doing maximal lifts and eating in a surplus, while we may get stronger, we would be making negative progress in our body composition goals.
  • Goal 2: Becoming better at X movement.  This one has degrees to it. Is your goal to do one rep of X or to do many reps of X?  This matters more than people understand and especially in the CrossFit community. Doing X will only get you better at doing more of it, if you do it effectively.  If your goal is to do it once, it won’t matter how you do it. Too often the latter turns into the former without a change of approach. If you want to master something, doing it the same bad way over and over will create negative progress, where doing a progression, accessory strength lift, or even losing weight, while not the movement itself, will create positive progress


2. How you do something correctly may not be how someone else does something correctly. 

This should be obvious, but not everyone will move the same way. There are many reasons for this, but as long as they have a plan that is moving them toward a goal, it really shouldn’t matter.

  • Safety vs. Reality: Does a rounded back in a deadlift equal injury and pain?  The answer, as with almost every exercise is….. IT DEPENDS. To what degree is it rounded?  What is their exercise history? What are their goals? Is the lumbar or thoracic spine rounded?  What did their deadlift look like last week? The point is, unless you have trained that athlete or person for any length of time, you don’t have any context to judge their lift.
  • Safe for one is not for another.  To piggyback on the above, let us look at another hot topic.  Should the knee pass over the toes in a squat? This is such a common question, but it ignores two major things.  The first and most important…. Most people simply do not have the ankle mobility to make it a reality, and most people definitely do not have the hip mobility required to even make this a contentious point.  The second, is how healthy are their knees? A person with healthy knees has nothing to fear while squatting with their knees past their toes. Again, context is important. Just because it is bad for someone does not make it bad for everyone.


3. There are no Good or Bad exercises.

There are more effective exercises and less effective exercises.  This is based on positive progress already being established. Obviously less effective could be negative, possibly irresponsible.  Let us assume we learned that lesson from the above.

  • In an untrained athlete who wants to get stronger, literally anything will create progress.  Finding a fun, motivating, and confident plan should be the priority. In a trained athlete we need to be much more specific.  The issue comes when we try to define trained vs untrained. Which is a topic left for another post.
  • TL;DR someone who is newer to training does not need to do some crazy squat program to increase their squat.  They likely need to build muscle on their legs in a way that is enjoyable and safe for them.


4. So what? 

This may sound like a controversial post, but the point is that everyone is in a different point of their health and fitness journey.  What it takes to get from their current point to the next one is different for everyone. It may be point A to point B. It might be Y to Z.  The important part is, if it isn’t your client or training partner, you likely lack the context to judge or help, so just be supportive. This health and wellness stuff is hard!



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