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Methods vs Principles in the “Industry”

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As a coach, I am fortunate to come into contact with several types of people utilizing movement as their method of filtration. Whether it is guiding an athlete to gain weight for another successful in-season, or a client aiming to lose weight for an upcoming wedding, there are many avenues and paths that can be chosen.

In reality, there is always more than one way to skin a cat. The only thing that matters is that very act of deciding of where you are going to be in x amount of days, months, years. It matters less what type of method you choose to utilize in order to achieve that end goal, simply because if you choose to follow a principle, you’ll naturally follow the most efficient and direct method available to you and your logistics.

Do not mistake the method for a principle.

However, to the uninitiated outside of the fitness and S&C industry, what methods are available that also keep in mind this foundational knowledge? How can you avoid falling into the trap that is buzzwords and trendy/flashy pieces of (mis)information?

Fat Loss

Unfortunately, I believe that many of these methods are merely half of what the actual story tells. Or in other words, if someone happens to drop 30 pounds, they may be quick to talk about their results on their favorite social media platform, but all they did was 1) stop “socially” drinking, and 2) decreased caloric input (aka stopped eating so much) and 3) did P90x in their living room twice back to back (or 180 days).

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While I don’t intend to say that people should or should not drink (I enjoy a cold beverage from time to time), what works for one person may not always work for you. Understanding perspective is essential to helping anyone. P90x may cause some injuries, but it will facilitate fat loss due to the increase in caloric expenditure. But at the same time, a healthy dosage of heavy lifting (in a controlled setting, hopefully under the guidance of an experienced coach) and a big dose of protein (meat, yogurt, milk, Chipotle) may prove to be a more effective method in terms of fat loss or strength oriented purposes.

Methods for Fat Loss

CrossFit looks hard, can I do that to lose [x] amount of weight? How many crunches should I do to lose this stubborn belly fat? What do you eat to look like that?

45 years ago jogging (with a soft ‘j’) would be the one popular method that was touted for fat loss.

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Unfortunately, the anecdotal evidence that many general population folk rely on in their fat loss goals far outweighs the scientific and evidence-based approach that many of my peers (who I’m very lucky to be associated with) follow in their practices.

To go on a Dan John-esque simplification, I believe that:

  1. Increasing effort into your routine (increasing your positive, internal motivation towards your aesthetic oriented goals, or in simpler terms train with a purpose)
  2. Ridding yourself of distractions (perform table push-aways, as Mike Boyle would say)
  3. Increasing your discipline when it comes to social events, or discipline in terms of maintaining an exercise regimen
  4. Respecting the principles of many “diets” (instead of looking at the differences)

…is enough to create a metabolic adaptation of sorts.

(Don’t have an exercise routine? I’m available for consultations.)

Looking for simple nutritional advice? Follow Precision Nutrition on Twitter (@insidePN) and get the most up-to-date info from the nutrition experts.

(If you follow these principles for an extended amount of time with no clear cut results, perhaps the issue is deeper than simply not eating junk food and walking everyday, and it may be involved with the internal health of your digestive system – seek out a local registered dietitian.)

Athletic Performance

How can breathing help me move explosively? CrossFit looks good, why not do that? What supplements should I take in order to gain massive amounts of weight and look like [insert successful athlete]? What is the single best exercise for [insert sport]?

All these questions and more define the mindset of today’s current athlete (and coaches helping these athletes as well).

The answer for most of those questions: it depends. While I believe that each of these questions can embody a whole blogpost and/or book sized topic on their own, the idea I’m simply invoking here is that for every question, there is usually a “question behind the question.” If an athlete asks “What is the best exercise for [x] sport?” I’d be weary of answering confidently in a black and white manner, because each athlete will be coming from a different perspective in regards to movement assessment, degrees of asymmetries, and past injury history.

Methods for Increasing Athletic Performance

20 or 30 years ago the above would have been a different story.

Now this is how the most up to date athletes train (barring advanced, and expensive, logistical equipment):

  • Return to a neutral baseline of movement and kinesthetic awareness through various mechanisms (foam roller, stretching, self-mobilizations, positional breathing, etc),
  • Manage soft tissue quality through a qualified professional (A.R.T Practitioner, Graston, LMT, etc.)
  • After it has been determined that said athlete is ready to train with no physiological or anatomical barriers, simply #getaferit with various types of movements aimed towards increased strength or power.

To distill these steps into an equation for athletic success:

  • Play multiple sports early in life.
  • Lift relatively heavy.
  • Eat veggies, meat, some fruit.
  • Sleep enough.
  • Stay injury free through a variety of methods.

Funny thing is that these bullet points can likewise be utilized for fat loss as well and you can still see “success”. Further, to make an aside, I’m pretty sure all this research we as an industry are doing is looking for increases in a specific quality – no one is seeking methods to get weaker, or receive less of any specific quality (unless it is a detriment to a higher, more prioritized quality).

What about Corrective Exercise?

Here is where the methods vs principles argument gets a little muddy.

“What is this exercise doing? Which do I do to not be dysfunctional? I just want to be out of pain.”

Recently, there has been a movement with the fitness and strength & conditioning industry in prescribing “corrective exercises”, in which a person is taken through an assessment and certain muscles or movement patterns are deemed dysfunctional or nondysfunctional. My personal take: Get towards the root problem by any means necessary in as efficient a manner as possible, and make sure that problem never arises again. Any other “method” that does not take this “principle” into account is telling half of the story towards discovering a solution. If it isn’t within your scope of practice to perform a certain technique, refer out to someone who can perform it. Simple as that.

The Roots Crew
  • In terms of “correcting” a broken diet:
    • Will fixing the diet change the issue?
    • Or will adapting the solution with a psychological point of view solve the problem?
    • Perhaps the athlete or client will even need to see other professional help if a deficiency issue presents itself after  going through a specific questionnaire or testing.
  • Movement Oriented Goals:
    • Will providing a sound exercise program cause an adaptation in the client? (based on assessment)
    • Do they even need an exercise program (or do they need a diet intervention in the case of fat loss)?
An Example of a Method

The key point here is that the method should never supersede the principle. I’ve done my best to not be a dogmatic believer in choosing one particular method over another, and I’ve aimed to look at the bigger picture before dissecting the smaller details of any method. Or to pose myself as the Devil’s Advocate, “What is this method truly saying?”

This is where I believe comparing the similarities and benefits of some exercises far outweighs the initial impression that was given. To prevent this entire blogpost from being entirely philosophical and abstract, let’s examine the Turkish Get-Up as an example.

When I first started in this industry, I was coming fresh out of the gates from breakdancing for a large part of my life. In this regards, I saw the Turkish Get-Up as a movement that resembled a six-step, a move that has roots in breakdancing.

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I saw everything “through the lens” of dancing – from the floors I walked on, to the clothes I wore, I identified with the methods and culture of dancing. So I believed that if there is any method that crosses with the method of dancing, it probably has some validity.

Some people don’t see the value in performing the Turkish Get-Up, some people simply do not understand it’s benefits, and therefore completely ignore it, and others view it as a bodyweight movement from hell (but still do it).

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As I’m arriving home, fresh from a few internships, heavy anatomy focused seminars,  and always chatting with several individuals about positional breathing, I have come to appreciate the get-up even more so.

I appreciated the get-up, I could see its benefits from a dancing perspective – I knew it was a good exercise, but I couldn’t tell you specifically why. Or, to draw the analogy full circle, I couldn’t see the principles because I was caught up with the specific exercise.

Now, a Turkish Get-Up is no longer similar to a variation on the six step in my eyes, and it is much-much more, so when performed correctly it contains:

  • Weighted one-arm push with ipsilateral stabilization of the core (if the right arm is holding the weight, there needs to be a recruitment of specific abdominal musculature to stabilize the scapula on that side in order to hold that weight overhead.)

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  • Unilateral glute activation (along with unilateral lunging variation at the top of the movement)
  • Concomitant flexion and extension of both the upper body and lower body during movement
  • Constant awareness of rib positioning during movement
  • Constant awareness of proper abdominal bracing during transitions

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Movement is movement. Approach it by assessing the physiological and anatomical needs of the body, then the personal goals of the individual.

Keep in mind all of these are hopefully performed with proper positioning and breathing. Without seeking these principles of movement quality, the method or movement itself begins to falter. Regardless of my perspective due to my “cognitive bias”, if your get-up doesn’t flow well, there may be something you need to fix either from a mechanical or neuromuscular perspective (or both).

Granted, this is simply an example to define a purpose; it is not meant to embody my whole philosophy on training and fitness. Simply hold your standards to specific anatomical and physiological principles, and certain methods will come about on their own.

Conclusion

To prevent myself from going off too far into the rabbit hole, I find myself saying “keep it simple…”

The goal is to keep the goal the goal.

If the goal is fat loss – are you losing fat?

If the goal is increased athleticism – are you more athletic (or stronger, less injury prone, etc)?

If the goal is to get out of pain – are you pursuing whatever method necessary towards getting out of pain?

If you aren’t moving towards that specific goal with relative success, you are moving backwards (which may even be necessary at times, and not a completely bad thing at all).

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Keep it funky.

-MA