'Can I switch up my exercises each session, or will I not get the same results?'

This was one of the questions on our gym’s wall.

Firstly, switching up exercises is not only valid but recommended to encourage the different stimuli needed for the body to adapt and make strength and muscle gains…..now, how frequently can we switch these to make those optimum gains isn’t so straight forward.

Let’s look at 2 of the principles of strength training and hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) starting with:

Specificity - This principle makes sure that we make exercise selection based on our training goal. if we want bigger quads, there needs to be exercises included to cater for that eg high bar squat, leg press, split squats etc, and if we want to increase our deadlift 3 rep max then the exercises we choose must compliment that too. We wouldn’t work on our 10k run time to do this, as it doesn’t follow the principle of specificity.
So our exercise choices must be made with our training goal in mind.

Overload - This principle is well established and a BIG player when it comes to making muscle and strength gains.
Our body is always looking to keep in a balanced and stable internal environment (homeostasis). To force a big enough strength/muscle growth adaptation however , this balance must be disrupted through a training stimulus. The body then recovers, adapts and is better prepared for a similar type of work.
The principle of overload tells us that this workload MUST become harder over time (session by session, week by week, training block by training block) in order to continue muscle growth and strength gains.

There are other principles such as fatigue management, stimulus-recovery-adaption (SRA: the time in between training sessions where recovery and adaptation take place) and, the topic of the question (finally) variation.

Just by looking at specificity and overload we can answer the question better of how frequently variations can be made.

Before I go further, I’m fully aware of the the legendary work Louis Simmons does with his long list of savages at Westside Barbell.
But, I’m not Louis Simmons and Westside Barbell is like no other gym.

What works best for my guys (and for many other coaches) is tracking progress of an exercise for a number of weeks, increasing overload via more weight, more reps or more sets as well as using RPE (rate of perceived exertion). By keeping the exercises the same through each week, we see a good picture of how the trainer responds over the duration of a mesocycle (training block). In new trainers especially, keeping the same exercises also allows more time and exposures to technique practice.
At the end of that training block, we look at what needs to be worked on, and that influences future planning.

My reasons for switching exercises?

  • Progress has stopped. Adding more resistance or volume is no longer an option as fatigue has built up to a point where a de-load is needed.

  • Technique is too advanced for the trainer. If proper technique can’t be achieved then a regression is needed to continue in development. An exercise is only a tool, it’s movement that should be trained and loaded correctly.

  • Pain. If there is pain, it should be addressed. From my experience, pain doesn’t just go away from simply training harder.

You CAN make progress from switching exercises regularly but it’s more difficult to track with accuracy.

You CAN make progress from sticking to a handful of exercises for a few weeks and track how you overload them and how you progress.

There are very few absolutes in all walks of life, apart from you being a product of what you do CONSISTENTLY.

4 Games You Should be Playing with your Children for Athletic Development

Being a parent of a child who plays competitive sport is extremely tough and can often lead to the parent asking themselves the following questions:

Are they in the right sport?
Are they with the right team?
Are they with the right coach?
Are they training enough?
Are they improving?

This is where my advice gets a little tough for parents.
If you are leaving every little aspect of athletic development to the coach, you are doing your child a disservice.

Your child might see your coach twice a week, 3 times maximum for most youth sports. So that’s a total of 2-4 hours per week with the sports coach.
Compare that to the rest of the week and there’s a lot of time to forget good habits…especially in an Xbox/snapchat/texting world.

Below is a list of 4 games that I believe will help with youth athletic development without meaning you have to study to become a coach yourself.
I’ll also explain why I chose these games and the skills they will improve.

Bulldog/tig: 🐶
This is a game I play regularly with my younger son’s football (soccer to some of you) team. It’s a great test of true agility as the child responds to a stimulus, in this case a child trying to catch him/her,  by taking evasive action to avoid being caught.  The stimulus isn’t predetermined, meaning there isn’t a pattern to follow so it becomes a true test of agility. 

One last thing, speed ladders or running to various cones in a predetermined pattern does not improve agility. It may improve dance moves though 🕺🏻

Twister: 🔴🔵

Yep, that game we all played in the ‘80s when we were a little more flexible and probably a lot more coordinated.
Possibly the most basic way of improving iso-metric strength whilst not making the child think they are doing ‘gym work’.
A good example of iso-metric strength is a plank. But, in Twister, a better example would be to have each hand and each foot on different colour spots whilst waiting for your next turn.
Unconvinced? Ok, get yourself in the position of the highest part of the push-up. Now hold for 20s. Next, move one of your arms 3 inches forward. Now, lift you left foot up…..getting tough?  Core strength, coordination, proprioception, stability and mobility are all tested here. 

Climbing: 🧗🏻‍♀️

As a parent, I’m totally to blame for sounding like my mum when it comes to my kids being exposed to the slightest of danger.  “Don’t climb up there!”,  “That’s too high!”.

But, we should allow our kids to do some level of climbing.  Walls, climbing frames, trees, things we all did  growing up and maybe got a little scratched knee or elbow from it.

Climbing is primitive, it’s like we all start with this urge to climb stuff. Toddlers see stairs and have to conquer them, infants see slides and race to get to the top, so we should encourage safe climbing.
Grip strength is a big indicator of overall strength.  As well as core strength, mobility and proprioception. 
Surely a strong child is a healthier child?

Running up hills: 🏃🏻‍♂️

A great, easy and cheap tool to use to improve sprinting mechanics and acceleration.
Encourages a positive shin angle (important with acceleration) which helps to improve ground force into each stride and a forward lean in the sprint.
Sprinting uphill forces the child to run in this way so it’s even easy on coaching cues.
With kids, I find the less cues given the better, just introduce activities where the child can learn them in a more organic way.
Keep the number of sprints here relatively low.  As soon as the child starts to slow down, go and play something else that isn’t as taxing. 
Good movement patterns aren’t made in a fatigued state.

With all the boring explanations put to one side, these 4 games are fun, easy to set up, and don’t need a lot of coaching.
Your child’s coach will thank you for it. ✋

How long should a ‘good’ warm up take?

My rule for warm up exercise selection is the same for workout exercise selection: if I can’t answer why it’s in there, maybe it shouldn’t be in there at all.

The warm up should be preparation for the workout, so in turn is PART OF THE WORKOUT. I find it so frustrating when I hear people say warm ups are a waste of training time…….I just think they must be doing wasteful warm ups.

Here’s my quick layout for a quality warm up that will prime you for a generic workout:

  1. Mobilise/get ‘untoight’

    If you’re a foam roller or lax baller, roll those tight areas (calves, quads, glutes, IT band, lats, t-spine to name the main areas), don’t waste your day on this. Around 5 minutes is plenty of time.

    Then, STRRRRRETCH those areas you’ve just rolled. Again, no need to turn it into a yoga/Pilates class (although yoga and Pilates are legit workouts, but if you came to lift weights, then they can wait for recovery sessions)

  2. Focus on moving/activating what you’re going to train

    Scapula retractions, t-spine rotations, hip mobility drills, side clams, hip circle walks, kettlebell prying in the bottom of a squat….all examples of working on range of movement and priming the muscle groups you’ll be using in your chosen workout.

  3. Flow work

    Now get moving a little more. Bear crawls, inch worms, push ups to cobra stretches, anything that will encourage a more dynamic stretch and get a light sweat building up.

  4. Reharse the movement for the day

    Body weight squat/empty barbell/work up to working set

    Body weight push up/empty barbell press/work up to working set

    Hip hinges/kettlebell deadlifts/light barbell/work up to working set

it’s that simple yet people mess it up by missing it out completely, just going straight into working up to heavy sets or turning a warm up into a CrossFit type workout. None of these compliment a strength specific workout.

Can You Train When You’re Injured?

Whether you are an extremely active person, a moderately active one, or your heart rate only goes up when you reach for the remote.  Everyone, at some point of there lives, with varying degrees, have had an injury.

Quick side note: this isn’t an injury claim feeder page….and if you’re one of those people who ring me 8 times a day asking about my car accident I had recently….politely f**k off!!

Now, with injuries you can approach your recovery in two ways, have complete rest until the injury has healed or work around it with training at an appropriate level.

In this article, I’m going to explain why doing the latter will reduce recovery time.

First, lets define ‘training’ and what it should look like.

Even though the traditional bro splits would have you believing differently, your body is one whole living unit. We’re not split into pecs, quads, lats and calves etc.

Also, injury is a stress, so your body will need to focus on recovering from that. Intense training will give the body another stress to recover from.
The body copes with stress amazingly well, but you have to limit how much you stress your immune system as too much will slow recovery down.
We must have the right balance so optimal recovery can be made.

Think of it as trying to cook two meals at the same time, one in your kitchen and the other in your neighbour’s kitchen (stay with me). 
If you have the flames turned up full in both you have no chance of paying enough attention to either and they’ll be ruined.
Turn the heat down, however, and you will be able to look after both much better as you’ve decreased intensity.

The same goes for training around an injury. Adjust your training to lower stress so your body doesn’t slow down with its recovery.
Increase the training stress, you won’t get the full benefit of muscle or strength increase; or a speedy recovery.

This will mean that if you are recovering from a knee injury, you can’t still max out on your bench and expect your injury to recover quicker.

How to adjust training

First, think of what exercises you can do using different muscle groups (not too heavy, remember)

Second, what exercises can increase blood flow to the inured area. This will help speed up recovery (but, as before, not heavy work. Think lighter with more reps)

For example, knee pain? Try terminal knee extensions (TKEs) with a resistance band, sore elbow? Try some light tricep extensions.

With a little research you can ease a lot pains.
In the same breath though, if something is painful and just doesn’t get any better…GO AND SEE A SPECIALIST.


Why kids SHOULD lift weight!

Already, I feel some of you taking deep intakes of air through clenched teeth
"Let kids be kids", "You'll damage them", "You'll stop them growing!".

The myth of resistance training for kids being bad is one that needs to die out, along with your face sticking that way if the wind changes and saying 'bless you' when you sneeze to stop your soul escaping.

So, why is strength training for kids such a controversial topic?
Here are some of the most common concerns which parents (or just people who like to be offended) have on the subject.

  1. Growth stunt

    There is actually zero evidence that backs the the claim of growth stunt in children due to resistance training. There were a very few studies in the 70’s and ‘80s which reported negative effects, these were eventually proved to be due to bad technique and going too heavy, too often. 
    Lifting in a controlled environment didn’t hurt kids; bad technique hurt kids.
    This was the summary of this study:

  2. Lifting will make my child move slower and more bulky -  Ok, lets explain this one quickly and in a simple way.

    Let’s think of sports where physical speed is king:
    100m sprint - what do the athletes look like? Jacked and lean.

    American football (receivers) - what do the athletes look like? Jacked and lean.

    Olympic weightlifting - what do the athletes look like? Jacked and lean.

    Gymnastics - what do the athletes look like? Jacked and lean.

    Strength training doesn’t slow you down. Strength training creates a foundation to express more power.
    One of my favourite strength quotes is: "You can't fire a canon from a canoe!"
    Meaning, without a solid, steady foundation, you can't have full expression of power output.
  3. Increased risk of injury - My favourite. There seems to be a real problem seeing kids pick up and carry kettlebells, pick up dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls….all things that are DESIGNED to be picked up, by the way, but the same parents don't seem to have a problem with kids giving piggy back rides, play fighting, climbing walls, or playing contact sport. 
    A carefully organised resistance programme is actually reported to REDUCE the risk of injury in youth sports. As reported in this study: 

    Lifting in a controlled environment, with a knowledgable coach doesn't hurt kids.....bad technique and old fashioned 'character building' beasting sessions, hurts kids.

    PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD, with the emphasis on PROGRESSIVE, is a key principle of strength. Age doesn't change the principle, only the application of it.
    Parents must take responsibility to be well informed when making decisions on their child's sport participation.  This means more than just reciting old myths that have no substance.