By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder
Today I’d like to walk you step-by-step through the process of getting started in a fitness program. This is how the majority of conversations go when someone calls into our facility with questions about our programs. This also happens to be a subject that most online outlets do a terrible job of answering, so I decided to do my part in being part of the solution. Here we go…
Phase One – Skill Acquisition… DO NOT SKIP THIS!
Before we moved into our current location 6 years ago, our previous facility was next door to a quilting shop. Besides selling a variety of quilting-related products, they also offered classes. If I were to go in there and sign up for one of their beginner classes and ask them, “How long after taking this class can I make one of the quilts I see at the those quilting shows down at the convention center?” They would probably laugh me out of the store. Those quilts are made by ladies who have been quilting for decades!
Most hobbies are similar to this. There is a steep learning curve at the beginning of any new endeavor, and strength training is no different. You are moving your body/muscles around in ways they’ve either never moved, or haven’t moved in a long time. Therefore, the first phase of any new fitness program should be focused on skill acquisition… NOT ‘working out’.
A great place to start is a Functional Movement Screen (click here to sign up for a comprehensive evaluation from us, or click here to find an FMS specialist in your area if you’re outside of Tucson, AZ). This screen will help sniff out problems before they start. In this process, you can see how you stack up against a series of fundamental movement patterns to determine physical readiness, as well as potential risk of injury.
After an FMS screen, you may be referred to a Physical Therapist. This is not because the trainer hates you and doesn’t want to work with you. It’s because they saw a clear red flag, and they’re trying to protect you from yourself. Remember, things need to be pretty bad for me to refuse to keep taking your money.
This is also absolutely the first (and most important) step to ensure you don’t end up on one of those ‘gym fail’ videos on the internet.
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Phase 2 – Practice The New Skills
The word “workout” should not become part of your vocabulary until you’re past the 90 day-mark (longer if you’re older or have issues you’re trying to use a training program to resolve). Instead of saying “I’m going to go workout.” Think to yourself, “I’m going to practice.”
Examples of this would include a perfectly executed squat, hip hinge, pull, and overhead press. If muscular imbalances are an issue, some single-side exercise may be needed as well.
The risk of getting injured in the first 90 days of a new training program is exponentially high. This risk can be exacerbated by adding unnecessary intensity you may not be ready for. Some say, “success leaves clues.” In this phase, I say, “True. But failure leaves step-by-step detailed instructions.”
Practice. Practice. Practice until these strange new movements don’t feel strange anymore… then we can talk about adding weights, reps, set, and a timer.
The most common thing we tell new people is, “Your primary goal for the first 60 to 90 days of training sessions is to live to die another day. Every time you walk out of this gym, you should be able to say to yourself ‘I could have done a little more’.”
Phase 3 – Technique Trumps Intensity
From the 90-day to one-year mark, we enter the execution phase. This is where your ‘practice sessions’ will start to look more like training. Once someone hits their one-year anniversary with us, I use a simple benchmark to see if they’ve passed this phase: You should be able to drop into any serious strength-training gym anywhere, pay the fee for a day pass, walk in, and look like you know what you’re doing. If the manager gives you a strange look when you pay the fee, and watches you as you start your training session, within a matter of minutes they should nod approvingly and go back to whatever they were doing. If this happens, congratulations! If not… well… go back to phase one and try to pay closer attention this time.
This may sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth: My main job is to put me out of a job. But at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of training the same people for many years. How does that work? Read on…
Phase 4 – Progression
Most people who quit training either become bored, don’t make progress, don’t like the coach/facility, or some combination of those things. However, it turns out that people who get stronger every year tend to not get bored with their training.
Most coaches/trainers are fairly adept at taking someone from doing nothing to doing something. The phase of training where we start to separate the good from the great are the coaches who are able to take someone who is either intermediate or advanced, and continue to make progress with them for years and, in some cases, decades. If you’ve worked with someone who was very good at taking you out of the couch potato phase, but stalled out afterwards, unfortunately it may be time to graduate to a more advanced program.
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The reality is, the first three phases can last for as long as one wishes to continue training. If the main goal is to continue to maintain a body that can accomplish daily physical tasks without too much strain, a simple plan or basic strength training strategies will do the job. Like most things in life, 50% of your results come from just showing up. Another 30-40% can be done by doing things with intentionality and attention to detail. The last 10-20% is a dog fight.
If you do not wish to participate in the dog fight, I don’t blame you. Most people don’t… and most people don’t need to. For those of you who know me personally, you know that my hands are busy holding many spoons that stir many pots. I accomplish this through avoiding dog fights most of the time. Showing up, paying attention to details, and having intention gets us farther than we can imagine.
Until next time,
Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.