Build, Bend, Breathe

As a coach you always want perfect. You want people to eat right, sleep well, and train often and hard. You want them to get massages regularly and pay attention to how they walk when not at training.

In your head you know that if you can get them to do everything right then your perfect plan will make them more successful than in their wildest dreams. But the real world doesn’t work like that. Work, kids, decreased hormones, and a body that may be seizing up from too much or too little activity, and suddenly perfect goes out the window.

No plan in the world is going to make up for a forty-year old who trains twice per week and eats well maybe one meal per day. And to make matters worse often these two days aren’t evenly placed in the week. I have a client who trains Thursdays and Fridays. It’s not ideal but it works for his life and he’s been training with us for three years now so it’s working for him.

If we lived in the perfect world with these problems we’d still be able to find a way to get these people to train two hours at a time. But that won’t happen either. My two-day per week guy has barely an hour he can spare in the mornings before he rushes home to help his wife get their daughter ready for school and then get himself to work too. So I needed to find a way to get as much as possible from as little as possible, and I came up with three elements that are the cornerstones of programming for maximal results:

Build, Bend, and Breathe.

Build refers to any type of strength work whether it is resistance training or bodyweight work and whether it is higher rep muscle building or low rep strength building. Bend is flexibility and range of motion work. Breathe is the ability of the heart and lungs to operate effectively. Despite what many will try to tell you no single part of the triad is more important than the others.

However, despite all three being of equal importance I can tell you which area the majority of people lack and it’s bend- especially once they’re past their mid thirties. No one ever stretches enough to maintain optimal range of motion as they get older. Out of all my clients I have three who are adequately flexible to do harder skills. For the rest we aim to make half of each session mobility related. Here’s how we structure things:

  • Joint mobility warm up – this takes roughly ten minutes.
  • Flexibility block – this can be a yoga flow, movement puzzle such as some locomotion drills, or straight flexibility work like Jefferson curls and bridging (which is a great pair to use here). Total time is twenty minutes, including the joint mobility block.
  • Strength work – pick two exercises that don’t compete with one another such as front squats and pull-ups. Perform five sets of the first exercise. In between each set perform a targeted mobility drill for a different part of the body. i.e. if you’re doing pull ups perform a lower body stretch. After finishing all five sets plus the mobility work move onto the second exercise and do the exact same thing picking a different mobility exercise. A total of twenty minutes is to be spent here.
  • Breathing work – If you’re smart and have read Run Strong you know that the magic number for how much hard work you should do in a given session is 20%. That leaves you with four hard minutes of work to do in a twenty minute breathing block. One of the most productive would be 4 x 30s hard: 30s easy on a rower for two full rounds taking a short break between the first and second rounds.

Things not to do:

Don’t get tied into worrying about how perfect this plan is because it isn’t. But if you are only going to train twice per week you’re already dealing with suboptimal. Better to accept reality and understand the compromise that has to be made so you can get the best out of the situation.

Don’t berate yourself for not coming more. Life changes. It may be the only constant in life. Work, kids, partners…all require an adaptable mindset to make the most of the cards you are dealt on any day or week. Do what you can with what you’ve got.

Don’t stress about how much progress you are or aren’t making. Be happy You’ve found some time to come and work at being healthier. The best way you can help yourself is to think about the lifestyle factors that will help you the most – diet and sleep, in particular. With not much training during the week you need to make sure those two things are as good as can be so we can do as much as possible in the gym. If you turn up for two hours a week on two hours of sleep and having had nothing to eat all day except a Coke and large fries my hands are pretty much tied at that point.

Overall you need to keep in mind that this is a compromise. At least if you accept that it is a compromise you can plan around it and minimize the damage versus wishing for optimal and never getting it.

For those who aren’t time constrained but still unsure of how to structure their sessions this plan will also work well – even if you train five or more times per week. Keep the high mobility focus in every session and split the time evenly between all three corner stones. Don’t forget the additional mobility work in between the strength work too as most people need as much mobility work as possible.