I Think I’ll Do Upper Body Today (Female subtitle- I think I’ll just run today)


Interesting fact. Most people go to the gym and immediately do the exercises they like. If you’re a man, that means bench press and curls. If you’re a woman it means hopping on the treadmill for a long slow walk or a long slow run. I think this might be the reason most people look so bad. They are always going to work on the stuff they can’t see or don’t like to do tomorrow but, tomorrow never comes.

As a college strength and conditioning coach I encountered the same problem early in my career. As a result I came to the early realization that Monday would always be lower body day. This was done for one simple reason. Every day I was forced to do battle with human nature.  Athletes are no different than the average gym-goer. They want to do what they like. I was like the parent who needed to say, “no TV until your homework is done”. When we first began developing training programs for athletes, our athletes were just like the folks described above. Athletes who were not on a program would wander into the weightroom, do a couple of sets of bench presses and then wander over to the curl bar for a few sets. After this, they would simply leave. My solution to this problem was simple. The first day of every week was always a lower body day. This meant that athletes would return the next day to do the stuff they really wanted to do. A simple but effective solution.

The solution for a fitness person is even simpler. Perform a full body every workout every time you go to the gym. Do your lower body and pulling exercises ( like chin-ups) first. Save the bench press and curls for last.  If you just did a squat or squat variation, a pull-up variation and then benched and curled the result will be a vast improvement in your physique. The average persons work ethic in the gym is the equivalent to going to a restaurant, ordering dessert, getting too full from dessert and skipping the meal. Lots of empty calories and none of the stuff you need.

The truth is that training is much like nutrition. Ever notice that everything that is good for you doesn’t taste very good.  In addition, all the stuff that tastes great is fattening. Exercise is the same way. Most of the exercises that are best for you are the ones that are least popular and seem to hurt the most. Have you ever noticed the popularity of exercises where you sit or lie down. The whole machine concept is based on appealing to the lowest common denominator of human nature. You can exercise while seated on a padded chair. Just remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

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10 Responses to “I Think I’ll Do Upper Body Today (Female subtitle- I think I’ll just run today)”

  1. Well let’s see now. The “I am set in my ways” type gym goes already ignores basic principles like variation, adaptation and plain old train smarter, not just harder.

    Yeah, yeah.the same old s*% we always hear. Try something new? That may actually take me to places I never dreamed? I can’t do that. Why should I change?

    Last time I checked you have to challenge yourself to get better at ANYTHING you do. I also agree that the ego thing constantly gets in people’s way. Shame that perceptions about what people think others think about them holds them back like that.

  2. Great blog!

    A friend recently told me about the wonders of his kettebell class. The reality is he was just going through the motions with his own program and stepping into this class forced him out of his comfort zone.

    Another favorite is the “we’ll see how I feel” comment right before they get down on the bench or ” I’m going to shoot for between” comment. The bottom line is if you’ve done your job( frequency, recovery, nutrition, sleep, etc…) you should know exactly what you’re going for and what you’ll get and it should be better than last time.

  3. Not only is there a strong tendency to doing the most enjoyable exercises, but there is a strong tendency to do what is easiest, ie. use what is already strongest, and avoid what is weakest, ie. what needs the work most. The biggest problem of all is antalgia- avoiding anything that hurts. An injury can lead to dysfunctional motor patterns that are completely unconscious, but harmful and performance limiting.

    All of these are reasons I give to people for working with a trainer, who can spot the problems and bad habits and work to correct them.

    Oh, and I couldn’t agree more about exercising on a padded chair. The essence of all my fitness advice to people is Don’t Sit Down

    -Steven

  4. Well said Coach Boyle. I always thought of it as bad habits. After many years of the same thing, they are so fixed in routine they can’t get free without a great effort. Suggest they discard what they’ve been doing for a couple weeks and try pull ups and squats instead and you’d think you had an extra eye in the middle of your forehead. The other issue is frustration and a sense of failure. Get them to try a Tai Chi or some thrusters and they experience a real sense of frustration and disorientation. They feel incompetent at it. That’s tough on the ego so they return to what makes them feel confident. All the advice to work on what’s weak first and most, fails in the face of habit and a desire to feel competent and validated.

  5. Ron Crenshaw Says:

    The greatest irony is that doing the stuffed we like least/need the most instantly enhances our results from what we do tend to like doing.

    Insightful as always, Coach Boyle.

  6. Mike,
    Oh, so true my friend. In fact, I was training a new employee today (who happens to be female) and said essentially the same thing. Our job is to fight against human/male/female nature amongst other things.
    Bruce Kelly

  7. Great post, it’s intriguing how long it takes people to deprogram the disinformation they’ve absorbed from years of hearing/seeing/reading about isolated/body building style training and being told these were best practices for training for all people, athletes and civilians alike. Same with diet. When I was a cross country runner in high school 20 years ago, high-carb, low-fat diets were all the rage, and the consensus seemed to be that this was the best way to eat for sport. Fast forward two decades and we’ve cycled through multiple nutritional best practices (no fat/Snackwells, low carb, zone, etc), all based on nutritional/medical research that contained a shred of truth until we hit the current vogue for gluten-free, paleo eating.

    Another side of the evolution of training that often gets completely left out of conversations on the topic and that I explore with my methodologies at http://www.drillit.tv, is cultivating an approach to training that’s both functional and mindful. We/our trainees need to cultivate physical and mental self awareness to make the most of what our genetics have given us. Being a robot can only take us so far.

  8. Awesome blog Mike! Possibly my favorite of all.

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