My thoughts about what being a Badass in the gym means and looks like.
Everyone likes lists – yes? Here’s a list of 20 Rules and Tips for training like a Badass.
First off, what is a Badass in the gym? It’s not (in my honest opinion) the tough looking gym goer with the scowling attitude or the dude with the big Beats headphones or the girl with (whatever is in right now) or the loudest, strongest meathead. It doesn’t even have an appropriate hashtag (#tbc)!
The badass is the one who trains and moves every day to be better than last week. The true badass is more capable, physically competent and isn’t concerned with who sees them ‘workout’. They are the useful person you call when you need a hand moving furniture, pulling out that tree or helping out with all the stuff that’s challenging in life. The badass is a great all-rounder. The badass knows how their body works. The badass just gets the job done.
- Get strong, but move strong too
- Fundamentally, if you train, you should ideally be working on moving better and getting stronger. Moving includes walking, climbing, getting to the ground… and up. Being flexible and free to move your body as you need when you need. Strength – see below.
- Lift, push, pull, squat and carry – a simple recipe
- The fundamental movement categories humans are designed to be strong and able at include these. Progressively develop your scope and range of strength in each of these.
- Learn liftings common features
- When learning the strength movements above and mobility drills, you will observe common features, instructions or rules and such.
- Move as nature intended
- The human body is built to move and manipulate. Before recent times we had grown superior to other mammals because we adapted so well to our chosen environments. Physically we developed aptitudes and skills like getting up and down from the ground, walking, running, jumping, throwing, balancing. carrying, climbing, lifting, resting in a deep squat, catching, pushing and pulling. It behooves us to maintain that which made us the species we are today. You can clearly see the evidence of the lack of these aptitudes in the sedentary.
- Build capacity
- We ‘are’ built to do more than just leg day, arm day and chest day. Practice all our abilities and every now and then work them together. Lift something, carry it, push it, throw it. Practice good form of course, but challenge yourself a little, maybe getting a little out of breath. Do try to maintain nasal only breathing though.
- Turn up
- Turn up, show up, just start – all refer to the same notion. Do not hesitate and grab opportunities. Many stories of success start with someone meeting and talking to someone they wouldn’t normally talk to. Many successes start with going to an event not normally attended. In 2008 I begrudgingly attended a weekend certification for this stupid looking thing called a kettlebell. At the end of the weekend my curiosity grew. Two years later I certified again under the worlds most intense Kettlebell certification (RKC), I met some of the worlds best coaches and many new doors of opportunities opened for me. Cliche time. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had. Just start, even if it’s a small gesture.
- Lock away the ego
- That extra rep, that extra grunt, going hard or going home; really has no place in a sensible, healthy strength, fitness or wellness plan. Yes, hard work is fine when part of a planned program, but if you treat every session like a competition against yourself – it’s a losers game. Injury is high risk. Being able to move well the following day is hindered. Repeating a training session with the same effort will become more and more difficult. Follow a good plan, lock away the ego and smile for gods sake when you’re in the gym. There are way too many serious looking grumps with attitude in gyms these days.
- Meet your body where it is
- There are those old words of advice, ‘listen to your body’. To listen you have to let your body speak. This happens best with routine movement. The more often you move the more familiar you get with the feelings, sensations and limits of your own body. Some days you’ll feel like a super hero and on other days! Well, on some days you’ll wonder why you even got out of bed. However, remember point #6, Turn Up. Meet your body where it is on any given day. Adjust your program. Don’t compare yourself to your training peers or social media performers. You be you. You are your own special snowflake 🙂
- Do not punish yourself with exercise
- I seriously do not know how this sentiment exists. The concept of subjecting your body to abuse because you chose to eat something you regretted is a matter best referred to some serious time alone to consider your life choices. You really need to know your why. Why you eat what you eat. Why you feel the ways you feel after eating. Why you exercise. Why you value yourself and life. Rant over. Each and every time you exercise, it’s an opportunity to better yourself, not beat yourself. Enjoy food, but know and practice knowing when to stop. Again, enjoy food, It’s a gift. Learn to adorn yourself with exercise methods you enjoy, look forward to, reap benefits both physically and emotionally.
- Be safe, effective and efficient
- In the hardstyle kettlebell method, we say that anyone can swing a kettlebell between their legs but still not perform a kettlebell swing. The same can be said about just about any other strength and movement aptitude. To do is not enough. To do well with skill should be the goal. Keep in mind too, that this applies not just to physically demanding movements, but to everyday, seemingly simple tasks. Standing, walking and twisting are everyday moves but done with poor conditions leads to gradual breakdowns. “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” —Lou Holtz
- Stop looking at the socials for inspiration – just stick to the dam plan
- Referencing this to both training and nutrition coaching, most failures occur as a result of not following the plan. ‘Jamie, I just didn’t get much out of this program’, says the individual who came to train fours times out of six scheduled appointments! ‘That diet didn’t work, even though I only cheated on a few occasions!’ Stick to the dam plan. This then shifts to looking for inspirations from make believe role models in social media. A brief glimpse into someones workout of the day, meal prep is just that – brief. You may not see how the rest of their day rolls. Their life is theirs, yours is yours. Be you. You deserve it – now get back to the plan.
- Use various equipment and objects and ‘see point 3’
- I had one of those epiphany moments a couple of years ago when a gym strong woman struggled to move a large plant pot (empty) from her arms to the floor! Here’s a woman who can lift heavy kettlebells, but can’t lower a common ‘thing’ to the ground. The problem? She couldn’t contextualise her training to the real world. Our gym is now populated with a bigger variety of objects to train with. Not expensive equipment, but things you can find around the house and garden. That paired with building scenarios in the gym can really help to relate the movements we practice in the gym with real world physicality’s.
- Don’t rush – work on just getting better
- Progress is not always a numbers game. Adding reps, KGs, volume, time, speed are all great parameters to adjust and grow. But what about competency? I actually overheard a cashier talking to a co-worker yesterday (I wasn’t eavesdropping, honestly) about how she put the bar thingy behind her head and went down when her knee popped! She is referring to squatting of course but her words and tone told a story of incompetence and unfamiliarity. Move strong to lift strong. Spending time learning how to move really well in the big archetypal movements before adding loads should make sense. ‘Should’, but doesn’t often happen these days of instant gratification. Better is better. You can’t rush better. Just spend time enjoying learning about yourself, and progress.
- Never work to failure but embrace the suck sometimes
- Getting better (see above) at anything takes skill. Skill is practice. Practicing in a stressful environment rarely results in developing good skills. Imagine shouting at a student to learn quicker, stressing them out, getting them all sweaty, hot and bothered and mouth breathing! Learning requires attention in the absence of stressful distractions including working a movement or muscle to the point of failure. Detailed research and anecdotal observations both support training in the effort range of 60-75% of maximum to attain training adaptations. Naturally, to discover those percentages you have to (every now and again when the time is right) get a bit uncomfortable and work up to relative technical maximums or near to. This is not max max, where the trainee collapses in a heap of, well, physical failure. Guided testing is fine when appropriate but should not be a frequent training objective. Practice makes progress. Failure makes for a day in the operating theatre at some point.
- Plan your recovery, self care and maintenance
- All the gym time in the world is useless if you are not recovering adequately. Recovery first of all isn’t plopping down on the sofa and chilling out with a protein shake and a season of Stranger Things. Recovery entails nutrition and hydration for sure, including planning out meals, shopping accordingly and eating it of course. Great things happen when we eat more proteins and vegetables and cut back on cardboard carbs. Sleep is the highest priority when it comes to recovery. A crappy nights sleep can derail your day and turn you into a Gruffalo and ruin your training session to follow. Aiming for 8 to 9 hours should be a goal and as I’ve learned recently, the hours before midnight matter more than those after. Yup, off to bed early. Other areas to work on include joint and muscle recovery with a solid mobility practice like Original Strength and booking in for a monthly massage. If that’s not an option, a foam roller or Therapy Gun are great additions to your self care tool box. Ideally, self care every day. Move well, move often.
- Play, explore
- ‘Why so serious’? Great line from a great character in a great movie. Whilst we shouldn’t be planning the downfall of Batman or the city, we all need to play more. Adulting is serious for sure, but having fun feels good, and you guessed it, feeling good feels good. Taking time to explore other ways of moving apart from pressing, pulling, squatting etc should be part of your weekly routine. You just might surprise yourself with some latent skills. You might just be one of those people who can hand stand, pistol squat and jump over tall buildings without knowing it. Go explore.
- Eat like an adult
- Sorry, I’m gona hurt your feelings perhaps! A diet consisting of biscuits, cereals, chocolate spread on toast, fish fingers or chicken nuggets and chips isn’t going to take you to your health and fitness goals. Okay okay, a very infrequent, every now and then indulgence isn’t going to cause havoc but, making processed foods a daily occurrence is a failure to eat like an adult. Eat a variety of vegetables, preferably from local(ish) farmers. Eat naturally occurring proteins, meats or otherwise. Cook with naturally occurring fats rather than factory processed oils. And choose naturally growing carbohydrates when fuelling up is needed. Spices, herbs and some condiments are great to make most kitchen concoctions flavoursome galore.
- Embrace the process towards your goal(s)
- Over many years of training I have discovered, seen and read how focussing on the goals are fatiguing; fraught with distracting stresses. Impatience can ruin many a goal by failing to focus and work on the skills of the processes that ultimately leads to the goal. I’m not one of those people who was blessed with the natural ability to perform a pistol squat. I could barbell squat 200kg at one time but couldn’t do a pistol squat. However, once I started following a progressive skill and strength plan, the pistol squat organically grew out of the honing of all the other skills. Like many others, I loved the steps of the journey towards the pistol squat aka the process, and the final outcome, the pistol squat was a nice end to the journey. But, without following the process, I would probably have given up after many failed attempts at just trying to ‘pistol’. Enjoy the process and let the outcome happen.
- Love your strengths but develop your weaknesses
- Specialisation is a very (modern) human trait. Specialists are admired for their prowess in their specific field or expertise. Odd really considering how limiting of our potential the restraint of speciality is. In the gym, the specialist is the bench guy, or the squat queen, or the person in lycra obsessed with spin bikes. Sporting individuals too, meet the category. But, what other physical qualities are left untouched on the proverbial table when we become a connoisseur? Well, the physios treatment table is often where we’ll find the evidence of a singular focus. Imbalances in posture, muscle tone, strength and such are side affects of speciality. There’s nothing wrong with having a passion, but we are simply not designed to specialise. Humans thrive on being generalists, great generalists. But, we can still love our strengths so long as we still look after other areas. Love your bench press? Well, identify your weaknesses and develop them. Love your cardio? Trust me, get a little stronger and your cardio will reap the benefits. The same goes for the iron lovers – get your cardio in and look back at number 16, find fun ways to get your cardiovascular training.
- Be an example
- You never really know when you’ll be required or challenged to use your strength and fitness. Training can be a great past time, but ultimately if it’s not adding to your health and longevity plan, what is it doing? Like number 19 above talked about loving your strengths and developing your weakness, also identify your usefulness. Demonstrate that often. Use your physical abilities to help others, to be useful. In turn set an example of this practice to your peers, your partner and your children if you’ve been blessed with them yet. Don’t let ego dictate your actions, let the love of helping lead your actions.
‘The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind’William James
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If you’ve got this far…
…Great. You’ve got a framework to start evolving your movement and training mindset. But, I’m not ending this here.
Next, I want to share the ‘then what’ or the ‘what if’, for any of you who have a curiosity about your health, fitness and optimal potential.
All of those 20 rules or tips are fine, great even. I aspire to each and every one and encourage my clients to do the same. If you live by these as standards, you will go far.
However, without being lofty, by achieving these you could maybe consider yourself passing level 1 in a multi-level computer game as it were. The ‘then what’ or ‘what if’ quest I am now proposing is to challenge the rules, the status quo.
To understand why the rules exist, the how and why they are important you could explore the yin to the yang. What is the boundary, the opposite, the polar or even the compliment to a movement, your comfort level, the foods you eat? Stretch, compress the guidelines. Would you commit your usual 1 hour of practice to an extended 5, 8 or 10 hour period.? Would you take just one movement and dedicate an hour, 1 week, 45 seconds even or a month to practicing it? What would happen? What could happen?
Could you not sit in a chair or such furniture for a day? The floor is a very welcoming environment if you give it the chance.
What would happen if you went to your gym and spent the whole time exploring your ability with crawling? Yeah, they might scold you for ‘being different’ or it might open a dialogue for a very forward thinking conversation.
What if you confront your fear? What can go wrong if you try that cartwheel you’ve always wondered about?
If you scan back to point # 10 – Be safe, effective and efficient – it makes sense. Being safe is clearly an obvious factor to sustain but don’t mistake safe for being comfortable. Uncomfortable is not painful.
Effective is a confronting subject matter for many stuck in their dogma. While there are set in stone methods to achieving effectiveness, there are other ways you might discover. Tim Anderson, co-founder of Original Strength has recently completed the RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certification without using kettlebells. He crawled, climbed, sprinted, carried ‘stuff’ and trained with everything except the kettlebell. Imagine that. A very specific outcome with a very unconventional method.
Efficiency is skill and aptitude based and dependant on many factors. The commonality in these factors is frequent exposure to exact, very similar or similarish demands. You can see the common features in many fitness, strength and movement elements. You just have to spend time in and exploring them.
I am not saying to push your boundaries in everything you do. But do play the pendulum swing in everything to understand your own ability. I can guarantee there will be naysayers but that’s typically what happens when paradigms are nudged and wrestled.
You might just figure out that your dogma is faltered, validated or just not important. There is no wrong in what you may find.
‘No person is truly free, who is not Master of themselves‘Epictetus
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