10 Things I've Learned
Ramblings From a Mathematically
Challenged Fitness Coach
by Alwyn Cosgrove
Note: T-Nation asked Cosgrove to tell us his top ten tips. He gave us 34.
1. In training, the only thing that matters is the result. It doesn't matter what used to happen, what you think should happen, what a textbook tells you is happening, what the experts say, or what a bunch of borderline-retarded pencildicks on a forum post about.
What matters is actually what happens! Once a coach really understands this and can let go of any preconceived notions of what "should" have happened, he can really get results.
2. When designing training programs, resist the pressure to conform to any tradition or system of beliefs, no matter how dogmatically that tradition or those beliefs are presented, or how much you get "slammed" for not conforming. This applies to training and life. It's also why I stopped wearing kilts when I moved to America.
3. Take training advice only from guys who've trained themselves to a reasonably high level or make their living from getting results with real people. Be aware though that "doing" and "coaching" don't always exist in the same person!
The game changes when it's "put up or shut up" time and you have to actually get a result in order to put food on the table. A lot of people writing and talking about training have never had to do that. The same is true for business and life in general.
4. My favorite Bruce Lee quote is: "Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless." The full quote finishes with "... add what is specifically your own."
So just make sure you take any advice and tweak it based on your own experiences. A good coach will use all his knowledge and experience to help you; when you add in your ownknowledge and experience, then you've got something.
5. A good program performed poorly is worthless. A shitty program done with a ton of effort is worth a lot. But when you get a good program and a ton of effort, the results can be amazing.
6. Keep your own personal attitude pendulum in the center. In training, nutrition, and pretty much everything, we always see an overreaction to anything new in the short term and an under-reaction in the long term. Smart people do neither and take the information for what it is. We went through a massive overreaction – and are currently under-reacting – to static stretching, stability ball training, aerobic training, and overtraining. In other words:
Swiss balls are a useful tool. Don't ignore them.
Kettlebells are a useful tool. Don't ignore everything else.
Mr. Spielberg, Tom Cruise is a moderately competent actor. Don't put him in every damn film.
7. If your training is perfect, your nutrition is perfect, and your supplementation is perfect, and you still aren't making progress, it's likely your pickle consumption that's holding you back.
8. Research in training can only be used as a guide. Research is a perfectly controlled situation; the real world is different.
The best you can take from the research is that with group A for B weeks under C conditions, we experience D results to E stimulus. So under the exact same A, B, C, D, and E conditions, you might have something you can use. Otherwise it's more of a guide.
And, in any effect, research is typically playing catch up – studying (or trying to disprove) what coaches are already doing. Only a combination of the research and the real world will be useful.
9. A complete training program has to include movement preparation, flexibility work, injury prevention work, core work, cardiovascular work, strength training, and recovery/regeneration. Most programs cover, at best, two of those.
A lot of training programs only cover the strength training portion. Be well rounded; address everything. Adding in one stretching session per week and developing your own good warm-up routine will go a long way in helping your results.
10. "Methods are many, principles are few
Methods may change, but principles never do."
Keep this in your head when evaluating programs. The principles of boxing are pretty much written in stone, but the methods that Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson used are different. If your program violates the simple principles of training (such as overload) it doesn't matter how cool it looks, it won't work.
11. Regardless of pesticides, fructose levels, etc., people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are healthier than those who eat the least. You're going to have a hard time convincing me that the current obesity epidemic is a result of people eating too many apples!
12. Get a foam roller and use it. Don't worry about the strength, size, or flexibility of your muscles until you work on the quality of the tissue.
13. I've never gotten dumber from reading any book (with the possible exception of "My Life: The Paris Hilton Story"). It always makes me smile when I hear people asking, "Is this book worth it?" I can honestly say I've never read anything that didn't enhance my knowledge in some way. Knowledge is the only guaranteed slump-buster in any field.
Charlie Jones once said, "Five years from now, you will be exactly the same, apart from the people you meet and the books you've read." Read a book a week. Elite coach Mike Boyle once told me though, "Don't believe everything you read. But definitely don't just read what you believe."
14. Most beginners need to train more on a regular basis. Advanced guys need to train less but train harder.
15. No one ever improved from just training; they improved from recovering from training. Training plus recovery = results. Pay as much attention to both to really reap the rewards.
16. I got punched in the spine once in a Taekwon-Do match. Interesting thing is, my opponent went through my stomach and ribcage to do it. I got real interested in core training after that.
17. Your body can't differentiate between stressors. Stress is like water from hundreds of taps flowing into a bathtub. Financial stress, relationships, health, and training stress are all different taps. When all the other taps are flowing full blast, turn down the training tap a little bit so your tub doesn't overflow.
18. Ninety percent of all supplements out there don't do shit.
There are very few supplements that'll do anything. Supplements are what I consider "progress accelerators." If your current training and diet isn't getting you bigger or leaner or whatever your goal is, then adding a supplement won't help you. Supplements help to speed up the results you're already getting.
19. If you train lower body twice a week, unloading the spine in the second workout and doing dumbbell step-ups, split squats, glute-ham raises, etc. will make a big difference to your overall strength and recovery.
20. Most athletes and people in general need to focus more on unilateral (single leg) lower body work than bilateral (both legs) lower body work. For non-powerlifters, most of life occurs on one leg. As a result, the single leg versions are more muscularly specific. In addition, by loading only one leg, the load on the back is decreased by 50%, another huge advantage.
21. In training for power, there are two main sides to the debate. Komi suggests using sub-maximal load with fast repetitions. Schmidtbleicher suggests the intent to move the bar fast is more important than the actual bar speed. Both are probably right.
22. My Taekwon-do instructor, Derek Campbell, is in my opinion the single greatest coaching mind on the planet, and by far one of the single biggest influences on my thinking today.
I have no doubt he could've coached me for the first half of a fight and had me winning, and switched corners halfway and had the other guy beat me. He took a skinny no-talent kid like myself and turned him into a champion. He's the kind of person that changed someone's life for the better. What kind of person are you?
23. Skinny guys always think it's their training. Fat guys always think it's their diet. Usually skinny guys need a better diet and fat guys need a better training program.
24. The recent trend to do low reps for fat loss is interesting. Actually, a lot of coaches seem to recommend low reps for everything: strength, gaining size, gaining strength without size, fat loss... everything!
So basically it's just one program then, eh? Uh, no.
25. In all my years, I've never seen anyone lose these massive amounts of muscle that
everyone is talking about when dieting.
26. Training a body part once a week is dumb. The body responds better to frequent exposure. You don't eat once a week, take all your supplements once a week, or train your heart (cardio) once a week, so why treat the rest of your body any different?
You can't really split up a workout by body part very effectively anyway. For example, a bentover row is a "back" exercise, but a Romanian deadlift is a hamstring exercise, despite the fact that a bentover row involves one long isometric Romanian deadlift hold! So is it really a hamstring exercise instead? Do you see what I mean? The classification is flawed.
27. At some point, the time taken and risk involved to improve X lift by Y pounds won't be worth the benefit for most of us. But you may not be at that point yet.
28. Eighty percent of your results come from 20% of your efforts. It's a cliché, and it's been said a thousand times, but that doesn't make it any less true.
The real skill however is in finding out what the effective 20% of your efforts is. In training, it's pretty much squatting and deadlifting. Make sure, regardless of your goals, that your program includes some form of squats or deadlift variations.
29. Be real. It doesn't matter what people think of you. What matters is what you think of you. Of course, if I don't think much of you, you can pretty much take it to the bank.
30. Having cancer changed my attitude on everything. Unfortunately, it took being faced with death before I really appreciated life. As Margaretta Rockefeller said, "Once you've been confronted with a life and death situation, trivia no longer matters. Your perspective grows and you live at a deeper level. There is no time for pettiness."
31. Surround yourself with good people. You don't have to know it all; you just have to know who to ask to find out. I'm in a lucky position in that I can consider some of the best trainers on the planet my friends.
32. At some point, your parents will pass away. Treasure the times you have with them. You probably won't appreciate this advice until it's too late. So call your Mom on Sunday, you bastard.
33. In terms of getting results with people, in a head to head competition I think I could hang with anyone in the field. There are only a few coaches out there that I'd be concerned about. You are not one of them.
34. If this article is "exactly what you're looking for," then you are a mindless clown.
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