10 Things I've Learned

Ramblings From a Mathematically Challenged Fitness Coach


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

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
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.

Alwyn Cosgrove co-authored nine best-selling fitness books and is a member of the Nike Performance Council. Alwyn co-owns Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California, which was named one of the top ten gyms in America by Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines. Follow Alwyn Cosgrove on Facebook