I often write/talk about both fundamentals and progressions and how important they are in training. I didn’t write this particular post to pick on anyone or how they approach a first training session but more so to make people aware. The road to reaching training goals whether you are the coach or the client is not conquered in one day of hard work. It’s a process and both sides need to understand that.
Many coaches, at least I hope, have some sort of evaluation process, assessment or screen that they use when first taking on a new member or client. I think there a lot of ways it can be done between having an experienced and keen eye for movement, using a specific protocol and/or simply asking a lot of questions to get more information on someone’s background, injury history and goals. For me, again giving credit as I often have, this concept really started to click when I learned what Athletes’ Performance did with people on their first couple of days. It didn’t matter whether you were a 50 year old executive or an NFL rookie. Everyone basically started with the same questions and basic fundamentals/progressions. Some just progressed quicker than others and adjustments were made based on goals. The important point being that no assumptions were made or just taking someone’s word for it when they said they “could” do X, Y or Z or something along the lines of, “I’ll be fine, I workout all the time”. Sure you do* (note sarcasm). I think prior to my AP experience I had a relatively conservative approach, as I still do now, but less of an idea of what I should be looking for and what to do about it. Currently at Ambition Athletics we want all prospective members to do an introductory session, either in a small group or in a 1 on 1 setting, where we can sit, ask questions, go through a brief screening process and then teach some fundamental movement patterns regardless of the person’s current training level. In other words, it’s a safe, easy, and productive Day 1.
There have been two different Ambition Athletics members (that have admitted to it) within the past year or so that have been curious enough to venture out to try something different. I can’t say I blame them. I’ve tried many different things over the years myself. Where they went is not relevant, only how that first (and subsequently last) day went. The following are a few words taken from the accounts of these individuals.
“I could feel my hamstrings and quads start to tighten up and get that near cramping feeling. I can’t imagine how the housewives and other first timers were feeling after their first round at their station. After pushing myself through the workout my legs were shaking and I couldn’t lift my arms to use my phone. “
“When I woke up in the morning, I was in a world of hurt. I couldn’t straighten my arms. I spent the next six nights tossing and turning while I slept, trying to avoid any position with straight arms and going to work where I had to lift heavy rolls of material or the fire station where we have to move equipment and get on and off the apparatus with added weight. I was in pain for seven full days and I missed the workouts that I truly wanted to do.”
“I walked into the gym and after talking with the “lead” instructor I was offered a free intro class and started right then.”
“It was emphasized to move as fast as possible. I refused and went slowly as I am 245lbs and have already has 1 knee surgery and I am not about to jack up my knees.”
“I was told it would help me keep track of how many reps I’ve done incase I become disoriented while working out. Excuse me? Disoriented while working out? Shouldn’t I just stop?”
“Her parting words were to pay close attention to how we were feeling and to take note of the color of our urine. To be sure that if we experience any irregular coloring similar to coca cola in our urine and any intense soreness, to be sure to contact our primary care physician because we may have Rhabdomyolysis, which may lead to kidney failure.”
So if it weren’t obvious enough, these descriptions are not how I would draw up someone’s first experience in the gym, as there is really nothing positive other than the old hopefully you don’t die when you leave here. Riiiiight. Great coaching. I stated earlier, one day of hard training isn’t going to make you, but it can damn near break you. If you’re a coach, it’s your job to help people get better, not crush them. Training should more often be about moving better and getting stronger than testing the absolute limits of physical ability and mental toughness, especially on Day 1. You don’t have to prove to anyone on that first day how tough you are. And, if the perspective client demands this sort of insanity (pun intended) then, at least in our case at Ambition, it’s probably not going to be a good fit anyway.
All of that being said, is there a time when any of this is acceptable? In my opinion, no. Consider this: What if you had a long drive ahead of you the next day? Tell me that won’t be the worst drive ever. What if you are an athlete and had to go to practice tomorrow? Or perhaps you were a firefighter or somehow responsible for helping others but, in reality your ability to perform may be compromised because your body is so beat up. Some soreness is ok but let’s be realistic, at some point there are diminishing returns. Vomiting in any other situation in life is clearly a sign that something is wrong. That doesn’t change in an exercise setting, period. You might ask, well what about athletics? In situations like the typical football first day of training camp often the athletes are going to know what’s coming and it’s their responsibility to be ready or suffer. And, to be honest a season will no more rest on that first day than any other. Regardless of sport, it’s still a process and a relatively long season. Day 1 isn’t going to make your team but if athletes are being beaten into the ground the opportunity for breaking your team is far greater.
Back to the gym. Finally, if you’re a coach you should be asking a lot of questions, listening and offering a better understanding of your training philosophy. Help him or her to reach their goals but don’t try and do it all in one day. If need be, explain why. If you are a prospective client/member, ask a lot of questions. Make sure whoever is helping you is doing the same. Unless the person is a jerk it’s probably better to judge them on more than just one hour of training. I don’t think a lack of intensity on day 1 is a bad thing. I do think too much intensity is just dangerous and irresponsible.
– Mike Baltren