Folks love standards, mostly because we love to compare ourselves to other people and see where we lie on the continuum. It validates us. It gives our ego this little tiny boost that makes us feel good for a minute.
And usually, I’d write a post telling you to forget about standards. Forget what other people are doing. Get off of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Stop watching other people live life and giving yourself massive FOMO while you sit on your couch with re-runs of The Office in the background.
But I think standards can be helpful now and then. They give us metrics to compare ourselves to ourselves, to see how we’re doing. We can pit our strengths against our weaknesses and uncover the areas of our health & fitness that we need to work on.
If you quickly Google the word “toning,” the first page of search results is a mishmash of both pro-toning and anti-toning blog posts. The fitness world loves the word toning. It’s schismatic (how’s that for SAT vocab?) and makes for good blog content. Heck, isn’t that why you clicked on this post in the first place?
And I have a confession: for a while, I was a fitness purist.
I believed that, whenever somebody came to me looking to “tone up,” it was my job to correct them. I needed to explain to them that toning is a myth and that muscles only get bigger or smaller and that bodyfat is what really matters. Then I’d dive into a quick soliloquy (I’m crushing the SAT words today) about rep ranges, percentages, and how we were going to program so that they got exactly where they wanted to be.
But at the end of the day, they just didn’t want the “stuff” on the underside of their arm to jiggle as much.
I read something good on Instagram the other day, it was from a fellow gym-owner, “How might you feel if you say ‘It’s not a priority’ instead of ‘I don’t have time?'” When it comes to programming, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t always or top priority. But we can still achieve an amazing level of fitness by making a few small adjustments.
Making our own health and wellness a priority can be difficult. I’m not sure if it’s the natural human instinct to care for others first, but between work, marriage, kids, and weekend trips to Home Depot, finding time for exercise is tough.
So it’s crucial to make the most of your hours at the gym. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 hours or 20 hours, making the right choices when it comes to programming can be the difference between progress and stagnation.
Rules make things clear. For instance, the NFL’s Catch vs. No-catch Rule has made it super quick and easy to figure out whether a receiver legitimately caught the football (note the subtle sarcastic undertones).
Rules prevent society from breaking out into anarchy. They prevent people from just walking into convenience stores at their leisure and taking whatever items they want. (I’m looking at you, Philadelphia.)
And when it comes to training, rules help guide us in our decision-making.
So without further adieu, I’d like to introduce you to the Three P’s of Exercise Selection.
These rules help guide us in choosing exercises for both ourselves and our members. They help us prioritize what is important during a workout as we make adjustments. Most importantly, they help create consistency in our process.
To be honest, I don’t get this question very often. I think that, for the most part, crunches have found their way out of current “mainstream” fitness. This is probably because modern fitness is dominated by extreme classes, Instagram experts, and multi-level protein shake marketing. There’s just too much other noise out there.
But I did get this question today, so let’s dive in.
Crunches and sit-ups are both exercise variations used to strengthen the abdominals. Specifically, we’re talking mostly about the “six-pack” abs, the ones that you can see on the outside. (This layer of muscle is called your rectus abdominis.)
These exercises are great when it comes to strengthening the six-pack abs through contraction and hypertrophying the abdominals so that they “pop” when your bodyfat is low enough. Additionally, they can be performed in a variety of positions and on an assortment of machines. They’re even used by popular competitive fitness outlets as parts of workouts.
So why have we chosen to disregard such popular exercises in favor of planks and deadbugs? Let me explain.
Okay, so there isn’t one secret. But there sort of is.
This article will be a like a two-piece answer that funnels into a single solution. As in, there is one thing you can do to take your squat from cheap to deep and I will tell you what is it … at the end.
Let’s clear the air first and clarify that if you’re someone with a true mobility limitation in your ankles, knees, hips, or thoracic spine, this article isn’t for you. Some of it might help, but most of it won’t. A true bony or otherwise somewhat-uncorrectable limitation won’t be fixed by the solutions that I recommend at the end of this article.
So here’s the deal: if you’ve performed a deep squat test akin to that of the Functional Movement Screen and you cannot achieve full squat depth despite having a full passive range-of-motion throughout your ankles, knees, hips, and thoracic spine, you don’t have a mobility problem, you have a strength problem.
Let me repeat that just in case you skimmed over it the first time: if you cannot perform a FMS-esque deep squat despite having no structural limitations, you don’t have a mobility problem. You have a strength problem.
In hindsight, I think we probably could have come up with a better name than “butt-wink,” but I digress.
Butt-wink (a.k.a. butt-tuck a.k.a. posterior tilt a.k.a. pelvic tilt) occurs near the bottom of a squat where the pelvic tilts itself posteriorly to create space and achieve greater depth. It’s a frequent occurrence in gyms all over the country and there have been countless articles devoted to the source of butt-winking and what you can do about it.
When many people think of “tightness” within a muscle, they might imagine a muscle that is physically short and unable to elongate itself to the proper length. Thus, we stretch that muscle in hopes of making some sort of mechanical alteration.
But think of it this way for a minute: instead of using the word tight or tightness, use the word tension. The feeling of tension within a muscle, similar to the sensation of pain, has a large neurological component.
It’s also important to remember that tension can arise in muscles for a number of reasons. There are psychosocial factors to tension and “tightness” within a muscle. For instance, prior injury can induce tension in a muscle or nearby muscle group in order to protect again future injury. As an example, someone with a history of back injury might feel tension throughout the lower back as a protective mechanism. As another example, someone performing an exercise or activity that previously induced pain into a certain area might feel pain or tension even without any structural harm being done.