Progression does not require complexity

In our constant efforts to find the next training hack or trick that could improve our performance, it can be easy for us to confuse complexity with progress. In other words, as we keep trying to challenge ourselves with more complicated moves, the results we seek may become further and further out of reach. That’s not to say that finding unique and new ways to train is necessarily a bad thing or that we should never do it – but rather, we should think of the basics as the foundations upon which everything else is built, and we should continually incorporate them into training to ensure that the ‘ax remains sharp’.

Understanding Nuts and Bolts

All exercises, complexes, flows, chains and patterns are essentially combinations or variations of the same basic movements. Whether or not our goals are performance-based or strictly for general fitness, these core movements should be the rock on which we build our programs. The trick is to understand what these moves look like and how to increase their difficulty – without necessarily changing them.

A general categorization of these fundamental movements might look like this:

  • The hinge: driven mainly by the hips, the direction of the force being horizontal (forward and backward)
  • The Squat: trained mainly by the legs, the direction of the force being vertical (up and down)
  • The Slot: Driving principally through the lower body, the force generated providing locomotion (if you pull away in one direction, it’s based on the lunge pattern)
  • The thrust: driven through the upper body, the direction of the force being away from the body and can be both horizontal and vertical
  • The pull: driven through the upper body, the direction of the force being directed towards the body – and like the push, can be both horizontal and vertical
  • Core Stability: The midline of the upper and lower body, with development focusing on the transfer of strength and power from bottom-up/top-down, left-to-right/right-to-left and through spin

There have been (and will continue to be) endless articles and opinion pieces written that will offer variation on these, but often the differences are minimal, sometimes amounting to nothing more than a change in description: ie. “Trunk stability” is often simply referred to as “Core” and/or broken down into specific movements such as “Gate”.

Earn your progress

Each of these categories has a basic form that helps to master the movement and support future progressions. Some, however, have more advanced levels which are mistakenly referred to as the “fundamental” form: while looking simple, they require a higher level of skill to complete properly. For example, the dumbbell squat is often considered the “basic” squat pattern – but being able to hold the bar correctly requires more shoulder and hip mobility than many people possess (at least initially). Likewise, the push-up – although a staple of bodyweight training and “boot camps” – is not simply about pressing your chest to the floor. You need to make sure that you can maintain a proper plank in its entirety, have relatively balanced strength on both sides of your body, and have the ability to press 64% of your body weight for multiple reps.[1] So in these examples there may be a step or two that needs to be learned and practiced. before you start doing these variations (like a goblet squat or overhead push-ups).

Basic – Not easy

You can get great results just by working on the basics, and you can make big strides in your strength and conditioning without adding to the complexity – you just need to know how to challenge yourself without making the move itself. even more complicated.

Without changing the basic pattern at all, there are four ways to increase the level of difficulty: a) you can add weight, b) you can add reps, c) you can add sets, or d) you can reduce the rest period. . Which one you choose will be determined by the goal of the training session/program and your current abilities. If your goal is to increase your strength, for example, then gaining weight is the most obvious choice – although this may come with a commensurate drop in reps to make progress safely. Likewise, if the goal of the workout is to improve endurance, you can increase the reps (keeping the rest and sets the same).

Don’t be afraid of the fundamentals

While there are many ways to work with the same basic patterns or movements while progressing (there are entire programs built from the same 5 or 6 exercises repeated endlessly), never venture out of the “meat and potatoes” exercises can be not only uninteresting but also unproductive. The trick is to find the balance between a broader exploration of movement while maintaining raw efficiency at its core.

[1] Ebben WP, Wurm B, VanderZanden TL, Spadavecchia ML, Durocher JJ, Bickham CT, Petushek EJ. Kinetic analysis of several variants of pumps. J Resistance Cond Res. 2011 Oct;25(10):2891-4. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31820c8587. PMID: 21873902.

Sharon D. Cole