Working hard is a great thing, no doubt about it. You need a great work ethic to achieve your desired result in anything you do. But more importantly you need to work smart. I’ve learned this through our bookkeeper Kim with regards to our business, but also through our training philosophy with our athletes and clients. That’s what this blog post is about.

My job with our athletes is to make them more efficient in their movements, make them stronger, faster, and keep them healthy so we can prolong their career as long as possible. I want my pro guys to play hockey until they’re 40. The last thing I want is another Rick Dipietro. Who by the way, destroyed everyone in fitness testing each year but because he didn’t work smart always had groin injuries. He substantially shortened his career. Did I mention I think most fitness testing is useless and has no carry over to sport…

My job with our everyday clients is to teach them how to lift weights properly, make them stronger, improve their conditioning, and improve quality of life. Believe it or not I don’t want them to herniate a disc, tear a rotator cuff muscle, or tear their Achilles because of poor programming.

My job is to teach everyone who walks through our door how to lift weights properly and effectively to maximize results. My job is to treat each client on an individual basis. My job is to do a comprehensive assessment, as well as design a program suited to your goals along with what we see in the assessment. I’m looking to maximize results. Jamming athletes and clients into a mold they don’t fit does not allow me to do that. That’s where you run into problems.

My job DOES NOT entail beating your body into submission with each workout. It DOES NOT entail making you crawl to the garbage can to puke. It DOES NOT entail overloading your joints with unnecessary volume. If you want all of that bundled up into one nice package go buy a P90X or Insanity DVD.

More and more people are starting to get the mentality that you need to be drenched in a pool of sweat to have an effective workout. There’s a time and a place to make someone tired. But it’s not as often as you would think.

Using one of our pro hockey players as an example…His team didn’t make the playoffs so we started training at the start of May. That means we get about 18 weeks before his training camp starts in the middle of September. I’m not going to give away all of our secrets but here is a brief overview of what we did with him this summer.

The first 4 weeks was all about fixing the dysfunction that a long hockey season causes. His main issue was tight hip flexors/quads which had him in an anterior pelvic tilt, thus not allowing him to engage his glutes. We also had to get him out of his kyphotic (rounded thoracic spine) posture due to having his stick on the ice all year. We spent a lot of time doing soft tissue work, mobility work, and working on his lumbo-pelvic stability. He also went to gymnastics once a week to work on his body control and awareness. The only conditioning we did was to improve his cardiac output. He walked uphill on a treadmill for 30 minutes with his heart rate between 130-140bpm.

“But Brad, he needs to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) all the time.” In some ways it’s far superior to long duration cardio…and in some ways it isn’t. The people who say you don’t need longer duration cardiac output work are the same people that cherry pick research to support their “HIIT is all you need” claims. Read this article by Mike Robertson below. It’ll change your mind on doing some cardiac output training. I know it changed mine.

The next 4 weeks were about adding strength onto his foundation. Once you fix dysfunction, you add strength. It’s that simple. Anaerobic Lactic Capacity training was added halfway through to get some conditioning work in. He was also given a de-load week in week 4 to give his sympathetic nervous system a break.

The next 5 weeks were again strength. Conditioning was done twice a week in the form of Anaerobic Lactic Capacity training and Anaerobic Alactic Power training. He also started skating on July 2nd twice a week. Parents take note he was OFF THE ICE from April 12th-July 2nd. That’s almost 12 weeks! Please stop enrolling your child in hockey all year round. This was a very intensive phase on the nervous system so again he was given a de-load week in week 5.

That brings us to where we are now. Six weeks left until training camp. Now that we’ve fixed the dysfunction and added strength we work on higher tempo, more explosive exercises. Sorry I’m keeping what’s done in this phase close to the chest.

You can see that having an effective program takes some actual planning. If you work with athletes you need a good understanding of the biomechanical/physiological demands of their sport. You also need a good understanding of how the human body works. I prefer this approach as opposed to throwing random workouts on a whiteboard and calling it “muscle confusion.” But then again the workout was hard so you must have a smart trainer right…….

But back to training hard vs. training smart. Want your body to feel substantially better on a daily basis? Quit pounding your joints into submission. You don’t need to run 823km’s every week. You don’t need to do high rep box jumps for time. You don’t need to sprint with weights in your hand. And you certainly don’t need to work with a trainer whose’ only goal is to have you puke at the end of each workout.

Why would I want my athlete’s to puke? I’m trying to get them stronger, and in a lot of cases add muscle mass. Most athletes don’t eat enough calories to begin with. When you throw up you need to replenish what you lost, what you burnt though the workout, plus whatever you need to be in a caloric surplus. That’s a lot of calories!!

Why the de-load weeks? Rest is for the weak. Go hard or go home, that’s what my 1980’s football coach always says.

De-load weeks are to make sure our athletes don’t have excessive sympathetic neural activity. This is actually quite common in a lot of people.

What happens if you have excessive sympathetic neural activity?

A whole host of things that aren’t good. Decreased nutrient absorption, decreased quality of sleep, decreased adaptive response to training, decreased anabolic hormones, increased catabolic hormones, increased body fat, and decreased lean mass just to name a few.[1]

As a Strength and Conditioning Coach do you think I want my athletes/clients to have any of these issues? This again goes back to what my job is. It’s slightly more complex than just telling people what to do, how many reps of this, how many sets of that, etc.

I love this quote by Brad Schoenfeld;

“You wouldn’t attempt to overhaul your car’s engine without having knowledge of auto mechanics. So why would anyone think they can safely and effectively carry out a fitness routine without any understanding of exercise science? The human body is ‘slightly’ more complex than a car.”

So you’re saying not to work hard at all?

No. Far from it.

The fitness industry seems to be the only industry where working hard trumps working smart. Work hard but work smart.  Again there’s a time and place to make someone tired. It’s just not every day.



[1]{C} Hulse, E. (2009) How to Increase Anabolic Hormones By Balancing the Autonomic Nervous System.