Training Versus Exercise
For most people, exercise comes rooted in fear and goes hand in hand with a “diet.” People exercise to avoid becoming fat, flabby, and old. While there is a multi-billion dollar industry built around preying on these fears, it’s so much more interesting to take a goal oriented approach and focus on being able to do interesting things with your body and make continual progress. This is what training is and is the focus at Knotty Yoga.
Exercise is the domain of people who run on treadmills and have “chest” and “leg” days. Exercise is largely focused on making bodies smaller and selectively making certain body parts bigger. It largely has no focus or goal other than looking better in a swimsuit or getting “abs.”
Training is activity focused. A great example would be training to do a marathon, doing a press handstand, moving from a 3.5 to a 4.0 in tennis, or being able to climb a rope without using your legs. Instead of isolating certain muscles to work for maximal visual results, athletes set goals and create and execute on a plan for achieving those goals.
Training generally involves hiring a coach to put together a plan for you to achieve something. Some people who have been doing something for years and have a lot of experience can be their own coach, but for most people, they should work with someone who can put them on the right path. The next set is designing progressions and coming up with a training plan. People doing training also tend to have written down, concrete goals for some kind of accountability and progress tracking.
I had a breakdancing coach who would explain tricks that we wanted to learn to do in terms of hours of time spent before you would be able to do them. For instance, a handstand might be a 200 hour trick while a flare might be a 2,000 hour trick. I found it useful to think of things in terms of this, especially when you start working on something that at first seems impossible.
Progressions are what turn the impossible into reality. Almost anything interesting athletically will be nearly impossible when you first try it. To solve this, you need a set of basic progressions that are challenging but somewhat doable. The path of progressions, if done consistently and with good form, should lead you towards of achieving your goal.
In a simple case, if you can bench press 135lbs and would like to bench press 225lbs in six months, you would need to come up with a plan of increased weights that you would be at along the way (ie. I’d like to be at 150lbs in a month). You might also need some shoulder stabilization, stretching, and variety (ie. Strip sets, negatives, asymmetric training, working at different angles, training with dumbells, etc.).
A weight lifting example is relatively simplistic example for training since you have data you can track in Excel. You can even graph goals and actual progress to visually see if you are on track for your goals.
Something like improving your tennis ranking from a 3.5 to a 4.0 is a lot more fuzzy. This would involve a coach assessing your game to determine what is holding you back from functioning at the new level and creating a plan to improve. This might be, make your backhand move powerful, make your forehand more consistent, improve your net game, and reduce double faults by developing a more reliable second serve. A plan like this is much more complicated than improving your bench press weight because there isn’t as straightforward of data to track. Also, people tend to work on new shots and tweaks in tennis in practice and spend months or years drilling new concepts and changes before they feel ready to incorporate these changes into competitive match play.
The tennis example is far more like a dancer or acrobat who is likely training a wide variety of new skills and moves but will spend a long time polishing this new material before they ever incorporate the additions into an actual performance.
At Knotty Yoga, we focus on building athletes via training. We also split the conditioning part of training from the skill part of training. For instance, we have Knotty Yoga and Circus Circuit classes to focus on building strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility. Then our skill focused aerial and partner acrobatics classes just focus on learning the skills and don’t have much in the way of conditioning in them. In many ways, our conditioning is ala carte and the most successful students go for seconds or third of conditioning in relation to how much time they spend on skills. I like to think of the conditioning classes and breakfast and lunch and the skill classes as dessert. Being able to learn skills is the reward for being in great shape but it isn’t what gets you there.
I’ve gone to many aerial or acrobatics classes and they are often two hours and include some 10-20 minute conditioning block at the end. This is dangerous since some people think that they have done enough conditioning and don’t need to do more when they really have done a trivial amount. I think it would be better to skip this entirely than to make people think that this dozen or so minutes actually means that they are “conditioned.”
The students who are the most successful at the studio do at least three Knotty Yoga / Circus Circuit classes a week. The aerial and partner acrobatics classes are the reward for doing that much conditioning. The exception to this is the two hour Friday night Beginner Aerial Crew class that is largely an aerial focused conditioning class (as most beginner anything classes should be).
We take training seriously at Knotty Yoga. Any male who is at a healthy weight, free of injury, and consistently logs at least three Knotty Yoga classes a week for a year can expect to be able to do a back planch / lever. Any person of any gender who has the same attendance can expect to be able to do a headstand, pullup, handstand (at least against the wall), no leg climb of a rope, and a straddle climb in the air.
Climbing a rope challenges your body so much more thoroughly than doing a biceps curl. Holding a person on your feet and moving them through interesting ranges of motion is so much harder and works so much more muscle than doing squats or leg presses. It also improves your flexibility instead of eliminating it. Balancing and stabilizing on a fabric with just your arms on the ground activates your chest so much more athletically than a synthetic, fixed activity like bench press. It also teaches your core and chest to work in tandem. Doing a back lever for ten seconds takes more energy and works more muscles than most people will call upon during an hour in the gym.
I find if people have goals like: I want to do the splits, a pike climb, a front lever, a hand stand, etc. they will work so much harder and feel so much more accomplished than they would from just exercising. They will also end up with a much more functional and athletic body.
Becoming an athlete also changes a person’s outlook on food. Instead of turning food into something to avoid, athlete’s look at food as something that they need and that nourishes them. I’ve found that when I have clients who eat poorly or drink heavily, they naturally scale back their drinking and seek out better food as they start to make progress in their training. It’s a huge win to have people shift from viewing food as something that makes them fat into something that helps them to get strong.
“Becoming an athlete” sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. For someone who can’t do a full blown pushup, it could be as simple as working up towards a three-quarters pushup on knees, then a full pushup on knees, then a three-quarters pushup on feet, which leads eventually to a full pushup. Same with pullups, head stands, hand stands, etc. The key thing is to set small goals and then train with the right level of consistency and intensity to achieve these goals. Each goal might seem small but these small goals will add up to a lot over a year and can take you to an amazing place in five.