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7 Sins of an Unconventional Trainer

I am not your typical trainer (in fact, I’m not usually associated with things, mannerisms, or ideas that could be considered “normal”). While that is not the reason I came up with the term “Unconventional Training,” calling what I do “unconventional” is an easy way to explain why the things I practice don’t match typical fitness professionals.

I have an interesting reaction when people say, “I want to get a donut, but I feel guilty because you’re here.” I laugh, then I get a donut myself (or I grab two). I am not part of the “fitness police.” I am part of the fitness information provider force; I help find, organize, and disseminate information, then expect you to make decisions yourself.

When that same person says something like, “But you’re a trainer!” I correct them by saying, “I’m an UNCONVENTIONAL trainer, meaning that I do what I want.” I’m not trying to be funny when I say this, I’m just trying to help people understand that their perception of fitness professionals may be a little off; there is a new breed coming around, and we don’t follow the same rules. Here are seven ways I break away from the standards:

#1: I don’t train everyday.

The Unconventional Trainer might not workout every day.When you start to look at fitness in loooooonnngggg terms, training everyday isn’t really necessary. I think of progressive exercise in terms of decades, not days, weeks, months, or seasons. In the long run, consistent training will have better results than going nuts to hit some personal record, crazy movement, body fat percentage, etc. I train consistently, and that doesn’t necessitate daily.

#2: When I do workout, it’s not for that long.

To be in “excellent” shape, most people think that you need to workout A LOT. What if I told you that with progressive, long term exercise techniques, you could get solid results with 30 minutes or less a day? Because that is what I do. No, I’m not at the level of an Olympian or professional athlete, but I am extremely functional AND I barely spend any time training. This leaves with me with lots of time to share ideas about how everyone can achieve the same level doing the same thing :).

#3: I eat donuts (and hamburgers).

I eat a lot of stuff that most fitness professionals would be appalled by (hamburgers and bacon are my favorite foods for goodness sake!). But I don’t eat bad stuff all the time, which makes it acceptable to eat it sometimes. Be good most of the time, so you can enjoy being bad some of the time.

#4: I drink beer (and whiskey).

No matter how those articles you read try to spin it, alcohol is not good for you. Yes, wine has antioxidants and beer lowers cholesterol somehow, but no more than a good supplement or healthy habit (much less actually). I drink because it’s fun, it relaxes me, and it helps me socialize (I’m an introvert after all). Again, I don’t see anything wrong with indulging in something that isn’t necessarily “good” for you, as long as you don’t do it all the time.

#5: I don’t care about looks (I care about performance and longevity).

Aesthetics are just a happy benefit of functional training.

Do I need washboard abs, boulder shoulders, and bulging biceps to feel like a man? F@#$ no! Any aesthetic gain I get from my training is a welcome benefit, but hardly the point or necessity of my training. It’s hard enough to squeeze in all of the other goals I want to achieve (namely strength, conditioning, agility, balance, longevity, durability, flexibility, mobility, etc.) without having to worry about the size of my arms, chest, and waste line.

#6: I don’t want to help you (unless you want to help you).

Everyone thinks that every trainer in the world is concerned with every person’s fitness, but it isn’t for me. As much as I like helping people, trying to help someone who isn’t looking for assistance is like trying to resuscitate a guy with CPR who’s awake and breathing (and screaming at you). They don’t want it, it wastes your energy, and even if you could sell them on changing themselves for their own good, it probably won’t last, and as I said before, my goals are loooonnnnnggg term. Fixing you for 30 days doesn’t give me any satisfaction! I need years and decades! This goal requires commitment to change; you need to want to help you to make that happen!

#7: I don’t like exercise that much (I like life).

The unconventional trainer may not consider exercise the most important thing in the world.

Yes, getting a good sweat, improving my lifts, and joining in on the comrade of a solid group workout is satisfying, but if I could trade it all for a 1-minute solution, I probably would. I like exercise because it helps me keep up with my two kids, helps me avoid or recover from aches and pains, makes me feel like more of a man, and gives me the confidence of knowing that I could throw down if I needed to to protect my family from maniacs, disasters, and common household tasks that require some strength (like opening up the pickle jar with ease).

Why the Strongest Looking Guys Aren’t Always the Strongest Guys

When I was working on the first issue of My Mad Methods Magazine (now called Onnit Academy Magazine), I needed a lot of pictures. Naturally, I thought the best way to get them was to run an ad on craigslist, select some strong-looking models, and get some cool pictures. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. It turns out that even if you look strong, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are strong.

I found some guys that looked really strong; they had excellent muscle definition and size throughout their entire bodies, but then came the test. I asked one to place a 100-pound sandbag on his shoulder. Not only did he fail to get the sandbag onto his shoulder using the Sandbag Shouldering movement, he couldn’t even hold it when I placed it on his shoulder for him! I’m ashamed to say that we did get the shot eventually; it involved him kneeling on the ground with a plyo-box behind him supporting the back half of the sandbag (the shame!).

Why Size Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Strength

Strength is not what you think it is.One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to fitness is a confusion between hypertrophy (essentially training for muscle size) and training for strength. Yes, the two can overlap quite a bit, but when you have one group train exclusively for size (like an amateur bodybuilder) and another train exclusively for strength and performance (like a rock climber), you start seeing a big difference. For most people, having a balance of the two leads to the best results; when you go hardcore on one (like the models did), you risk confusing the crap out of your employer (me).

If the strong-looking guy isn’t necessarily strong, does that mean that the skinny guy might be? Yes!

One of the reasons that Unconventional Training (and functional training in general) is so effective is because it does more than make you look and feel strong, it really makes you stronger. When you train exclusively for the “look” of strength, that is all you get in a lot of cases (please note that I’m not talking about world-class bodybuilders here).

Some of the strongest guys and girls I’ve ever met were the Big Bear Hot Shots. Were these people bulging with muscles? Were they tanned specimens feeding on grass-fed beef and raw spinach? No!

Los Padres Hot Shot CrewThese hardy people trained for performance, and in their line of work (hiking miles and miles straight through the wild with 45-pounds of gear while breathing fire and ash THEN fighting a fire when they finally get to it), it pays to be as efficient as possible, meaning maximum strength and conditioning with the least amount of weight possible.

In their work, having loads of muscle without a corresponding load of strength and conditioning means that you’re just carrying extra weight. They told me that some of the biggest, baddest looking guys would be the first to fall out, even on basic hikes!

I’m proud to say that my wife was a a Hot Shot. She used to train at my 5:30AM kettlebell class when I had a gym in Orange County, California. She would come do a hardcore kettlebell session, then go straight to Big Bear to train with her crew (what a badass). I digress, but I love my wife, so I’ll do what I want.

What You Really Want to Achieve is Strength

Most people think in simple terms of looking “bigger,” at least at first. Really, there is no problem with that! You’ll still be improving your body unless you choose to do something dangerous or stupid in order to achieve those results. If you go from sitting on the couch 24-7 to using hypertrophy to enhance your looks, good job! You are better than you used to be.

Onnit Steel ClubsThe problem comes when people start expecting your pumped-up bod to deliver some results. Have you have asked a big-looking guy to help you move something like a refrigerator, only to have him whining and quitting before you even got it out of the house? It’s like seeing a killer movie preview that suckered you into seeing a crappy movie.

Inevitably, you’ll want more than just the looks, you’ll want the performance. Performance means real strength development, and the most efficient way to get that is through Unconventional Training.

3 Unconventional Training Exercises for Increased Strength

#1: The Kettlebell Swing Exercise

The Kettlebell Swing is a fantastic, core strengthening ballistic movement that utilizes an explosive hip action to engage your posterior chain. This exercise requires timing and full body coordination, strengthening your body with every repetition.

#2: The Sandbag Shouldering Squat Exercise

The Sandbag Shouldering Squat exercise is a complex movement that involves yanking a heavy sandbag directly from the ground onto your shoulder while simultaneously dropping your hips towards the ground into a squat. Again, a full body movement that requires lots of coordination, multiple muscle groups, and intense effort.

#3: The Steel Mace 360 Exercise

While not a maximal strength exercise, the Steel Mace 360 is a staple of ancient warriors in India. If you want maximal shoulder mobility (something you’ll need to build up your upper body strength), combined with core strength, timing, and coordination, performing this exercise on a regular basis will get you there.

Unconventional Training for Jiu Jitsu – JJ MAG Dec/Jan 2011

So, you want to know how to enhance your fitness levels to improve your jiu-jitsu game? You want to know which muscles you need to develop your driving, sweeping, positioning, gripping, pushing, and pulling? I hate to say, it’s ALL OF THEM. More than that, you need more than full body strength, including grip, arm, shoulder, neck, core, and leg strength, you need full body conditioning (including muscle stamina) and proper mobility to balance that muscular development and help you avoid injury.

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