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Back to Basics

Every now and then, no matter whether you’ve been training decades or months, a good old fashioned turn-it-off-turn-it-on-again is needed.

It’s human nature to convince ourselves we’re better than we are, or more advanced than we are, and there aren’t many arenas more susceptible to that than the gym.

The hard truth is most of us aren’t so advanced that a re-boot back to the basics wouldn’t reap rewards – and probably more results than your “Ultimate Periodisation 90% MaxRep HulkSmash” programme your online coach has given you.

So let’s dial it back. Let’s return to the basics and strip away the ego, and examine the variables that make training effective.

Frequency vs Volume

How often should I train? Or, how little can I train and get results? Pretty common queries from clients and gym members; and frustratingly, there’s not one answer. Damn – it’s almost like everyone is a bit different!

Saying that, most people can do 90% of the same stuff and get results. Where the questions of how often and how hard come into it, is lifestyle.

If you’ve got three kids, a 9-5 with a commute each end of the day, and you have to travel with work occasionally, it’s utterly pointless following a 5-day a week plan. You’ll crash and burn, unless you put your training above your family…and let’s just say, at RWF, we don’t think the gym is THAT important.

If you’re a student with a demanding 15hrs a week of “work”, then of course, you can train almost daily. Your age will lend itself to good recovery too, and let’s face it, you sleep a lot. For you guys to train 2-3 times a week is probably a bit lazy.

Circumstances are vital. An excuse isn’t an excuse if it’s a REASON.

If you can only train twice a week, you have to train hard, you have to concentrate on the big movements (squat, deadlift, bench, some form of heavy row/chinup) in each session. You don’t have the time to do 15 different delt exercises, or attack the long head of the bicep from 12 different angles. Mentally, this training requires very little thought. You get loads of recovery between sessions, but you can’t half-arse any session. It’s hard work when you’re at the gym.

If you can train more often, great. You don’t have to hit as many of the big moves every time. You can build your training around a main movement, then add as many accessories as you’ve got time/inclination to do. Planning it intelligently will let you train 4-5-6 times a week and still recover. You’ll likely get better results than the less-frequent guys, but the trade-off is you’ll live in the gym.

Takeaway message here: train less frequently, you’ll have to train heavier, harder and for slightly longer in the sessions you get in. Train more often, you don’t have to hit it quite as hard in each session, but you spend much more of your week in the gym.


You could spend a fortune on supplements. I have, you probably have, and future trainees will. Have you figured out yet that most of it is rubbish?

Cliched, I know, but recovery is built on sleep, hydration, time away from training, and a range of quality nutrition.

If you can improve ANY of the those, you will reap rewards way beyond what drinking a pointless BCAA cocktail will give you. Training hard? Going to bed half an hour earlier is pretty much the best anabolic a natural trainer can take.

If your idea of staying hydrated is 4 coffees and then a can of diet coke, then you will turbocharge your body by throwing in a couple of litres of tap water every day.

If you’re a member of “team no-days-off”, try having a couple of days out of the gym each week. You’ll almost certainly see a sudden improvement in performance (and mood).

Not eaten a vegetable, or some fish, or made a meal from scratch in months? Again, improve the quality and range of nutrients and your body will positively respond. This shouldn’t be some kind of revelation; we already know all this.

The problem with the above is that they require change of habit, change of routine and actual effort. Of course it’s easier to just lay out £50 on a tub of suspect powder that claims it’ll do everything for you. Thing is, the changes will make a difference. The gunk won’t.

Exercise Form

This matters. It really, really matters.

Not only does proper form actually work the muscles and movement the correct way, but it also prevents injury.

Yes, we’ve all seen people shift huge weights with horrendous form. We’ve all seen people deadlift with a back like a terrified feline. We’ve seen people practically break a rib bouncing a bench press off themselves.

These people eventually break. They hurt themselves, they have to have months of rehab training, and they often blame everything but themselves. Injuries happen, of course. You can’t make yourself bombproof. But you don’t have to pour petrol on yourself and then wonder why you made it worse.

Longevity of training is important. No-one cares that you lifted X weight if you now can’t tie your shoelaces, or half your muscles aren’t attached anymore. Most people don’t want back surgery or knee replacements by the time they’re 40.

Poor form will catch you at some point. Not many certainties in life – but that’s up there with death and taxes.

Expectations and reality

When’s he going to bang on about drugs like he normally does? Right here.

Not interested in some truth? Skip this bit.

People’s expectations of training results are massively skewed by drug abuse in gyms. Normal trainers, not using banned substances, simply cannot reach the results of drug users. No matter how talented, genetically gifted, hard working or dedicated, you will not out-do a bang average trainer injecting once a week.

It’s a sad fact, but it’s a fact.

Drug use in gyms, even your shiny David Lloyds and Virgins, is estimated at around 33%. 1 in 3 of the people around you at 6pm are using. Scary, huh?

Go to a less commercial gym, and that can rise to 70%.

They’ll recover quicker than you, be stronger than you and get away with worse nutrition and recovery protocols than you. This is all fact; not opinion.

As a natural trainer, you can achieve amazing things though. You can get to levels of strength, bodyfat levels and muscle that will have the general public assuming you DO use something illegal. It’ll just you longer, and you’ll have to work harder, and pay more attention to detail. If you enjoy the pleasure of results you’ve earned, nothing is more satisfying than doing it clean.

…and to finish

Getting the basics right doesn’t mean you’re a beginner.

It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, or that everyone around you is more advanced because they drink weird potions and wear gym clothing 24/7.

Getting the basics right means you are intelligent about your training, your body and your results. Having a reset every now and then is something to be praised – not something to be ashamed of.