I received this great question that really deserved a lengthy article to answer it. Here’s the question and then my reply below.
“I constantly have questions running through my head, so here’s one from my training session today. How well rounded should I be and how do I get myself there? It’s a confusing question, even to me and I’m asking it. I went to the gym today, did a few back levers, went great, practiced some handstands against a wall, not bad, returned to the muscle up, barely got up there, a little while ago I could bang out a few with little issue. It’s a move I never really excelled in, I find it constantly frustrating and at times want to scrap it all together. See I really get attracted by heavy, high tension movements like unilateral training and isometrics so the false grip muscle up seems like a better thing to train for but eeeeeveryones doing muscle ups out there so I feel like it’s essential and not doing it would be blasphemy. Basically I like to optimize and keep it simple, straight bar work and hand balancing for upper body, one legged bench squat and power lifter back squat for lower (I also want to start practicing nail bending). My problem is this, is that too limited? Too broad? Do I NEED cardio? Do I NEED explosive exercises like kipping muscle ups? Is focusing on high tension exercises a bad thing and I need to be more well rounded? I’m always over whelmed by my training but I absolutely love it as well. You seem like a very intelligent and one of the few true strength trainers out there and I apologize for the convoluted e-mail but your opinions would be much appreciated.”
In NLP parlance what we’re going to discuss here are known as Modal Operators. These are very important mental frames that will end up structuring your training and your results from the depths of your mind, typically without you even knowing it.
What do you NEED to do?
The truth is you don’t NEED to do anything. There’s lots of good ideas on what you should do, but nothing is actually necessary. We’ll get to those in a second.
This is qualified in that you will NEED to do certain things in order to attain certain goals, but that depends fully on what you want to achieve.
To be healthy you do NEED some level of exercise.
If your goal is to be well-rounded I like to look at the different qualities of movement.
- Aesthetics (not really a quality of movement, but important to most people nonetheless)
Other things could be added to this list but this gives a general idea.
To be a well-rounded athlete, to be able to move like I would argue a human should be capable of (notice I used should there), some element of all of these would be best. This is the essence of being a physical culture renaissance man (or woman).
But truthfully you don’t need to have them all. You could get really strong and have no endurance. You could run marathons and be weak as a kitten. You could contort your body into a pretzel and be quite unstable.
So it really does depend on what well-rounded means to you.
If I said you NEEDED all of these you could certainly get good in them all but you likely would excel at none.
What SHOULD you do?
So let’s dive into the discussion of what those “good ideas” are.
For a well rounded training schedule it is often recommended to do some form of:
- Deadlift or hinge movement
- Upper body push
- Upper body pull
If you get those four you’re covering the majority of the body. This covers the strength angle, but can certainly include some of the other aspects as well.
The muscle up contains both an upper body push and pull. Its also quite a technical movement, especially when starting out, which explains why after doing back levers and handstands it was difficult. There is some level of coordination, speed and stability involved in it too.
But just because every one else is doing something doesn’t mean you should.
Tons of people do deadlifts and say they’re a MUST, but it didn’t sound like you thought your neglect of them (if in fact you don’t do them since you didn’t mention them) felt like blasphemy like not doing the muscle up would be.
Talk to power lifters and they’ll say you should absolutely do the big three. Talk to people that love muscle ups and they’ll say you should do them. A gymnast will say the handstand is a must. Bodyweight guys might say you should never leave the basic foundation of pushups.
The truth is there are SO MANY very valuable and foundational exercises that you couldn’t do them all even if you wanted to. Not at any one time anyway.
If your goal is to get stronger you don’t NEED to do cardio training. It might be a good idea in that it can aid in recovery and is good for overall health (depending on how you do it).
You SHOULD do lots of things, but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. And since there are so many SHOULD you can’t do them all anyway. Therefore what you SHOULD do becomes less relevant.
What you LIKE to do?
If you LIKE something, do it!
Here you GET to do something. Bringing that excitement into the game is a powerful driver that will more likely result in gains.
Its not something you need to push yourself to do. Instead you’re pulled towards it. Its an opportunity. Its fun.
If you enjoy isometrics do them. But you could get by in training without ever doing isometrics (besides the fact that isometric contraction is intrinsically part of isotonic exercises as well, but you wouldn‘t have to specifically ever do isometrics). If you like bending then bend.
There is definitely a time and a place to do things you don’t like. Left unchecked these areas become weaknesses. Sometimes this doesn’t matter. A power lifter often doesn’t care about his inability to do a pullup.
For me recently I realized my weakness of squats held back my deadlifts. But I didn’t just grit my teeth and work on squats because it was something I should do. Instead I changed my mind about squats to turn them into something I GOT to do. Read this article here for more information.
The main difference between people that achieve great things in strength and fitness and those that don’t is this key difference. If you feel like you SHOULD do something you must gain motivation to do that from somewhere. If you GET to do something then motivation is no problem.
The cool thing is that when you know how, these mental frames can be shifted, often fairly easily.
A Case Study in My Current Routine
There is good reason to do many of the things you should do. These “shoulds” come from people that have spent lots of time training and often have compelling arguments about what they can do for you.
Foundational exercises like back squats, deadlifts, bodyweight squats, pullups, pushups, bridges, rows, presses, etc. are all great.
Over the years I’ve spent tons of time on things like these. And I will continue to do more when I cycle back to them at times.
But realize the rules can be broken as well.
Currently, I’m only training three things. No more, no less.
None of these things are NECESSARY.
No one would really argue even that I SHOULD do these.
But I WANT to. I GET to. These just happen to involve goals of what I WANT to hit.
I’m training the kettlebell snatch and have several different goals to hit with that.
I’m training towards a legit one arm chin-up.
And I’m working on the splits.
I have some strength, some endurance, and some flexibility. The other qualities of athleticism are involved in there to lesser degrees as well.
Will other things suffer while I do this fairly limited training? Absolutely they will. Is that okay? Yes!
After I get to where I want to go with these, I can switch my training to work on those other things I SHOULD and GET to do.
A long answer to a long question, but if you really look at these details as very few people do, you can use it to not only get better results in your training, but get more enjoyment and less frustration out of it as well.
If you got something out of this article you
NEED TO, SHOULD, GET TO click the share buttons to the side and/or comment below. 😉