This week marks the beginning of a new phase in exercise programming for the Fitness Alchemists. As a fitness company, the choice of exercises in our workouts is central to who we are; it is quite literally what we do, and one of the main ways that we express what we believe to be important about training bodies to be strong. In an effort to "pull back the curtain", this blog is about why, what, and how these workouts are structured and organized, and what this means about our company.
Fitness is, on its face, about helping people achieve real, meaningful changes to their bodies, health, and capabilities. It's about improving weaknesses, functioning better, and living more richly. With that promise, fitness grabs our collective attention as an alluring and fulfilling goal, something worth investing real time, money, and focus.
As with any investment, we care about the results; in fact, the more we invest, the more we care. Of course, we care about the "return" on our investment--what has changed--but, because it's our sweat turning the crank, we also care how it feels getting there. So if we care so much, and have invested so deeply, shouldn't we also care about the tools we're using to get there?
We think so. Our bodies are incredible--amazing, shape-shifting, task-switching, adaptive machines--and will respond to nearly any stress that we're exposed to. However, making sure that response is the same change that we wanted in the first place (stronger, healthier, richer life) means three components must be treated carefully:
- Direction of progress must be clearly established. This means that the trainer(s) and trainee have agreed on what a successful return on their investment will look like, 6 months or more down the road. This is why we are adamant about bringing all of our trainees on board with a thorough 1-on-1 assessment, and why we meet 1-on-1 with clients throughout their training.
- Progress must be real. There's already plenty of bluster and fake-news in the world, and your sweaty, consistent effort need not add to it. Instead, let the cold, hard numbers of regular re-assessment do the talking, and relax knowing that your growth process is truly managed (and not just given lip-service).
- Progress doesn't happen in a vacuum. Real people, with real lives, must learn to expect the unexpected and plan to be surprised. Therefore, one sign of a smart training approach is that it takes unpredictability into account, and streamlines accordingly. While we might be inclined to try and "do it all" (in the gym or in our lives), a much better approach is to choose the most important components and commit to them.
We designed our new programming engine (it's an algorithmic web-app) to synthesize these demands.
This tool generates multi-month cycles of weekly workouts that judiciously allocates training time to the specific parameters we've defined (and that we've committed to assessing), while leaving space for the in-session, day-to-day flexibility required by our real-lives/real-bodies. Striking that balance is no small task. In fact, that balance is the thing that matters if you care about long-term, substantive change.
Speaking of change, the challenges that people face are not for lack of trying. Step into a gym anywhere in the world and there will be three kinds of people:
- People who are doing a bunch of random sh*t: These folks have achieved the first and most challenging task: showing up. Beyond that, they are rolling the dice on their investment. This group includes 75% of group-fitness class attendees, as well (as former group-class instructors, you can trust us on this one). This group has sometimes been been duped by the "you have to keep your body guessing" Workout Confusion Theory approach to training.
- People who are following a plan: These trainees have committed themselves to something longer-term, something progressive, something strict. Assuming that commitment is toward something that is meaningful for them (actually, a very difficult thing to measure/observe), the challenge with this approach is three-fold: motivation (executing this kind of plan, alone, takes a lot of will-power), flexibility (what if things don't go according to plan), and program drop-off ("Ok, I've finished the plan! ... What now?"). Just having a plan doesn't mean your progress is automatic.
- People who intuitively and continuously improve: These are usually the most-experienced trainees, people who have been around the block (and seen their share of dead-ends, injuries, and time-sucks). Three or four times a week, they show up, listen to their bodies, and push themselves (or hold back) accordingly. Through years of consistent training, they know what works and what doesn't, and like the Earth moves around the sun, they make progress.
We built our programming engine as a tool to help bridge the gaps between these three distinct groups. By combining the strict, quantifiable results of a plan (group 2) with a flexible, quality-focused approach (and expert coaching), we help those in group 1, who are a little lost in their fitness-lives* learn to train in the intuitive way of that compelling third group.
While the actual workouts may vary greatly from day-to-day (and won't feel much different from previous workouts to our current clients), they are now guided with precision to get right to the important stuff, as efficiently as possible.
So, here's our formula for success:
Like any tool, this new programming engine is only effective in the right hands. By combining the tuned-in, emotionally-intelligent coaching that The Fitness Alchemists are known for with a way of generating workouts that reflects what is actually important, we can be sure that clients are given their best chance to succeed. Letting the computer do the detailed work of balancing inputs and crafting schedules means that our coaches have more band-width and energy to help clients with that critical "doing it well" component.