Why We Shouldn’t Forget Conventional Training Methods

Traditional lifts are often traditional for a reason.

I’ve written a lot here in the last few weeks about unconventional training methods. I’ve had a love affair with them before, but I got in my head that what I needed was pure, raw strength, so I turned to the barbell for that.

Now, fate has returned me to the loving embrace of things like kettlebells and sledgehammers (which is now my new band name).

But I’ve also come to realize something very important, and that’s how we probably shouldn’t turn our backs on conventional training methods.

Most of the time, unconventional training has a focus on sub-maximal weights, where you use the resistance to ramp up your heart rate for conditioning movements. It works, but it works through volume, which doesn’t build nearly as much raw strength.

However, with unconventional training, you’re more likely to have the kind of strength that you need in your day to day life. You’ll be able to bring all the groceries in with just one trip–multiple trips are for chumps–but you’re not likely to be the guy who lifts a car off of someone.

And that’s cool.

But on the same token, I really think Barbarians kind of need both.

Kettlebells are awesome. They’re a one-shop stop. If someone had to just do one thing for the rest of their life, could only use one piece of workout gear for the rest of their days, I’d point someone to the kettlebell.

However, I’ve not seen any evidence that it’s more effective than barbell training for gaining raw strength.

That stands to reason. The kettlebell is kind of the jack of all trades. You can use it to get stronger, build up your conditioning, and even work on flexibility. It’s great for all these things.

But a barbell is more like a specialist. Oh, you can press it into service for conditioning, but where it excels is in helping you get strong like a rhino. If you want to just have raw, barbarian-like strength, the barbell is the tool for you.

And, to be honest, I ain’t got it.

Now, at the moment I’m more focused on fat loss. While I’ve now lost almost 60 lbs (not quite there, but really damn close), I still have a ways to go. Right now, that kind of needs to be my focus.

Unconventional training works for that.

But I’m not ready to sell my barbell or plates just yet either. I doubt I ever will be.

So What’s The Deal?

The trick, though, is figuring out how to incorporate those into your training so you can gain strength and even mass, but still maintain that fitness that Barbarians need in their everyday life. That’s something that has to be figured out and balanced.

Unfortunately, most people seem to be either/or. They’re turning their backs on great training, and why? Why ignore a quality tool in favor of another?

For some, it’s time. I get that. You only have X number of hours per day, so you make the most of them.

For other, it’s something else. I don’t know what. It just is.

The other day, I was watching a show called Strong on Netflix. It originally aired on NBC. It features a number of women who were in various degrees of untrained. Each was paired with a personal trainer and they progressed through their time as a team.

One of the more colorful trainers focused on “natural movement.” That’s cool and all. But there were times when he was the liability on his team from what I could see. Why? He lacked grip strength in a couple of instances. He was in great condition and looked pretty good shirtless, but he couldn’t do some of the challenges.

I’m sorry, but the trainer shouldn’t be the weak link on a show called Strong.

Now, I have no doubt he gets people in outstanding shape. His own conditioning was impressive. But he apparently focused on natural movement and neglected everything else.

Maintaining Balance

On the same token, while you don’t want to be myopic on training with just one modality, you can’t just do anything and everything. Not at once, anyway.

That way leads to you being mediocre, at best, at everything.

The trick, one I’m trying to figure out myself, is to balance things. Pick a few training modalities and use them, then going from there.

Unfortunately, most discussions on programming are focused on single training tools. They’re all barbell or all kettlebell or all calisthenics.

But not all of them, and I think I know where to look.

Does CrossFit Hold The Answers?

CrossFit gets a lot of hate. Not from me, as I’ve noted before, but it does.

However, they build some impressive athletes. Crossfitters tend to be fairly strong, it good condition, lean, and all-around ready to roll with what life throws them.

The CrossFit physique is the look Hollywood has gone to for some time as the warrior physique. Gerard Butler and the other Spartans in 300 went through a Crossfit-like training to build their bodies for the movie. At least one CrossFit YouTuber, Brook Ence, was an Amazon in Wonder Woman.

It’s a good look, to be fair.

More than looks, though, these men and women are fairly strong, pretty damn fit, and versatile in a lot of ways.

Now, I’m not looking to do Crossfit myself, but I think they have a lot to offer. After all, they use many different modalities and train ridiculously hard.

So maybe that’s a place to look.

No, you won’t be as strong as a powerlifter or as fit as a marathon runner, but that’s probably OK for most of us. I mean, if you want to powerlift, powerlift. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s nothing wrong with just strapping on some running shoes and putting in 10 miles if that’s what you’re into. I used to run a lot, and while a lot of people hate it, I never really did.

Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, gets a lot of crap, but I think much of what he gets crap for is what some affiliates do. They use improper form left and right. People get injured, and Glassman gets the blame.

But I don’t think his approach is necessarily wrong, either.

I think the secret to programming for general, overall fitness, as well as balancing unconventional training, and conventional training lies there.

If not, well, it won’t be the first time I wasted my time and effort. Won’t be the last, either, I’m willing to bet.

I don’t think it will be. Instead, I think it’ll be a hell of a way to balance unconventional training with more traditional methods, and to get the best of both worlds to some degree.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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