I’ve seen a few tweets and discussions over the years about Constructive Training vs (what I describe as) Annihilation Training. It is often in regards to trainers or PTs who destroy clients in a session or trainers/coaches who put out programmes/sessions that leave people annihilated, and that anyone can do this, but to actually constructively coach and progress someone is far more challenging.
I do agree with both statements, but I also think there is a place for really hard relentless training. Being a Royal Marines Commando and having undergone the RM Physical Training Instructors Course, you can probably guess where I believe the former has a place!
I will start by saying that I have witnessed a number of trainers, many of which are ex-military, train people to breaking point as a matter of course. What I will say is that this isn’t always the trainer’s fault. To give an example, I was once approached by someone who wanted to create the physique of a certain Hollywood actor. Similar age to the actor, different build (ecto-mesomorph to the actor’s mesomorph), but not a bad fitness level and some musculature to work on. I agreed to work with this client and create a programme and basic diet plan that would allow for the goal. At an early point I had to go away for a short period and I asked another trainer to cover the client. The trainer approached the training differently and was still in the mindset that if a client doesn’t leave the gym floor dripping with sweat and annihilated, then they weren’t getting their monies worth. When I returned and worked with the client some more I could tell that the client didn’t feel the sessions were of the same intensity in terms of being a sweaty heap at the end. In the end we parted ways.
My feeling is that this client felt that unless you are “smashed” in a PT session you aren’t getting what you paid for and you won’t get the results. Either that, or he realised that his initial goal of getting a specific physique was not the be all and end all, and the feeling of w0rking hard and elation of doing something horrible and outside of his comfort zone was actually more of what he wanted. Did he get the physique of the Hollywood actor he wanted? No. Could he have done? I believe so. We would just have to have been far more stringent on his diet and more patient and progressive with the training rather than seeing every session as an hour to physically degrade him. But if that became unimportant to him and instead he enjoyed simply working hard then at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
My point here is that it is not always the trainer’s fault. Now yes a trainer could change their methods, but this can cost a trainer clients and therefore income. If you have the background of a Marine, or Para, or any soldier, people expect the US TV show “beasting session” that BMF are famous for. What surprises people is when they ask me (often via email or social media) why they aren’t getting the physique they want depsite training with so and so or doing BMF 4 times a week. Once I find out what type of training they are doing and tell them to stop/lessen the frequency and instead add some more specific/progressive training to their programme. They can’t believe that Annihilation style training doesn’t equal a ripped, muscular body.
Is there a place for this sort of training? Of course there is. As with the example above. If someone enjoys this once or twice a week challenge like a crossfit WOD is what they want, of of course; provide it with safety in mind. It’s alsp applicable if you are trying to join an elite military force it is necessary to see what you are made of. Is this training planned and thought out? It should be, and if delivered by a PTI, it will be. Can this type of training be beneficial in the real world? It can be, yes; for someone to see what they are made of, where their breaking point is etc. Or for a group, say a rugby team, to see how they gel as a team when things get REALLY hard. Who is still capable of leading when tired. Who wants to give up etc. Is it feasible everyday? No?! Should it be performed 3 or 4 times a week? Not for long periods of time; the central nervous system won’t take it and for most people (bar those training for the military) a good amount of rest and adequate nutrition is needed to ensure recovery.
Have I used this type of very high intensity training with any clients? Yes. I was training a professional fighter. He was preparing for the biggest fight of his career to date over in the US. We worked on strength and power at the beginning of his sessions and then went into constructive high intensity training in timed rounds to mimic the rounds of the fight. We used an ergo, battle ropes, TRX jumps etc. To keep the heart rate up and utilise all the body had. Was this made up on the spot? No. Was it planned around what we had already done in that session? Yes. Did I have to adapt on the spot? Of course. If he couldn’t jump squat anymore, we stopped and went into battleropes. As his arms died we went back, or “recovered” on the ergo. You have to adapt and improvise. Especially with that type of training.
The problem that many trainers have, including those that have come out of the military, is that they have not been taught how to provide this style of training. Many ex-soldiers that go into personal training or teaching BMF style fitness classes have only been on the RECEIVING end of military fitness. They have not been on a military PT course to learn how to DELIVER it. Having a doctor perform 13 stitches on a wound on your leg under local anesthetic does not mean you could stitch up your loved ones next time they fall over. There’s a skill that has been taught and an individual tested and assessed before implementing as part of their job for a number of years. The same is true of people who do a PT course then start teaching group classes in a park. A Marine PT spends months learning to do this; it’s a very different skill than personal training where you only have one individual to concentrate on.
The point here is that there are times and places when this annihilation training is effective and can be utilised but it is still planned, adapted on the spot and is given adequate rest and recuperation. The trainer also needs to be very aware of the signs of nausea or worse. Hence the ability to adapt on the spot. A Marine PTI will work with his Troop 7 days a week for 32 weeks. He knows if two days ago they had a horrendous session so today he needs to be easier on them. He knows if they just spent a week in the field getting 1hours sleep a night and hence to be aware of that, but still to push to a point to see who lets this affect them. How can a BMF instructor do that? He has no idea who has been doing what that week or the night before. I taught BMF for about 6months in 2008. I had a women collapse one session. It was a 6pm session. On questioning her, she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She was a nurse. Her aim was “to lose weight”. I’m not going to go into why this idea of turning up to a BMF style Annihilation class having not eaten for the best part of 10 hours isn’t the way to lose weight!
Back to the title of this blog: constructive training. As we’ve seen, annihilation training can be constructive when implemented in the right way; for specific individuals or groups as part of a planned training programme with a specific reason or goal in mind. It all comes down to you goal. If you want to build muscle, you need intensity, but that intensity comes from tempo, rest/pause or dropsets protocols. Not from doing 500 press-ups and burpees in a session at lightning speed and fighting back throwing up at the end of it. Nutrition and Calorie intake is also paramount. Without adequate Calories and protein, muscle will not be gained. I am also a big believer in variation, so there are times when a 500 press-up session can be entertaining and fun and a break from the norm, but a progressive programme should be followed at other times; taking reps down and weight up, adding supersets, adding volume, removing volume etc.
If you aren’t bothered about your physique or aesthetics, and this isn’t the main aim for training, then the type of workout that leaves you a sweaty heap may well be for you. And if paying a PT who specialises in this helps you feel great, then go for it. Just ensure there is some thought to you goal and that the training is constructive, planned and thought out. If the goal is to simply enjoy training and get fitter, then yes; circuit training, crossfit, BMF, annihilation training of any sort feels good, gets the endorphins running and burns Calories. It makes you feel like you’ve worked and deserve a pint or burger or whatever it might be. Will everyone who does this look like a cover model (men’s fitness or Vogue depending on your goal) from doing it. Not in my opinion/experience. You’ll need to be more constructive for that.