Instinctive Training

Years ago, I had a subscription to Muscle & Fitness and the column of the editor in chief Shawn Perine that week especially caught my attention.

He is talking about instinctive training and how it benefits him at this point in his life / career. I can fully relate with this article as I mostly feel the same way.

When you start out, whether it’s bodybuilding, fitness or other disciplines, you have to learn the basics, rules and how to do things properly. I often refer to this as learning the skills out of the box. It’s the standard set of skills you need to master before you take it up a notch and learn more specialized or complicated skills OR be allowed to break the rules.

For example, you will learn a push up before you start bench pressing heavy (very simplistic example I know) and you will learn how to defend before you start attacking your opponent in boxing practice. Makes sense right?

This applies to most training, agreed there are some exceptions here and there IF safety is not compromised but overall, this is the rule. However, once you master all the basics, you have proven yourself and you are at a certain point in your life/career where it benefits you in some way, instinctive training is a great method to continue training.

From my personal perspective, instinctive training is perfect. Since I coach and train others so many hours every week, it is sometimes hard to get a strict training program in. I am also on my feet many hours/week which can either fatigue me or trash my legs sometimes. Therefore, I often do instinctive training. When I teach, I often join part of the classes or sessions which means I get many random sets into my day. I still try to structure this the best I can and join the training sessions in semi structured “blocks”.

My days are always thought out as to which muscle groups I will train (sometimes but rarely subject to change) but which exercises I do, sets, reps etc. rarely is determined.

When I start my own training, I think about what I already did that day or am planning on doing, how my body is feeling, how my muscles recovered etc. and I take it from there.

I continue to show progress so this is definitely working for me within this unique (and fortunate) situation. This doesn’t mean I take it down a notch or take it easy, it simply means I adjust my strategies.

The same thing I do with cycling. I’m a big believer in setting a foundation which means a strong aerobic base. I like to push myself and my cycling but if my legs feel tired, sore or sluggish, I know to take it down a notch. This benefits my recovery, progress and long term performance and health.

Years ago, when I was studying exercise physiology among other things, I read something Mario Aerts (Belgian pro cyclist) said to someone: ‘I always feel bad for the people who go riding, come home and sit in the couch half dead because they’re so exhausted’. I feel exactly the same way. Riding and training is not always about pushing and seeing how hard you can go all the time. It’s about building your performance and body by listening to it. If you have an ache, pain, bad burn etc., listen to your body and adjust your training. In that sense, the term ‘No Pain No Gain’ is absolutely wrong.

Periodizing your training is crucial and focus on continuing pushing your limits to grow while having respect for recovery and rest. Push yourself hard but also know when to adjust.

Instinctive training does not mean you take shortcuts but a good athlete and trainer knows how to go AROUND limiting factors and still get a high quality workout in.

We should not look up to people who peak for a short amount of time in between injuries, it’s the people who make continuous progress in a responsible manner for long term performance and health.


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