Methods Vs. Principles

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” Ralph Waldo Emerson – an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.

In the fitness industry there are plenty of methods to choose from, functional training, Pilates, yoga, Crossfit and bodybuilding just to name a few. A method is, “how to do or make something, usually improved over time or with technical advances.” Sometimes one method or another will be promoted as the best, the end all be all or the only way to reach success. I am often asked which one of these methods is the right one and like almost any answer to any fitness question – it depends.

Instead of constructing my fitness and training philosophy around a specific type of method, I base my training around principles. Principles are, “fundamental rule or law, usually unaffected by time or technology.” The difference is principles will stay the same, but the methods may change. I try to consistently pick and choose different methods to help my clients reach their specific goals, although, above all the principles don’t change. Here are three principles that govern what I do to help my clients reach their goals regardless of the method I select.

If it hurts, don’t do it. Maybe it is the explosion of group fitness classes, maybe the internet and YouTube or maybe because fitness professions write about life changing benefits of certain exercises (like I do) but whatever the reason, some people feel the need to complete certain exercises no matter what. I often have my “go to” exercises and for the most part they work really well, but not always. It could be past injures, lack or strength, flexibility and/or motor control, or sometimes a structural issue that doesn’t allow the client to complete the exercise with proper form.

Whatever the reason some people are not ready for certain exercises at certain times, and some people no matter what will never be prepared for certain exercises. Doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight, doesn’t mean you can’t get stronger, doesn’t mean you are broken, it just means it is not right for you at this moment. If an exercise feels “sketchy” or painful, find an alternative even if your friend loves it or you buddy tells you to do it. Listen to your body because everyone is different with different needs.

If it is not sustainable, why start it? Weight watchers, Akins, The Zone, Paleo, a well-balanced diet are all methods that have worked for people and have gotten great results for fat loss and general health. So which one is the best? I don’t know.

I believe different people can reach the same goals through different methods, but if the idea of never eating a piece of bread bums you out or counting calories is like putting hot knifes if your eyes, it might not be the right method for you. Sure try some out and if it works that’s great. But remember a lot of different diets will work, but I think the best way is the method you can continue for the foreseeable future.

If it’s not fun, it’s going to be hard. I’m not going to lie to you and say losing weight, rehabbing an injury or training for a competition is all rainbows and lollypops. However, if you dread every day waking up to go to the gym, maybe there is a better option out there. Some people enjoy group class, some training outdoors, and some need a personal trainer to push them and hold them accountable. Results usually make the effort worthwhile and fun, so maybe you need to stick it out for a couple of months. But I think exercise should bring you joy, not consistent pain and punishment. If you like to run, then run, like to lift weights, go for it. Remember the best way to see results is through consistent work, no matter what the method you choose.

To recap, does yoga fulfill these principles? Maybe. What about heavy lifting, or high intensity interval training? They might. If you follow these principles many methods will work it just depends of the person, place and timing. This idea was taken from two excellent fitness books — Corrective Exercise Solutions to Common Hip and Shoulder Dysfunction by Evan Osar and Movement by Grey Cook. I just add my own spin along with my own principles.

As always consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program. If you are unsure how to properly perform any exercise, seek the advice of a trained fitness professional.

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