What does it take to be a great athlete or to become the fittest version of yourself? What athletic trait or fitness quality do you strive for in your training?
Is it strength? The size of your biceps? The size of your glutes? Your 40-Yard Dash time? How many Instagram followers you have?
Within athletics or general fitness, there are tons of different goals for which people strive. Of course, goals are extremely important to have, but choosing the right things to aim for is equally important.
As a coach, I think it’s extremely important to guide our clients and athletes toward choosing the appropriate types of goals. And since we all train ourselves, I think it’s equally important to practice what we preach.
There are a lot of overrated aspects of fitness or athleticism that people strive for. These are so common, in fact, that I asked some of the most intelligent coaches I know to weigh in on the subject to provide you with a clear-cut game plan on things you may NOT want to put as much emphasis on when you train.
To avoid majoring in the minors, read through some of these coaches’ thoughts on what the most overrated athletic traits are and why.
From an athletic performance standpoint, the most frustrating trend I have witnessed is this current obsession with what some are calling “footwork training.”
This seemed to pop up within the last few years and is typecast by “coaches” who have their athletes memorize elaborate, synchronized footwork routines via the use of hoops, ladders or a variety of other apparatus. The athlete is instructed to go through what basically amounts to an obstacle course as fast as he can, emphasizing rapid ground contacts as opposed to true force development.
The reason that this is frustrating for science-based practitioners is because these same individuals advertise these drills to athletes everywhere as a means of “performance enhancement” or speed development when in reality they lack the qualities necessary for any true skill enhancement aside from memorization and moving one’s feet as fast as possible while covering little to no distance in any directed fashion, let alone one that actually resembles a true sporting skill.
It could be argued by these practitioners that these drills enhance neuromuscular efficiency, but the reality is that effective and efficient movement training in the sporting realm is characterized by actually covering ground, not tapping it as many times as possible. Instead, practitioners should focus on developing linear and multi-directional movement skills with progressions that improve one’s posture, movement patterns and expression of force.
Additionally, it should be noted that when you watch sport of nearly any kind, you would be hard-pressed to find a successful athlete who tap-dances out of the starting blocks or line of scrimmage or otherwise moves in a fashion that is in any way related to the “skills” that most of these individuals promote through their social media accounts.
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RELATED: Why the Agility Ladder Alone Won’t Make You Faster
I think the most overrated fitness trait is just that—fitness.
When someone tells me they’re working on their fitness, I immediately want to know exactly what they mean. Are they trying to build speed? Strength? Power? Conditioning? Fitness is an incredibly general term, and there’s no way to measure it.
If someone wants to get into great shape and stay motivated, they need to have a clearly defined goal that they strive for.
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Trying to keep up with the trends, a.k.a. Program hopping.
Far too often people want to change up their routines every time they go to the gym in hopes of making faster progress. The problem with that approach is you can’t actually measure progress since you’re constantly changing things up every single time.
Another thing to consider is you’re not giving your body enough time to adapt and become more proficient with any given set of exercises.
Pick a program, commit to it for more than a few weeks, and go from there. Stick to the basics and master the basics.
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I remember when I was a freshman in college, I would watch countless females stroll over to the adductor/abductor machine and bust out multiple high-rep sets hoping to lose fat around their thighs or trying to gain a solid booty. Fast forward three years—they looked exactly the same! For many female athletes using this machine, it’s just a lack of knowing two things:
- Why this machine is a poor choice for those goals
- What to supplement instead
The adductors and abductors don’t like to work in isolation. They like to work together (co-contract) with surrounding muscles. When you sit down on this machine, you completely abandon your glutes and miss out on the true role these muscles are meant to perform.
If you’re looking to lose fat while working toward growing a solid booty, stand up off that machine and start performing complex exercises that challenge your entire body. Implementing Squats, Deadlifts and Lunges paired with your choice of an upper-body push (Push-Up) or pull (TRX Row) will help you take steps toward your goals.
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I think the most overrated fitness trait and quality that clients strive for are changes in external appearance such as muscularity, leanness, hypertrophy and “getting toned.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look better and improving your physical appearance, but first things first. That means for a majority of the population, training should be focused on improving function, health and body mechanics. Once an individual has trained for well over a year on a consistent routine and has gained solid levels of fitness and learned proper body mechanics, then physical appearance goals can be examined.
Gaining a foundation of general fitness and learning proper movement mechanics should take priority for a majority of the population. In addition, once you’ve built the foundation, changes in physical appearance become much more realistic and practical, since your body has been adequately prepared to handle more specific forms of training.
Finally, improving your health, fitness and quality of movement are actually prerequisites for maximizing your physique and appearance (as well as overall strength and performance), because a healthy body has infinitely greater potential for functional strength, hypertrophy and power than one that is functioning poorly. Athletes who focus on gaining strength and size before mastering mechanics and function never maximize their physique or athletic performance capabilities, as they’ve skipped the most important steps of their fitness journey.
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It seems as though everyone is trying to become more “mobile” these days in hopes of improving their movement and preventing injuries.
The mobility craze has done a bit of good for the industry, teaching people that movement is important, but like with everything else, it’s been going a bit overboard as of late. Foam rolling and stretching are turning into 45-minute endeavors before every training session—and guess what? The results are limited and the carryover and transference into athletic performance and training are even more limited.
People forget that the key to function is controlling the mobility that you have and becoming more agile and stable in multiple positions.
The vast majority of people who are struggling with getting results from mobility work should stop force feeding the passive modalities, and focus instead on improving stability and functionality. And that comes with being strong, improving gross movement patterns and doing it repeatedly.
RELATED: Foam Rolling Techniques to Fix Every Trouble Spot in Your Body
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So many young athletes and or gym goers want to do what they see trained professionals doing in hopes of being more “hardcore.” People see the heavy lifting and advanced techniques that pros have learned and practiced with continuous repetition until they’ve attained a level of mastery. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with lifting heavy or doing higher level drills, but the foundation must be set.
To get to that advanced stage, one of my favorite and most underutilized training methods is simply understanding and using time under tension (often seen as T.U.T.) Put a purposeful focus on the eccentric, concentric and stabilizing phases of a movement and own that movement. Before you can get into max effort and explosive movements, you must know what it feels like to accept force with proper mechanics.
Another great tool for monitoring true movement progress is implementing a TENDO unit. This simple tool measures velocity and power output through the movement. I like to use it with my youth, collegiate and pro athletes, since our goals are injury prevention and total optimization.
The hardcore image people strive for may look cool online, but there are many ways to train efficiently without the risks involved in other popular training styles.
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“Six-Pack Abs” – More often than not, athletes chase good-looking abs instead of good functioning abs. Let’s dispel this myth first: The core is not just comprised of the “six-pack” muscles on the anterior chain of the body.
Sure, it’s great if you have a six-pack that can cut diamonds, but are you able to perform your sport optimally?
The core includes the hips and muscles from the anterior and posterior chain, and it wraps all the way around the torso. All of these muscles work in conjunction with one another to give an athlete strength, power, stability and good posture.
It’s critical to train all muscles of the core throughout all planes of motion (Rotational Med Ball Slams, Landmine Truck Drivers, Pallof Presses, Dead Bugs, etc.) to become a total athlete.
The good news is that by training these variations, you will find yourself getting a six-pack by default. So say goodbye to Crunches, Russian Twists and Sit-Ups.
RELATED: The 27 Best Core Exercises for Athletes
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The most overrated fitness trait that clients and athletes strive for is balance. I’m not saying you don’t need balance. You do. The problem is that most folks train for balance the wrong way.
People are overrating the benefits of unstable surface training, and in the process bastardizing unstable surface exercises.
Here’s the trick: To improve your balance, you need to get stronger, and to get stronger you need stable surface double- and single-leg strength work.
Instead of trying to improve your balance by standing on a medicine ball on one leg while holding a dumbbell, stick to basic Squat, Lunge, Deadlift, and Hip Thrust variations. This will build lower-body strength and bolster your balance much more effectively.
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Dan Pfaff once said, “Boring means I have failed to teach an athlete the “WHY” behind the program.”
In my opinion, the most overrated trend is the desire for coaches and athletes to progress too fast on a given program because harder exercises look cooler. Let me just say that I am all for variation and making things harder. I mean, training shouldn’t tickle, right?! However, I believe that certain prerequisites and standards need to be met before we progress athletes. Employing the slow and steady approach will allow athletes to master a few fundamental movements at a time, rather than falling into the dreaded “friend zone” of mediocre development across the board.
In my mind, it comes down to a few things. First, does the movement pattern cause pain? If so then WHY would you progress by loading it up heavier or moving to a more complex version? Rule 1 of a strength coach is to DO NO HARM.
Secondly, our eyes are great tools. Does the movement pattern look athletic? If not, we need to keep things simple and improve that pattern, not add another element of difficulty.
Lastly, if an athlete looks good doing a simple exercise, great, master that first before progressing. Mastery is not saying on day 1, “Wow my 12-year-old athlete can Goblet Squat 35 pounds perfectly in set one, let’s go Front/Back Squat now!” Why do we need to jump right into the rack when we can simply move up the dumbbell rack and master a skill instead of throwing something different in just for the sake of it being harder?
Create standards for your lifts. Teach athletes that they need to EARN the right to do more “advanced” movements by meeting a certain standard.
Like Mike Boyle constantly says, keep it simple, stupid.
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Too much too soon.
When it comes to most people and their pursuit of fitness and strength training, many set themselves up for eventual failure by not understanding the importance of certain universal principles or by doing too much too soon.
This usually results in injuries or disillusionment and frustration leading them to quit. Some have the quick fix mentality approach, expecting quick results without any true buy-in on their end as they hop from training program to program or gym to gym while never committing sufficient time and frequency to a specific modality or program to allow for any type of training adaptation.
Others overlook the importance of gradual progressions and emulate the advanced training schemes and protocols used by elite athletes and experienced lifters, yet they lack a solid foundation of strength and conditioning and movement proficiency.
Principles of training for power or at higher intensities have tremendous fitness and performance value in a properly designed strength training program. But for an immature lifter or athlete, this may not be the best initial approach, since they are most likely highly de-conditioned and weak.
It’s great to get inspired and motivated by the training programs of elite athletes and super fit individuals; but understand that they didn’t achieve their results overnight. They put in hard work consistently over time. Just because you’re watching YouTube videos of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson putting in some serious work at the gym does not mean you should be training at that same intensity or volume. Trust me, most likely you’re not ready yet.
What you’re seeing is the result of many years of dedicated lifting and hard work, and he too had to start somewhere and progress his training intelligently and consistently over time. Granted, certain variables such as genetic makeup and individual response to training may give an edge to some people over others, ultimately affecting the results. But regardless, the principles of specificity, intelligent programming and gradual progressions still apply and rule.
Invest the time and educate yourself on the best way you should be training for your specific goals and abilities and be patient and realistic. If need be, enlist the help of a qualified personal trainer or strength coach. Over time you will earn the privilege to lift heavy, move powerfully, and train with intention and purpose while obtaining lasting results.
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Strictly “Speed Training”
If I had a dollar for every time an athlete or athlete’s parent told me, “I want little Johnny to get faster; he doesn’t need to lift weights, he needs to do speed drills.”
Don’t get me wrong, “speed training” and technique drills have their place in athletic performance training. But other factors play into speed that in most cases are more important—power production, strength and adequate mobility.
If little Johnny is weak, can’t produce any real power through his hips, and has restrictions in his hips and ankles, all the speed drills and technique work in the world won’t do much.
Once we’ve realized this and started to address those areas, then we can start to talk about doing very specific drills and cleaning up technique.
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One of the most overrated things I have seen in fitness and athletics is mobility. Too often, we see people continue to strive for mobility. Stretching this, foam rolling that, etc., even when they have sufficient mobility for basic movements.
Look at the strongest, most explosive athletes. Many of them are our “tightest” athletes. A certain amount of stiffness is important for both performance and health. If you are walking around like Gumby, you are probably hurt or headed in that direction.
Strive to achieve enough mobility for the basic movements and stop there. Once optimal mobility is achieved, work toward optimal stability and motor patterns.
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There are a lot of things that really grind my gears, but I get a special desire to mash my face into a wall when I see people strive for max height on box jumps.
We’ve all seen them done in athletic training facilities and commercial gyms across the country. Someone stacks up a bunch of plates on top of a box or they use every aerobics riser in the gym and have their buddies hold it down for them.
Fortunately for the rest of us, these attempts often end up as part of a GymFail compilation on YouTube that we can send to our friends and clients and say, “look at this clown; don’t be this person.”
The mistake many people make is not recognizing the WHY of a Box Jump. The beauty and efficacy of the exercise is less about the jumping and more about the landing—specifically the lack thereof. You can train a jump as aggressively as possible while saving a ton of stress on the body by taking away a huge portion of the landing.
The increased volume of jumping with no landing stress is what will have an impact on your performance, NOT trying to max out the exercise.
The majority of people out there (athletes included) will benefit from training with a 24- to 36-inch box and increasing difficulty in other ways. Land tall and in an athletic position and try “floating” up onto the box.
Do you know the difference between a 55- and a 60-inch Box Jump? Hip and spinal flexion. Not athleticism.
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My Two Cents…
To bring it all home, I’d like to jump in with my two cents. I think that the one-rep max is totally overrated, misused and abused. Let me make myself clear. I am not saying the 1RM is wrong, I’m just telling you that it is very far from the most important aspect of training—unless, of course, you’re a power/Olympic lifter. Ignore everything I say if your sport is based on 1RM numbers.
All too often, we get caught up in chasing 1RM PRs and not caring, either as a coach or a lifter, what that 1RM attempt looks or feels like. Yeah, maybe you deadlifted 500 pounds, but it took you 12 seconds to complete the lift and you strained every fiber in your lower back in the process. Totally not worth it, in my opinion. That’s what makes it overrated to me. It’s not a true representation of everyday performance levels.
Another reason I don’t buy in fully to the 1RM is because it is often misused. On a positive note, I’ve seen coaches absolutely nail the implementation and use of the 1RM. Every coach I talked to at the NHSSCA National Conference this winter was crushing it.
Then I come back home and chat with guys who are having their high school football players attempt an all-out max out once a month. I’m not talking heavy singles. Full fledged max outs. Why? I just don’t see the value there.
That, in my mind, is an example of the 1RM being abused and misused. Instead of using it for a tool to predetermine percentage training or create team camaraderie, it’s being tested for nothing more than ego-driven numbers chasing, which surely has more risk than reward.
There is a time and a place for maximal strength testing. I just think it is overrated and emphasized way too often—especially by young athletes. As most of the coaches above said, foundational movements are the most important thing to master in training. Focusing on those, with excellent force, will produce the byproducts of strength and power that are in line with the effort and execution you train with.
Hopefully this input from all the coaches quoted above can help you shift your focus to the most important aspects of training. Put your efforts and time into the high-rewarding, bang-for-your-buck goals and all the other things will fall into place.
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