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Order of Operations

September 16, 2016

 Richard Feynman, during one of his lectures.

Physical training is like math: there is a precise order of operations that needs to be followed in order to solve an equation correctly. In mathematics, this is known as BEDMAS - Brackets, Exponents, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction. 

Following the required order of operations doesn't just guarantee that your calculations are correct; it sets the stage for successful problem solving that utilizes the data you've just derived. 


Unlike math, there are many methods to train with: weights, rings, clubs, stones, cables, machines... and the point of this post isn't to dissect and evaluate each individual method, but to elucidate three key principles that MUST order training should you wish to progress and achieve your goals. 

This is why people using drastically different sets, reps, equipment, etc. can all achieve their goals - the methods may differ, but the fundamental principles remain the same. 

To help you get a grasp on this idea - think of like flying. 

There are jets, passenger planes, stealth bombers, helicopters, drones, hang-gliders, squirrel suits... you name it. So many ways to traverse the air. 

Some of them differ so much as to be nearly unrecognizable to one another, or at least, barely able to be placed in the same category!

Yet, they all work. They all fly. Why?

Because they all obey the fundamental laws of aerodynamics. Regardless of their individual differences, all of these methods are based on objective and solid principles of flight that guarantee their ability to traverse the air.

 Wright brothers Model B, in flight. 1910.

1. First principle: Joint integrity & mobility. 

Before we even entertain the idea of training, we have to ask: can you move? 

Unfortunately, this is a place where most people think they're really solid but they're actually really not. Under my tutelage, most people that I meet - especially those that think they're capable athletes - actually don't move very well.

That's the most dangerous type of belief, because it breeds attachment to views and ego: the need to be right or to uphold X identity, which inevitably leads to suffering. 

Thus, the first step is to assess someone's ability to move by focusing on the integrity of their joints. Can all joints articulate properly in a full range of motion? Is there pain or reduced range of motion? Is there impingement? 

By using proper joint function as our baseline, we can then assess individual athletes based on their ability relative to that biomarker. The point isn't to rate someone on a new scale, but rather, to measure their mobility and joint integrity relative to how their joints are meant to move.

This is the first step: bringing someone to the point where they can move properly. 

2. Second principle: Strength. 

Ok, so now you can move. And now that you can move, you must move. Lots. At this point, the focus should be on developing a very solid base of strength across the whole body. 

What does this look like? It's very simple. 

You should be able to rep pushups, pullups, dips, and single leg squats.

And for most people, working on the progressions for those movements is more than enough strength training to begin with.

These movements provided a balanced and well-rounded program to build strength in a series of functional movement patterns. They're the cornerstone of the ultimate fitness test:

Could you save your own life?

A pretty sobering question.

In fact, I'd say that you SHOULD have those prerequisites under your belt before beginning to experiment with other, more esoteric forms of physical training. These alone will provide you with months of work, especially if you put as much detail into form and programming as you should. 


3. Third Principle: Speed, loading, and progressions.

So you can move. Your joints articulate properly, and your mobility is coming along. You've spent a solid period of time training and developing a base of strength. What's next?

At this point you can start to modify a few parameters in your training.

Loading, adding external weight to a pattern, is appropriate only if you are able to move and have built up a solid base of strength.

Speed and explosive strength are the same: in order to really optimize the benefits from these forms of training (RFD development), you must have a solid base of strength from which to work.

Advanced progressions, things like muscle ups, front and back levers, skin the cats, german hangs, rope climbs, GHRs, advanced SLS's.... all come after developing proficiency in the basic elements of strength as described above. 

You earn the right to train and work on these elements after you put in the work to prepare and condition your body. 

Like math, you CAN skip the order of operations. Many people do. 

It simply means that - if you don't end up paying for it right away with a faulty calculation - all future calculations will be predicated on false data. 

In movement, this is more than an undesirable test score. 

It's a broken bone. A sprained ankle. A torn ACL. Chronic tendinopathy. The potential end of your training career. 

It pays to put in the time and effort required to become the athlete you wish to be. This is a journey towards every-greater mastery of oneself in all areas of life. You will always be a beginner, ever learning more. Your path never ends until you stop walking.

Training out of ignorance or impatience disrespects all who put their blood, sweat, and tears into the process. And for that, you'll pay the price.




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