5 Common Training Questions Answered With Common Sense

10 min read.

1. Are squats bad for your knees?
2. I’ve been stationary for years, should I take up running long distance 5 times a week?
3. Do I need to get fit before I start [x/y/z]?
4. I have terrible posture - I can’t do that, can I?
5. CrossFit is dangerous, isn’t it?
In order to make this blog a bit more fun (both to read and to write) I will exaggerate a little for comedic effect. Despite this, the main takeaway is: if you are a beginner with training, or never been injured before, or ever coached before - how would you know the right thing to do? 

There is no shame in asking someone with experience a question if you have never come across a subject before - it’s how to learn! People devote their entire lives to studying the body, there’s always something you can learn!

Some of the questions in this list are ones I've asked in the past, some are common questions I see people ask!

1. Are squats bad for your knees?
Yes! Horribly!
Well... It actually depends on a few different factors.

If you have great hip and ankle mobility and do a mix of bodyweight squats, lift heavy weight sometimes, do single leg balance work and have great core strength - squats will be great for your knees! You may even go through your entire life never having sore knees.

However, if your hip or ankle mobility is lacking somewhere on either side then your knee(s) will suffer. The knee is basically a hinge - it requires a certain amount of stability, and with general bad mobility you will gradually be “grinding”, pulling it out of it's desired hinge-y motion path. Frustratingly, it can take a few months or years to even notice anything is wrong. 

Other elements can include going too heavy too soon; when your joints simply aren’t accustomed to it or ready for it. If you never really played sport or been active when you were younger your joints won’t be able to take the stress of just jumping into a heavy lifting program - especially if you cannot control your own bodyweight. There are plenty of fundamental exercises you should work on first.

Squatting or lifting competitively is also a factor. If you love a sport and strive to constantly improve your performance, then the high intensity will eventually take its toll on your body. In this case, you need to learn how to regulate yourself and understand your own recovery ability - this can take years to learn; and then, when you finally understand your body a bit better... you're older so the parameters change... and you’re stronger... and lifting bigger weights.... so you'll need to adjust your recovery methods....

I am not of the “you shouldn’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself” camp. If someone LOVES something and wants to do it to a competitive level then YES - do it! In my opinion, it's far better needing knee surgery after 30 years of lifting and enjoying it... rather than needing a new liver after 30 years of drinking because you couldn’t find anything you were passionate about. Just do it as safely as possible and know when to back off! There are plenty of other ways to build leg strength than just squats.

If you are getting pain in your knees, get a coach to check your form and go to a physiotherapist. If symptoms still persist, or get worse, go to a Doctor. Get scan and see what is happening, never just decide your knees are “bad”.
 2. I’ve been stationary for years, should I take up running long distance 5 times a week?
Sure! But only if you shorten that to short distance runs, twice a week, then gradually increase the distance on those two sessions before adding an extra day.

Running seems to be taken for granted that anyone can just do it. Maybe back when from as young as possible humans would be running, hunting, gathering and squatting on a daily basis... but in our modern, stationary, sitting-based world, this is really not the case. Exactly the same as squatting - if you have bad foot strength or hip mobility then you will be rattling your joints like a skeleton giving himself hand relief in a biscuit tin (old drum sound analogy, I still enjoy it).

If you don’t have good running technique it can cause all kinds of issues like back pain, shin splints, sore knees, plantar fasciitis... and a general dislike of running, if it hurts you won’t stick with it.

Deep hip stretches are really important to keep all the little muscles doing what they are supposed to be doing. If you never do them and just run then you’ll turn yourself into a shuffling fridge. Try not to just 'start running' without first finding someone that knows what they’re doing.

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Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that just "doing cardio" and "getting a sweat on" is the best way to lose weight or get fit - there are loads of things you can do! But if you do want to run bear in mind that a good bodyweight warm up combined with a structured run, with a good pace that you improve on each time will be way more beneficial than you frantically running up and down the street 5,000 times like you have lost your inhaler.

Trying to save money by not joining a gym will generally result in having to spend money on massage treatments or other expensive recovery techniques later on, if you want to be a full on cardio bunny mix it up between rowing machines and bikes with your runs - more work with less stress on your joints.
 3. Do I need to get fit before I start [x/y/z]?
You can try if you want! But it rarely helps. If something interests you like Mixed Martial Arts, CrossFit, Calisthenics, pole dancing or whatever - all I can say is just go and join a beginner class and start.

Before I started MMA, I had zero training background; apart from sitting on cable machines not really doing much. I spent months on an exercise bike in my room trying to “get fit” before I started .... yet after my first technique session of trying to figure out how to put someone’s arm into an armbar I was drenched in sweat and could barely concentrate after 15 minutes - the bike did nothing, and my first session hitting pads was even shorter - I do believe the technical term is “blowing out my hole” (Northern Irish phrase for you non-locals.... roughing translating to "breathing through my butt"...not sure that makes it any clearer 😂).

Most things that are actually fun have a specific kind of “fitness” that can only be trained by doing that specific thing. The best thing you can do is to get stuck in as soon as the notion takes you! Spend your first few weeks actively learning the techniques and then when the time comes, you’ll be able to push yourself a little bit harder with the right technique. All my months on the bike did was get me better at sitting on a bike. Looking back, that was a few months I could have had under my belt learning how to move better and actually enjoying myself.

If you are completely new to something you don’t have to be good at it! You can laugh things off and enjoy it more! If you become too self conscious about being perfect or "not being as good" as people who have been doing it for years, you may begin to resent what you're doing and simply quit.

So yes, it is quite impossible to develop a specific type of fitness without doing that specific type of thing! Just accept that you won’t be the best in the room at first and getting stuck in.
4. I have terrible posture - I can’t do that, can I?
Posture is changeable! The hardest thing to get through to most people is that it takes consistent daily effort for a prolonged period of time to make a lasting change to your posture. There is so much information out there that people often try a bunch of stretches once or twice, decide they didn’t work, and resign themselves to having bad posture. The truth is you only need a couple of stretches done early in the day and a bit of conscious effort for a while, and you will permanently change your resting posture.

For some it takes longer than others, especially those with desk jobs, but I have seen some serious cases completely reversed by those that put the effort in. The only ones that don’t make a change are the ones that won't look you in the eye when you ask if they have been doing the exercises you gave them... some even mumble the lie that they’ve been doing them “a bit”..... meaning try them the first night and never again since... oh yeah, I’ve been doing this for a while, don’t think I don’t know how lazy you are - I invented laziness.

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If you know you have bad posture, all you need to do is to gear your training towards improving your posture for a while. This will make you look and feel better, plus open you up to more training methods: the better you move the more options you have! Coming from someone that had no flexibility, wonky hips, and smashed shoulders, you can come back from some pretty messed up injuries and be absolutely fine. 

My honest recommendation here? Get my program The Simplistic Mobility Method - it has all the exercises needed for good posture and it’s laid out with a simple routine that you just try to do better each time you do it.  It is really well thought out, but doesn’t bore you with any details. It’s exactly what I would have wanted when I started training “do this, this and this - this many times”.
5. CrossFit is dangerous isn’t it?
If I had a pound for every time I heard this. It is somewhat fashionable to bash CrossFit and it’s even fantastic clickbait for people that hate it to make them click on your stuff, I wonder how many people even just skipped to this question...

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CrossFit has a ton of opportunities for injuries there is no doubt about that, but here’s the thing, because of it's variety and complexity it is a fantastic diagnostic tool for mobility - for example, if you cannot do an overhead squat then you are no doubt missing some or all of these things:
1. Thoracic Mobility
2. Shoulder mobility
3. Hip mobility
4. Ankle mobility
That’s not a CrossFit problem, that is a you problem. Your coach will give you drills to work on to improve this movement and they will adapt the workouts until you are able to do it with a training bar, then you might be allowed to start learning how to snatch. It doesn't matter what movement you pick on, if you are lacking in these 4 areas they are the cause of neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, hip pain, knee pain... not the sport itself. CrossFit just flags these weaknesses very quickly.

I do spend time reading the anti-CrossFit perspectives, I am aware that it does have its drawbacks, but do people really think that a beginner walks into a CrossFit gym, is handed a barbell and then told to snatch heavy and do 50 floppy-fish pull ups? How crazy does someone have to be to think both coach and athlete would be that stupid? It just doesn’t happen.
The process of getting “good” at CrossFit is a very lengthy one, even people with great sporting backgrounds will still take years to get to a higher competitive level.  For the majority of people though, the goal of the program is simply about learning skills, building strength and being interested in tracking & measuring your progress.

If someone thinks they’re being safe by avoiding movements that require flexibility & skill, and instead spends their time sitting on isolation machines all day, unfortunately this is not the case. Without an experienced bodybuilder looking after you on those machines you can seriously mess yourself up and create all kinds of muscle imbalances, tightness and joint problems.
Here’s the truth - everything’s dangerous; even more so without good mobility or a coach; and generally the more fun something is, the higher the injury of risk. My online programs contain the best mobility movements and stability exercises to give you joints that are durable enough to handle most things! You can easily add them to your training and gain an education that lasts you a lifetime ! Check them out here!


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