Things to Know About Online Training

The title is self-explanatory. Finding ways to keep your training effective, and stay connected with your peers, is what this post is all about.

I love gyms and athletic facilities. I love face-to-face coaching. I love team and group workouts and competitions. But those situations aren’t as easy to facilitate these days. The most obvious reason is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions. But, in addition to that, there have always been the challenges of location, schedule, access, cost, etc. Training in a team environment is simply the best. But if it is not available, we’re better off exploring reasonable alternatives than doing nothing at all.

I’m concerned about some observations I’ve had over the past several years, and in the most recent one in particular. While there will always be that subset of the athletic and fitness population who are gonna find a way and get it (training) done, there are a hell of a lot of folks who’ve just said “f**k it” and have drifted away from the training that yields our all-important health and performance benefits. 

Therefore I have a suggestion. Either join an online training community that fits your needs and suits your personality, or create your own. Humans are social beasts. Even the most introverted among us will derive benefits from a training system that has elements of intelligent and flexible programming, accountability and camaraderie, and a mix of playful fun and competitive challenge. I’ll describe some of the things that make for a successful online training experience. You can use this list to build your own network with friends and family, or to vet an existing professional offering.

Communication: While this may seem totally Captain Obvious, there needs to be some type of platform which allows information to be disseminated. A communication network for your training group membership can take the form of an app, a website, an email list, or any number of social media platforms. You can use videoconferencing or even just the old-fashioned conference call. It’s important that members can get their programming and also connect with each other. Here’s how we use communication with The Lifetime Athlete’s Training Tribe (T2). Exclusive member content is posted weekly on the website. This contains the Workouts of the Week (WOW’s) and all pertinent information for the team. Each week’s programming is provided in table, text, and video format, and members have unlimited access. Members are on an email list and they receive a brief email every weekend notifying them that the next week’s programming is live. They also receive the topic and meeting password for our weekly Tribe MasterClass (on various health, fitness, training, nutrition, and other topics) held over Zoom. And we support all our work with a private forum in which every member can share questions, comments, photos, and other items.

Ease of Use: This one is a no-brainer. If the training information is difficult to access, confusing, or overly complicated, people tend to be turned off and drop out fast. A couple of clicks, swipes, or finger taps should be all that is needed, and it should work on every device (laptop, tablet, smartphone). Having to store and retrieve files is neither necessary nor effective in online training. Sure, there can be lots of supportive resources, but make them hyperlinked and easy to find. At T2, all of our information resides in the member content area, and we use a comfortable amount of redundancy with terms and techniques. And any question that comes up is quickly addressed in the member forum. 

Major Common Goal: Well…duh! A philosophically-aligned group is critical in a training team. “Is everybody on the same page here? Just what, exactly, are we trying to accomplish?” Is your group focused on triathlon training and racing? Powerlifting? Bodybuilding? Weight Loss? Yoga? Stress relief? Those are all good and there are many other areas of emphasis in training communities. The key is to find or make the one that really motivates you, that you enjoy, and with which you will stay consistent. TLA’s Training Tribe is built around the concept of athletic fitness. Our mission is to create more well-rounded, athletic athletes and fitness enthusiasts by addressing all 5 of the capacities of human performance: strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance. Our goal is to build a better human beast who is strong, fast, versatile, and durable — someone who can wake up and perform well in just about anything that life throws at them. This is all about becoming and staying Hard to Kill…on the playing field and in the game of LIFE. 

System: You gotta have some kind of system. Even if your method is to have extreme amounts of variation in training (this can be taken too far in my opinion), there’s got to be some method to the madness. The system needs to fit the primary goal of the group, employ at least a modicum of proven scientific applications, and be something that the members can perform effectively. Your group probably has an avatar, and a personality. The programming should match that profile. There are people who really love extensive spreadsheets with very fine print. Others prefer a 3-second video clip, preferably with a cat or donkey doing something humorous. In reality, most of us are in between, and there’s a broad range of systems that can work. T2 uses a block periodization model, in which the year is broken into 5 blocks of 2-3 months each. The 5 capacities of human performance (again…strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance) are addressed in each block, but one is emphasized primarily. In our annual training plan (ATP) this is expressed in bar chart form, but members don’t have to sweat the details because I do it for them. It’s like we spend some time polishing a capacity without allowing the others to deteriorate. We also use a “science meets common sense” approach. There is a lot of wizardry behind what we are doing, but the application is actually quite simple. Get results. Have fun. Don’t get hurt.

Coaching: Every ship needs a captain. If you are setting up your group, you might be the coach. Or perhaps appoint someone who is willing. Or rotate the duty. Or join a group that already has good coaching. Coaching is a multifactorial role. It’s not just leadership or program design, it’s working with the team, players, or members in a way that provides guidance, support, learning, and a path toward success. Coaching is helping people to become the best version of themselves, and providing the cueing, adjustments, and feedback that achieves high outcomes. It’s an art form and every coach has his/her unique style. Coaching is a relationship and you deserve the assurance that your coach sincerely cares about you, has your back and wants you to succeed. In an online coaching situation, it’s important that members know, like, and trust the dude who is driving the ship. While I provide intensive 1-on-1 coaching services in addition to T2, I make sure that every member who asks a question in a MasterClass or posts a comment in the forum knows how much I respect and appreciate them.

Adaptability: Completely rigid programs don’t work. They always fail because they lack the necessary flexibility in design that is frequently indicated when an athlete has poor sleep, misses a session, or tweaks a hamstring. Of course a program should have a solid structure and a clear objective, but it should also possess the ability to be scaled up or down slightly. This can help a member to better learn a movement pattern, recover more completely, or challenge themselves when the time is right. It’s like making a building earthquake-tolerant. Engineer some ability of your plan to wiggle on occasion. In T2 we provide some options with regard to modes of exercise, equipment choices, duration, intensity, and volume. Members can select the amounts that work best for them.

Comprehensive Programming: I mentioned earlier that changing things up constantly may not be ideal. This is because the body (and mind) require at least some amounts of repeated stimulus to fully adapt. And, on the other hand, doing the exact same thing in the same manner all the time tends to lead to stagnation and can halt gains. Like most things in biology, training stimulus should exist under a bell-shaped curve. Find that sweet spot where you spend some time concentrating on key movements and capacities, but also mix it up a bit to keep the body and mind guessing (and adapting) a little.

Objective Measures: It’s important to have some data points which allow you to assess if the training is addressing the goal(s). Depending upon the capacity or element upon which the group is concentrating, there should be a valid measure to correlate. Weight (fat) loss programs can look at body weight, body composition, and waist circumference to name a few. Powerlifters concentrate on 1 RM’s or totals in the big three lifts. Cyclists see watts. Runners focus on time. The list goes on. In the Training Tribe, we identify several key performance indicators (KPI’s) each month, and then we specifically test them. This allows the members to track progress and compare themselves to themselves, as well as other Tribe members. We even throw in some friendly competitions and essentially gamify the KPI tests. We strive to enhance knowledge of results (KR) and intrinsic motivation.

Social Component: Training is not a job. It’s not a punishment. It’s a frigging celebration. On a quiet and subdued level, a good online training community keeps you accountable because you know your teammates are going to post about their workout or attend the MasterClass meeting, and you want to do the same and not let them (or yourself) down. But at a higher decibel rating, training is a party. Some members (that live in the same locales) get together for some of their workouts, or they do some real-time vidcon training together. Feeling like you are a part of something, being proud of it, and looking forward to it are all key in the online training community.

Value: This one is all about perception. Value doesn’t mean something is cheap. It means it is good, or at least you believe it to be so. You value something which you consider worthwhile. It’s worth your time. It’s worth your money (regardless of what you pay for it in some cases). If an online training community provides you with good results and enjoyment, it’s indeed valuable. That’s the foundation of T2. The fact that it costs less than a dollar a day and outperforms many other offerings costing much, much more is just icing on your value cake. 

So those are some of my tips for selecting an online training community, or setting up your own. I also included some of my secrets that I use in T2 and which came from nearly 4 decades working in human performance. We are living in interesting and challenging times. We’re faced with an opportunity to use evolving technology to our benefit, and also the necessity of doing so secondary to worldwide health concerns and restrictions. Perhaps you will give strong consideration to the ever-evolving world of online training. I hope this information helps you to be consistent and successful with your training.

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