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Hierarchy of Training Needs

Functional Movements

Who came up with the following routine?

Show up to the gym, warm-up on a treadmill for a mile, and then sit on machines and other contraptions for 45-minutes while isolating one muscle of the body. Oh, and do it in front of a mirror “so you don’t get injured.”

That “exercise” is beyond anything that resembles fitness and breeds fatter and unhealthier individuals.

Look inside the weight room of the elite Universities and professional sports teams — things like the cable-machine, elliptical, and smith-machine don’t just appear inside, but they don’t belong inside.

Thankfully, I believe the general exercising public of average Joe’s and Jane’s is shifting. We’re moving away from the single-joint, isolated-muscle, bodybuilding fitness to multi-joint, compound-muscle, functional fitness. Gyms like OrangeTheory, F-45, and Barry’s Bootcamp are leading the way here.

I commend my respect to these franchises for their focus exclusively on functional movements. However, they still fail to recognize nature’s hierarchy to forging elite fitness. And by default, they retard their member’s health.

Hierarchy of Training Needs

Last month I wrote about a theoretical hierarchy that exists for a developing healthy individuals. I received a lot of questions regarding the specifics of each, so today I first wanted to break down the third habit of “training.” I’ll break down the other four factors in a future post.

The development of an athlete within the training habit begins with metabolic conditioning, then moves to gymnastics, and finishes with weight lifting. This hierarchy largely reflects foundational dependence, skill, and the time ordering of development. The logical flow from cardiovascular sufficiency, to body control, and then to external object control makes this hierarchy not just look right, but feel right.

As a trainer and coach, this pyramid has greatest utility in analyzing athletes’ shortcomings and difficulties. For example, you do not deliberately need to order these components, but nature will. If you have a deficiency at any level, the components above will suffer.

Metabolic Conditioning

“Metabolic Conditioning” is usually found abbreviated by the term “Metcon.” Metcons, however, are much more than just “cardio sessions.” Cardio is a single-modality effort, generally performed for a long period of time at a low intensity. The movements are generally biking, running, swimming, rowing, speed skating and cross-country skiing.

Metcons elicit a metabolic response in one of at least three pathways: phosphocreatine, glycolytic, and oxidative. The first two of these pathways are favored when the exercise is anaerobic, while the third one, oxidative, favors aerobic.

The major difference, however, is that metcons don’t just include biking, running, and rowing. Metcons also can include pull-ups, burpees, and back squats. In fact, any exercise performed under a time constraint is considered a metcon. For example: “Run 1 mile” isn’t a metcon, but “Run 1-mile as fast as you can” is. “Perform 3×10 pull-ups” isn’t a metcon, while “Perform 10 pull-ups every :30 for three sets” is.

The vast majority of cardio is ineffective because it is performed at a recovery pace, rather than a training pace. “Training” implies working hard – not being entertained by some episode on your phone. We love competition because it brings this level of intensity. Not necessarily competition against another person, but against the clock.

I wrote about the differences between “cardio” and metabolic conditioning in depth last week in a post titled, “Why Cardio Doesn’t Help You Lose Weight.”


The aim of gymnastics is body-control and produces coordination, flexibility, strength, accuracy, and agility where no other discipline can.

But beyond gymnastics as the sport, we also include climbing, yoga, calisthenics, and dance as part of the modality. In short, anything performed with just the body weight falls under this umbrella. For example, air squats are gymnastic while back squats are weight lifting.

At RxFIT we use parallettes, rings, climbing ropes, pull-up bars, and dip bars to implement our gymnastics training. We love the classic calisthenic movements that include: pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dips and rope climbs. On top of these rudimentary movements, we also include in our training muscle-ups, L-sits, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds.

The trunk and shoulder strength required in these movements, as well as the body control developed, is unrivaled anywhere else in fitness. But for beginners at home, the simple start to gymnastic training is stretching. Just do it.

For more information on gymnastics, read March’s blog article titled “Gymnasts Wrecks Don’t Look Like Weightlifters.”

Weight Lifting

Weightlifting (one-word) is the olympic sport focused on two lifts: the clean and jerk and snatch. Weight lifting (two-words), however, is the modality in which any external object is lifted. We focus on weight lifting at RxFIT through the use of barbells, bumper plates, kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, tires, stones, sandbags, and others. Essentially, any object lifted (other than your body), falls under this category.

Deadlifts, squats, presses, cleans, and snatches make up the backbone of our movement patterns. We combine the disciplines of powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, and strongman to forge power, strength, and speed that can’t be replicated anywhere else. There is no question about it — lifting is essential to your fitness. Anyone who says otherwise is incompetent within the fitness realm.

The most common excuse I hear for not weight lifting is the concern for injury. Let’s clarify this briefly.

When we coach weight lifting, we first focus on mechanics. We never push intensity in a workout until the mechanics are sound. Then, we want to see you consistently perform those mechanics over time. And then, and only then, we add intensity to weight training.

This is because mechanics leads to injury; not weight training.

I wrote about this in depth here: Lifting Weights and Injury.


In a similar hierarchical pyramid, Greg Glassman in 2002 wrote the following:

Every regimen, every routine contains within its structure a blueprint for its deficiency. If you only work your weight training at low reps you will not develop the localized muscular endurance that you might have otherwise. If you work high reps exclusively you will not build the same strength or power that you would have at low reps. There are advantages and disadvantages to working out slowly or quickly, with high weights or low weights, completing “cardio” before or after, etc.

For the fitness that we are pursuing, every parameter within your control needs to be modulated to broaden the stimulus as much as possible. Your body will only respond to an unaccustomed stressor; routine is the enemy of progress and broad adaptation. Do not subscribe to high reps or low reps or long rests or short rests but strive for variance.

So then, what are we to do? Work on becoming a better weightlifter, stronger-better gymnast and faster rower, runner, swimmer, cyclist is the answer.


Strive to blur the distinction between “cardio-sessions” with gymnastics and weight lifting. For example, you can do push-ups and deadlifts to elicit a metabolic response. Then the next day, you can perform sprinting intervals to improve strength. Nature has no regard for this distinction or any other.

If you are overwhelmed by what to do, hit reply to this email and I can send you seven workouts to get you started.


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