Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Make "Rocks" A Priority In Your Training Programs

When first heard the Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand story I was at a lecture given by Mike Boyle on Functional Training.  The term "Functional Training" has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, but that story will be passed on for decades.  It really made an impact on me when thinking about life in general and  focusing on my priorities.  Over the years I  have adapted the major principles of the story when I design training programs or spew a little nutritional guidance. Many of you have already heard or read the story, but in case you haven't - here it is....

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large, empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2" in diameter.

He then asked his students if the jar was full. They all agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. Again, they agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.” The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour their entire contents into the jar - effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things - your partner, your children, your family, your health - things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter - like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else, the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued “there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are really important. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first - the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

As far as training goes, I think of my "rocks" as being the focus of each training session.  Of course, for each client the individual needs and goals will create some variation but exercises like squats, deadlifts, pushing, pulling, and lunging will be the major "rocks" of the program.

Movements like step ups, stability ball leg curls, face pulls, and planks would be considered the "pebbles" and exercises like bicep curls and triceps extension would fill in as the "sand".

Once you put a few rocks in your training session, you can add in a few pebbles, and if time allows add in some sand.  If you include all rocks in your training, there will still be benefits, however it will be extremely mentally and physically exhausting and will allow for very little variety.

If you include all sand in your exercise program, you will see very little physical changes, although your gunz will have a nice pump, but nothing else will really be achieved.

If you combine your rocks, pebbles, and sand you will have a program that will produce significant results and will also provide a little variety in a training session. An example would be:

a1.  Deadlift 
a2.  Push-up

b1. Step up
b2. TRX Row

c1. Tricep Pressdowns
c2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
c3. Straight Bar Bicep Curl

When it comes to relating the principles of this story to nutrition, a few different variations can be used.  I prefer to think of the rocks as CALORIES!!! As well as, the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat consumed to achieve the daily caloric goal.

The pebbles would be food source choices like sweet potatoes vs. pasta,  white bread vs. oatmeal, and grass fed beef vs. a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.  Little details such as types of fruits- apples or blueberries, or the fresh / frozen vegetable debate, diet coke vs. coke zero would serve as the sand.
People actually lose sleep over this stuff......
Too many people worry about the sand and neglect or choose to ignore the factors that are detrimental to a successful nutrition plan. Yes people, calories are that important and the sources of those calories are almost as equally important.

It's not uncommon to have a client who is eating 4,000 calories a day with the majority coming from sugars and processed carbohydrates ask questions like:

"Should I eat blueberries or strawberries"?

"Is Greek yogurt better than cottage cheese"?

"What is a better for dinner, fish or chicken?"

When it's all said and done getting a handle on your calories and balancing your macro nutrients will do far more to achieve positive results than worrying whether you should have spicy or regular mustard.

One of the most important principles of the story is ".....there is always time for a few beers".   Remember, no matter how hard you train or how strict you eat, sometimes you just need to relax and have a cold one!

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