When The Gym is a Waste of Time

In our last post, we talked about the value of strength training for action sports athletes.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an aspiring/current professional, a well-planned and well-executed strength training program can help prevent injury, improve endurance in practice and competition, and take your performance to the next level – there’s no debating that.

So, when IS going to the gym a waste of time?

Well, depending on what you do while you’re in the gym, going can be worse than a waste of time – it can be detrimental to your health and your development as an athlete.  

Many people believe that if they can just make it to the gym every day, then just walking through that door is going magically make them better. Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated.

While making it to the gym consistently is definitely a critical part of any training program, I’m here to tell you that what you do while you’re there is way more important.  Here are the TWO questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you’re not wasting your time in the gym:

  • Do I have a plan?

This boils down to one thing: why are you in the gym in the first place?  Let’s say your answer is “to get better at my sport” — then, what is your plan to do that?  

What are the performance parameters that you are targeting for improvement?  

What exercises are you using to stimulate adaptation in those specific parameters?

How many sets of how many reps are you doing?  At what tempo?  With how much rest?  

How many times per week?

What metrics are you using to track your progress?

These are critical questions and, if they aren’t answered, then you’re basically trying to assemble an IKEA table without the instruction manual…it’s not going to come out the way you envisioned.

How does that look in practice?  

Maybe you start to feel like you’re out of energy while practicing or competing on your sport.  That is probably due to improper periodization and lack of programmed recovery.

Maybe you just don’t see/feel any improvement in your strength or endurance, despite months of work in the gym.  That is probably due to not applying sufficient levels of stress to elicit the desired adaptation.

These things happen to ALL athletes at some point during their career.  However, the ones that have a plan simply adjust their plan appropriately and continue to progress.  

The ones that don’t have a plan continue to fumble around in the dark, always making it to the gym, but never actually making progress towards their goals.

  • Do I know how to correctly execute my plan?

If you already have a plan – congratulations! – you’re doing better than the vast majority of the gym going population.  You’re aiming to improve specific aspects of your athletic performance, you’ve researched which exercises to use to do that, and you know how to measure your progress so you know if your plan is working.  That’s a great start.

However, there is still one more important aspect of training that could be keeping you from effectively using your time in the gym – do you know how to actually execute your plan?

Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to improve your lower body strength endurance in an effort to improve pedaling power and extend the length of time that you can effectively practice on your bike.  You’ve decided that the exercises you need to use for this are primarily squat variations and you’re going to test your progress by measuring your time pedaling up a certain hill.

Which exact squat variations are you going to use and why?

Do you know how to safely and effectively perform those variations?

How are you going to react if your body starts to tell you it’s overstressed?

How are you going deal with surprises, like injury or sickness?

These questions are arguably even more important than those in number one.  Having a

plan is one thing, knowing how to put it into practice is a whole ‘nother story.

Unfortunately, this is where many people go wrong and it’s one of the worst places to do so.  If you are incorrectly performing movements, for example, you are not only wasting time, you may also be putting yourself at risk for injury both in the acute sense and the chronic sense, as improper execution can lead to imbalances, poor movement patterns, and, ultimately, the waiting room of your local physical therapist’s office.

If all this seems overwhelming, that’s OK.  You’re not required to be an expert in strength training in order to benefit from it, just like you don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car.  However, if you want to upgrade your (metaphorical) engine, improve your (metaphorical) fuel efficiency, and increase your (metaphorical) horsepower, you probably need to either go to a qualified mechanic or spend some serious time learning how to do it on your own.  Otherwise, the best case scenario is that you waste a bunch of time and end up paying a mechanic anyway.  In the worst case scenario, you screw up your engine and end up putting the mechanic’s kids through college.

Sign up for our newsletter for more about strength and conditioning for action sports athletes.  

If you’re ready to hire your “mechanic”, get started today with a free consultation.

A Parent’s Perspective

It’s now been about 9 months since my kids have been training with Deacon and the

SISU Strong team and it has had so many positives impacts for my kids and for our

family. It has always been our philosophy as parents that if we surround our children

with good people and role models, the chances of our kids being happy, successful, and

productive would increase dramatically. Well, we hit the jackpot with the Andrews

family and his team!

There are many gyms and trainers out there but the trick is finding one that is doing it

for the right reasons. Here are the traits were looking for:

-Positive atmosphere

-Focus on developing good work habits for young athletes

-Teaching lessons that training and working hard for what you want in life is a

lifestyle, not something you do every once in a while or just before a race

-Measures their Athletes INDIVIDUALLY.

-Striving to be their best…not someone else’s best.

-Being supportive but also honest with their athletes on where they are.

-Someone who will pat them on the back but also kick them in the butt when necessary.

-Put their well being, physically and mentally ahead of any results.

You might notice something is missing from the list. (Results). Results come

naturally when the above is done right. Here are the results/ improvements we have


-Responsibility and follow through – kids rarely miss a session and when they do

they make it up. They feel a responsibility to the program to put maximum effort in

and has taught them the important life lesson of “always follow through with your

promises and goals”.

-Increased self confidence- We have seen this on and off the track. Believing in

themselves and having the confidence they will succeed.


-Time management- Being able to balance school, training, racing and being

teenagers successfully.

These are the things that are most important to us as parents and we could not be

happier with the results!

Deacon and his team do it right!

PS….You may ask, what about the results on the track? Well, just look at how ALL the

athlete’s in the program have been performing. I dare you to find any program’s

athletes doing it better and seeing the improvement like this one!


Give and Take

We see it all the time.

Aspiring athletes see their heroes doing something in training and think “the only way to beat him/her is to do more than he/she is doing.” It’s a natural reaction – we all think that more is better. If you want to be better, work harder, right? Yes and no – we covered some of that in our last post.

If “work harder” means make your performance a priority and do whatever it takes to improve it (including managing recovery), then YES. If “work harder” means pile on additional training every day until you turn yourself into a quivering pile of overtrained goo, then NO.

In training, there should always be a give and take. The more time our athletes get to be on the bike, the less high intensity training we do in the gym. We don’t just keep adding additional work. If you’re trying to burn the candle at both ends, it won’t last long. Some athletes get this and some don’t. The ones that don’t get it now will get it eventually, when their bodies force them to stop.

One of the laws of athletic performance is that you don’t get stronger/faster/better-conditioned in the gym. Those things develop during your recovery periods, as your body adapts and responds to the training that you did in the gym. If you constantly interrupt your recovery periods with additional training, you never give yourself the chance to fully realize the gainz from your training sessions.

That’s where the give and take comes in. To get the most out of training, we have to strike the right balance between work and recovery. That balance is different for each individual athlete, but once we find that balance, we have to maintain it. If we put in more work somewhere, we need to take some away somewhere else.

That’s why, as coaches, we have to make it a priority to know our athletes. Training is not an event, it’s a process that keeps on going whether you’re in the gym, on your bike, eating dinner, or sleeping in your bed. If we just focus on what happens during the few hours our athletes are with us, we miss the big picture.

So, when we ask you “how are you feeling?” or “did you ride this weekend?”, it’s not just small talk. We genuinely want to know so we can adapt your training (if necessary) to account for that additional work/stress. Technology is now taking this to the next level, as Heart Rate Variability monitors are able to tell us more and more about athlete’s recovery and baseline stress levels before they even step foot in the gym…more on that in a later post!