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Skill Guidelines for Building Strong, Useful, Adaptable Athletes

Introduction by Chris Salvato

For reference and convenience, this document can be downloaded in PDF format here.  For a brief primer into this article, check out Ryan Ford’s YouTube introduction.

In order to succeed in a sport, fitness program, or physical activity, it is necessary to establish a diverse and intelligent strength and conditioning program. To maximize your gains in fitness and apply them to highly sport-specific skills, it helps to track your progress, set goals, and achieve balance in your physical capabilities. The goal of this document is to provide guidelines based on useful goals that allow new trainees to gauge milestones and monitor progress over time.

This list of goals was chosen because working these skills will simultaneously improve many of the components of physical fitness. First defined and organized by Dynamax, these components are relevant in all kinds of sports, combat, and physical activities. They are:

  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility – The ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  6. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into one distinct movement.
  8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a certain intensity.

While many resources go over setting goals and even provide a list of goals that may be worthwhile, many people are unfamiliar with what sort of progress to expect. With potential benchmarks and milestones unknown, this leaves the trainee feeling out of control. Lack of knowledge and lack of control often times results in lowered motivation. To address this problem, the following guidelines have been established so that a dedicated trainee will know the sort of progress they can expect with focused, dedicated training.

These guidelines were originally created as a collaborative effort between Eat. Move. Improve., a fitness resource co-founded by Steven Low and Chris Salvato, and APEX Movement, a Denver, CO based parkour facility.

Using the Skill Guidelines

The time frames listed for each level are based on progress that the authors have seen directly through personal experience, coaching experience, and through their involvement with their respective communities. Keep in mind that younger populations tend to progress faster than older populations; those with less stress tend to progress faster than those with more stress; and those with better sleep cycles tend to progress faster than those with poor sleep cycles. The goals listed below are for young males in the age range of 15-35 at a starting body composition of under 20% body fat. In future editions of this article, we will include more demographics.

The milestones in this article can be reached within their respective time frames by training 3-4 days per week for the first couple of years. It is advised to keep training diverse, but simple. Focus on only a few feats of strength, skill, and endurance at once. Eat. Move. Improve.’s Steven Low recommends that trainees start with and focus on no more than 2 pushing, 2 pulling, and 2 posterior chain strength goals at once. Any endurance training or skill training can easily fit into the preceding strength program.

Level One – Healthy Beginner (0-12 months)

  • Level one guidelines are milestones that can be attained by an untrained, sedentary individual within their first 12 months of training (assuming they are free of any serious injuries or health conditions). This level is the minimum standard for a healthy lifestyle and lays the foundation for basic strength gains in the following years. This basic strength will translate over into more rapid increases in capabilities.

Level Two – Intermediate Athlete (1-2 years)

  • Level two guidelines can be attained within 1-2 years after level one has been reached. These skills should be considered normal for a healthy athlete that is pursuing increased performance. The translation from one skill to another is still very high here, so working towards a few goals will also help other goals advance towards level three.

Level Three – Advanced Athlete (2-4 years)

  • Level three guidelines can be reached within 2-4 years after level one has been reached. This is an appropriate level of general fitness for those who would like to perform for long periods of time and possess a high level of strength. Taking part in high intensity sports such as parkour, combat, or highly competitive sports while possessing the abilities of level three allows for a higher degree of participation while mitigating the risk of injury. Athletes that posses many level three skills will get the most out of their training as they are able to train continuously with few injuries and work on technique consistently and without interruption.  Most individuals can obtain most, if not all, of level three skills with proper programming and dedication.

Level Four – Specialized Athlete

  • After reaching level three, some trainees may choose to take certain skills to the next level. Most level four guidelines entail specialized training that will not allow for other goals to be included in the athletes program. For example, pursuing a straddle planche will require consistent, hard training that may make another goal, such as a competitive 5k run, unrealistic to simultaneously pursue. An athlete can work toward level four without sacrificing level three accomplishments, but usually only a small number of level four skills can be attained for each individual.

Level Five – Highly Specialized Athlete

  • To reach level five in many of these skills takes a combination of superior genetics, dedication, and intellect. While level five is not necessarily a world class athlete, most people will not be able to perform many level five skills without sacrificing performance in other domains. By the time the athlete is at level five, thousands of reps/runs/holds will have been performed; years of experience will have been established towards this goal; and the athlete may progress beyond level five towards a world class level. By even striving for a level five skill shows remarkable determination and drive.


AW                 Against Wall
B                      Bar
BW                  Bodyweight
DH                  Dead hang
DPU                Deadhang Pull Ups
FS                    Free Standing
G                      On Ground
HSPU             Handstand Push Ups
KPU                Kipping Pull Ups
OAH               One Arm Handstand
PB                    Parallel Bars or Parallettes
R                      Rings
ROM               Range of Motion
RTO                 Rings Turned Out
SL                    Straight Legs
SA                   Straight Arms


  • Metabolic conditioning
    • Locomotive tests
      • Run (100m)
        • Level one – 20 sec.
        • Level two –  16 sec.
        • Level three – 13 sec.
        • Level four – 11.5 sec.
        • Level five – 10.5 sec.
        • World Record – 9.58 sec. (Usain Bolt, Jamaica)
      • Run (400m)
        • Level one – 120 sec.
        • Level two – 85 sec.
        • Level three – 60 sec.
        • Level four – 54 sec.
        • Level five – 48 sec.
        • World Record – 43.18 sec. (Michael Johnson, USA)
      • Run (5000m)
        • Level one – 36:00
        • Level two – 24:00
        • Level three – 18:00
        • Level four – 15:40
        • Level five – 14:00
        • World Record – 12:37 (Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia)
      • Rowing (500m)1
        • Level one – 150 sec.
        • Level two – 110 sec.
        • Level three – 90 sec.
        • Level four – 83 sec.
        • Level five – 80 sec.
        • World Record – 75 sec.
      • Rowing (2000m)1
        • Level one – 12:00
        • Level two – 9:00
        • Level three – 7:45
        • Level four – 6:50
        • Level five – 6:20
        • World Record – 5:36.6
  • Bodyweight skills and Gymnastics
    • Pushing
      • Push ups:
        • Level one – 5 push up
        • Level two – 20 push ups (R)
        • Level three – 5 tuck planche push ups (PB)
        • Level four – 5 straddle planche push ups (G)
        • Level five – 1 planche push up (G)
      • Dips (begin some weighted dip work at level two)
        • Level one – 3 (PB)
        • Level two – 10 (PB)
        • Level three – 30 (R, full ROM)
        • Level four – 15 (RTO and held at 45 degrees past parallel)
        • Level five – 15 (RTO and held at 45 degrees past parallel, straight body, leaning forward at 45 degrees)
      • Planche progressions:
        • Level one – 15 sec. (Frog)
        • Level two –  15 sec. (Tuck)
        • Level three – 10 sec. (Advanced Tuck)
        • Level four – 5 sec. (Straddle)
        • Level five – 3 sec. (Lay)
    • Pulling
      • Pull ups (begin some weighted pull up work at level two)
        • Level one – 3 KPU (chin over bar)
        • Level two – 20 KPU, 12 DPU (chin over bar)
        • Level three –  40 KPU, 20 DPU (chest to bar, move on to weighted pull ups)
        • Level four – 25 DPU to lower sternum (move on to weighted pull ups)
        • Level five – 25 DPU to belly button (move on to weighted pull ups)
      • One arm pull up/chin up:
        • Level one –  n/a
        • Level two –  n/a
        • Level three –  10 sec. one arm pull up/chin up negative
        • Level four – 1 (each arm)
        • Level five –  5 (each arm)
      • Back lever:
        • Level one – 1 skin the cat (piked with straight legs)
        • Level two –  10 sec. (advanced tuck)
        • Level three –  12 sec. (half lay)
        • Level four –  10 sec. (lay)
        • Level five –  20 sec. (lay)
      • Front lever:
        • Level one – 1 skin the cat (piked with straight legs)
        • Level two –  10 sec. (advanced tuck)
        • Level three –  8 sec. (half lay)
        • Level four –  5 sec. (lay)
        • Level five – 12 sec. (lay)
    • Handstands
      • Handstand hold
        • Level one – 60 sec. (AW)
        • Level two – 120 sec. (AW), 15 sec. (FS)
        • Level three – 45 sec. (FS)
        • Level four – 10 sec. (OAH, fingertip assist)
        • Level five – 5 sec. (OAH)
      • HSPU:
        • Level one – n/a
        • Level two – 5 (AW, G)
        • Level three – 2 (full ROM, AW, PB), 15 HSPU (AW, G)
        • Level four – 15 (full ROM, AW, PB), 2 (FS, PB)
        • Level five – 15 (FS, PB)
      • Handstand press
        • Level one – Headstand press (elephant press)
        • Level two – 2 press to handstand (G, any method)
        • Level three – 2 straddle presses to handstand (G, SA, SL)
        • Level four – 5 pike presses to handstand (G, SA, SL), 1 press to handstand (R, any method)
        • Level five – 3 pikes presses to handstand (R, SL)
    • Seats
      • L-sit:
        • Level one – 5 sec. tucked L-sit
        • Level two – 25 sec. L-sit
        • Level three – 60 sec. L-sit (G), 10 ft. L-sit walk
        • Level four – 30 ft. L-sit walk
        • Level five – 75 ft. L-sit walk
    • Legs
      • Broad Jumps:
        • Level one – 6 ft.
        • Level two – 8 ft.
        • Level three – 9 ft. ­­­
        • Level four – 10 ft.
        • Level five – 10.5 ft.
        • World Record – 12 ft. 2 in. (Arne Tvervaag, Norway)
      • Standing Vertical Jump:
        • Level one – 10 in.
        • Level two – 18 in.
        • Level three – 24 in.
        • Level four – 28 in.
        • Level five – 34 in.
        • World Record – 48-52 in.  (Unverified and Speculative)
      • Standing Box Jump:
        • Level one – 18 in.
        • Level two – 30 in.
        • Level three – 40 in.
        • Level four – 50 in.
        • Level five – 60 in.
        • World Record – 58-68+ in. (Unverified and Speculative)
      • Pistols (each leg):
        • Level one – 5 step ups on 24 in. box
        • Level two –  5 pistols
        • Level three – 5 pistols +25% BW
        • Level four –  5 pistols +50% BW
        • Level five – 5 pistols +75% BW
      • Natural leg curls:
        • Level one – n/a
        • Level two – 1 negative – 3-5 sec.
        • Level three – 1 negative – 8-10 sec.
        • Level four – 3 concentric
        • Level five – 10 concentrics with eccentric
    • Combined push/pull
      • Muscle up:
        • Level one – n/a (work on dips and pull ups)
        • Level two – 1 (DH, R, RTO at top and bottom; symmetrical), 1 (bar; symmetrical)
        • Level three – 10 (strict, DH, B)
        • Level four – 5 +25% BW (R)
        • Level five – 30 in 2.5 min. (R, kipping allowed), 2 with 50% BW (R)
    • Parkour Specific Movements
      • Climb up (climb up from a hanging position on the wall)
        • Level one – Beginner climb up (by any means necessary)
        • Level two – Intermediate climb up (symmetrical arms, distinct pull up and dip motions)
        • Level three – Advanced climb up (symmetrical and straight arms, appears to be one fluid motion)
        • Level four – 5 climb-up test, <15 sec
        • Level four – 5 climb-up test, <10 sec
      • Wall run vertical (subtract standing reach from wall run reach)
        • Level one – 22 in.
        • Level two – 40 in.
        • Level three – 52 in.
        • Level four – 62 in.
        • Level five – 70 in.
      • Vault exit distance (max exit distance over a 3 ft. wall; any type of vault)
        • Level one – 4 ft.
        • Level two – 8 ft.
        • Level three – 10.5 ft.
        • Level four – 12.5 ft.
        • Level five – 14 ft.
  • Weight training
    • Strength
      • Weighted dip (PB)
        • Level one – 3 reps at BW
        • Level two – 1.4x BW
        • Level three – 1.7x BW
        • Level four – 1.9x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Weighted pull up
        • Level one – BW
        • Level two – 1.4x BW
        • Level three – 1.7x BW
        • Level four – 1.9x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Bench press
        • Level one – .85x BW
        • Level two – 1.2x BW
        • Level three – 1.5x BW
        • Level four – 1.75x BW
        • Level five – 1.9x BW
      • Press
        • Level one – .5x BW
        • Level two – .75x BW
        • Level three – .95x BW
        • Level four – 1.1x BW
        • Level five – 1.2x BW
      • Deadlift
        • Level one – 1.5x BW
        • Level two – 2x BW
        • Level three – 2.4x BW
        • Level four – 2.75x BW
        • Level five – 3x BW
      • Back squat
        • Level one – 1.25x BW
        • Level two – 1.75x BW
        • Level three – 2.15x BW
        • Level four – 2.4x BW
        • Level five – 2.6x BW
      • Overhead squat
        • Level one – .65x BW
        • Level two – 1x BW
        • Level three – 1.3x BW
        • Level four – 1.45x BW
        • Level five – 1.65x BW
    • Power
      • Clean and Jerk
        • Level one – .75 x BW
        • Level two – 1.25 x BW
        • Level three – 1.6 x BW
        • Level four – 1.85 x BW
        • Level five – 2x BW
      • Snatch
        • Level one – .6x BW
        • Level two – 1x BW
        • Level three – 1.3x BW
        • Level four – 1.45x BW
        • Level five – 1.65x BW

1 Based on C2 rankings for all weight classes and genders.
2 The idea was originally inspired by a set of standards put forward by CrossFit North several years ago. Many of the ideas in the introduction are influenced as such. A copy of their skill standards can be found here.

For the change log, see Page 2.

Setting and Achieving Goals

I. Setting Goals
II. Commitment to Achievement
III.Goals List

Setting Goals

A problem that we often see with beginners is that they do not know how to set goals. Goals are an integral, yet often overlooked, component of an effective training program.   Sure, one can make progress without goals — but performance increases skyrocket when high quality goals are set.

Firstly, what is a goal?  According to Merriam Webster, goals are “the end toward which effort is directed.” In terms of training, high quality goals are tangible feats, measured by metrics, that you wish to accomplish.  Below are some examples of high quality goals:

  1. Perform 10 dips on parallel bars with good form.
  2. Run 400 meters in 60 seconds.
  3. Reduce body fat to 15%.
  4. Put on 10 pounds of muscle.
  5. Lose 10 pounds of fat.

Now, when most people set their goals for the first time it is common to see very low quality goals.  Low quality goals are typically not well defined and not based in a metric.  That is, they don’t include any numbers.  For example, some low quality goals are listed below:

  1. Improve on dips.
  2. Run without getting winded.
  3. Lose weight.
  4. Gain muscle mass.
  5. Get fit.

We want to establish high quality goals, based on numbers, because we can construct a routine around these goals.  In other words, routines are based on progressions towards high quality goals.  If you have a goal to perform 10 dips then it is logical that you need to first build up the capacity to perform a single dip, then 2 dips, then 3 dips, etc.

If you are still having a hard time understanding how to set high quality goals then you should keep the SMART model in mind:

Time and Resource Constrained

With that said, make sure that your goals are in line with your overarching objective.  Let’s use Bob and Alice as examples.  Bob wants to “get stronger” but has set a goal of 150 pushups in a single set.  This is somewhat lackluster since 150 pushups in a row is a feat of endurance, not a feat of strength.  In another example, Alice wants to “have great handstands” so a goal of performing 30 pullups will not move her closer to her goal.

An easy way to make sure that your SMART goals are in line with your ultimate aim, you should break down your desired movements into separate, distinct components.  Going back to Bob, he may want to consider pursuing high strength gymnastics techniques like the planche or perhaps set a goal of performing a squat with two times his body weight on his back.   Alice, by contrast, may want to break down the handstand into two separate SMART goals of holding a handstand for 2 minutes against the wall and perform a 30 second freestanding  handstand.

One caveat is that many trainees feel that they can improve their performance by sticking to low intensity body weight exercises.  An example of this is Bob; he wants to “get strong” by doing 150 pushups in a single set.  Speaking more generally, I understand that many people want to stick to bodyweight exercises because it is cheaper and more convenient than weightlifting. Bodyweight exercises are great because you don’t need to go into a gym where people are screaming and grunting while doing leg extensions – a definite plus. Let us be clear, though, doing 150 push-ups in a row does not mean you are strong – it means you have good endurance doing push-ups. If you wish to gain strength through bodyweight training then you must get creative and broaden your horizons. If you really have an interest in increasing endurance then you will find that it is much easier to see endurance gains when you are already very strong and powerful.

A lack of strength will always limit you in all other domains – technique, endurance, skill, balance, flexibility (active and passive), agility, coordination, etc. You must be strong in order to excel in all of these other domains. The converse is typically not true.  It is important to keep this in mind as you set your goals.

To understand how goals drive for progress then continue on to Page 2.

10 Common Mistakes in Achieving Fitness/Performance Goals

Over the past few years, I have made many mistakes and really learned a lot about my training, my diet, my performance, and myself. I feel it would be appropriate to share those mistakes with others. Additionally, some of these mistakes are not my own, but mistakes that I commonly see others make.

1) Mistake: Not Enjoying the Process

Let’s be realistic – human beings typically don’t do things they don’t enjoy. Diet and training are no exception.

This is not to say that you need to love every minute at the gym. When I am going in for my last set of a heavy squat I sometimes can’t help but stare at the ground and mutter, “I really don’t want to do this.” The same goes for the sets of work for one-armed chin-ups. The negative feelings, however, are far outweighed by the positive. All in all, when I walk out of the gym I find that I thoroughly enjoyed myself – despite the fact that I may have had a bad day or didn’t perform as well as I wanted.

Similarly, when it comes to diet, very few of us are happy to watch everyone else eat the birthday cake or huge bowl of ice cream. Forcing yourself to sit on the sidelines of social eating is going to set you up for a poorly balanced diet. This is because many people fall back into the trap of consistently eating poorly after a “day off” from eating well.

This gives rise to two troubling questions: How can I enjoy what I hate? How can I consistently stay away from what I love?

To address the first question, we need to find goals that you would absolutely love to achieve. Maybe you really want to run that mile track around the park. Maybe you play in a weekend softball league and would like to get around the bases faster. Maybe you just saw a video of someone demonstrating parkour and that really lit your fire. Everyone’s life involves movements – find the movements you really enjoy performing and identify workouts and short-term goals to achieve them. Going to the gym for years to “look good” will have one of the following results:
(a) You stop working out after a short time.
(b) You get bored and become jaded.

To address the second question the answer is simple: don’t. Dieting and training doesn’t need to be boring. If you seriously don’t like tuna and brussell sprouts then you don’t need to eat them even though they are undeniably “healthy” foods. Instead, identify those foods that are really enjoyable to you AND considered healthy. Make a menu of these healthy foods and then you know exactly what you can eat and what you can avoid. Even then, once you have established a relatively “healthy” way of eating you may want to incorporate a scheduled “cheat day” into your routine. Avoiding the things you love for an unpredictable period of time is a proven cause of stress. Having a cheat day alleviates immediate stress; scheduling the cheat day alleviates long-term stress.

The key to healthy living and dieting is consistency. If you have one day a month or week where you eat a terrible meal that’s not a travesty. If you have terrible meals every day then its a problem. The best way to stay consistent in eating healthy is to schedule a cheat day (one day a week or something similar) and stick to it no matter what. This helps keep sanity and you get to really eat the things you love.

2) Mistake: Not Understanding Mistakes

Over my years of training in various disciplines, I obviously made many mistakes, learned a bunch, and grew from it. I see many people who, in their training, lack the open-minded nature to understand that what they are doing is not correct. Rather than admit that they may be wrong, they continue to do poor workouts without exploring their methodology. Understanding that you will err in some way is an important part of the growth process.

Mistake: Working Too Hard

When most people find their way into an athletic lifestyle, they get addicted to their sport and to being active. This is great but comes with a major caveat.

Many athletes, even some who consider themselves seasoned, often neglect the importance of rest and recovery into their regimens. Working out for 6 hours, 7 days a week, is a bit overkill. When I first fell into my athletic lifestyle I was going to the gym twice a day for 3 hours at a time, then would scratch my head as to why my performance was not improving.

A vast majority of the population can be considered a novice or intermediate trainee. At this level one can recover quite quickly from the stresses of a workout. Therefore, a short, 20-30 minute workout 6 days of every 8 will provide substantial performance gains. Depending on goals, these times and cycles will vary, but the bottom line is that less is usually more.

You must remember that you are an individual, and your own rest cycles will be determined based on your personal level (novice, intermediate, advanced, or elite) in your domain (all inclusive, power lifter, weight lifter, long-distance runner, short-distance runner, bodybuilder, etc.).

Mistake: Violating KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

A common error I see among novices, self included, is a lack of simplicity in diet and exercise routines. Usually those who become obsessed with fitness start reading very much, from very different sources. The sources never seem to agree and always seem to have very strong points that contradict one another.

Results, however, are one thing that you can never, ever question. At a novice and intermediate level, keep your workouts simple. Do not worry about your fast and slow twitch fibers. Don’t worry about your energetic pathways. Don’t worry about your omega-3 to omega-6 ratios in your diet. Sure, these things are important, but you are better off worrying about them when you know much more about them. If you stick to eating real, whole foods in tandem with a regular workout program then you can certainly see major results before you have much knowledge about the details.

If you try to make things too complicated too soon, it is disheartening and you wind up swearing off training, diet, research or all three because it is much too complicated.

An important thing to remember is that, no matter who says any different, no one knows EXACTLY how the body works. An overwhelming number of biological and physiological findings have occurred within the past 20 years, and most of the groundbreaking discoveries have only been happening in the past 100 years. Hell, DNA was only discovered in the 1940s. The effects of IGF-I on muscle growth are still being explored, and were only been discovered about a decade ago.

The point is, don’t let yourself get bogged down by science that is still yet incomplete. Train for results.

Mistake: Blindly Following Sources/Informers

This is where the fitness industry fails horribly in delivering quality content to its members. Standing in line at the grocery store you can be looking at five different magazines – each of which is advertising 10 days to flat abs or 30 days to sexy legs. Sadly, an overwhelming number of people begin a program involving these ineffective cookie-cutter workouts. The results are never good – this is just a bad idea.

Another bad idea is to not question a more scientific or practical source – such as an article from the Journal of Applied Physiology or the ACE’s certified personal trainer study guide.

Having dealt with dozens of PhDs and trainers on a daily basis, all of whom are well respected in their field, I have come to learn much about the knowledge possessed by both individuals on opposite sides of the spectrum. Whether the source in question is a PhD or a trainer, they have respect from a group of people somewhere. Their certifications, degrees and titles leave people with the impression that they know what they are talking about. While many PhD holders and trainers have an in-depth knowledge of a specific aspect of their field, oftentimes the buck stops there. Some individuals in these positions realize the limitations of their expertise. Others, however, apply their specific knowledge to a broad domain – which results in myths and falsehoods spreading through the fitness industry like wildfire. A good example of this is how many studies attempt to extrapolate data found in a nutritional study based on a population of ten undergraduate students.

Recent studies are showing that individuals totally turn off the part of their brain associated with critical thinking and counterarguing when they are confronted with advice from someone they consider an “expert.” [1] The way to counter this natural tendency is to remain vigilant and question all sources.

With this in mind, anything written by a trainer or PhD should be taken with a grain of salt until they have been proven credible through your own research or their acceptance in the fitness community in which you belong. Even then, one should constantly be trying to reevaluate the validity of the expert statements. Would you convict someone of murder based on a single eyewitness testimony? Some more hard evidence is usually needed.

You should always question what people tell you, including those who are “credible.” What you will come to realize over time is that some people know very much about one domain but know little about another. For example, Fred Hatfield (a.k.a “Dr. Squat” and, anecdotally, a PhD holder) knows much about heavy squatting, but I would not go to him for advice or information specific to planche progressions. Some (poor) trainers think that because they know much about one domain, that they know much about all domains. This is just not true. You will never see an expert on airplanes trying to fix a locomotive. They are two different things, both accomplishing similar goals, and you should keep this in mind when reading articles or asking advice from trainers.

A true professional trainer will not only enjoy answering these questions, they will likely be happy that you asked. If your trainer gets upset by questions like this I would seriously question their experience and merit.

Mistake: Lack of Goals

Goals are pretty much the only reason any of us exercise. Training is a means of achieving your goals. You probably have goals even if you don’t think you do. However, you likely have not framed them in a quantifiable, useful manner.

For a long time I had no quantifiable goals, I just wanted to “look better” or “not be fat.” You run into this mistake with a lot of people, in my experience. Their only goal falls into the following categories: “be skinny,” “workout without getting too big,” “be healthy,” “looking good naked.” To fix this trend, it is important to make sure your goals are quantifiable. Setting quantifiable goals, a wide variety of them, will accelerate your training vastly whether you are male or female.

Quantifiable goals usually have a magnitude and specific direction. “Be able to perform 10 kipping pullups” is a good quantifiable goal. “Lose 10 pounds by May 1” is another good example.

Firstly, setting quantifiable goals gives you direction. It gives you something to check off a list. Studies show that creating to-do lists, and then checking things off of them, actually releases neurotransmitters that heighten mood. If you don’t believe this, try it for yourself – you will notice that crossing something off your list actually does give you a little bit of a high.

This is what psychologists call “positive reinforcement” and is known as the most effective method of behavior modification. We are modifying you as an athlete and your dedication to your training. Taking advantage of your biochemistry and psyche is a great way to accelerate your training and keep you focused on an ever-changing list of achievements. Before you know it, the list of goals gets tremendous and you have tons of new things that you want to do. With a longer goals list there is just that much more room for growth.

Mistake: Failure to Keep a Log

This is another one that is pretty major and often overlooked. When you do finally set goals, how do you know when you have achieved them if you never write them down? If you do write them down, but do not note your progress, how do you know that you are actually getting closer to your goal? If you feel like you are on a hamster wheel in your training, looking back over your log is a great way to make sure that you are not just running in circles but actually progressing.

Another aspect of log keeping, especially in a skill sport like parkour, gymnastics or weight lifting, is often overlooked. Recording your training in a log allows you to record how you have been FEELING during these workouts. Sure, your day of training might have sucked, but you might have felt that you were not up to par that day. Maybe you had a stuffy nose or you went on a bender the night before, which negatively impacted your performance. It also lets you note how much fear and/or confidence you had that day. I recently went to the Museum of Sports in NYC where some logs of elite-level athletes were put on display. Each of these logs not only listed performance metrics, but also their state of mind and thought process. It was nice to see things like “Felt great today, focused on positive thoughts and the game went really well” in an olympian’s training log. These small, seemingly insignificant thoughts impact your training, which impacts you reaching your goals.

Another benefit to keeping a log, especially if you maintain it on a forum, is that this leaves it open to critique and criticism. At this point, you should understand that you WILL make mistakes. Asking others, especially those with more experience than you, to review your logs allows you to get more detailed advice from them and achieve your goals faster.

8) Mistake: Misunderstanding Workouts Selection

It is extremely important to understand why you are doing what you are doing.

Perhaps someone suggested that you do a 5×5 linear progression on olympic lifts. Maybe another person told you to do a split routine including biceps curls, bench presses and front shoulder raises.

Which one do you do? What influenced your decision?

If you honestly don’t know why you do the exercises you are doing, then I recommend that you STOP doing them until you figure that out. A good example of this is wall sits. Many people do this exercise, but why? There are few, if any, situations where your body will be in this position functionally. Yet many people train this, some of them with goals to hold wall sits for over an hour. There are many workouts and goals like this. If that is what you want to do, then more power to you, but you should understand WHY you are doing it.

Once you identify why you are doing a certain movement, you should really verify that this movement/technique will actually help you achieve your goals. This can be done by seeking out external resources and experts with more experience and better formulated opinions than your own while you figure out the details.

9) Mistake: Arrogance

Once I started hitting some of my goals, particularly in weight loss, I began to think that if anyone needed advice they should come to me. It took me being put in my place by quite a few people before I realized that I did not know it all. I think this is just human nature, because since I realized the error of my ways, I have noticed this is a problem with many people.

One thing to remember when giving advice is that there will always be someone out there with more knowledge and information than you. Unless you can back it up with solid facts, don’t say it or pretend like you know anything about it.

Coaching people takes experience. Not just experience doing something for yourself, but experience as a teacher and a trainer. You need a solid understanding of what you are trying to coach. A solid understanding denotes that you have examined multiple people from multiple angles.

At my current level of experience and understanding I do not consider myself any sort of authority in any aspect of fitness. This is why I give most of my advice with the disclaimer that it’s based on my personal research and opinions rather than my professional knowledge.

This is something many people can, and will, learn the hard way. The hard way means posting or speaking out in public and being put in your place brutally by someone who knows much more than you. When this happens to you, then my advice is to embrace the moment, be humbled and hit the gym/library to learn more so it doesn’t happen again.

Mistake: Reinventing the Wheel

We see further ahead by standing on the shoulders of giants. That is, we learn more by learning from those before us. As I said before, there is no real reason to try to invent movements or ways of training. People have been training for centuries. Some of the best methods of getting strong and fast for long periods of time are already well known and developed.

It will save you a lot of time if you learn to ask the right questions and read the right articles so that you can stick with what has been shown to work, as opposed to trying new things that will just impede your training.

While gains at the highest levels of performance are constantly being reevaluated, you should wait until you know more about the techniques surrounding your goals before attempting to work out like an elite athlete.

Keep it simple and always focus on achieving your goals!


  1. Engelman, J. B., Capra, C. M., Noussair, C., and Berns, G. S. (2009). Expert financial advice neurobiologically offloads financial decision-making under risk. Public Library of Science One, 4, e4957, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004957.