by Russ Harris, Head of Education

by Russ Harris, Head of Education

It is possible to train intelligently, by definition there must also be un-intelligent training. As in any arena, an un-intelligent approach is characterised by rushed or impetuous decisions, an absence of enquiry or understanding about the current knowledge on the topic and this approach may manifest as a lack of ability to execute actions in line with a true representation of reality, leading to potential misjudgements, misfortune and a reliance on luck rather than judgement. 

An educated and therefore arguably more intelligent method of training will more reliably prevail over a mis-informed or uninformed training approach because of our ability to predict the impact a chosen training approach will have on not just our bodies but every aspect of our lives. This gives us control over our body and training programme, leading to greater understanding and enjoyment in the nuances of training.


Why intelligent training?

Basing an educated approach to training on the philosophy that you have one body for the rest of your life, that mind and body are intrinsically connected and therefore any pain or ill fortune that our bodies suffer our minds must also suffer. It is prudent then to train with a level of self care that is more likely to result in long term health and wellbeing. 

Paradoxically our bodies are both fragile and strong, an unintelligent approach utilising little preparation before engaging in a training programme or involving little theoretical or experiential knowledge about the fundamentals of how the human body functions and adapts will put us at greater risk of finding out how bodies can be fragile. The opposite however, combining a deep understanding of how the body functions and using a measured approach, is much more likely to allow us to enjoy the benefits of sustainable training whilst navigating around niggles and injuries. 

Some will see an intelligent approach as a soft approach, however mistaking self care for the relinquishing of results, is in itself a mistake. Using the scientific method and research to guide decisions around training styles will help us avoid unnecessary trial and error and lead us towards applying the minimal effective dose. This approach actually increases the speed at which we can bring about a desired outcome more quickly than the ‘shoot in the dark’ estimates of unintelligent training. 


Based on this philosophy there are four pillars of intelligent training:

The 4 pillars of intelligent training

  • A critical eye 
  • Joint preparation 
  • Variation
  • Specificity


A Critical Eye

A critical eye is best developed by filming and watching your movement in the mirror. The advantage of this method is that you are able to match up how a movement looks with how it feels. Filming is best done from the front and from the side, this way you can see if anything is out of position or if there are asymmetries that could potentially cause discomfort should they reappear constantly through your training. Videos allow you to monitor changes to the way you move over time as a reference tool to look back at the way you used to move. 


Joint Preparation

Joint preparations is a combination of mobility exercises and activation drills. Mobility allows us to control a greater range of movement and is best developed through the use of stretching and complex movement skills. Done well it helps balance tension throughout the body to avoid excessive tightness and promotes efficient movement patterns. A mobile body will be less likely to suffer discomfort from musculoskeletal dysfunction. 

Activation drills are comprised of isometric and movement drills designed to increase the feedback the brain receives from muscles in order to develop the connection between brain and body. When done well, muscles will ‘feel’ active and we will be more able to tense individual muscles or muscle groups, putting us in control of how our bodies produce certain movements.  



Variation is a key component of any well designed exercise programme, it helps prevent overuse injuries by varying movement patterns and spreading fatigue and training load across the body and across the programme. Another advantage to variation is that it keeps the programme mentally stimulating and avoids tedium. If good body awareness and joint preparation are combined properly then the range of exercises available to us will be larger, a larger exercise repertoire will broaden the range of skills we can develop and lead to a more capable and robust body, more resistant to injury and pain. Variation can be variation of exercises and/or variation within exercises, this is true to of load and rest etc. A good programme therefore will have different exercises and also different variations of those exercises.



Specificity is the fourth pillar and focuses our training by manipulating variables such as load, rest, volume, intensity etc to bring about different outcomes. We may want to get stronger, we may like to get bigger and build muscle, despite some overlap there are different training styles that are more likely to bring about each goal. So although movement patterns can be ubiquitous the style of those patterns needs to be specific to a training outcome, for instance if you want to get stronger then it is beneficial to lift heavy weights, for aerobic capacity however (the ability to maintain a high heart rate for prolonged periods) it is not vital to lift heavy.