The 6 Overlooked Golden Rules of Training

This post is designed to cover some of the basic aspects of training that unfortunately, are often overlooked. Below, I’ll cover some golden rules that everyone – from high-level athletes to seniors beginning their first training program – should follow.  These are some of the more underrated aspects of training that will make all the difference between simply ‘working out’ and changing your body and your life for the better.

Rule #1: Start each workout with Foam Rolling and a Dynamic Warm-Up.

Rule #2: Good form will get you better results than increased resistance/intensity/duration.

Rule #3: Results matter, not Bio-Feedback.

Rule #4: Healthy eating is simple.  Really.

Rule #5: Sleep is UNDERRATED.

Rule #6: Drink plenty of water for the greatest ‘supplement’ known to humans.


Why have I written all of these down for you?  Because if you train with me, these simple rules will make my job much, much easier:  If results are what you’re after – and if you’ve hired a trainer, they obviously are – these rules will put you on the fast-track to a functional, healthy body.  If you’re choosing to go-it-your-own, I will at least sleep better at night knowing that one more person grasps these simple concepts.  Simple concepts that will help you reach your goals faster while improving your body and life.

Rule #1: Start each workout with Foam Rolling and a Dynamic Warm-Up.

Think you can come straight from home or work, jump right into your workout, and perform at your best?  Think again.  We perform optimally and better avoid injury when we go through a warm-up that does exactly what it says: warms us up.  While the specific warm-up we choose will differ based on our workout and goals, most proper warm-ups share certain similarities:

                Foam rolling: Foam rolling is a popular form of self-myofascial release (a type of soft-tissue therapy) that focuses on the nerves and connective tissue (or fascia) between muscles. Due to overuse and injury, muscle fibers and fascia can become knotted together and, if left untreated, this condition can cause a buildup of movement-impairing scar-like tissue. Foam rolling, massage, and other myofascial release techniques use direct pressure to stretch problem muscles until these knots — and the imbalances they cause — are at least partially removed. And since a single muscle imbalance can lead to faulty movement patterns and joint fatigue, foam rollers are an essential part of most warm-up routines.

                Rather than reinvent the wheel and explain it myself, here’s a great infographic from and video from Eric Cressey on foam rolling instruction:



                Dynamic component: Static (stationary) stretching is ok, but only at the end of your workout to treat specific tight spots.  If we hold a long (30 second) stretch before our workout, studies have shown that we will hinder our performance.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  If we sit still and take long, slow stretches, we will queue our body to relax.  If we warm up with simple, measured movements, we can increase our body ‘awareness’ and blood flow to muscles.  The proper way to warm up is with dynamic movements.  Think of it as training preparation.  While we want to loosen up and increase range-of-motion in our joints, dynamic warm-ups shouldn’t necessarily be taxing on the body.  The more fit you are, or the harder your workout will be, the more dynamic and complete your warm up needs to be.

Here’s a video of a minimalist dynamic warm-up.  More advanced versions will be offered in some of my newsletters.


Rule #2: Good form will get you better results than increased resistance/intensity/duration.

We all want to see improvement.  Lifting heavier weight, moving faster or for longer durations provides empirical evidence that we’re getting better.  Our primary focus however, should be on the integrity of our movements.  The quality of the movements we perform in the gym will affect the quality of our movements in the real world.  Training with poor technique can cause muscle imbalances, joint pain, chronic soreness, and general dysfunction throughout the body.  Training with good form allows us to move efficiently at all times.  I have much more respect for the person who can squat just their bodyweight to full depth than the person that can’t come anywhere near full range-of-motion when squatting 400 lbs.

Rule #3: Results matter, not Bio-Feedback.

The concept of “training until total failure” has gained in popularity in recent years.  Feeling totally wiped out means you got a great workout, right?  No.  It means you simply wiped yourself out.  Anyone can do it.  Hop on a treadmill, push the speed and incline up to the max, run until you puke.  Great.  Now what was gained from doing that?  Other than stressing your Central Nervous System, I have no idea.  I’d much rather work smart than work hard. 

While pushing ourselves to our limits is a good and sometimes necessary thing, it’s not the only thing.  Following smart programming allows our bodies to recover during training and also address specific skillsets on lighter days.  Training with proper programming and planning yields much better results than simply throwing yourself against the wall each and every time you workout.

Remember this the next time you start exercising after a long layoff: Even though you feel great on day one, leave a little in the tank.  I’d rather have you come back to the gym two days later than take a couple weeks off to recover because you’re so sore.

When you see videos of athletes doing hardcore training, note that this is part of a larger training program.  This athlete also does plenty of mobility work, core training, prehab, and active recovery.  They also eat really healthy and get plenty of sleep.  See below.

Rule #4: Healthy eating is simple.  Really.

We all know the basics of eating healthy.  Sometimes nutrition seems very complex, but only because we allow it to be.  Want a rule that is incredibly effective and simple, but seems so difficult for people to adhere to?  – Don’t eat junk food or processed food. EVER.  But, you already knew that, didn’t you?

Even though some concepts are incredibly simple, we’ve fallen victim to so much misinformation that some of the basics are now confusing.  Here are a few great articles addressing some of the big topics in nutrition today:

Carbs and Whole Grains:

Power Foods #1:

Power Foods #2:

Rule #5: Sleep is UNDERRATED.

One third of your life is spent sleeping.  Getting enough quantity of quality sleep is linked to preventing obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular problems.  For day-to-day functioning, poor sleep causes a reduced ability to release valuable hormones that can improve our mood, performance, recovery, and mental faculties.

This, like many of the tips listed here, is a daily struggle until it becomes a habit.  I must however, stress how important this tip is.  I promise you that one extra tv show, or one extra hour of surfing the web will not improve your life nearly as much as an extra hour of sleep per night.  Make this a top priority for two weeks and be amazed at how much better you feel.

Rule #6: Drink plenty of water for the greatest ‘supplement’ known to humans.

The biggest advantage from being well hydrated during exercise is body temperature regulation.  When we’ve consumed enough water, our body can effectively cool itself.  When dehydrated, the body loses this efficiency very quickly.

Once water is consumed, it must be digested, and then transported through the bloodstream to cells.  It takes approximately 45 minutes for water we’ve ingested to truly hydrate our cells.  Showing up to the gym and slurping away on the drinking fountain will only give you a belly full of water sloshing around.  Not the ideal situation for optimal performance.  Continue drinking water throughout the day, but cut back to lightly sipping on water for the hour before your workout.

Don’t have an hour? Reach for some coconut water.  Coconut water contains a good amount of potassium, an essential electrolyte.  Beware though; coconut water is naturally low in sodium, another electrolyte needed for proper hydration.  Several brands don’t contain enough sodium to quickly hydrate.  I recommend the common brands Vita Coco or Zico.  These brands have the highest levels of sodium for faster hydration.

While ‘sport drinks’ do have enough sodium, they often have large amounts of sugar and artificial ingredients.  This is rarely worth it except for certain competition situations.  Outside of that, you should view these drinks as ‘uncarbonated soda pop’.  (Yes, I call it soda pop)

You’ll often see me walking around the gym with a 1 liter re-usable water bottle.  Without that constant reminder by me, it would be tough to drink enough water during the day.  Find what works for you to ensure taking in enough fluids daily.  Just as with the sleep protocol, try to really focus on fluid intake for two weeks and pay attention to the difference it makes.


For some, this may be a lot to digest.  For others, these are obvious rules.  Remember though, knowledge will only take you so far.  It is the actual application of these rules, the DOING that will allow you to reach your results.  The winning formula has been the same since the dawn of time: consistency and dedication.  When you go to exercise or train, do it with integrity.  Initially, focus your ego into training with good form.  After that, you can let it run wild.

‘Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go’ – T.S. Eliot

Ross Oberlin is a Personal Trainer at Fitness Formula Clubs in Oak Park, IL
He can be contacted for training at: 
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