• The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
    Today, we have more information about fitness and health than ever before. This has allowed professionals to develop better training protocols, movement patterns, and increase speed, power, and agility. Yet no matter how much things change, we still look to the "old" concepts of overload, progression, specificity, and individualism.
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  • Image of football players then and nowThe fitness culture today is always evolving, while at the same time, constantly recycling. In the early days of humankind, fitness was a way of life. Their lives revolved around hunting animals and farming the land to raise crops, both of which require fitness. 

    Also, fitness was used as a means to strengthen the military of a country or empire. 

    The early Greeks performed gymnastics to help promote fitness because they believed in the concept of “a strong body leads to a strong mind.” 

    Fast forward to the early 1940s and again fitness was was used by military leaders during World War II as many soldiers were deemed unfit to serve.  
    In our modern world today, we use fitness to help reduce stress, improve overall health, and reduce injuries; and yet again, we adhere to the concept of “a healthy body is a healthy mind.”So what has changed in our fitness culture? In today’s world, we have more knowledge at our fingertips than we ever had before. All of this knowledge has allowed the fitness professional to develop better training protocols, create better movement patterns, and increase speed, power, and agility—yet we still recycle old concepts.  
    In the 1970s we saw a move away from the classical barbell and a new interest in cam systems. The concept was simple: short, single sets with maximum intensity which would trigger maximal muscle growth. Today we call this high-intensity training, the only difference being that coaches do not use cam systems, but rather sandbags, kettlebells, and anything else they deem functional.

    New concepts are always evolving, such as mobility and stability (Gray Cook and Mike Boyle Joint by Joint Approach) or Dr. Janda’s method of classifying upper and lower crossed syndromes, have changed the way many fitness professionals approach exercise or training. 
    Even training programs experienced an evolution with the creation of block training.  
    Today we have “Workouts of the Day” (WOD) through CrossFit. These incorporate randomizations that can keeps things interesting and fun for the fitness enthusiast, despite the fact that they are not very scientific. However, some things have not changed, no matter how much we want them to. Concepts such as overload, progression, specificity, and individualism have not changed throughout the years. For example, if you want to get stronger, you need to add more weight; if you want to run farther you, need to increase the distance; and if you want to enhance performance, you need to recover.  
    It is ironic because some people continue to change the wheel, eventually morphing it so much they make it square again. Phrases such as “muscle confusion” or “train for the unknown” sound cool, but at the end of the day these the basic principles still apply even in these training programs.
    The job description of a coach has changed throughout the years.  
    Forty years ago, you just had an athletic coach. Then came the personal trainer and eventually athletic programs needed their own strength and conditioning specialist, which then lead to a sports performance coach. Today, we also have wellness coaches, life coaches, and movement specialists. At the end of the day, they are all just “coaches,” which actually means they are teachers.

    There is some mixed speculation on how the word “coach” actually came about. We know that during the 16th century, the Hungarians developed a means of transportation that offered protection and comfort and it was called a “Koch.” Wealthy families used them to travel across Europe, and oftentimes, would have their children tutored within this mode of transportation.

    Over time the usage of the word evolved from an academic teacher to an athletic teacher. In today’s fitness culture, we see more fitness professional move away from the teacher concept and more into the “drill sergeant” roll and using yelling and screaming as a motivational tool. Sayings, such as “poor form in the gym is caused by insufficient yelling” can be dangerous because not everyone can perform certain tasks, and yelling will not help in these cases. 
    One of the greatest coaches in recent years was John Wooden from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) and his philosophy was simple, he was a teacher. Many successful coaches today still apply the Wooden Method of plus, minus, plus. This method is a proven success and creates an open mind to accept correction.

    The fitness industry continues to grow at a faster rate than the average for all other occupations. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fitness trainers and instructors are projected to grow by 24 percent from 2010 – 2020 (1). Much of this growth can be attributed to employee health and wellness programs within business and insurance organizations. 
    As each year passes, a new product or new job title will emerge. Training styles will constantly be recycled from decade to decade, yet what will always remain the same are the foundational elements and fitness professionals’ role for their client or athlete. Thirty years from now, those who continue to master the basic principles and continue to focus on teaching will remain a fixture within this industry forever.
  • Hofman

    About the Author:

    John Hofman, MS, CSCS, USAW-1

    John Hofman, MS, CSCS, USAW-1, is one of the leading experts in the field of Firefighter Health and Wellness. As the strength and conditioning coach for the Sacramento Fire Department, Hofman oversees the Wellness Center, coordinates the department’s medical and fitness assessments, develops recruit fitness training, pre-employment medical and fitness evaluations, and assists the department’s 20 certified Peer Fitness Trainers.


    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013 Edition. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm.

  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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