The Big 3 and the Lucky 7

The Big 3 and the Lucky 7 – A Winning Fitness Strategy

“Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to succeed, but more importantly, what’s your plan to succeed?” — Jim Rohn

Most research concludes that about 80% of those who become "Personal Trainers" don't last in the profession for more than two years.  Looking at the calendar, I realized that the spring of 2024 marks my 15th anniversary as a full-time fitness professional.  In all that time I’ve had the privilege to coach athletes who use their skills to accomplish amazing physical feats like completing marathons, breaking powerlifting records, and winning Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, but also hard-working occupational athletes who fight fires, care for the sick and even perform the most thrilling stunts on the silver screen.


To recognize that I have been training people for the average career lifespan of 7.5 other trainers feels like an accomplishment for sure, but it has also caused me to reflect on the strategy we use to achieve some amazing results.  What are the “vital few” elements that consistently forge successful everyday athletes in today's competitive, fast paced, modern world? These are the Big 3 tangibles that support top-performing professional sports stars and thriving weekend warriors alike:

  1. A periodized program (if we’re trying to get from where we are now to someplace new, we need to follow a map created by someone who has actually made the trip before.)

  2. A coach (if you knew you had to get in the boxing ring and trade blows with a real opponent in just a few months, would you try to train for that fight all by yourself?)

  3. Training partner(s) (they don’t have to be on the same program, but they do have to show up and be as committed as you are.)

With the Big 3 taken care of, let’s get into a few more details of the strategy we choose to carry out an individual training session to ensure that each one takes us a step closer to a better tomorrow.   It’s obvious that the wrong way to approach a heavy lifting session would be to simply arrive on the scene and pick up the biggest load of the day and get to work. Ouch!  If there’s a wrong way to do it, there’s also a right one, so here are the "Lucky 7" elements of a highly effective training session the way we do it at Breakthrough Strength & Fitness. 

1.  Start the session with some form of “reset.” – This might look like a brief breathing meditation, myofascial release with Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls, vestibular or nervous system training or even all of the above.   This helps to quiet the mind, relax the body and serves as a bridge to move the focus from concerns outside the gym to a time focused on self-improvement.   Making a conscious shift to embrace this outcome right as we begin, will noticeably help increase a session's productivity.

2.  Take some time for movement preparation. –  Including a section that explores range of motion, improves mobility and balance while also performing a program-specific muscle activation "systems check" prior to getting into any strenuous movements isn’t strictly necessary, but it is so obviously helpful in keeping us safe and improving our results that it would be negligent to eschew it!  Joint mobility drills and individualized corrective exercises prescribed by a coach are excellent ways to begin training or even make an off-day more productive.


3.  Train your core for strength and skill while you’re fresh. – Practicing a low volume of high tension and rotary stability skills with the muscles of the “core” near the beginning of a session accomplishes a couple of very important things.  First, it allows us to train the core for strength before we’re fatigued and distracted from other resistance training which enables higher levels of muscle activation and focus.  Second, it primes the muscles and skills used to protect the spine during the heavier or harder sets which are about to come.

4.  Include an element of power development, agility or other athletic skill. – Some of our programs work on explosive power and agility throughout, some of them just have a power devoted section in the beginning or the end, but all them have it built in somewhere.  A recent study concluded that the critical power output level required to perform the basics of independent living is about 23.7 watts per kilogram of bodyweight.  If we fall below this threshold ability, just getting up out of a chair and moving around becomes too much of a challenge.  Maintaining a foundation of good health means that we also maintain power and coordination. This translates to more years with the power to move and function independently. 

5.  Prioritize strength training. – Strength is the mother of all physical attributes.  Greater strength will improve the performance of anything. Strength remains the priority for those with body composition goals too.  A body with a higher proportion of lean muscle takes more energy to maintain and as such, will burn more calories, even at rest.  A muscle that is stronger is capable of producing more force.  With more force being produced, the farther each step will carry you, the more powerful each swim stroke, punch or swing of the bat or racket, the higher each jump will be… the list of movements we can improve with resistance training is truly exhaustive.

6.  Train movement patterns, not body parts. – The human body is made to move.  Movement is life.  Movement is based on the performance of an action, not the isolation of a limb.  The human body can (and should) squat, hinge, push, pull and twist.  Training these patterns and their variations (single leg stance, vertical vs. horizontal, moving in different planes etc.) results in a body that is ready for the action of sport, work or recreational activities and whatever else life demands of us.

7.  Save high intensity intervals and other cardio for the end of a resistance training session or another day entirely. – Generally speaking, getting yourself “smoked” and then trying to move something heavy or do something hard just isn’t smart or safe for a training session. Remember that this is training, not testing or a competition day.  If the schedule doesn’t permit energy system work on it’s own day or days, then using an element of it to conclude a strength session is an acceptable compromise.


Strategy, planning and structure differentiate the good from the lucky.  In my years of experience as a fitness professional, I’ve noticed that lots of people are eager to do “work outs,” but comparatively few people take part in actual training, following a structured program. Haphazard bouts of exercise performed all alone can be downright dangerous and won’t likely do much in the name of progress.  And random work outs, even in a group class setting, don’t lead to lasting results.  A program and a coach are what the pros use and it’s not hard to see why.  Then there’s the social support gained by training with other like-minded individuals who encourage us and increase our positive feelings about what we’re doing together.  

The presence of these Big 3 elements can almost guarantee success all by themselves. With those in place, adhering to properly structured training sessions using the components described above can work wonders that go beyond physical.  Feeling good and moving well starts in the brain.  Just like the muscle improvements gained through resistance training, benefits for the mind, spirit and character take place because of (and not in spite of) the way we structure our exercise regimen.  Following a very specific format enables a set of specific results; both physical and otherwise.  

After all, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Cheers! Caleb

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