Your 20-minute session with us has to be the most productive 20 minutes possible. That’s what we challenge ourselves with every time a client comes in. Obviously, our service is designed for time-starved people, and that’s why we use High Intensity Interval Training.

What we’re not trying to be (and have no interest in being) is a school of specialist movement skills. We’re not a sport, we’re not an obstacle race, and we are not a place where you learn to do olympic weightlifting. Why? Because we’re clear about what we’re here to do: to provide busy people with the most efficient training experience possible, so you can come in, do what needs to be done, and move on with your day. We get that you have more important things to do in life, so we’ve stripped away the unnecessary distractions.

Highly technical skills like olympic weightlifting and most gymnastics techniques are fantastic and awe-inspiring, but also very, very specialised skills. Ask the people who are the best at them - it takes years to get good, and a lifetime to master. You’re going to need massive amounts of dedication. I’ve focused in on just olympic weightlifting and gymnastics because they are the most widely known, but really the concept of needing to put in a lot of time and effort in order to attain proficiency applies to all complex movement skills. It’s why so few people in the world are good at them.

Don’t get me wrong - there’s nothing wrong with complex movement skills, and I’ve got nothing against them. In fact, quite the opposite. I think they are amazing feats of human capacity and are fantastic examples of control, power, athleticism and strength. And, they’re beautiful sports to watch. The thing is, even though gymnasts and olympic lifters spend years developing these skills, they still get injured doing them. Actually, the hard truth is that a lot of athletes stay stuck in a state of injury management for large chunks of their careers. If you’re pursuing mastery in a sport, you go into it knowing the risk of injury. You take the risk because you’re pursuing mastery and glory. Should this risk of injury be accepted by a busy person who’s simply trying to get fit?

If you’re a time-starved person trying to balance your career advancement, a robust family life, and a vibrant social life, are you really at a stage in life where you have the time to pursue mastery in a physical practice like gymnastics? Are you ready to commit to that?

To safely perform things like olympic weightlifting and gymnastics techniques, most adults who spend a lot of time hunched over a computer would need to spend months working on their mobility, alignment and activation before they can even get into the right positions for the sport. We haven’t even talked about learning the skill yet, let alone being able to load the skill with adequate resistance or intensity to satisfy the part of you that just wants a good workout today. On top of this, you’ll also have to dedicate a lot of time and effort before and after each session to taking care of your tissues and structure (i.e. mobility drills, stretching, massage, etc) so you don’t develop injuries or lose the specific capacities you need for those skills. It’s not impossible by any means - it just takes time. And if this is what you want, I think that’s great and I’m all for it. Whether it’s gymnastics, olympic weightlifting or dance, you should pursue that artform with someone who specializes and has extensive experience in that specific activity.

But let’s be honest - most people choose to come to Ritual because it’s convenient and efficient. We accommodate to your schedule so you can come whenever you can fit us in, and our sessions are over quickly. And it works. You’re probably with us because you value efficiency. You know you need to exercise, but you’re really busy, so you’ve opted for the service that helps you get it done quickly and safely.

The extra little bit of excitement you might get from fancy movements might seem appealing, but at what cost, and for what reasons? If you’re here with the clear purpose of getting your efficient exercise in and you understand what kind of exercise works, is the desire for fanciness mostly just an easy distraction? Obviously, I don’t actually know and it’ll be a little different for everyone, but my intention here is to get you to question it and be real with yourself. You’ve probably got more important things to do today. Should you be trying an unnecessarily complex movement, risking a back injury or wrist injury that will affect how you perform at your important 4pm meeting, or worse, for the next month?

So…what is it that we do, then, because it sure isn’t easy, no matter what your fitness level. Well, we focus on doing the fundamentals perfectly. They are easy to learn and are the safest options, and move the body in ways that require multiple joints, muscles and tissues to move together, in sequence, which in turn teaches appropriate coordination and develops strength that can be carried over to everyday life. We take these simple movement patterns and layer the stress of an increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and gradually increased muscular fatigue over it. The result is very challenging but manageable amounts of stress, with very little risk of injury if done right.

You see, there’s a larger purpose to focusing on the basics that most people don’t realise: we’re not strict about form and strict about mastering the basics just so you can get a good workout today. Using proper alignment in the gym will keep you safe during your training, but it will also slowly educate your body on proper alignment for movement in general. It’s not just about the half-hour you get here - it’s about training the body for efficiency and safe movement in all of life. Your central nervous system learns and remembers the movement patterns that you practice in training because they are stressful and repeated, and these lessons are carried over to real life. If you receive the correct training stimulus consistently, you will enhance the capabilities and resiliency of your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. This is a big reason why you hear clients talking about how their tennis game has improved since joining Ritual, or that they can sprint faster now. It’s also why people start to feel less chronic pain that haunts most adults.

Here’s the part people don’t like to talk about: If you train with poor technique, and let your back round, your knees cave in, and your shoulders slouch forward, you’re encouraging your body to overload certain structures, and also asking your body to learn to replicate these unhelpful and potentially injurious patterns. That’s why we’re so strict about it; that’s why we’re willing to challenge your ego just a little bit if you don’t adjust and rectify your poor alignment. We’re here to watch out for you, to have your back when it comes to staying safe and learning good mechanics. When the heart rate is high, most people (including a lot of high-level athletes) can barely keep their good alignment with even the most basic of movements. So why would we ever want to throw in unnecessarily complex skills like olympic weightlifting and gymnastics? They are awesome skills and are outstanding displays of ability, but you don’t need these skills to develop high levels of general fitness, improved health, and overall athleticism. Especially if they’re executed with poor technique.

Like we talked about in You Get One Body Part 1, you can get away with months, even years, of poor exercise technique (and even get fantastic fat loss and lean muscle gain results from it), but structurally, you’re slowly wearing away at your body’s ability to withstand stress, and you’re teaching your body to move in an unbalanced, compromised manner. It might feel like just a bit of a sore shoulder right now and that a little bit of rounding in your spine is fine, but think about the kind of body you want to have in the long run. Our coaches are trained to spot these movement errors and it is absolutely in your best interests to listen to the corrective advice.

This is not to say that we’re so scared of you getting hurt that we don’t use difficult exercises. If you’re really disciplined and have built yourself a high level of fitness, we’ve carefully curated a series of progressions for all the basic exercises that essentially add a layer or two of complexity or resistance to a fundamental movement pattern, without adding much risk of injury. They may look easy, but even the fittest of our clients and coaches won’t hang out at level 3 for a whole session, and say they’ll use the hardest progressions for days when they are working on strength, and actually drop down a level or two when they really want to push the pace.

We’ve spent a lot of time crafting the training philosophy at Ritual, and continue to spend a lot of time developing and tweaking the programs we do. There’s almost always a specific reason why we don’t include certain things in our programs. We intentionally keep it safe here so we can push you hard in the right ways, and in ways where you’ll be physically challenged without the unnecessary risk of injury.

Uncomplicated does not imply easy, and if you found this article compelling, you’ll probably enjoy how this ties in with last week’s post on how Intensity Is Relative.

Be Brave.

Ian Tan