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The Max Shank Interview

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Q & A with Dragon Door Author, Max Shank about his upcoming presentation at the 2016 Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference

Ultimate Program Design for Maximum Efficiency (in and out of the gym)

Dragon Door: What is the biggest mistake most trainers make when putting together training programs for their clients?

Max Shank: When you put a program together you basically have to look at three things. One, it has to produce the desired results or move towards the desired results. Two, it has to manage their time and fatigue well. When they put together training programs, I think a lot of trainers make the mistake of putting together what they would want to do—whether it’s to increase their maximum deadlift or their maximum press or another goal. So, I think that the biggest mistake a trainer can make is to impose their own goals on their clients.

Now, there is a time and place for giving someone a target if they need one—some people come to the gym without a frame of reference, or may need direction to choose a good goal. For example, we usually try to let women know when they come to the gym if they can't do a pull up, then that's something they might want to work towards, because it usually has a special meaning for them. But, I think the biggest mistake trainers make is to impose their own goals on others without really focusing on the needs of the client.

Dragon Door: We know you place a premium on coaching good movement. What are the three best ways to enhance your movement quality?

Max Shank: Movement quality is actually a term I coined in my book, Ultimate Athleticism. It means being able to take your joints through their full range of motion with strength, speed, and coordination. The number one thing you must do is to take your joints through their full range of motion every day—that's huge.

You can do this in a wide variety of ways. You can do it without too much external load, you can even just use your own inflexibility as resistance. You can make circles, do isometrics, or you can stretch into it. There are so many different ways. But, whenever you get a new range of motion, you must be able to do something there. There’s an order of operations, once you can get your joint into position passively by assisting it, you need to keep it there, make circles and other movements to keep that active range of motion.

Max Shank Kettlebell Get-up

Dragon Door: Mobility. Flexibility. Stretching. How do these related modalities contribute to the development of ultimate athleticism?

Max Shank: Well, mobility, flexibility and stretching are basically three sisters. They're all very similar, and they're all related, but they are all still very different. When I think of stretching, I typically think of passive stretching, which is using some sort of assistance to pull your joint into a specific position to stretch the muscles that get long in that position. So, basically if you pull your leg towards your chest while it's straight, the muscles of the hamstring and glute are getting long, and you’re trying to improve your hip flexion. If you are doing this passively, then I'd consider this to be stretching.

Flexibility is basically a measure of how far you can stretch. How far can you passively take your joints through their range of motion?

Mobility is similar to movement quality. Can you can hold the position, do another movement there, and breathe in that position? Can you take it to that position under your own control?

There’s an order to how you gain a new range of motion. Sometimes it will require a little bit of passive stretching to get a new range, then you need to do some kind of active mobility drill to keep that range. So typically, whenever I put together a flexibility program for someone, it will include a combination of passive and active stretching. This is flexibility work, then strength training—which is mobility work to try and own that new range of motion so that your nervous system will remember and keep that range.

Dragon Door: You are a huge proponent of the micro-workout concept. What are the particular benefits from this approach? And any caveats?

Max Shank: I assume you're referring to things like my Five Minute Flow and pre-shower sessions and things like that?

Dragon Door: Right!

Max Shank: Yes, those are a huge part of it, and those two are most important for people who haven't gotten started yet. When you start working with hundreds and thousands of people with their training, you realize that people are in different categories. Some people don’t need any motivation to workout, and are just looking for something new to do And honestly, those people don't need a lot of help, it's pretty straightforward for them. Someone who is already active will bounce around from program to program or thing to thing, or maybe they'll stick to one program for a long time.

But for people who haven't really gotten started yet, you have to look at psychology and habit formation more than anything else. These micro-workouts are much easier to swallow compared to saying, "OK, you are doing nothing right now, but I want you to go to the gym six days a week!" Can you do that? Of course not, that's ridiculous! That's like asking the average person to floss for 30 minutes a day, it's never going to happen. These micro-workouts have the benefit of—and I hate to say "building a habit" because that seems cliché—making it part of a lifestyle. That's the huge key point. If you really want to get exceptional results from a flexibility, strength, or endurance standpoint it happens when you make it part of your lifestyle.

And you do this by taking a small amount of time, like five minutes, and attach it to a trigger. It’s very straightforward with the Five Minute Flow, because it’s done first thing in the morning. My Five Minute Flow is part of a whole routine. So once you have that one thing, a keystone like a Five Minute Flow, it makes you want to do other good things. You will want to eat better and exercise more later in the day. And you will feel better.

It's the same thing with the pre-shower sessions, there's no barriers because even though you're going to get sweaty, you're going to get a shower afterwards anyway. That was the main reason I have not been able to get people to do ten push ups and twenty squats every two hours at work. They say they'll get sweaty at work. And I understand that, so we'll just save it for right before you get into the shower!

The huge key with these micro-workouts is that they become part of your lifestyle, and that’s easy. They provide a much lower barrier to entry, and it's a great way to start people on the path.

Dragon Door: Because of your own athletic accomplishments, many people only half-jokingly refer to you as a "freak of nature." As a kid though, you were relatively weak. What—more than anything else—has made the difference for you in your journey to a model of high-level, all-around athleticism?

Max Shank: Well, I guess I don't mind being called a "freak of nature"… Really, the main thing has been consistency. I've made progress in my own training by doing a lot of different things, but I've also stopped making progress in my own training by doing a lot of different things. Though my training has evolved over the years, the number one thing that's contributed to my progress has been consistency.

I have sustained a ton of non-training related injuries with jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, fifteen years of soccer, boxing, and tennis. I’ve had a lot of contact injuries, like broken toes. My ankles, knees, and hips have sort of gone though it all! But, staying consistent and just focusing on what I can do—rather than focusing on what I can't—is really important. Truthfully, it wasn’t any one thing other than staying consistent for over ten years. Unfortunately, "Ten Year Abs" is a really tough sell compared to "Eight Minute Abs"!

Max Shank will present Ultimate Program Design for Maximum Efficiency (in and out of the gym) at this year's Health and Strength Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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