Understanding Principles vs. Methods

How to Close the Great Training Divide

by: Chad Smith

The United States is arguably the most competitive country in the world. It’s the reason we have the most professional sports leagues, it’s why we have the world’s most successful corporations, and is the home of most of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also why we have a severely divided fitness community.

In every arena of fitness from Olympic Weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit and everything in between, it seems like we are in a never-ending pissing contest on who has the best training solution for a particular goal. You can tune in to almost any training forum, or social media source for the inevitable “internet fight” over which system is best, and why it is the only thing anyone should be doing at all times.

The dogmatic attachment to any system reflects an immature, myopic view of training, and will not only limit your own development, but will also limit the ultimate success of your clients.

For complete development of human performance, exposure to different training methods that are based on solid principles is crucial. But first we have to understand the difference between principles and methods.

Only when we as an industry have a complete understanding of principles and methods will we begin to have an appreciation and healthy respect for the value of the various training systems that are available to ourselves and our clients. Then we can stop arguing over what is “the way”, and start exploring what are our options for giving our clients the most complete training experience possible.

Principles vs Methods

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods by ignoring principles is sure to have trouble.”


noun “a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived”

Principles of strength and conditioning are pretty consistent. And there are actually not a ton of them. The science has existed for decades, and emerging research and practice further confirm and expand on what we know.  Here are the two most important in my view:

  1. Principle of fundamental human movement: we push, pull, hinge, rotate and carry.
  2. Principle of Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand: we train in a way to force the body to produce the desired response.

Notice that I mentioned nothing of a barbell, kettlebell, rings, or sandbags? If you understand principles, you can pick your method. These tools serve the methods that serve principles. Getting this confused, and letting a limited view or ego get in the way is what causes problems for our clients.


noun “a procedure, technique, or way of doing something, especially in accordance with a definite plan”

Would you agree that there is a world of difference between Yoga and CrossFit?

Are there thousands of people who have improved their function and performance doing Yoga? Yep. Are there thousands of  people who have improved their function and performance doing CrossFit? Yep.

Let’s look at a more parallel comparison.

Can you increase power output, and maximal strength through Olympic Lifting? Absolutely. Can you increase power output, and maximal strength through Westside Barbell Training? Absolutely.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 8.21.50 AMLet’s think about tools.

Are there thousands of people building muscle through traditional barbell, dumbbell, and machine based bodybuilding training?

You know it. Are there thousands of people building muscle through pure bodyweight based training? Yes indeed.

Kettlebell training? Yes.

Sandbag training? Yes.

You get the point. What if we focus on the 2 principles I stated earlier and learn to use some or all of the methods to help our clients get stronger, leaner, and more functional with energy for days and a better life?

How about this: What if we as an industry stop boxing ourselves into our methods, start focusing on principles, and learn from each other to better serve our clients? Your way is A way, not THE way. Uh oh, no one wants to hear that.

Guess what? It’s the truth.

Anyone that says otherwise isn’t getting out much. I’ve had the privilege of travelling the country over the course of 20 years of training and learning from some of the best and brightest in the industry, and make it a habit to read everyone’s books and manuals. None of them are permanently attached to their method, but to the principles that SHAPE the method.

The more of us who adopt this mentality into our practice, the better and more effective we will be as an industry, and FINALLY put an end to the infighting and nonsense that divides us.Fitness Revolution License Owner, Chris Smith


Chad Smith is Co-owner of Fitness Revolution in Hagerstown, MD. He writes a weekly fitness column for Herald Mail newspaper, and has trained over 30,000 sessions in his 20 year career.


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