Work out just enough.

Men's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

In one cor­ner of a Texan gym, coach Cris­tian Plas­cen­cia has a client crawl­ing along the turf. In an­other, a broad­shoul­dered man in his 30s wob­bles on (and ten im­pres­sive sec­onds later, falls from) a bal­ance board. Near a Sk­iErg ma­chine, di­rec­tor of sports per­for­mance Jeremy Hills yells over the Drake blar­ing on the PA sys­tem, push­ing fa­mous NFL run­ning back Ja­maal Charles through a se­ries of lunges done with a light ket­tle­bell. A hall­way away, Sam Pogue, a sports-per­for­mance coach, in­structs a CrossFit ath­lete on flaw­less handstand form.

This isn’t the kind of train­ing you ex­pect to see at your lo­cal gym – let alone at the On­nit Academy Gym, a train­ing fa­cil­ity in an of­fice park ten min­utes from down­town Austin. This is a gym that counts Amer­i­can star ath­letes Jonathan Toews and Dun­can Keith, Philadel­phia Phillies base­bll player Jake Ar­ri­eta, and Seat­tle Sea­hawks foot­baller Earl Thomas as clients. Shouldn’t its ath­letes be bench-press­ing mounds of weights and drip­ping pools of sweat?

Ap­par­ently not. On­nit de­fies what you know about con­ven­tional fit­ness. The gospel ac­cord­ing to On­nit and its train­ers preaches that you shouldn’t al­ways lift heavy, and you should train with more than bar­bells and dumb­bells. They use maces, clubs, and bat­tle ropes – gim­micks else­where – as train­ing sta­ples, promis­ing you’ll feel and func­tion bet­ter.

Lofty boasts from a place that didn’t ex­ist five years ago. Be­fore 2014, On­nit was mostly known as a sup­ple­ment com­pany that ped­dled fringe-but-buzzy nootrop­ics such as Al­pha Brain, and it had a big-name fan in co­me­dian Joe Ro­gan. On­nit CEO Aubrey Mar­cus wanted to add a fit­ness arm, so he reached out to John Wolf, a vet­eran trainer with a love for un­con­ven­tional meth­ods who was run­ning a gym in Cal­i­for­nia. Wolf came on as chief fit­ness of­fi­cer, and over the past three years, he’s es­tab­lished On­nit as a haven for unique train­ing ideas – some of which are worth in­te­grat­ing into your own work­outs.


Most cer­ti­fied train­ers are schooled to build work­outs with a “tri­pla­nar” phi­los­o­phy. This says your body moves in three planes: out in front of you (walk­ing), out to your sides (lat­eral shoul­der raises), and with your up­per body twist­ing.

Wolf, the main ar­chi­tect of On­nit’s ap­proach, talks of some­thing else: ro­ta­tion. To him, you ei­ther cre­ate ro­ta­tion or must re­sist all ro­ta­tion dur­ing any ex­er­cise, from a plank (fa­mous for its anti-ro­ta­tion chal­lenge) to a pull-up, in which your arms ro­tate sub­tly. Watch­ing how you man­age ro­ta­tion re­veals your weak­nesses. “We’re look­ing at these asym­met­ri­cal pat­terns, asym­met­ri­cal loads, and us­ing those to high­light what may be de­fi­cient,” Wolf says. “If we ad­dress your weak­est link, then the whole sys­tem is go­ing to ben­e­fit.”

This is the ad­van­tage of train­ing with maces. Un­like the dumb­bells and bar­bells you use typ­i­cally, maces and clubs are heav­ier on one side, cre­at­ing what’s called an off­set load. Imag­ine a bar­bell with a ten­pound weight only on its left side. Dead­lift that bar, grip­ping it as if it had weight on both ends and keep­ing it par­al­lel to the ground. The move should fire up your obliques, and do­ing ex­er­cises with a mace or club will ac­com­plish the same.

Good old body-weight moves can also chal­lenge your body ro­ta­tion­ally. Do a plank, and with­out mov­ing your hips, lift your right arm off the ground, reach­ing it for­ward. Al­ter­nate arms for 45 sec­onds, then rest for 15; do 3 sets. Or DIY a mace at your gym, plac­ing a 2.5kg (or 5kg) weight on only one side of a bar­bell.


The tra­di­tional way to add chal­lenge to an ex­er­cise: up the weight or reps. But that’s not your only op­tion, thanks to those maces and clubs, which not only add core chal­lenge but also make lighter weights feel heav­ier. Why? You’re lift­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from your nor­mal. Apart from the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, it keeps your work­out from get­ting bor­ing. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity to ex­cite your­self with some­thing other than just the in­crease in load as a mea­sure­ment of suc­cess,” Pogue says.

He doesn’t use the word ex­cite lightly. Mus­cles must adapt to dif­fer­ent pat­terns of re­sis­tance with maces and clubs, a key to how On­nit chal­lenges ath­letes with lighter weights. These ex­er­cises also at­tack sta­bil­is­ing mus­cles that get over­looked in bar­bell and dumb­bell train­ing.

But you don’t need maces and clubs to make all this hap­pen. Sim­ply bench­press­ing with dumb­bells in­stead of a bar­bell, or do­ing lunges while hug­ging a heavy medicine ball against your chest in­stead of hold­ing dumb­bells at your sides, can chal­lenge your body in a novel way, en­gag­ing new sta­bil­is­ing mus­cles.


If Wolf had his way, you’d en­sure train­ing in­cluded rest and re­cov­ery. Proper re­cov­ery stim­u­lates your parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, low­er­ing your heart rate and re­lax­ing mus­cles. Your fast-paced life of­ten stim­u­lates your sym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tem, ac­cel­er­at­ing heart­beat and quick­en­ing breath­ing; a state that, if sus­tained, wears you down.

This isn’t rev­o­lu­tion­ary; from foam rollers to mo­bil­ity drills that end CrossFit work­outs, fit­ness has em­braced re­cov­ery ideas. But On­nit fo­cuses so in­tently on re­cov­ery that Plas­cen­cia and oth­ers coach a daily “dura­bil­ity” class ded­i­cated to, among other things, mo­bil­ity drills.

Wolf of­ten spends 20 min­utes of an It’s not all maces and clubs at On­nit; you’ll see plenty of row­ers and bar­bells as well.

hour-long ses­sion do­ing joint mo­bil­ity and ac­ti­va­tion moves be­fore get­ting into the pri­mary work­out.

Spend­ing that long warm­ing up or cool­ing down isn’t al­ways prac­ti­cal, so do what you can. If you have five min­utes, Plas­cen­cia says, you can take the time to move your spine by rolling around on the floor. Yes, re­ally. “Crawl­ing, crouch­ing, rolling; they’re all a big part of a nat­u­rally func­tion­ing, healthy body,” he says.

That’s why Plas­cen­cia loves this drill: lie on the ground on your back and slowly roll onto your belly and then onto your back again. Next, get on all fours and crawl. Such move­ments may seem ba­sic, but in a so­ci­ety that spends most of its time sit­ting and walk­ing, they’re not. “Be­ing able to do some­thing that sim­ple,” says Plas­cen­cia, “is a great in­di­ca­tor of how well we truly move.”

LIGHT CLUB Ex­am­ples of how On­nit chal­lenges your body with­out forc­ing you to max out (clock­wise from top left): Sam Pogue’s sin­gle-arm ket­tle­bell squat, Cris­tian Plas­cen­cia’s roll­back spine stretch, and John Wolf’s off­set-load row.

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