A few years ago on Mike Robertson’s Physical Preparation Podcast (<— you should check it out if you haven’t already) I listened in as Memphis Grizzlies’ Director of Performance, Chris Chase, went into detail on the concept of the Trainable Menu.
It was such a simple phrase, yet so eloquent of an idea that it:
Blew my mind.
Melted my face.
Made me hate him because I didn’t think of it.
All the above.
I’ve written several blog posts and adopted the concept as my own in the years since, even championing the hashtag #findyourtrainablemenu on Instagram.
It truly is a splendid way to re-frame training (and program design) into highlighting what people CAN do rather than what they can’t.
One of my biggest pet peeves in the industry is when coaches or personal trainers treat program design as this one-size-fits all phenomenon; as if it’s an Old Navy knit scarf.
It drives me bonkers.
To take the mentality that a 60 year old “computer guy” with a history of low back pain (and who hasn’t touched a barbell since Dalton was practicing shirtless kung-fu and busting heads in the movie Road House) should have the same “menu” as a 21 year-old college basketball player is, well, dumb.
Don’t get me wrong.
Across the board – whether we’re talking about computer guys, basketball players, baseball players, someone training for fat loss, or Orcs – there are going to be more commonalities in everyone’s trainable menu than differences.
Meaning, most are going to be squatting, deadlifting, pushing stuff, pulling stuff, throwing stuff, carrying stuff, performing single leg work, doing an array of dedicated core work, and otherwise just getting after it.
However, where the difference show up are in the types or variations of those movement patterns being performed.
As an example, if I am working with a 6’7″ basketball player I’m probably not going to be too concerned with his or her’s ability to squat ass-to-grass.
I mean, it’s possible they’ll be able to do it (and do it well), just like it’s possible I’ll someday make-out with Jennifer Lopez.
But, it’s unlikely.
Rather, more often than not, if I’m working with a tall(er) individual, their trainable menu (which is an amalgamation and compromise between their health/injury history, training goals, ability level, and anthropometry) will consist of things like box squats, rack pulls, elevated Trap Bar deadlifts, pin squats, and the like.
Likewise, I can take the same train of thought with regards to any sport. For instance, I work with a fair number of endurance runners here in Boston; a handful of which train yearly for the Boston Marathon.
Do I have them deadlift?
Can Gandalf smell the color blue?
Of course I do!
Strengthening a runner’s hamstrings and glutes and developing the ability to put more force INTO the pavement – in short: getting strong(er) – will undoubtedly help with getting to the finish line faster.
However, none of them are competitive powerlifters or Olympic lifters so I could care less whether or not they deadlift with a straight bar (or from the ground for that matter).
Every trainable menu should take into account an athlete’s sport, the demands it places on the body, what (s)he needs to do in order to succeed at that sport (from a movement standpoint), and then the cost-benefit of the exercises being prescribed.
To steal my own quote:
“A football strength & conditioning coach may look at a program that doesn’t include Olympic lifts and back squats as a joke.
Well, if we’re not talking about football players, what the fuck? That’s a completely different menu we’re talking about.”
A more germane angle to take would be what I am going through currently with my Achilles injury. For the past several weeks I have been highlighting some of my training sessions on my Instagram feed.
My goal in doing so is to prove to people that I’m still jacked AF despite an injury – even a significant one – you CAN still train.
I remember vividly as my wife and I were driving home after rupturing my Achilles I was sitting in the passenger seat actively building a mental rolodex of exercises I KNEW I was still going to be able to still pull off:
All the bench pressing and pull-ups I wanted.
Affected Leg: open chain band curls and leg extensions, hip clams, etc.
Non-Affected Leg: Supported 1-Leg RDLs, 1-Leg Squats, etc.
Heck, even 1-week post surgery Hallway Lightsaber Battles were on the menu…
I didn’t attempt anything asinine, and in fact, took a full three days post-surgery to just chill and sleep like a champion. But I’d be lying if I didn’t reach a tipping point on Day #4 and was like…I…NEED…TO…DO…SOMETHING.
By Day #5 I was back in the gym doing a little of this and a little of that, and if felt gooooooood. Seated DB Bicep curls and 1-Leg Hip Thrusts never felt so empowering.
In my mind it was more about starting the healing process (without being an asshat about it) while also giving me a much needed mental boost.
I’m now six-weeks post surgery and fully weight bearing on my affected side (still in a boot, though). Just the other day I performed my first bilateral RDL @ 135 lbs.
Nothing crazy in terms of the weight on the bar, but I’m constantly tweaking and adjusting my Trainable Menu to match my current capabilities.
I have zero doubts this mindset is going to help expedite my recovery and rehab.
That’s the beauty of the Trainable Menu: It’s applicable whether you’re an athlete prepping for a competitive season or you’re someone trying to train through an injury.
It’s a powerful mindset.
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