The Physical Activity Continuum

Brentwood Barbell has been in existence now for over 2 years. We’ve learned quite a lot of stuff in regards to the intake of new clients. We’re better at programming for different athlete abilities, helping athletes work through pain or injury, and getting folks stronger. We are constantly reworking our systems and procedures in order to maintain continuity across our staff and to improve the experience of our athletes. This is how it should be, this is what every useful business does … they get better over time. If your gym isn’t doing this, I strongly suggest you find a one that is.

As a staff, we have tasked ourselves with helping our athletes become competent in the primary areas of nutrition, and training. Being competent in these areas will set them up nicely for long-term success, whether it be weight loss or strength increases. Becoming competent means hammering the basics of nutrition, barbell training, and mindset. The majority of people coming to us wouldn’t even call themselves an athlete. We think it’s important to address mindset upfront with the prospective client because they need to know what they’re signing up for and we need not waste our time working with someone that is looking for something we don’t sell. We begin establishing this mindset by discussing the physical activity continuum. Today’s article is going to focus on that continuum along with the associated implications.

The Continuum of Physical Activity

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Exercise
  • Training

The point our consult is to accurately assess the athlete’s current level of physical activity. What are they doing, how much are they doing, and where does it fall on the activity continuum? Additionally, if activities of daily living represent the far left and training represents the far right of the continuum, our primary discussion and management will be to move them to the right(er) side. In fact, as a coaching staff, we have only two questions that need answering during our first meeting:

  • Do they understand the physical activity continuum?
  • Are they willing to move to the right(er) side of the physical activity continuum?

Activities of Daily Living

Activities of daily living or ADLs as they are referred to in the therapy world, are things you do to live. You walk to your car, you carry your groceries, you play with your kids, you mow your lawn. In recent years there has been a large movement for people to increase their activities of daily living. Recommendations like parking further away, taking the stairs, biking to work, and counting your steps are all commonplace. These are probably reasonable ideas for most of us to consider, however, it’s important to recognize activities of daily living are not training or exercise. Most activities of daily living do not occur at an intensity that is high enough to drive any meaningful physiologic adaptation (i.e. improved cardiovascular function or strength increases). These activities, while vital to our independence, productivity, and happiness, do not constitute and event significant enough to build physiologic reserve, and while getting in your 10,000 steps per day is great, it doesn’t excuse you from going to the gym.

While activities of daily living only represent our baseline level of function, exercise and training represent an opportunity to build physiologic reserve.


Exercise can be defined as doing some sort of physical activity done for the sake of doing physical activity. Everyone has exercised before. You go to the gym, hop on a treadmill and walk or jog for 30 minutes, hit some light dumbbell curls and call it a day. Perhaps you prefer to do something more sophisticated like take Billy’s Ab Ripper 9,000,000 class on Friday afternoon? It doesn’t matter because both scenarios represent mindless, directionless, sweat-inducing activity with no distinct, measurable end point. Lacking direction is the hallmark sign of an exercise program. Exercising is what most people do at the gym these days. Basic barbell exercises like squats and presses represent a “weightlifting specialization” instead of an opportunity to build imposing levels of general strength. How could a rock climber, runner, yogi, functional fitness, fat-loss kind of guy (or gal) benefit from training their squats and presses?

Unlike activities of daily living, exercise does have the opportunity to drive a significant physiologic adaptation. High intensity interval training is quite fashionable these days and it’s general benefits are well documented in the literature. Traditional “cardio” also has the ability to substantially improve aerobic function. Finally, the benefits of strength training are well documented, no matter how poorly designed the program or exercise selection might be. My chief complaint with exercise is that a great many people are doing so under the guise that it will help them get to where they want to go. This is only true if the goal is to “go to the gym”. During my 10+ years working with clients and patients I have never met someone wanting to go to the gym for the sake of having gone there. Everyone going to the gym has a goal, no matter how fuzzy it may be. At this point, two critical questions have emerged in our conversation with the athlete:

  • What, specifically, does the athlete want to accomplish?
  • How can a something lacking direction (exercise) lead to that specific destination?

Often times, goal-setting is the first coaching conversation had with the athlete. Information on goal-setting is freely available and there are many simple algorithms coaches and athletes can employ. If moving from exercise to training is going to happen, the athlete will need to more precisely define their goals. This action will form the bedrock of the athlete-coach relationship and the necessity for training. If you don’t have a destination then you certainly don’t need to pay someone to get you there (read: stop paying gyms or coaches that don’t program for YOU) and a coach can’t program for an athlete that doesn’t have a goal. Do not pass go or collect $200 if you haven’t spent the necessary time to develop appropriate goals.


Finally, we can begin discussing training. We’ll define training as the systematic process of going from point A (conveniently knows as the start) to point B (conveniently known as the end). Training is a far superior way to achieve your goal(s) because every component of the program has a purpose … to move you closer to the goal.

The systematic nature of training implies a need to show up, work the program, and log the results. Consistency is often difficult for someone transitioning from exercise to training. In their previous exercise program, the exercisee could go to the gym whenever he/she wanted, doing whatever exercises or machines that seemed interesting that day. Training, however, won’t always be convenient. On occasion the athlete will find it hard to get to the gym to get their squats and presses in. Life will get in the way, kids will get sick, school will get called off, inclement weather will develop, people will get fired from their jobs, start businesses, and have babies. None of these things make training convenient. The exercisee will abandon the gym all together during times of high-stress because exercise is optional. The trainee will continue to find ways to get to the gym and hit his/her work sets because training is necessary.

Keeping a training log is another important topic. How many people are going to the gym or the clinic several times per week never having written anything down? Just blindly, passively moving along, trying “new and creative classes”, taking in that new state-of -the-art gym down the street, or heading up that “6 week skinny jean challenge” across town, or “getting their back fixed” at the local chiropractor? Consider the opportunities for improvement if they were actively participating.At Brentwood Barbell, we are simply not interested in working with inconsistent, passive exercisers that are unwilling to show up, put in the work, and log their results. Coaches need trainees to become better coaches. Gyms need trainees to become better gyms.

At this point the reader may wonder if our athletes have any other responsibilities or priorities? Of course they do, they are regular folks … moms, dads, accountants, technicians, teachers, and scientists. They all have jobs, kids, mortgages, rent, payments, and various other obligations. It isn’t their lack of additional “stuff going on” that make them athletes … it’s their commitment to plan proactively, show up, do the work, and log the results. At Brentwood Barbell we are coaches and we train athletes.