I am an online entrepreneur and a digital nomad who came to Denver to train bodyweight fitness at Awaken. I was here for six weeks and trained more than sixty hours. This is my experience ...
I hated group classes.
But training at Awaken completely changed my mind.
Compared to personal training, classes at Awaken are just as effective.
Maybe even more so.
None of the pitfalls. All of the upsides. Plus training together with cool people is a lot of fun.
It was one of the things I've learned during my time at Awaken. Below you'll find the six most valuable take-aways from sixty hours of classes.
I hope to be back soon for hour 60 to 120.
#1: A Group Class Done Right: More Than The Sum Of It's Parts
If you want to learn something, you'll make progress faster if someone corrects your mistakes.
In the average group class at your average gym, this does not happen.
In the case of gymnastics, which relies heavily on form, a lack of instruction can lead to injury.
Let me give you an example:
Before I came to Awaken I trained at a different gym. It was common to see students crash into the floor face first. For example, a woman fell flat on her face and the instructor did not notice because he was taking a selfie.
This happened often. Students were allowed to train with bad form and were not corrected most of the time. The result was that students would fall often. Several ex-students mentioned that preventable injuries were the reason for leaving that gym.
My experience at Awaken was the complete opposite.
During my 60 hours of training I saw exactly 0 accidents due to bad form. And I think it's because the teachers are very hands-on.
It does not matter if you're in a group of five or twenty-five students, the teachers keep an eye on everyone and correct you when necessary. They make sure you are doing things right.
The classes were also a lot of fun.
Everyone has a positive attitude and wants to work smart. Training with like-minded people is more enjoyable than 1-on-1 coaching.
What if you're a new student?
If you are new the coaches at Awaken will take extra care to make sure you are doing things right. This saves you a lot of time and will make you progress fast.
After class they are available for any questions you might have.
#2: Prehab Your Joints
Awaken Gym in Denver has an unique approach in their teaching style compared to other programs.
You start your fitness journey with mobility exercises. This is taught very thoroughly and attentively, as a precursor to harder strength training.
Mobility is of course your ability to demonstrate strength through a full range of motion.
If you're so stiff from sitting behind a desk that you can't move your hips or shoulders, doing strength training might make it worse. Mobility exercises prevent that from happening.
Guys in their thirties who have lifted for ten years are usually stiff as a board. Their size comes at a nasty trade-off: they lose the ability to move naturally. Their movement is restricted and if they wait a few more years their whole body will be cracking and aching.
I like lifting and did it for a long time. But so many men who were ten years down the road from me had joint issues that it scared me. I realized that I did not want to go down a road of battling debilitating knee or back pain for the rest of my life.
Every physical therapist can tell you horror stories about how people's knees, hips and shoulders give out. Rehabilitating exercises might restore some function in the affected tissues but not always. This happens after an injury has happened and when someone has been in pain for a while.
Classes at Awaken take the opposite approach. You train the weak links of your body, the parts most likely to break down under load. You start slow and build gradually to strengthen the whole range of motion, not just the ones that make you look good in a Speedo.
The emphasis on mobility suits me better than lifting as much as I can and hope that I do not end up injured.
Luckily the tools that Awaken gave me will help me do just that for years to come.
#3: Do You Even Warm-up?
Another weightlifting dogma:
"Warm-ups are for wimps."
My lifting buddies and me lived by this.
Just slap on the weight and push away until your face turns blue. Then laugh at each other.
Turns out that if you spend ten to fifteen minutes preparing the body parts you are going to train, you can work harder. Taking twenty will make you ready to absolutely crush it.
You also feel better afterwards because, well, you did not shock your nervous system by pushing it to its limit right of the bat.
Yes, I have done warm-ups before at other gyms, be it in MMA or CrossFit. But looking back those exercises did not warm me up at all.
At the average CrossFit gym, you might swing your arms around loosely and then jog for a couple of minutes. This raises your heart rate but does nothing to prepare your body for what's to come. And by diving right into the weight rack afterwards your nervous system receives an unnecessary shock.
A proper warm-up readies your weak links for the action to come. Doing this every single training at Awaken gave me a blueprint of how to warm-up when I'll be training by myself. I actually look forward to warming up now.
#4 Go Slow and Steady
During the fourth week of my stay in Denver I crashed. I could not get out of bed. My body felt like it got hit by a truck and then bombed by a fighter jet.
Anxiety set in: what was going on?
I called in sick. That was easy since I'm my own boss.
Than I called my brother. He's a world-class juggler-acrobat and has been training and performing for the last fifteen years.
The conversation went something like this:
Brother: "Hey man, it's finally nice weather in the Netherlands. How is that gym in Denver?"
Maarten: "Eh, my body is having a breakdown."
Brother: "Oh, that doesn't sounds too good. How much have you been training?"
Maarten: "Oh, most days two hours, sometimes three."
Brother: "Oh, you used to do three hours a week right? That's a harsh transition. You must be eating a ton to keep up."
Maarten: "Not really. I'm trying to cut weight."
Brother: *starts laughing* "Well, you must be sleeping like a log then."
Maarten: "I can't. It's 100 degrees in my bedroom at night. I get six sweaty hours at most."
Brother: *goes into lecture mode "Listen, no wonder your body is breaking down on you. You increased your training hours five-fold! While eating and sleeping less!"
He proceeded to explain that if you want to train every day, you have to eat and sleep well every day as well.
Brother: "My first year in circus school, I slept ten hours a day just to keep up with my daily eight hour training regimen. My roommates regularly passed out at the dinner table or would go bed right after, at 9 PM. Our social lives were non-existent."
He also ate a disgusting amount of food. I quote: "Yeah, I ate three pounds of pasta loaded with cream and some spinach. And that was just my lunch."
He urged me that on my current food and sleep schedule I should take way more recovery time and do lighter trainings.
I reluctantly agreed, fully expecting that it wouldn't help and I would feel like a bag of liquid poop for the rest of the summer. What can I say? I'm dumb and stubborn.
Turns out my acrobat brother was right and I was wrong. After a few days of sitting on my butt and eating like a whale in mating season my body spontaneously recovered. I picked up some prehab classes the next day and everything was fine.
The next time my body throws the towel in the ring, I'll check if I've been eating and sleeping enough to sustain training. Maybe I'll even cut down on training hours a little.
#5: Working With a Partner Is An Essential Skill
"A little more," my training parter says.
I softly push her in the middle of the spine so her back straightens. She sinks deeper and deeper into her pancake and relaxes into the pose.
Partner work is a common occurrence during class at Awaken. Many exercises are done solo and some are done with a partner.
He or she checks your form or helps you get deeper into a stretch.
If you're the one doing the exercise, you have to be conscious of what you're feeling. Your body awareness has to increase.
Otherwise you cannot communicate to your partner if you need more or less.
On the other hand, spotting someone else teaches you a lot about form.
If you see someone retract their shoulders in a pushup, your brain automatically goes "don't forget to protract your shoulders."
Your knowledge develops. Your understanding of correct form deepens.
You learn from spotting someone and when I get to my next destination, I'm all for finding training buddies even if it's just for one session.
#6: There's Always Something To Learn
The advanced students at Awaken know some very cool tricks:
Yet they are normal people with busy jobs and many obligations.
Someone who started training a couple of hours a week for fun and then ends up doing great feats of strength and flexibility, that's just impressive.
I saw students of two-three years casually perform handstand presses, the human flag and great-looking stuff on rings.
I'm at the starting point of my gymnastics journey and it's very inspiring to see where this can lead. It brought something I consider advanced mentally within my reach.
Those advanced students started out in a similar place as me and worked at it for some years to get where they are know.
That is something I'll take with me when I'll fly to my next destination and keep on training by myself with the techniques and lessons I learned about bodyweight training in Denver at Awaken.