For Amira Stevenson, exercise has long been associated with gaining external validation. Since trying the ‘knees over toes’ training method, she has a different perspective entirely.
It’s no surprise that many women’s relationship with exercise is toxic, especially with celebs like Khloe Kardashian prophesying the way to recover from your heartbreak is by obtaining a ‘revenge body’ and most instructors telling you that the metric of success in the gym is the weight on the end of the bar.
For most, the voice that tells you to get moving is a voice of fear, one that warns of the external validation you won’t receive if you don’t trim, tone and seek romantic vengeance through your skin suit.
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I know this voice well. From as early as primary school PE class I remember associating exercise with a way of getting praise from others.
But, what I’ve found is that to develop a sustainable exercise practice I need to look for internal validation rather than external, and move from an internal desire to make myself feel better mentally, physically and spiritually.
It’s taken me 20 years to reach this personal ethos of exercise and I largely have ATG (Athletic Truth Group) strength training or ‘knees over toes’ training as it’s known on social media, to thank for it.
I spoke to personal trainer and ATG strength coach, Noah Stevenson to investigate why this training method has made my body feel like a million bucks and changed my psychology around exercise.
What is Athletic Truth Group?
Founded by athletic strength coach Ben Patrick, “ATG is a training methodology that works to build strength at joints in a full range of motion, for example an ‘ass to grass’ squat in which you are squatting from the lowest possible point to a full standing position. ATG’s goal is to bulletproof the weak links of the body,” says Stevenson.
“One core tenant of ATG training is starting the session by walking backwards. This is commonly done with a sled on the ground or on a treadmill. This is the beginning of us working from the ground up. Starting with the feet and ankles, moving to the knees and hips, we progress up the body,” says Stevenson.
My session usually lasts an hour and starts with a 10-minute backward walk on the treadmill, which is a lot harder than it sounds and is sure to award you some weird looks from other gymgoers. Depending on how I’m feeling that day and which joints I want to work on I’ll do a circuit of exercises that include things with both very technical and non-technical names like tibialis raises, calf raises, split squats, ‘ass to grass’ squats and dumbbell shoulder presses, to name a few.
How does ATG differ from traditional forms of training?
“The traditional training world sees strength training and mobility as two separate categories, like lifting weights and doing yoga. ATG combines the two,” says Stevenson. This is what I love about ATG. I come out of sessions feeling both strengthened and lengthened. It’s the best of both worlds and it makes for a more structurally sound body.
In addition, I’ve found that the better your body feels, the more you want to move. ATG training has led me to take up other physical activities such as running, which I previously detested and thought I could never develop a love for.
“Unlike other training methods, ATG allows for the most basic regressions of exercises to make them pain-free for literally anyone, even those with injuries,” says Stevenson. While I don’t have injuries to contend with, something I’ve often found myself feeling in your run-of-the-mill gym class or even in traditional personal training sessions was being out of my depth. I’ve felt unsure if I was moving my body in the right way in a fast-paced pump class or overwhelmed and sometimes even in pain by the weight on my back while I squatted.
Through regressing exercises, I’ve learnt how exercise should feel, challenging but never painful. Even after I’ve progressed an exercise and added more weight or made it more challenging, I’m not afraid to regress it again if I’m not feeling particularly energetic or strong on any given day.
I’ve found this mentality reinforces the idea of moving from a place of love, rather than some negative external motivation. Stevenson agrees, “Internal motivation is always more sustainable than external motivation. It’s like one of my mentors told me – a labour of love is always sustainable, anything else is just labour. That is to say, training is ‘work’ and if it doesn’t come from a place of love, it’ll always feel like work.”
Amira Stevenson is a Sydney-born, New York-based freelance writer with a Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production) from the University of Technology Sydney. Amira has five years of experience working in the TV/film industry and as a freelance writer in Australia and abroad.