Science has taught us a lot about the human body and how to make it better, stronger, leaner, more muscular, more explosive, more durable. The best fitness and nutrition programs are heavily rooted in science, and are garnished with a bit of creativity, intuition, and inspiration. Though it’s easier for a coach or trainer to educate themselves than it has ever been before, the fitness industry has a nasty trend of taking a single scientific idea or theory, and blowing it out of proportion to offer a new product. There are many examples of this, such as “Orange Theory” fitness, which is a group training program that uses heart rate monitors to make sure participants stay in a particular heart rate zone…a zone which has been shown to have greater “after burn” effect than other heart rate zones, in short, you’ll burn more calories (theoretically). This sounds great, but what’s the catch? Unfortunately Orange Theory ignores another important scientific training principle which is the “general adaptation syndrome” which simply put says that your body will adapt to whatever stimulus you place on it, meaning that if you continually put the same exact stimulus on your body (like in Orange Theory) you will no longer react to it. Your body has adapted, and now you will not elicit change.
Knowing that we need to place varying types of stimulus on our body to have it continually adapt, it makes sense to follow a program that’s constantly changing right? Well, not exactly. Fitness programs like P90x, CrossFit, and “Bootcamps” take this sound scientific principle, and again blow it out of proportion by creating an entire fitness system based on this one idea. The popular term coined by Tony Horton of P90x is “muscle confusion” which is a very layman’s way of saying that the stimulus varies so frequently your body never gets the chance to adjust to one single thing, and thus (theoretically) we will continue to elicit change in our bodies. Again sounds great, right? But like most things in fitness, (and life) it’s all about balance, and there is a huge middle ground between doing the same exact thing ad nauseum, and following a “randomized” or “workout of the day” model.
Feeding the Disease
Exercise has been on the uptrend in America. This is good! But I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we as an industry have made it okay to not have the discipline to stick to a dedicated plan for change and self betterment. All of a sudden not only was doing “whatever” in the gym acceptable, it is actually encouraged. “Squats?! Didn’t we just do squats 4 days ago?” it was common for me to hear something like this daily when I used to coach group “constantly varied” boottcamp workouts. Now, instead of sticking to a long term, well designed program, you could make it up as you went along and hide under the veil of it supposedly being better for your physical progress. If you don’t have a reason to exercise, this might be okay. It sounds crazy but some people workout simply because they think they should, and are void of any real goals. If you want something to wiggle your body around for an hour a few days a week, these types of programs might be acceptable, but most of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, have real, legitimate goals. This didn’t just corrupt the clients with ADD, but it created a well spring of “coaches” who’s programming may extend out to at best a week or two, or at worst, 5 minutes before their class started (this happens way more than you think). A tell tale sign is coaches who brag about how hard their workouts are. Like a guy in a big truck who’s compensating for his natural endowment, coaches who lack any real scientific understanding of fitness try to get by on the brutality of their workouts.
When you talk to your friends you might not tell them, “I feel like sh*t every time I walk past the mirror naked as I get in the shower in the morning,” but on the inside you might truly feel that way. Other people may fantasize about going on vacations and having the capacity to hike, and be adventurous. Or maybe you’re a high school student that’s always dreamed of playing for a Division 1 school. Wanting to reshape your body, or increase your performance are respectable and common goals…and they all follow a direct path to reach them. Allowing your ADD to take control of your training is a sure fire way to end up no where.
Following the Rules
Motivation can fade over time, and at some point motivation must be replaced with dedication and discipline, but seeing progress is a great way to keep motivation on your side. As humans we can be logical to a fault, and when something that once worked stops working, we automatically assume that we need more of it. Ironically the randomness of randomized training becomes a uniformed stimulus in itself. Your body will actually adapt and become efficient at handling a wide variety of random movements. This adaptation isn’t the biggest problem, however. The biggest problem is because the exercise is so random it becomes difficult to get really good at anything. We are ignoring so many other important rules of science by focusing on constantly varied or randomized fitness programs. Let’s say we have two people, one a basketball player, and the other someone that would like to learn how to play basketball. We’ll assume for this example the latter has never even held a basketball in their life, and that the other plays at a D3 school, but would love a chance to possibly play for a better program.
Both people enroll in an 8 week sports camp, where participants play a different sport each day. Once or twice a week basketball and its related skills are practiced. Now out of our two people which one will show the most improvement at the conclusion of the camp? The answer is blatantly obvious. For someone that is completely new to the sport, playing a couple times a week will make a big difference, but for a seasoned athlete, it simply won’t be enough. FITNESS WORKS EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. Sedentary people begin fitness programs where their work output goes from zero to a high level of effort…naturally this will elicit change, but eventually this effect will wear off, and if the program isn’t specific to your goals, you’ll forever be the collegiate athlete stuck at the kids camp. Don’t ignore all principles of training, just to exploit a single one.
The Carrot at the end of the Stick
Having seen many people reach their goals, I’ve noticed what I like to call the “now what?” phenomenon. Sometimes in our heads we imagine that our lives would be a certain way if only we had x,y, or z. Have you ever thought that you would be happier if you lost weight? It’s not uncommon. But what happens when you do lose the weight? Or you win that championship, or whatever the goal may be? At times people shift gears, they find a new mountain to climb, a new goal to set and work towards. Others lose interest, and maybe completely let go of whatever it was they were working on, only to come back much later and do it all over again. What about those that never, ever reach their goals? It may be possible that some people subconsciously don’t allow themselves to reach their goals because they are afraid of what will happen when they do. They are afraid of the “what now” phenomenon. You may wake up to find that having abs didn’t make you happy. Maybe you’re craving the attention of potential romantic partners, or the glory of winning an athletic achievement, and you’re scared to find out that those things might not fulfill you in the way that you thought that they might, and if you never get there, you can always can always fall back on “it would have been better if…” We humans can be self sabotagers.
Getting your Priorities Straight
In the last ten years we’ve seen a monumental shift in the fitness industry, going from the vanity of the bodybuilding and fitness modeling world to more athletically based training. “Everyone is an athlete” has become a popular phrase, one which I disagree with. Sports are about winning at any cost, even if that means sacrificing yourself and your well being. Fitness, is (or at least should be) about health first and foremost. With that said, there are a lot of things we can learn from competitive athletics to apply to our training towards achieving our personal goals. One of those things is sometimes doing things you don’t want to do, but doing it anyway because you know it’s good for you. Previously when I worked in a facility that did more randomized group training, we tried to feed people that had hit a plateau into a more structured and effective training program, and it just didn’t work. We had given them the green light on their exercise ADD, and once that had happened, it was nearly impossible for them to let go of the need for what some in the fitness industry have called “entertrainment,” which essentially places entertainment above doing what is necessary to get results. It’s a problem we’ve rarely had to deal with at Arkitect, because the standard is set from the very first day a client walks through our doors: We will do what we need to to get you to your goals as quickly and safely as possible. Of course we still aim to keep our clients mentally engaged, which is why we make changes to our programs every four weeks, as well as pull from a massive library of over 3,000 exercises. But that highlights yet another problem…there are only a finite amount of good exercises out there, and if you base your training on always doing something different, eventually you’ll be dipping into things that you really shouldn’t be doing, and nothing will set your training back further than an injury.
There is one more phenomenon I’d like to mention though, and that is one of falling in love with the process. Our most successful clients are those who have trusted the process, and the program. At that point they realize that what they are doing is working, and it gets them excited to do it. We have had clients who have told us “the program didn’t work for me” when they never even completed a full 4 weeks of training. (I always extend the offer for these folks to let me know when they find a program that works in less than 4 weeks, because I want to be on it. I haven’t heard back from anyone yet.) These are the people with exercise ADD. They are always looking for the “secret” to training. They are the ones who spend ridiculous amounts of money on supplements, or fitness gadgets, and try to replace their inability of being able to stick to a plan with unbelievable bursts of over the top effort for whichever current fitness trend they are following. They are the ones that always have some excuse as to why it didn’t work for them, even though those around them are succeeding with similar methods. But the clients that trust in the process, they end up loving their training, because they know that all of their effort isn’t wasted. They know each training session is a step closer to their goals, and they know that with confidence because they’ve put in enough time to see the results.
Sometimes we are able to cure people of their exercise ADD, something “clicks” and they finally buckle down and stick to a program, and usually after we hear the one thing you can tell a coach that will make them both happy and sad… “I wish I had started sooner.”