Monthly Archives: August 2010
Duration = Total training time, length of an exercise session. Does not include warm-up or cool-down period.
Recommendation = 30-60 minutes
How long can you last?…………
We’re talking about exercise here people. Clean it up.
So we’ve established that you are going to be busting ass during a training session to change your body right? But how long should you be busting ass? Is there a minimum amount of time necessary to facilitate noticeable physique changes? Are their upper limits, or is it simply the more the better — which at first glance sounds logical?
“Just twenty minutes, three times a week and the weight fell off”. “Eight minutes a day on the magic ab device and I had a six-pack in no time.” “With this new wonder supplement I didn’t even have to exercise to get my cover model body.” Yeah right! Don’t be a sucker my friends. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, people get paid, sometimes quite a bit, to endorse products, systems, and miracle cures. These days you need to be an informed consumer in the health and fitness industry so you don’t get scammed. C’mon, do you really think Michael Jordan owes all of his basketball accomplishments to drinking Gatorade and wearing Hanes t-shirts?
Listen, you are going to have to work out hard and practice good nutritional habits if you expect to get in shape. Magnify that consistency, dedication, and sacrifice by ten if you expect to get ripped (low, single-digit body fat percentage). There is no other way around it. I’ve yet to find the magic pill that allows you to do whatever you want and still get in elite shape. Trust me, I’ll be the first to tell you if I find it. When that day comes, we’ll kick back at the pool together, eat fries, sip on margaritas, and toast to our killer beach bods. Until then, however, you are going to have do it the old fashioned way and earn it.
There is a lower limit to exercise duration. You can’t just show up to the gym, warm-up, stretch, balance on a ball, chat about your life, and then call it a day. There are certain volume and intensity levels you must hit if your body is going to experience an adaptive response to training. Not to sound like an old school 80’s bodybuilder or aerobics instructor — and of course when I say not to sound like one I mean exactly to sound like one — you are going to have to sweat, feel the burn, and get the pump going a little bit to get results. Although the old-timers’ programs were not as sophisticated as today’s (and for the most part that probably is a good thing — the basics are the basics for a reason, they are effective), they certainly knew how to put in the work. Admit it, when it comes to health and fitness, the majority of us today are lazy as shit.
So if you are one of those suckers who believe in 8-minute abs, or 7-minute abs, or 1-minute abs, do yourself a favor. Stop wasting your time and just stay on the couch. You’re going to get the same results without missing an episode of American Idol. Trust me, it takes a certain amount of work to force your body to change; if you are not ready to put in that work, and just want to keep doing the latest exercise fads in your search for the (non-existent) magic pill, you are wasting your time, effort, and probably, money. In a “get rich quick” and fast food nation, there is no such thing as fast fitness or “get fit quick”. But as you know, there is no shortage of scam artists perpetuating those myths and selling you what you want to hear. Well, stop listening to what you want to hear and start listening to what you need to hear. Get your booty to the gym and get to work.
GYM RATS AND BUNNIES
Just like with training frequency, however, there is a flip side to the training duration coin. Again, I am probably talking to less than 10% of the population here. When it comes to the length of a training session (minus warm-up and cool down periods), there is a point of diminishing returns, and training past that point becomes counterproductive.
Where are all of my gym rats? Where are all of my fitness bunnies? Are you listening or did you just smash your computer screen and curse my name because I even dared to suggest that a 2+ hour marathon training session may not be the best approach for your physique development goals?
First off, I admire your dedication. There are so many lazy people in our generation that it is very refreshing to come across someone who is willing to work hard towards their goals. I admire your will to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But if you are truly dedicated to changing your body, you should expend the extra effort to learn some of the science behind the physique development process.
Why? It takes more than just dedication to get results. It takes more than just being a “tough guy/girl”, putting your head down, bulldozing ahead, and working out longer and harder than everyone else. That’s part of it, but you must implement your passion and effort within the parameters of proper program design. In other words, it takes more than just a “balls to the wall” or “kick ass” approach to maximize your potential. It takes an intelligent approach based on research AND real world experience. If you try to push your body too far or too quickly in one direction, it will fight back and resist. And to get results, you want your body (meaning your metabolism and hormonal system) working with you, not against you.
THE BIG THREE
The primary reason why there is an upper limit to training duration, and training frequency for that matter, has to do with the hormonal response to our training sessions. Exercise impacts natural hormone production, which within the confines of a properly designed program, is one of its primary benefits. Hormones can send messages to our body to rebuild, reshape, and redesign itself.
The majority of people think solely about calories in vs. calories out when it comes to changing their body. This is only part of the story, and probably the least important part. Of even greater significance is the power we have to use diet and exercise to control and manipulate our metabolic rate and our natural production of physique-altering hormones. In response to exercise, we are primarily concerned with three hormones: testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol.
- Testosterone is anabolic, which means it helps us build muscle by signaling protein synthesis. Building muscle boosts the metabolic rate and helps us burn fat.
- Growth hormone is anabolic. It enhances amino acid uptake and protein synthesis within muscle cells. It is also our most potent fat burning hormone. Growth hormone increases fat cell breakdown and the use of fatty acids as a fuel source.
- Cortisol is catabolic. First, cortisol inhibits protein synthesis and muscle growth. It can also cause the body to oxidize protein and convert amino acids into glucose to be used as fuel (in other words it can force the body to break down its own muscle tissue). In excessive amounts it can suppress the immune system and lead to fat storage (particularly around the midsection).
For physique development we want to maximize our muscle building, fat burning hormones and minimize our muscle burning, fat storing hormones. This is a severely over-simplified statement, but essentially growth hormone and testosterone are the “good guys”, and cortisol is the “bad guy”.
HORMONES AND EXERCISE DURATION
Here’s what happens during an intense training session, and by intense I mean proper exercise selection and execution along with a certain amount of training volume and effort exertion. In other words, no Jane Fonda workouts here please. The hormones that positively alter our physique, growth hormone and testosterone, initially rise in response to the training stimulus. But the hormone that negatively alters our physique, cortisol, rises as well.
On a side note, cortisol is not all bad. There is a certain amount of tissue breakdown that must happen if the body is going to adapt and respond to strength training. Cortisol IS a part of the bigger picture of tissue breakdown, repair, and growth. Our goal is not to completely eliminate cortisol production, as some would have you believe (ie with cortisol blocking supplements or drugs). Our goal is to control it through proper program design and food selection. The problem, when it comes to physique development, is chronically elevated or excessively high cortisol levels. This happens with overdoing the training duration and frequency parameters.
Testosterone levels rise in response to proper training, but there is a period of time after the training session where testosterone levels fall. This is a normal training response. During the recovery phase testosterone levels rebound and rise again IF you allow enough time in between training sessions (revisiting the importance of training frequency recommendations). This sequence of testosterone fluctuations coincides with the muscle adaptation/growth process.
Growth hormone levels rise in response to an intense training session. However, there is a critical point within the training session where growth hormone levels peak, and then begin to fall. Research shows that this occurs anywhere from 25-50 minutes within the workout. If you train too much further beyond this critical point, your workout starts to become counterproductive. Why?
Remember, cortisol also rises in response to an intense training session, but cortisol rises in a linear fashion and does not begin to decline until after the workout stops. In other words, cortisol can continue rising even after growth hormone levels peak and fall. If you extend your workout beyond the upper limits of recommended duration, cortisol levels begin to outpace growth hormone levels. Your hormonal environment and your body’s physiological processes, begin to shift into a catabolic state. At this point, the body begins to break down muscle tissue as a fuel source. Talk about counterproductive!
You are lifting weights to build lean muscle and boost your metabolism. But if you are working out too long (or too frequently), catabolic hormones rise above anabolic levels and you will actually start losing muscle and slowing the metabolism. This defeats the whole point of training in the first place. With proper programming your body experiences a net muscle GAIN and RISE in metabolic rate, and thus looks better, “hotter”, etc. With improper programming, due to the overproduction of cortisol, your body experiences a net muscle LOSS and DECREASE in metabolic rate, and thus looks worse, non-beach ready, etc. It reinforces the idea that exercising for physique development is much more than just calories in vs. calories out. It’s about the hormonal impacts of exercise.
Keeping all of the above information in mind, the optimal training session length is anywhere from 30-60 minutes, assuming you are busting butt and training at the right intensity levels. That’s really all you need to remember in “practical application” terms. So don’t worry, you don’t need to run out and get your PhD in Endocrinology to get results from training.
Duration parameters for physique athletes, however, do raise a few questions. So we should address the distinctions we need to make between our training programs and those of other types of athletes.
1. Performance Athletes. Training programs need to mimic the demands of an athlete’s sport. So if in your sport you need to run, jump, hit, climb, crawl, swim, bike, or whatever for 2+ hours, than your training session should be structured accordingly. In other words if you are going to be competing in long duration events, than your training sessions should be longer in duration. That is the only way you are going to increase performance levels.
It may not be the best for your hormones, it may not be the best for your appearance, but it is the best for your sport. In fact many athletes, especially endurance athletes, are known for having clinically low levels of testosterone and clinically high levels of cortisol. Maybe that’s one of the reasons for the apparent widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.
And although performance athletes can perform at a high level, many don’t look that great. Tons of them don’t even look like they exercise. Some are flat-out obese. While they are talented at a sport, many are just as embarrassed to take their clothes off at the pool as those in the average population. Now to be fair, the reverse is also true. Many fitness athletes and models who look like the fittest people in the world would also look “athletically challenged” if you put them on a field, court, or track.
But once again, that’s why I always say that training for performance is different than training for appearance. The physique athlete has no desire or need to perform in a sport for 2+ hours. We just want to look good — 24 hours a day baby! So keeping the hormonal impacts of exercise in mind, there is no reason we should ever be training for more than one hour at a time. If you feel like you need to work out longer, than you are not working out hard enough, and you should focus on increasing training intensity.
2. Enhanced Athletes. All of this talk about maximizing the natural production of anabolic/fat burning hormones and minimizing catabolic/fat storing hormones to induce changes in physical appearance is assuming that I am speaking to the natural athlete. If you are taking performance-enhancing drugs, the training game completely changes. If you have artificially elevated levels of hormones from drug use, there is no need to worry about managing your internal, natural production. It doesn’t matter. It will later on, when you stop taking the drugs, but that is a whole other story I’ll leave for your doctor, therapist, etc.
Again, I am not condemning those who choose to use drugs, making any moral (or other) judgments, or demeaning their athletic or physical accomplishments in any way. I only mention it to draw clear distinctions about who I am advising and setting these training guidelines for — the natural fitness athlete. In all honesty, if you are taking performance-enhancing drugs, you SHOULDN’T be trying to learn from me. There are other experts in the field that can better advise you.
Of course, the flip side is true. If you are a natural athlete, you shouldn’t be trying to learn from someone who has built their physique with the help of chemistry. You shouldn’t be trying to emulate the training programs of enhanced athletes. You have a different training environment with more limited recovery abilities. Many who advise 2+ hour training sessions, 6-7 days a week, twice a day, etc. are not bound by “normal” human physiological principles.
So to sum up: train, train naturally, train hard, train for a minimum amount of time, but don’t train too long.
- Beginners: 2-3 exercise sessions per week
- Intermediates: 3-4 exercise sessions per week
- Advanced: 4-5 exercise sessions per week
Before you worry about free weights vs. machines, total body training vs. body part splits, New Age vs. Old School, or Jane Fonda vs. Richard Simmons, you have to figure out how often you should be training to maximize your results. Step one of getting any job done is to actually show up. Once you get there, you can figure out how you should proceed to complete the task at hand. But even the best-laid plans are meaningless if they are not applied, and you instead opt to sit on the couch, eat (insert your favorite junk foods*), and watch (insert your favorite junk TV show*). *I guess for me that would be cookies, peanut butter straight out of the jar, and Sportscenter. For my wife, it would be Parmesan Goldfish, Mountain Dew, and any trashy reality TV show (e.g., Real Housewives or the Kardashians).
ARE YOU A LAZY A$$?
For most of us, we know what the problem is right? We don’t exercise enough. The solution to that problem is straightforward and simple — get your lazy ass off the couch and get to the gym more.
Strength training is the stimulus your body needs to adapt and respond. Consistently hitting the weights will help you build lean muscle, boost your metabolism, burn fat, and eventually, change your physique. Listening to Oprah’s guests talk about it, watching Chuck Norris train on his home gym, buying an infomercial product, reading about programs in fitness magazines, or TALKING about getting into shape are all not enough. You actually have to DO IT yourself to get results.
One of the main goals of transitioning from a beginner to more advanced levels, and progressing from out of shape to in shape, is to increase the body’s workload capacity. This can happen in several ways. We can increase training volume and/or increase training intensity. But probably the easiest way to go about doing this at first is to increase training frequency. In other words, we can focus on getting you to work out more often, thus forcing your body to adapt to higher and higher amounts of training stress.
So if you know in your heart that you don’t exercise enough, then spend the immediate future just focusing on being more consistent with your training. Schedule your workouts into your calendar (electronic or paper, whatever you prefer). Try to set a plan based on the above frequency guidelines, figure out how to fit those training sessions into your week, and then devote yourself to adhering to that plan without exception.
And don’t read any further. It will just confuse you. The rest of this article is for advanced athletes only, the ones who may be pushing themselves too far in the other direction.
ARE YOU AN OBSESSIVE A$$?
There is a flip side to the frequency coin, and that side is a little more complicated. I’m probably only speaking to less than 10% of the population out there with this one, but that 10% can fall victim to their own high levels of motivation, thus unconsciously sabotaging their physique enhancement results. They also can be stubborn and hard to get through to. Dedicated people often can’t hear, or don’t want to hear that there is an upper limit to optimal training frequency.
Many gung-ho athletes and trainees just assume that if some exercise is good, more (sometimes extreme levels of more) is better. The problem with that mindset is that there comes a point of diminishing returns. There comes a point where you outpace your body’s ability to fully recover and adapt. If you train, and train, and train some more with no thought of recovery, your body ends up in a constant catabolic/broken down state. Your muscles can’t recover, and you are not allowing your body enough time to adapt to the training stimulus (and thus make visual improvements). You end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere, frustrated with the lack of progress from all of your efforts. You are also predisposing yourself to training overuse injuries and setting your body up for a huge metabolic/weight rebound sometime down the road when you return to some semblance of normalcy.
I see this overtraining phenomenon the most with the following personalities:
- Obsessive compulsive personalities. Exercise becomes their one fixation, which is not healthier than any other type of obsessive behavior.
- People transitioning from performance athletics backgrounds. Sometimes overtraining is necessary during a sport’s competitive season to improve a skill or compete on a schedule, but it is not necessary (and actually is counterproductive) simply to look better. Training for performance is different than training for appearance.
- Those who use exercise as a stress relief. This is good up to a certain point, but if overdone begins to add overtraining exercise stressors on top of life/career stressors.
- Successful business and career professionals. Busting ass and working harder and longer than everyone else has paid off with their career development, and they think the same will hold true for physique development. It is true up to a point, but it’s not always about working out more or harder, its about working out smarter.
- Those who alternate back and forth between extremes. They go from sedentary and doing nothing to extreme levels of activity and trying to make up for it. If you’ve dug yourself a fitness hole, you can’t just jump out of it, unless you are Batman. You have to climb out of it.
- Those who waited to the last minute to train for something (beach season, wedding, etc.). You can’t speed up normal human physiological processes.
- Those who try to out-train poor dietary choices. That doesn’t work, you just can’t make up for a poor diet.
RESPECT THE RECOVERY PROCESS
Training is only the initial stimulus for your body to undergo physical change. You build muscle, burn fat, and alter your physical appearance via all of the metabolic, hormonal, and physiological processes that take place IN BETWEEN training sessions. If you train too frequently and short circuit the recovery process, you will not see visual improvements no matter how hard you train.
Inadequate recovery equals no adaptive response. This equals no muscle growth, no metabolic boost, no burning off body fat, and no change in physical appearance. In the worst-case scenario, it can actually make you more prone to storing body fat, due to chronically elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. You might as well just sit at home eating (*insert your favorite junk food), and watching (*insert your favorite junk TV show). At least that is a fun way to get fat, trust me I’ve done it.
Here are some of the physiological processes that happen in the recovery phase from a weight training session:
- Satellite cells are activated when muscle fibers receive trauma or damage.
- Satellite cells fuse to existing muscle fibers and help to repair/regenerate the damage by increasing the size and number of contractile proteins (called actin & myosin) within those fibers.
- The body restores cell fluids, electrolytes, and minerals lost during training.
- The body must refill muscle glycogen stores as glycogen is the primary fuel used during high intensity training. Contrary to supplement marketing, this doesn’t just happen with a single high-carb post-workout shake. It takes multiple balanced meals to adequately restore glycogen levels.
- The immune system responds with a sequence of actions leading to inflammation. This inflammation is what causes muscle soreness. The purpose of this inflammation is to contain the damage within the muscle cells, increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to the damaged area, repair the damage, and clean up the injured area of waste products.
- Antioxidants scavenge free radicals and repair oxidative stress caused by the increased rate of oxygen consumption during the training session.
- Growth factors (such as IGF-1) regulate insulin metabolism and stimulate protein synthesis.
- Testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone levels rise, fall, and return to baseline levels in their own respective patterns (assuming you are training naturally without performance enhancing drugs).
- All of the above processes can take up to 48 hours under normal circumstances but can be delayed by many factors including poor dietary decisions, lack of sleep, and high stress levels just to name a few.
- On a side note, all of the above actions require energy (calories). This is why we say that strength training boosts the metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories on a daily basis) and is so crucial to the body composition change process.
Now you don’t have to study and memorize all of the above data. And I’m not just trying to sound smart or impress you with fancy science (although you might be starting to get the idea that my recommendations are a little more research-based than just meathead bodybuilding or diva-girl fitness training). I just want to give you a sense that the physique development process is more sophisticated than just blindly training away all day, every day.
Here is the take home message: Recovery is a complex process, and the advanced trainee trying to maximize their results must balance intense training with recovery. Of course if you train like a wimp, you can train every day, because you have nothing to recover from. I’m really just speaking to the athletes who make a sincere effort to bust their butts in the gym in order to change their bodies.
The frequency recommendations at the beginning of this article were set for a reason. They were not just blindly pulled out of a hat. And remember these recommendations are for people training primarily for physique development. I understand that participation in competitive sports may require more frequent and longer training sessions to maximize sport performance and/or adhere to competitive schedules. But that’s also why competitive sports have off-seasons.
What happens if you train more often than you can recover from? There is an actual technical term for the physiological state that results from training too long or too frequently on a regular basis — Overtraining Syndrome. According to the NSCA overtraining syndrome is “Excessive FREQUENCY, volume, or intensity of training that results in extreme fatigue, illness, or injury which is often due to a lack of sufficient rest, recovery, and perhaps nutrient intake.”
And what are some of the effects of this overtraining syndrome? Here you go:
- Emotional and mood disturbances including increased irritability, anxiety, and even depression-like symptoms.
- Sleep disturbances
- Altered immune system functioning including increased rates and duration of illnesses and infections.
- Decreased desire to train, decreased joy from training — that is if you even like training to begin with.
- Altered hormonal patterns including a reduction in anabolic, muscle building/fat burning hormones (testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1) and an increase in catabolic, muscle destroying/fat storing hormones (cortisol).
This last one is the worst side effect for those concerned with body composition change. Physique development is way more complicated than just the simple calories in vs. calories out theory. It really comes down to properly managing and manipulating natural hormone levels and metabolic rate through diet and exercise. Do this the right way and getting into shape is a smooth process. Do it the wrong way, and dropping body fat will be impossible no matter how many calories you cut or how much you exercise.
Negative hormonal alterations (such as reduced testosterone/growth hormone and increased cortisol production) are the primary reason why many who overtrain struggle with fat around their midsection DESPITE their high levels of exercise. Abdominal-specific body fat often has a lot to do with abnormally high cortisol levels. These people tend to be fine everywhere else on their bodies, but tend to hold a lot of flab around the midsection.
I see this most often with endurance athletes. Research has shown that this group of athletes has the most compromised hormonal profiles — meaning lower than normal amounts of testosterone and higher than normal amounts of cortisol. People who engage in frequent and excessive amounts of aerobic activity are shooting themselves in the foot in terms of physique development. They may be improving performance (as in the ability to run farther or at a faster pace) but they are not optimizing hormones, metabolism, and thus, physique development results.
But its important to note that overtraining can happen in any form of exercise, including strength training. So don’t think because you stay away from the treadmills and sling the weights around that you are immune to the overtraining syndrome. Every athlete needs to balance training with recovery.
But here is the major difference. Performance athletes including endurance athletes can overtrain and still improve skills and performance. It is rare that physique athletes can overtrain and still make improvements in body composition and physical appearance.
TRAINING NATURALLY IS DIFFERENT THAN TRAINING ENHANCED
There is one more important side note to discuss in our conversation on training frequency. Performance-enhancing drugs (steroids, growth hormone, EPO, etc.) speed up the natural recovery process and allow an athlete to train harder, longer, and more frequently without the risk of overtraining. This is one of the primary benefits of performance enhancing drugs. And yes, there are benefits. But even more important is that there are also severe consequences. So obviously, I do not recommend you travel that route. Don’t take your health for granted. No six-pack or set of guns or nice legs is worth compromising your mental or physiological health.
I do not mention this out of any moral judgment on athletes that decide to use performance-enhancing drugs. To each their own. I only mention it so the natural athlete does not get confused by many of the training protocols they see online or in bodybuilding and fitness magazines. Many of the articles that recommend training 6-7 days a week, sometimes twice a day, are written by athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. The natural athlete, training under different conditions, should not attempt to emulate these programs.
Remember, the recovery process involves an ebb and flow of natural hormone fluctuations (including testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol, and IGF-1). There are rises, falls, and eventual returns to baseline levels. The natural athlete needs to maximize anabolic hormones, minimize catabolic hormones, and properly manage their entire hormonal system to achieve optimal results.
If you are taking exogenous (outside) sources of these hormones, you don’t need to pay as much attention to the endogenous (within the body) production of these hormones. In other words, athletes using performance-enhancing drugs can train on sub-optimal training protocols (including too much frequency) and still achieve outstanding results. The natural athlete needs to train smarter, and must manage recovery. Part of the recovery process is adhering to targeted frequency recommendations.
In summary — train, train naturally, train hard, train frequently, but not too frequently.
There is one universal fitness truth that you must understand if you expect to get the most out of your exercise efforts. “Nate Miyaki is the king and ruler of all the fitness land”. Ha – just kidding, but not really. Listen up my friends, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you want to get optimal results from your exercise efforts, your training PROGRAM must match your training GOALS. It seems simple and logical enough, but it surprises me how often that advice does not get applied to real life training protocols, even by intelligent athletes and coaches.
There are many reasons to engage in a regular exercise program. The most common, of course, is to look better in a dress or suit, in a bikini or board shorts, or even better – naked. Hey now! I guess technically we could call that appearance-based strength training. This is the aspect of strength training that I am most concerned with, both for myself and for those I advise. In other words, my passion is to work with people whose primary reason for exercising is to change their body composition and look better. This could be a complete beginner who is severely deconditioned and has a lot of weight to lose, an advanced bodybuilder or physique model/competitor, or anyone in between. It doesn’t matter, if you are looking to drop fat and or gain lean muscle, you are a fitness athlete to me.
If most people could get over the vanity of it all and just be honest with their own personal assessment, I would bet that 75% of the people that walk into a gym are primarily training to attain some kind of a “beach bod”. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed about it. Just embrace it. Trust me, as a body composition trainer and nutrition adviser by profession, a fitness competitor/model as a side gig, and a natural bodybuilder at heart, I get it more than anyone else you know. If you are checking yourself out in the mirror more than three times a day, your goals are related to body composition change. Otherwise, you are just in love with yourself, and unfortunately and embarrassingly enough, I understand that too.
Once you come to the conclusion that changing your appearance is your primary exercise goal, you need to make sure that your training program is structured in a way that matches that goal. If you don’t, as is the case with many who just blindly follow the latest and greatest trends in the gym or media, your results will be less than optimal. You can’t just do something at the gym. You have to do the right thing based on your goals.
Now I will admit, there are other less noble and interesting reasons to strength train, including: To increase power, speed, or strength for a sport, increase muscular endurance/lactic acid threshold for a sport, rehabilitate an injury, correct muscle imbalances, improve alignment and posture, improve balance, etc. Seriously though, these are all great reasons to train, but the key point is that they are all DIFFERENT than training primarily for body composition change. Thus, the program design and training protocol should be different as well.
In the medical field, there is a reason for specialization. You can’t be an expert at everything if you want to be THE EXPERT at one thing. That’s why there are gastrointestinal doctors, cancer doctors, cardiovascular specialists, knee surgeons, etc. Referrals happen on a daily basis to ensure that each patient ends up with the right specialist and treatment for their specific condition. This ensures the patient receives the best care possible.
That doesn’t seem to happen as regularly in the fitness industry. Many trainers and coaches try to be experts at everything, and what results is a blending of strength training concepts and expertise that is not optimal for the pursuit of any one specific goal. These days strength trainers are giving rehabilitation advice, postural experts are giving body composition advice, bodybuilders are giving athletic performance advice, and everyone across the board is confused as hell. That’s illogical and ineffective as Ben & Jerry giving healthy eating advice. Unfortunately because of this, many athletes and trainees are not training correctly for their specific goals. They are putting forth effort, sometimes a lot of effort, but are not getting results.
Listen, I’m the first guy to refer a client out if I don’t think their training goals match my area of expertise. If a client has chronic pain from alignment issues or is rehabilitating an injury, I send them over to one of San Francisco’s premier physical therapists; I know he can straighten them out. If an athlete is preparing for a sporting event, I hook them up with coaches who specialize in strength and sport performance; they have the knowledge and expertise to get the job done. But training for body composition change — that’s my thing baby! That’s my job, my hobby, and my passion. I’ve been studying the process and living through the practical application of those strategies on a daily basis since college.
I wrote the Body Composition Training 101 Series because there is too much confusion in the industry. I wanted to separate out the core strength training principles geared towards physique development from the principles of other styles of training, so we can get you training effectively and efficiently for your goals.
Balancing on a ball or wobble board may be great for improving balance and core strength, but its not doing much for body composition enhancement. Boot camp and cross training drills may be great for sport performance, but they are not ideal for physique development. Balancing on your ass or having your ass kicked is different than building your ass. And while those styles of training may be cool, innovative, and trendy, the real question is — are they effective? That is debatable. My theory is that if you have bodybuilding goals (dropping body fat and gaining/maintaining lean muscle mass are bodybuilding goals whether you are a bodybuilder or not), than you should be training like a bodybuilder, not like a rehabilitation patient or performance athlete.
I understand we all have our own biases regarding the optimal way to train. Talk to ten different people and you’ll get ten different answers. Many have accumulated training information from various sources and come from a variety of backgrounds and personal experiences. That’s cool. Everyone has his or her opinion. But also that’s why you, the consumer/client, can’t just rely on opinions. You must also rely on science.
In my Fitness Nutrition 101 Article Series, I talked about why learning the science behind fitness nutrition can be a valuable exercise. Primarily, I talked about why it helps you make informed decisions, gives you confidence in your plan, and gives you a strong bullshit detector in an industry full of hype. I feel the same way about learning the science behind bodybuilding/body composition training. This is the best way to make sure your programs are aligned with your goals and your efforts will bring you optimal results.
The Body Composition Training 101 Series is the science behind “cosmetic training”. It’s the reasoning behind why you should set up your training programs a certain way if your primary goal is to change your appearance, fit into a dress, look good at the beach,build big guns, bare a six pack, etc. No you don’t need to spend an hour balancing on balls or swinging kettle bells or killing yourself in a boot camp. You need old school, basic weight training exercises.
This series gives us an intelligent, logical, and scientific reason to bring our training back to the Old School. It bases our training programs not just on the physical evidence of the fittest “looking” people in the world (natural bodybuilders, fitness models, and figure competitors), but also on the scientific principles of human physiology, exercise physiology, and kinesiology. Its not “meathead bodybuilding” or “diva fitness training”, it is scientific-based body composition training. The goal is to combine the best of both worlds, the scientific AND the practical. This prevents us from getting caught up in the fitness trends or health club hype that are more geared towards selling the consumer a product, service, or system rather than giving them real world results.
So if your primary goal is body composition change, lets get this thing rolling. If you have any other primary reason for strength training, shoot me an email and I’ll hook you up with the right expert based on your goals.
The Body Composition Training series will discuss the strength training portion of your exercise program only. Cardio/aerobic activity will be discussed in a separate article. Why? Because strength training is much more important for cosmetic enhancement than cardio. The hierarchy for physique transformation goes something like this: Diet #1, Strength Training #2, and Cardio a distant #3. But let’s focus on teaching you the value of strength training first before I get your panties, running shorts, or bike pants in a bunch.
There are many reasons to engage in a regular exercise program. The most common, of course, is to look better in a dress or suit, in a bikini or board shorts, or (even better) naked.
Once you come to the conclusion that changing your appearance is your primary exercise goal, you need to make sure that your training program is structured accordingly. My latest article is an introduction to a series of articles dedicated to training for body composition, which means losing fat and gaining lean muscle mass. Check it out!