I’ve got a problem…the fitness industry has a problem…I think we have created a monster and that monster is anabolic training also known as metabolic, high intensity and a variety of other intense sounding names such as Insanity and so on.
The concept of metabolic training is founded in sound scientific principles, the problem has become the application is founded on …and yes I am going to say this…Fear. Fear? Yes, fear as in if you don’t feel like tossing your cookies, gasping for breathe, falling on the floor or barley able to get off the toilet you have not worked out INTENSE enough. And we all know that INTENSITY is the heart of metabolic training…right? Well…it is …but there are rules to follow when you are INTENSE and one of them is limit your intense days to 2-3 times a week with a break in between. A Break? WHAT !!
Just like the principle of metabolic training is founded in science so is the principle of less is more when it comes to this type of training. The problem as I see it is unfortunately we as a society have a hard time grasping that if we do less we will gain more. The more you work the more money you make, the harder you work the more achievements you’ll collect, the more you exercise the leaner you’ll get…and…. I am not going to say it’s all a pack of lies but not exactly true either. While it is true you make more money if you work more, it is also true you can make more money by working less by working smarter. It’s also not true that all that hard work is going to shoot you up the achievement ladder, especially if all your hard work is ineffective. So why is it so hard to conceptualize that more and harder exercise isn’t necessarily going to get you leaner and meaner if all your hard work is ineffective, poorly timed and not smart? I smell resistance.
I love Science…I love fact…I am not a fan of beliefs as fact. For the most part what people are interpreting as exercise facts are simply buying into a belief system that the industry has perfected by twisting fact. Why…why would we do that? Well I for one sure wouldn’t but I am not trying to get you to buy a 6 set DVD of craziness or sell you a magazine that promotes the promise of a hard body physique that most of us mortal humans cannot achieve, what with jobs and kids and all that other stuff we have to do besides ripping up our shoulders doing 100 swinging pull ups like a crazed monkey. And I just want to state for the record that I myself have had a few beliefs that turned out to be totally non factual, such as I can do a high kick and star on Broadway singing Tonight from a fake balcony. Pack…of…lies.
Let’s talk fact! Let’s talk about hormones and cortisol and repetitive stress injuries! There is a fine line between training hard and over training, so I get that this would be confusing for many people simply trying to push themselves physically. But there is a point of too intense and there is a point of too much, and at this point you body is pushed into a unhealthy stress response which results in a cascade of biochemical responses that ultimately can damage your health and your lean mean machine body. The short list looks like this, adrenal fatigue, gut dysbiosis (out of balance), autoimmune diseases, depression and chronic fatigue. The boring science…over training affects blood levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamine, which can leave you feeling like eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and dragging your ass around all day (depression and chronic fatigue). The worst offending effect of extreme exercise is the excess production of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when the body is under stress, intense and heavy resistance exercise stimulates acute cortisol responses. Chronically high levels of cortisol will result in sleep disturbances, digestive problems, depression, memory impairment…and …drum roll…FAT GAIN! So there you are crushing it at the gym everyday getting fatter, tired, sad, forgetting your spouses name and getting the runs (aka diarrhea) on a daily basis. What FUN! I want me some of that! Of course the other obvious by-product of over training is the damage to your joints, tendons and muscles. Read this: ( you have to copy and paste, I’m not brilliant enough to figure out a link )
The list of those common injuries are: Bursitis, Carpal Tunnel, Diffuse RSI (this is pain that can’t be diagnosed, it just hurts), Tennis Elbow, Rotator Cuff Syndrome and Tendonitis. So to review, your training hard, too much and instead of getting super fit, now you can’t open jar of Fluffer Nutter to feel better about your sad, tired, forgetful ever growing belly fat self.
Digression ahead. I have been involved in fitness on different levels and in different degrees since 1985. In that period of time fitness has grown by leaps and bounds and improved tremendously…it has also grown into something I am not sure I even like anymore. Last week I was coaching a group class, watching people perform a exercise task that would have never, ever been even considered 30 years ago. And my thought was…it shouldn’t be performed 30 years later either. In an effort to keep things tough, challenging and fresh the fitness industry has gathered concepts that range from strong man competitions, Power lifting, Olympic lifting and the Israeli army. I’ll be honest none of those things are on my radar, I have no desire to train like a soldier carrying a boulder across enemy lines. I completely admire the sport of Power lifting and Olympic lifting …it’s just not anything I personally desire to do. So all this got me reminiscing about fitness back in the day, and how we still managed to get in shape, look good and stay lean without pummeling ourselves. My fitness plan in 1987 looked like this: Get up and dress the baby in something cute, put on your tights and leotard, get out your baby blue Rebook princess shoes, grab a Diet Pepsi (I know, I know…I was an addict), drive to gym, drop baby off at gym daycare, dance like a fool in aerobics, do a little floor work and head into the weight room with my BFF to hit the heavy weights. I trained like this for yeaaaaarrrssss! And surprisingly I was in really, really good shape for only going to the gym 3 days a week! Of course 15 years later, I also felt the backlash of high impact aerobics and placing ridiculous amounts of weight on my back. Which is probably why I frequently cringe while coaching when I see poor form under heavy weight…been there…done that…hurt that. I would hope that we have learned from the past that more isn’t always better, that you can get fit and lean without beating yourself with the INTENSITY stick, that novelty should never trump common sense and to embrace the research that guides us to good training principles.
For all of you who love to train hard, who enjoy competing against yourself, pushing your limits…I say go for it. Just don’t go for it every day or any day when you’re hurting or should be allowing your body to heal. You can train everyday…there are other options like Yoga, Pilates and even walking! The body is not a machine it has mechanisms to protect itself from our own stupidity. Be mindful and respectful of your body and it will reward your efforts with lean mass and a joyful spirit. Disrespect it and you will be nursing a painful joint with macaroni and cheese while watching reruns of Lassie bawling your eyes out.