by Jon Gilson, Again Faster
Everyone has their caveats. This is the warning reasonably intelligent people deliver after every definitive statement in an attempt to cover their ass.
"Yeah, fasted cardio is the only way to get your body fat below 8%. But, you know, that's only true for most guys. It might not work for you."
The caveat absolves the speaker of any responsibility for the effectiveness of their advice, shifting the blame for failure to the listener. In the world of athletic training these cop-out statements are often necessary--there's not a whole lot out there that's strictly black and white.
Nonetheless, I was lying in bed last night wondering if there are certain unalienable truths out there, statements about training that require absolutely no caveat. In my mind, every pursuit has an essence that lends itself to description and explanation. Fitness is no exception. Here, I humbly present the truths of training, caveat-free:
1.) You will not get stronger without overload.
This one is simple. Training has two guiding principles--volume and intensity. The first refers to the number of repetitions performed, while the second refers to the relative demand those repetitions place on the body. Over time, you must expose your body to gradually increasing volume in order to reap fitness benefits. You must keep intensity high throughout.
I like to track this in my workout log by recording the total amount of weight lifted in any session divided by the number of repetitions performed in that session. This calculation gives an average weight per repetition. This number must increase over time, or you're just spinning your wheels.
2.) You will not get bigger without eating more or smaller without increasing energy expenditure.
My buddy Eva Claire loves this one. All the girls want to get smaller and all the boys want to get bigger. Most women try to get smaller by eating less when they would be better served by increasing their energy expenditure. Most men try to get bigger by increasing their energy expenditure, although they'd be better served by eating more.
Each gender should take a page out of the other's playbook.
Eating less only serves to lower your metabolic rate, meaning your body will attempt to conserve every precious calorie for future use. What goes in stays in, stored as fat. Rather than lower their metabolic rate, women would be better served by lifting heavy to maintain lean muscle mass and exercising with high intensity to ramp up fat-burning.
In the same vein, lifting heavy and often will only increase lean muscle mass if the attendant caloric intake will support the new tissue. The boys need to take in more food, not lift more. Nonetheless, they'll spend three hours a day in the gym, burning off those stray calories that would've turned into new tissue if energy expenditure had been a little lower.
3.) Steady-state cardiovascular work will not lead to fitness.
The body uses three distinct energy pathways, each employed based on the demands placed on the body. Two of these systems (the alactic acid system and the glycolytic system) are called into play when the rate of muscle contraction exceeds the body's ability to produce contractions using oxygen.
These two systems, collectively known as the anaerobic systems, are not trained during steady-state cardiovascular work. Steady-state work utilizes the aerobic energy system, which is only capable of producing muscle contractions in the presence of oxygen.
Unfortunately, the anaerobic systems are critical for high to moderate power output activities, such as the squat, the clean and jerk, and the 400-meter sprint. If they aren't properly developed, the corresponding activities suffer.
Road jocks aren't worth a damn when it comes to performing anaerobic activities, because they haven't developed the contractile strength that comes with heavy anaerobic training. Primary practitioners of steady-state cardiovascular work are incomplete athletes.
4.) Mental focus is more critical to training success than physical ability.
We are limited by our bodies, but our true limitations exist in the mind. Flat-out lying to an athlete about weight on the bar will often get them to lift a personal best, absence any organic change in the body. I attribute this phenomenon to the power of belief. "Knowing" that you can do something will instantly bring you closer to doing it. Combine an ardent belief with months of training, and you have a recipe for excellence.
On the flip side, God-given ability is easily negated by a poor outlook. I've seen otherwise-talented sandbaggers spend a lot of time claiming inability, giving them a ready-made hedge against failure. These folks fail a lot, and they remain in the realm of the novice athlete for years.
5.) There is an inverse relationship between the complexity of a piece of exercise equipment and its effectiveness.
The most effective implements for building lean muscle tissue and shedding fat are heavy, blunt, and simple. They have few or no moving parts, and they don't plug into the wall. A barbell, some weights, a few dumbbells, and a pull-up bar are all you need to achieve world-class fitness. Everything else just adds variety.
By their nature, these things require effort to use. You've got to pick them up off the ground and hoist them around. They don't give you a place to sit, and they don't read your heart rate every ten seconds.
If your exercise regimen involves blinking lights, vibrating seats, or imbedded televisions, you're doing yourself a disservice. Find the stuff that's cold and heavy and made of metal. It's the only route to fitness.
There they are--five unalienable truths about training. You could disagree with my assertions, and probably make a good case of it, citing fifteen scientific studies and the extensive knowledge of the over-certified polo shirt-wearing pseudo-trainer down at the local Y.
The problem is you'd have to use an awful lot of caveats