Think of every sport out there. From football to baseball to swimming to fencing to horse racing, all of these sports have their differences in rules and scoring while also sharing a few things in common. For the sake of this post, let’s take having an in-season and an off-season, for example.
Now imagine having football season all year-round where there is no off-season. Injuries would surge, performance would decrease, and the sport itself would plummet. As a matter of fact, this statement would be relevant for any sport.
The same scenario holds true for strength training and exercise.
What we tend to forget that we’re using strength training and exercise to provide fuel towards some sort of goal. Those goals can be narrowed down to four: 1) Look better, 2) Feel better, 3) Move better, and 4) Play/Perform better. No matter what your goal is, it is proven that exercise can help.
Now look at exercise, or fitness, as a sport.
The first thing that may come to your mind is CrossFit and their annual CrossFit Games that recently took place. To CrossFit, the Games are the pinnacle of the sport. Now let’s say your goal isn’t competing in the Games, let’s just say your goal is to lose a few pounds because you want to look better and feel more confident.
How do you go about preparing for that goal?
Do you set yourself up with a 30 day plan? Or a 90 day plan? What about a 12 month plan? Do you plan for an in-season and an off-season?
At my gym, we operate in 90 day or annual (12 month) plans. We actual prefer the 12 month plan because we can create a 12 month program (macrocycle), broken down into phases (mesocylces), or seasons, and completed within a week’s worth of workouts (microcycles), or games.
That’s a full year containing the ups, downs, and go-arounds aka the victories (results), setbacks (injuries), and whatever else comes into play (life).
The point I’m getting is that if we physically, mentally, and emotionally can’t/shouldn’t sustain a full year’s worth of a particular sport, again say football for this example, then we should also treat your exercise and fitness routine the same.
Oh, and by the way, congratulations! You are now an athlete!
If your goal is to lose 10 pounds because you want to look better, your in-season just became your fat-loss phase. That phase can last anywhere from 60 to 180 days. The other days consist of phases, or “seasons”, that include maintenance, strength (muscle-building), and resets. This allows your body to recover, adapt, and improve which will allow you to get incredible results.
Staying too long in one season will be a surefire way to become fatigued. Your muscles will start to breakdown, your tendons and ligaments will become rigid and inflamed, your joints and bones will start to ache, and your nervous system aka your brain, will become fried. This is a really easy way to become demotivated and pissed off at the world, especially at fitness industry and/or your trainer.
If we continue to walk down that line, this is the same reason why you shouldn’t be training to muscular failure, a mega burn, or maximum effort every time you step foot in the gym. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a special time and place for that, but it’s not every day. Even the most gifted athletes in the world know this, possibly because they found out the hard way, but that’s not something you should test to find out.
I recently got to hear from Chris Frankel at a mastermind in California. Chris is the director of human performance of TRX. I remember watching videos of him 5 years ago, in awe of his knowledge and coaching abilities. Well, the man showed up to our mastermind and impressed again, leaving the attendees in utter amazement at his expertise. He said two things in particular that really stuck with me in regards to training philosophy:
“The best ability is availability” (meaning we, as trainers, shouldn’t be running our clients to the ground every chance we get because if they are not available to train due to soreness or injury, that’s on us), and
“There’s a difference between high-intensity work and high-fatigue work.”
High-fatigue work is what gets us in trouble. The key is recognizing the difference.
High-fatigue essentially leads to the dreaded over-training response that your body produces when too much is applied to it and there hasn’t been enough recovery. When we over-train, we overuse. And we overuse, we fatigue tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, brain, etc.). And when we fatigue tissues, we get injured. Dr. Carla Murgia noted this type response is “abundantly evident” in her study Overuse, Tissue Fatigue, and Injuries posted in The Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.
We need to start treating fitness like a sport, included with in-seasons, off-seasons, assessments, and programming. If you haven’t played basketball for 4 months, 4 years, or have never played, you can’t expect just to pick up a ball and run the court in a game of 5-on-5. You need to become conditioned, get your shot back, or learn the rules of the game.
The same goes for fitness. If you step into a gym and expect to deadlift 300 lbs without warming up or without proper technique you might as well say “Sayonara” to your ego as you simultaneously feel your L4 shooting across the room.
As an industry, we trainers need to create better programs. Actually, we need to design expert programs with integrity that accommodate all of our client’s goals, abilities, knowledge, and history. We need to stop looking at quick-fixes as an easy cop-out.
It’s up to the trainer to educate, motivate, and empower clients and their families as they better their lives through health in fitness. We can do all of that without making our clients go through a year’s worth of fat loss workouts, do 10 straight minutes of burpees, perform an overhead press 150 times without checking an overhead assessment, and not warm them up before each workout (for the record, all of these scenarios actually exist and have all led to injury). We can do all of that with awesome programs that get incredible results and keep our clients injury-free. That’s what we value here at Unity Fitness.
Now take a moment, what does your gym or routine value?