Working in the performance and fitness industry, people ask me everyday about an ad for a diet that helps people lose 40lbs in 2 months, about that crazy exercise circuit that blows up your arms, about that cross training regimen that everyone is doing. And generally, it's frustrating. Not because people are finding ways to get healthy elsewhere, but because I see other "professionals" compromising their own morals and their clients' health to make a quick buck and a cool advertisement. (As a note, the word professional in this industry is losing its value. Not every yoga teacher, spin instructor, and group trainer really deserves the title. Be careful who you listen to for advice).
Take the person who loses 40lbs in some ridiculously short amount of time. You see the before and after picture - what you don't see is how unhealthy the method is. Some diets ask folks to eat 1000 calories or less per day, which is wildly unhealthy and hurts the body more than it helps it. Some people end up with depression, others have no energy to make it through their day.
Look at that guy who takes some crazy muscle building supplement and does a million curls, crunches, and military presses. Yes, he now has huge shoulders and arms. What you don't see is the lifetime of spinal issues from repetitive flexion, the shoulder mobility issues from constantly pressing overhead with loads that are too heavy to maintain form, and the damage done to his organs and basic body systems from the supplements.
Watch the "CrossFit" games on television, and marvel at the crazy reps and sets those folks are doing in front of a national audience. What's not televised are the numerous people with muscular and skeletal injuries, and in some extreme cases organ failure. What they don't advertise are their injury rates (although most trainers are very acutely aware of them, and simply ignore them). In fact, CrossFit is suing nationally published scientific, peer reviewed journals just to keep the injury rates out of publications.
The overriding issue is that so many "fitness professionals" sacrifice the health of their client and their own morals to get quick results. The general public knows so little about fitness that nearly any trainer can say something and people will believe it because they trust them. Diets cheat healthy principles to drop quick pounds, supplements aren't regulated and nutritionists give them out like candy, and so many trainers push their clients to the limit to gain an inch on the arms and lose an inch on the waist. They do these things without regard for long term health.
More isn't always better - training 7 days a week will wear your body down.
Longer isn't always better - working out for longer than your body can handle will cause a release of your body's stress chemicals and the workout will begin to hurt you more than it helps you.
Less doesn't mean weight loss - not all calories are created equal, and eating less than you need will actually slow down your metabolism because your body doesn't want to deplete it's now limited resources.
Harder isn't always better - very few people can squat, hang clean, and deadlift correctly. These are difficult lifts, and coaches need to make sure the athlete is ready for what is being asked, no matter what CrossFit says.
We all have goals, many of them aesthetic. We all want to look good. But, the job of the coach is to look out for the clients' health in addition to pursuing those goals. Make sure your coach is doing so. At SportPerformanceU, we refuse to compromise our morals. There is a way to drop that 10 pounds, to get stronger, to look better, without cheating or creating long term health issues. It might be harder, it might take longer, but you will be better for it. The truth is, there are no shortcuts to success that don't carry negative consequences. There isn't some secret that some guy is hiding, there isn't some magical pill, there is no perfect workout. Results simply take dedication and discipline to the right methods. If you really want to achieve something and be able to reap the benefits fully, then do it the right way.
There is a saying that if some is good, more must be better. All too often, we hear about athletes doing 4 hour workouts, 6 days a week, adhering to the idea that we must be giving 100% effort every waking moment. The truth is, over-training can become a very real problem.
The first fact we need to get straight is that we don't get stronger from exercising, rather, we get stronger by recovering from exercising. Maybe that is splitting hairs, but the takeaway should be that we need to recover. If an athlete works out hard every day, he or she might not be getting adequate time to rest. What really happens when we lift a weight is that muscle tears slightly (very, very slightly). When the muscle rebuilds, that is what allows us to get stronger. If we don't allow the muscle to repair properly, we risk over-training. So, let's take a quick look at what would stop the muscle from repairing, and what the risks of over-training are.
The two most common reasons our muscles don't properly repair are 1) time and 2) nutrition. Obviously, if we don't give the muscle time to fix itself and just attack it again, it will eventually just become a shredded piece of useless tissue. Maybe less obvious, but very current in the news today, if we don't have the nutrients we need to build muscle, we won't recover very well. Getting proper rest and nutrition is crucial to any training regimen, whether it be for aesthetic reasons or sport performance.
The risks of over-training are much more dramatic than we might imagine. Athletes who end up over-training may experience decreases in energy, drastic weight change, decreased performance, excessive fatigue, loss of concentration, changes in sleep patterns, and in some cases even depression and other chemical imbalances.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't push ourselves or our athletes. We need to work hard, but also work smart. How often you can handle exercising each week depends on a number of variables, including the intensity of the workout, current conditioning, age, other activities outside of training, etc. For our athletes, mostly high school players, we would suggest 4 training sessions each week, lasting 60-75 minutes. This isn't a hard and fast rule - some athletes do a lot more in 75 minutes than others do in 2 hours, and some athletes in high school simply aren't ready to handle the workload. But, as a guideline, most high school athletes who are currently training can handle 60-75 minute training sessions (this includes a proper warm up, soft tissue work, movement patterning, etc). When an athlete is in-season, we would back down to about 2 sessions per week.
So the moral of this post? More isn't always better. The body needs both time and nutrition to recover. If you start to feel any of the symptoms listed above associated with over-training, it might be time to re-think your regimen.
SPU's Alex Drayson and Matt Migiano write the SPU Athletic Performance Blog.
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