Why do some of us invest so much time and energy into our exercise program for so little in the way of results. Yep it’s true; some of us spend a lot of time achieving not too much. Heaps of sweat, commitment and even dollars, for a less than desirable return.
I’m constantly getting letters, emails and phone calls from frustrated exercisers, so I figure it is time to take a look at why time spent exercising doesn’t always equate to desirable results.
Let’s get under way with some basic exercise physiology…
Our body recognises exercise as a form of stress (mostly good stress) and when we stress our body the right way for long enough, it adapts. Simple enough. We see those physiological adaptations as improvements in aerobic fitness, strength, muscular endurance, speed, power, flexibility, along with decreases in body-fat levels and increases in lean mass (muscle). From a purely scientific and academic perspective, changing a body is a relatively straight forward process. In reality, we know that once we throw human emotions and a few other practical issues into the mix, that simplicity can become a lot more complex!
Bodies don’t think, they simply adapt.
If we put too many calories into a body it will ‘adapt’ by storing that excess energy in the form of body-fat. If we lift progressively heavier weights, we will see adaptations in the form of bigger and/or stronger muscles. If we begin a program of aerobic exercise, within the first few weeks we will see physiological changes; lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rate, lower working heart rate, less post-exercise soreness, decreased recovery time, increased metabolic rate and changes in body composition just to mention a few – all of these being adaptations to the ‘stress’ of cardiovascular exercise. If you train yourself like a distance runner, you ain’t gonna wind up looking like a bodybuilder. Neither will training like Mr (or Miss) Universe turn you into that slender, waif-like running machine.
When a body changes, there’s a reason. When a body doesn’t change, there’s a reason. And as I’ve said before, we need to learn how to ‘drive’ our body and to discover what works for us (personally). Individual bodies respond differently to the same stimulus, so we need to learn how to maximise our own genetics. Quite often, by being less emotional and more practical and methodical about our approach to exercise, we will achieve far better results in much less time.
Here’s a few things to consider as you work through the exercise thing…
1. What works (in terms of creating significant physical change) and what we enjoy doing, are often two different things.
Yes we want to make exercise fun when possible, but sometimes we need to stop looking for easy and starting doing effective. I don’t particularly enjoy stretching but I can’t improve my terrible flexibility by bench pressing small cars. Heavy sigh. So stretching it shall be for the human ceramic tile. The piece of chalk with hair on top. I might not always love the process, but I really love the results. You might not enjoy lifting weights but you won’t build your upper body strength or achieve that athletic shape you’re after by going for a gentle walk with your neighbor each morning.
2. Your body will only adapt when it needs to.
If you constantly stimulate your body the same way day in, day out (same workout, same exercises, same format, same intensity, same weights, same distance, same machines, same duration) it ain’t gonna change ’cause it doesn’t need to. You are following a maintenance program. Give your body a reason to change and it will. Some people have been following the same program for years, all the while wondering why nothing changes. It’s true in life and in the gym; if nothing changes, nothing changes. Progression is good. Variety is good. Change is good.
Many people simply train so much that their body is in a constant state of disrepair. When you stress an already stressed (over-trained, injured, exhausted) body (via more exercise) you’re setting yourself up for long term problems and frustration.
Don’t confuse volume with quality. Don’t make emotional decisions about your exercise program. It’s good to train hard (sometimes) and smart. I only lift weights three times per week for forty five minutes, but I’m stronger than most of the twenty three year-old meat-heads who inhabit the weight room seven days per week. Not because I have better genetics or more testosterone (I wish) but because I know what works most effectively for my body (in terms of creating the right balance between training, nutrition and recovery) and I stimulate my physiology the right way. I train optimally for me. Don’t forget… the adaptation takes place when you’re not training. The workout is for the stimulation, the recovery time is for the adaptation.
A little-known scientific term which is Latin for “looks like a workout but isn’t”. It’s a condition where people go to the gym and fluff around for an hour or so without actually doing much. A few chats, a little self-admiration in the mirror, a cappuccino or two and a strategically-placed towel over the shoulder – they’re hard to miss. Every gym has a least ten of them. They are known colloquially in Australia as… wankers. There is also another group of well-meaning people who work out often but simply don’t train hard enough to create the results they’re seeking.
Of course we need to train safely and intelligently, and yes we need to develop a training base before we get anywhere near the intense zone, but sometimes we simply need to force our body to adapt. If what you’re doing in your workouts is easy for you, then don’t expect to see much in the way of physiological change. Easy might be fun but it ain’t really productive when it comes to changing a body. If you wanna see some change, get uncomfortable. Often. Don’t kill yourself but don’t avoid the tough stuff either.
5. All the other stuff.
Of course there are plenty of variables in the creating-your-best-body process and exercise is just one of them. If you’ve nailed your exercise but your diet is a nightmare (over-eating, under-eating, sporadic eating, poor quality food) your results will be average at best. Other factors which might sabotage or inhibit what you’re doing with your exercise program are: alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, stress and medications. No use training like an Olympian if you’re living a lifestyle which is at odds with your exercise goals.
If (for example) you’re expending more calories than you’re consuming, you ain’t gonna grow muscle ’cause their ain’t no gas in the tank. Conversely, if you’re consuming more than you’re expending each day, you ain’t gonna get leaner no matter how well you train or how much cardio you do. You’ll be fitter but you’ll still be fat.
6.The Wrong Program.
For a wide range of reasons thousands and thousands of people are currently following a program which is less than ideal, if not completely inappropriate for them.
Go into virtually any gym and you’ll see dozens of people (with different bodies, goals and needs) all following essentially the same ‘generic’ program. This is called laziness, ignorance, lack of professionalism and I-don’t-really-care, on the part of the instructors who set those programs. If your program wasn’t designed specifically for you (by someone who knows their stuff), then it’s not the best strategy for you.
That’s not to say that your program is not of any value but why settle for okay, when you can have ideal. Your program should be designed specific to your age, goals, body type, current level of fitness, training history, medical conditions and injuries. If you found your current training program on page seventy two of Buffed and Ripped, then you ain’t doing yourself any favours. Same goes if you got your program from your cousin Guido the panel beater who came second in that bodybuilding show in 1992. The same one who worked in a gym for three months when he was nineteen.
So… maybe it’s time for some change.
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