Something I have been promoting a lot recently is my “slow paced, methodical approach” to training. It is an important distinction to what people might expect, or might be afraid of when considering participation in a Personal Training program. I think the time has come where people have started to realise that training at a frantic pace and constant high level of intensity is not really an ideal approach for most people.
In the past there may have been more of a focus on “expending more energy”, partially because it’s a great way to sell all those gadgets that claim to tell you how many calories you’ve burned, and partially because from a client’s point of view if they’ve gone hard non stop for 45 minutes, that’s a workout at a level of intensity they probably would not have done on their own. Therefore in their mind at least, it was worth spending the money on PT or a group fitness class.
Is that necessarily good, though? In my opinion. no.
Let’s back up a little to my title of this piece. We’re talking about “health and happiness”, here. Usually this is what comes up when I ask a new client why they are interested in Personal Training, they want to feel healthy and happy again. Perhaps for the first time in a long time.
So bearing in mind the underlying reason is to do with health and happiness, what are the usual steps a person will take in order to lose weight?
First up, they diet. Usually this equates to “eat as little as possible”, and for some reason “cut out carbs”. Right? But what about physical activity? Usually some form of endurance activity. We’re talking running, either outdoors or on a treadmill, perhaps one of those dance based fitness programs, even the resistance based “pump” style group fitness programs, indoor or outdoor cycling… I would categories all of these as endurance training.
Now, there are two issues here. I’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of appropriate nutrition to maintain a healthy weight, rather than just “eating as little as possible”. As to endurance training, for some reason this is often treated as a default measure of health and fitness. I started thinking about it the other day after reading a derogatory comment about “people who just train with weights but never do cardio” and something about “what’s the point of having a great muscular physique if you can’t run for 10 minutes”.
So, I started trying to think of a situation where a human being would be required to run for 10 minutes. As always, I’m thinking about primitive or traditional human beings… perhaps cave people or an early hunter/gatherer or even agricultural society. I really could not think of any reason why a human being would require the ability to run for extended periods. They’d need to be able to sprint, to hunt or to escape from predators… but for extended periods? If anyone has a suggestion I’m genuinely interested to hear it.
Am I saying that people should not participate in endurance based activities? No, not at all. I would say that the ability to jog or run for up to half an hour at time will go along way towards great cardiovascular health and maintaining a lean physique. But is this something human beings are designed for under normal circumstances? Not in my opinion.
Consider what I have described here. We are talking about training for performance that is beyond what is normal for a human being, while reducing to an inadequate level of fuel intake. And we do this… why? Oh that’s right, because it is going to make us “healthy and happy”, right?
I ask you, can the method described above possibly be a prescription for good health? Especially when we are talking about more intense levels of cardiovascular endurance exercise, the answer can only be “No”. While you may initially lose some weight with such an approach, it is not because your body is becoming healthier. Quite the opposite, it is due to putting your body under a level of stress that it is not designed for. While cardiovascular conditioning and performance at training may improve, it is at the expense of the health of other systems in the body.
Remember that the body will adapt to whatever circumstances we subject it to. Therefore we have to choose wisely. If we are actually training with a methodical approach (including adequate nutrition) towards getting healthier and stronger, the body responds accordingly with reduced fat stores, and more lean mass. When we exercise frantically, at high levels of intensity for extended periods (and especially with inadequate nutrition), we are merely exercising to “expend more energy”, not to get healthier and stronger. The adaptation to this stimulus is a “survival under duress” response which means elevated stress hormones, fatigue on the internal organs that manage these hormones, and to conservation of energy.
Conservation of energy means retaining those body fat stores, rather than burning them. This is why so many people soon experience a plateau effect where their body composition remains unchanged, even despite further increases in the intensity of exercise and reductions in level of nutritional intake.
The Bottom Line:
For good health, happiness and best results in improved body composition and creating an attractive physique, a slower paced approach to training, along with balanced and appropriate nutrition is optimal. The emphasis should be on training for improved strength and conditioning, complemented by interval training and moderate paced endurance training on a less frequent basis.