Every New Year as I anxiously anticipate the well-intended zeal of the determined to “really do it this year,” it never surprises me to watch these champions enter the gym on Jan. 2 with flowcharts and the right program that will take them to fitness stardom. Sometimes a few of them stick it out until Jan. 17. Most of them quit the first week. Here’s why.
The fitness industry is notoriously unregulated and therefore enable a host of trainers, coaches, instructors and other gurus who are self-proclaimed experts; often these individuals lack a real understanding of basic human movement and physiology. This inevitably has caused a propensity for misinformed trainers to sell the idea that in order for exercise to be effective, the exertion has to be extremely hard. Popular TV infomercials and other high heart rate programs reinforce the belief that fitness needs to be extremely varied, difficult, random and unattainable. Furthermore, for the individual who is likely to make a resolution for physical change in the first place, they aren’t going to stick to complicated fitness programs because they have a hard enough time making the commitment to begin with. It’s admirable to have the drive to really punish yourself in the gym, but what’s the point? Most gents aren’t going to be scaling a wall in a burning compound with an injured survivor over his shoulder, ruck 10 miles through the tundra to the extraction point, and then perform countless pushups on the helicopter on the way out. Although high effort exercise programs have great significance for the right application, most people can become reasonably fit and capable performing a few basic exercises a few days per week for the rest of their life. Besides, overly intense programs are rarely sustainable for the long haul. What happens to the Olympic athletes after the ceremony? I don’t know either.
Success in the gym happens once the exerciser realizes that a lifestyle change is in order and needs to be as consistent as brushing their teeth; not a 90 day challenge, but a lifelong challenge towards fitness. Daniel John calls these “punch the clock” workouts. Don’t try to break records, sweat too hard, or make much of a scene. Go into the gym and strategically select a few “big bang” exercises, become a master of these movements, run around the block a few times each morning and a year from now your physical fitness can be radically different. Not all impressive physiques and people who possess hearty fitness markers develop them from bone crushing workouts. I have observed several fit people over the years who did some things wrong and weren’t the most efficient, yet they were consistent enough that the time spent improving their fitness was very apparent.
I have also seen other exercisers do everything wrong consistently, and the lack of results were clearly indicative of poor program design. If you causally, and randomly stride away on the elliptical while talking to your friend on the phone, resume with a few crunches, and finish with partial repetitions on the leg press machine, you’re results will lackluster. You already know this to be true if that describes your exercise routine. Of course any fitness attempt is better than nothing at all, but for goodness sakes your exercise selections and progressions have to make sense and have outcomes based on goals.
I will leave you with this thought: A good friend and client of mine told me of a famous chef who once said “anytime you think you need to add an ingredient to a dish, subtract one instead.” This is often the case with exercise selection and programming as well. Just because squats and deadlifts are good choices, doesn’t mean you need to necessarily add lunges and step-ups as well. Nix the fancy complicated routine this year, choose a few basics performed well and with consistency, and next year you won’t be making the same resolution over again.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.