Vail Daily column: The fundamentals of fitness |

Vail Daily column: The fundamentals of fitness

Ryan W. Richards
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In the almost two years of writing a weekly column for our wonderful news source, hopefully I’ve made an impact on how readers understand fitness and related topics. As I approach 100 column topics that have been published, I find it strange that there really is this much to say about fitness.

It’s a fairly straightforward process. Properly stress the body with the correct dosage of exercises and their respective intensities, eat a reasonable diet, sleep well and keep life stresses to a minimum. Throw in a good spiritual life, meaningful relationships and a healthy work-life balance and fitness acquisition takes form.

The reality is that life isn’t that simple. Stress does happen. Relationships do break down. The luster of waking up at 5 a.m. on Jan. 2 to resume the New Year’s resolution that didn’t pan out the year before, well, it loses its appeal after a few weeks just as before. Time and again life proves to be difficult, and finding the value and the necessary resolve to acquire fitness becomes challenging.


What we do know is the solution is all too simple, yet there are hard fitness myths that continue to perpetuate and frustrate those who seek optimal wellness. Given the difficulty of committing to fitness in the first place, why not do it right to begin with? Don’t overwhelm your limited energy resources with fitness ideas that may not work so well.

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As I have said many times in the last few years, the following lies are worth repeating over again because the public needs to hear them: Exercising doesn’t necessarily cause weight loss; training your abs won’t create a six pack; performing light weight exercises for several repetitions won’t tone you up.

Everything you do inside the confines of a controlled environment to improve your fitness will make you more resilient, better enduring, stronger, more flexible, and help with a host of potential medical problems. Fitness training alone will not help you lose weight.

Too often I have witnessed the heard entering the corral of the hamster wheel to perform several minutes or hours running along expecting the treadmill will cause weight loss. Often these victims are 20 pounds overweight.

Strength training is a better choice, but even then alone, doesn’t cause miracles to establish a healthy body composition. As an old restaurant manager I worked with years ago would say in a quite loud, feminine tone, people pleeeeeeeeeease! You cannot, absolutely cannot outwork a diet that is out of balance and contains too many calories. Frankly, too often trainees work out excessively to find themselves over withdrawing from their daily caloric balance because “they earned it.” Stop believing it. It is futile. Is it really working? Goodness gracious, I’m in the business of selling fitness. I have an agenda. I’m telling you that what I’m selling in the gym isn’t going to make a dent in the scale if you don’t address your diet! As a matter of fact, you’re better off not exercising at all and addressing full attention to your diet, than exercising under the best program and halfheartedly paying respect to the kitchen table.

The next myth that won’t go down without a fight is the notion that ab training will sculpt and trim your waistline. Show me someone with a robust belly, and I will show you someone who comes to the gym to exclusively perform a bunch of ab exercises that will finally and magically sculpt their midline. Training your abs can help with low back pain. They can help bridge your upper and lower body together to work as a unit. Ab training will also create a hard, toned midsection, only if you lose the fat that is covering them! Again, address your diet. Ab training and other core exercises should complement your training as an appetizer complements an entrée. Core training should rarely be treated as a main course; rehab and specific weakness attention notwithstanding.

Finally, performing light weight exercises for several repetitions aren’t the best for toning muscles. Muscle tone is achieved from high levels of tension created from using heavy weights and by reducing body fat to demonstrate muscle striation. Can you develop a lean, toned body from using light weights? Sure, but optimal muscularity is achieved from myofibrillar muscle hypertrophy which is the body’s stress response from using heavy weights to increase the number of muscle cells which is responsible for that “ripped” look. Alternatively, I teach high rep training mainly for people over the age of 35 who need increases in muscle size. Yes, high rep training creates the necessary stress to the muscles to increase growth, a much needed fitness quality as we age. Again, heavy weights help you increase your strength and muscle definition, moderately heavy to light weights performed for high repetitions with minimal rest periods is critical for gaining muscle size. This philosophy is completely backwards in the industry. 99.9 percent of the fitness population, even trainers, believe the opposite to be true. Don’t believe me? Look at professional and amateur bodybuilders alike. You know the massive men and women who grotesquely worry about muscle size increase at all costs? Their programs all revolve around using a lot of different exercises, for several sets of eight to 20 repetitions to damage specific muscle groups to prime for growth. Conversely, heavy weight training using under five repetitions isn’t enough time for muscles under tension to cause the right stress for size development.

OK, let’s see if we finally get these principles right. Have a great week!

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 or 970-401-0720.

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