I’m a sucker for clickbait.
Put up an article like “47 Pictures of Celebrities You Never Knew Existed” or “Airline Crashes Caught On Video” and my cursor rolls over the hyperlink faster than Ariana Grande breaks up with fiances.
Which has me thinking that I probably should have titled this post “3 Things You Are Getting Totally Wrong,” or some similar titillating heading, but I’m not going to for two reasons:
1 – I’ve already hung my hat on using often long, abstract and (hopefully) witty titles to my articles that no branding expert would ever recommend and I’m nothing if not annoyingly consistent.
2 – “I Know You Know” was the name of the song my wife and I first danced to as a married couple at our wedding. I’m a sucker for nostalgia (who isn’t?!?) and I think my aforementioned wife enjoys getting these little shout-outs in the blogs – particularly if it relates to a nice time in our lives or the fact that she is a wonderful cook.
So apologies if the title didn’t fill you with an unquenchable desire to pause your game of Fortnite or decide to put finishing your taxes on hold and file an extension so you could immediately read the pressing information carried within.
But if you are one of our literally dozens (dozens!!) of loyal readers who have made it thus far I guarantee your fortitude (see what I did there?) will be rewarded.
Because we are about to tackle one of our favorite blog topics – busting myths and dogma that surround the fitness and wellness industry.
Nothing gets me more excited than calling people out on their bullshit.
Here we go.
Calories Ain’t Everything
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite, not-at-all-emotionally-driven topic – nutrition. This industry is filled with more pendulum swings than a Miley Cyrus music video. In the beginning, all that mattered was calories. Eat fewer calories, lose weight and eternal happiness will be yours. Then came Gary Taubes and Atkins and Pollan and low carb and paleo and “if it fits your macros” and Zone and countless other now-discounted books filling up the shelves at Barnes and Noble. They convinced you that it is what, when, how often, what blood type you are, what are your genetics or any other random factor that are the real lynchpin to dropping those unwanted lbs.
And now we are back to calories. You love donuts? Ribeye? Soylent Green?
Are you vegan? Or vegetarian? Or carnivorous? Raw? Kosher? Halal? Liquid?
All that’s great, because it doesn’t matter. As long as you are consuming less cals than you are expending (formally known as being in a caloric deficit) you are good to go. It’s simple. It’s math. It’s bulletproof. Right?
Hmmmmm, maybe not. Or at least, I don’t think so.
Listen, I’m not suggesting that we violate the laws of thermodynamics and create some sort of magical energy deficit that is devoid of calorie counting. But what I am saying is that the picture is bigger than this.
The quality, nutrient make up and, to lesser extent, timing of your nutrition does play a significant role. Optimizing the health of the organism (that’s you) depends on these factors. Fiber, micronutrients and vitamins and amino acids are important for keeping your skeleto-muscular and other systems (particularly the digestive system) well functioning – and those things are disregarded by the current “calories are all that matter” cultists.
So, yes, eating an equivalent number of calories from high quality, nutrient dense foods such as game meat, broccolli and fish oil is not the same as getting those calories from crappy meat, potato chips and donuts.
Can some people get away with these questionable diets and maintain as good a body composition as those who eat for-lack-of-a-better-term “clean” foods? Sure. But possibly not in the long term and I’d argue that person is rare.
Look, one person can eat a handful of peanuts and be fine. The person next to them can eat one and be dead. No one thing works for everyone.
OK, I’m rambling here. The takeaway: when it comes to your health (which should be a priority) and your body composition, even though a caloric deficit is essential, you should be looking beyond that simplistic view and worry as much about what you are eating as much as how much you are eating.
If You Aren’t Fucked, It Ain’t Functional
I’ve never done P90x, but I’m a big fan of it.
Not that I think their training modalities are sound or that it’s the best way to get in shape, but over ten years ago now they did something massive that still has implications in the fitness world.
They convinced people they needed to train hard.
Before Tony Horton came into people’s living rooms with his brand of High Intensity Interval Training combined with short rest periods we were stuck in a mire of 8 Minute Abs and people watching Judge Judy while walking on the treadmill for 40 minutes and calling that a workout.
Yup, P90X had people pushing their limits with hard, focused training and their infomercials filled with normal people who made remarkable transformations in just 3 months were motivating and convinced the public that they actually had to put in a big effort if they wanted to make a big change.
And this tenant still holds true. Not much happens if you don’t put in consistent, hard work.
But just like the nutrition swing, the training side also went too far in the HIIT direction. Now everyone is convinced that if they aren’t dripping with sweat, sore for weeks and leave a training session completely destroyed that they haven’t accomplished anything.
For better or for worse, training just doesn’t work that way. In fact, if training fucks you up that badly after every session, you probably aren’t going to get very far. Burnout, injuries and lack of adaptations are what will most likely follow.
Training should be systematic, progressive and, unfortunately, somewhat unremarkable. Yes, you should have certain days or training phases where you feel really challenged. Sure, you want to see appreciable gains in strength and work capacity in the form of personal records in your performance.
But training is a process, not an event. If you feel like you are in a war every time you pick up the barbell – in fact if you are more wrapped up in how you feel rather than objectively looking at whether you are improving in the areas that matter to you – then your training career may not last as long as you need to see actual progress.
Remember, people overestimate what they can do in one year but underestimate what they can accomplish in 10. Your training should share that mindset.
How Hurt Are You, Really?
Recovery has become big business. Cryo, saunas, nap pods, acupuncture, meditation apps – these days everyone seems to want to keep their recuperation game strong.
Ideally, this is to mitigate stress and allow you to attack your next training session as close to baseline recovered as possible.
Every ache, pain or sensation is seemingly met with some need to massage, needle, voodoo floss, soak, plunge or roll that feeling away. And while I’m a fan of paying attention to the needs of your body, having joint or muscle soreness (and using your body’s natural countermeasures to relieve you of them) is actually a big part of the adaptation process. My fear is that by constantly using external means to stimulate the healing process you are down-regulating your body’s natural ability to do so.
Now, do I know that is what is happening? I do not. But given that your systems tend to reduce natural processes with the existence of external forces that provide the same benefit (for example, your testicles tend to shrink when using exogenous testosterone because they are no longer responsible for producing that hormone) I think it’s not a far-fetched assumption that if you get used to having a massage after every training session your muscles will cease to relieve themselves without that outside stimulus.
On top of this, maybe it’s time to simply toughen the fuck up . When your recovery strategy vaults from “let me try to get myself as prepared as possible for my next session” to “I don’t want to feel any type of soreness, ache or pain ever” your missing half of the point of training. Making your mind and body resilient to the challenges of the world that is right in front of you – that is the point.
And before the hate mail streams in, yes, there are times, places and situations (many of them in fact) that warrant these types of treatments. I would even argue that there should be planned parts of your training where recovery is the priority and you actively seek out these modalities for a couple of weeks.
But in the big picture, mitigating the effects of training should not take more focus than your training.
There’s a great scene in the Howard Stern movie “Private Parts” in which the radio executives come to the realization that people who claim to hate Howard listen to his show for three times longer than his fans. With that in mind, I’m assuming if you’ve made it this far you probably disagree with some or all that I’ve said.
And that’s cool. Hell, I could be wrong. Right now your very happy, jacked self might be rolling around on a foam roller, entering every calorie you’ve eaten today into My Fitness Pal while still dripping with sweat from the third high intensity interval training session of the day thinking “Fuck Trink. I love this shit.”
More power to you, my Tone House-loving friend.
But if you are find yourself emotionally and physically exhausted from making every workout a competition. If your gut feels like shit from eating precisely 1874 calories per day of Starbucks Banana Nut Bread (which is delicious, by the way). If you are spending tons of time and money sitting in a cryo chamber while worrying that you are going to be late for your electro-stim appointment I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Like Miley, you’ve just let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction.
But I know you know that.