If you read fitness magazines or websites chances are you’ve heard the saying “train like an athlete”. I’ve used it plenty when discussing methods of strength training with clients, and in general there is truth to it regarding getting people to move better. However, I believe there are aspects of training like an athlete that are not optimal, nor even healthy for the vast majority of people.
This past week writer Jim Collins was on the Charlie Rose show discussing what qualities separate great leaders from others. One of his main points is that truly successful leaders undertook deep study of the risks involved in what they sought to do, and were able to understand and minimize risk. Often in popular culture we think of leaders as great risk takers, but Collins refutes that with many examples of historical figures that competed to attain a certain goal, and most often the successful people were the ones that took the least amount of risk necessary to accomplish the task, not the most.
In training, whether your goal is to lose fat or run a faster 10K where many people fail is jumping headfirst into a certain diet or training plan without understanding the principles behind that plan. Is that plan ideal for you? Will it require too much time and dedication to be practical? Do you really need 5 days of cardio and 5 days of strength training per week to attain your goal?
For a serious athlete the amount of training time and dedication necessary to maintain a certain weight may be worth the time and effort. But there is always a price to pay and it often comes in the form of sacrificing family and personal life, along with being able to enjoy a favorite restaurant or 2 beers with dinner. But for the person that wants to drop some fat or improve their strength it is not only unnecessary to jump into an overly restrictive training and nutrition plan but dooms one to fail.
Instead take careful stock of how much time you can reliably dedicate to training and planning your meals each week. If you don’t think you can do it all then develop a strategy to simplify, whether it be cooking ahead and preparing your lunches ahead of time, or getting in three 20 minute workouts instead of two 90 minute ones. This is also where strength training has an advantage. If the President can fit in a couple of workouts a week than surely two or three sessions of 60 minutes or less is possible for just about anyone.
You simply don’t need to do a complex of cardio and weights as many athletic programs call for, and for most of us trying to stick to that much training every week will not last very long.
Another example of qualities of particularly successful individuals Mr. Miller brought up was found with professional rock climber Tommy Caldwell. One of EFL’s members is a climber and writes for a well known climbing magazine, so he should know a great climber when he see’s one. According to him Caldwell is on another level from virtually any other climber in the world, and has free climbed routes that nobody else has. When Miller asked Caldwell what makes him different from all other climbers Caldwell replied that his ability to suffer more for longer.
I assume what he meant was not only his ability to suffer while on a record breaking climb, but also the ability to be disciplined in every aspect of his life so as to be completely focused on a singular goal, and tolerate an intensity of training that few others can. I’ver heard elite cyclists say the same thing regarding why they could win grueling races time after time, and the same could probably said about the truly elite athletes of just about every sport.
And we admire those qualities in our heroes. But is it advisable to try to emulate it? When it comes to health and fitness I don’t think so. Sure, learning how to really put forth hard effort in the gym, and develop the discipline to keep exercising and maintaining consistently healthy nutritional habits require some work, but I wouldn’t call it suffering. Far from it.
We all need to enjoy life too. Call it active recovery, call it fun, call it whatever you want but living an active healthy lifestyle and enjoying time with loved ones is probably much better for us in the long run than having your life revolve completely around one goal. However, and this is a big however, many people’s idea of “enjoying life” seems to revolve around eating unhealthy food and lots of it, and drinking too much. To a large extent that’s not enjoying life as much as it is adopting what the industrial food industry wants you to think. Michael Pollan is spot on there.
As an aside regarding develloping better nutrition habits I’m often asked which supplements are good and which are not. My answer is always “eat whole food” followed by fish oil, multi-vitamins, and perhaps some extra vitamin D, and perhaps protein supplementation depending on the person. Most all others are a waste of money.