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Basic Truths of Fitness

Success in the gym, as with most things in life, comes down to mastering the basics.  Much of the health and fitness industry in America is based on a convenient truth: everything works.  For six weeks.  Then it doesn’t.  But by then, they’ve got your money.  Then, it’s off to the next thing promising a way around these facts.  The sooner you accept and apply the truths below, the faster, better, and longer you’ll see genuine improvement in your health and fitness. 

Truth 1. It needs to be a habit.  Or: Consistency > Intensity.

The common pitch is to “get fit fast” (and you can do that with us and other fitness methods), but even when successful, fitness starts to fade within two weeks after you stop exercising.  Fitness is perishable.  Short-term goals can be great for getting you started and motivating you through the tough initial steps of forming a new habit.  But if there isn’t a long-term goal supporting you, it will be difficult to maintain a fitness habit after you either reach or fail to reach your short-term goal.

Most important is to stop acting like living a healthy life is a big deal. You can go to the gym three times a week. That can be “normal” for you. Not a sacrifice. Not an obligation. The more you treat fitness like a chore you have to do, the harder it will be.  When you learn to enjoy what you’re doing, it will be easy.  As Dr. Kelly Starrett says, “Don’t be heroic, be consistent.”

To get there, set a schedule, a long-term goal, and get a buddy to come with you.

Related: Why Technique Is the Foundation of a Training Philosophy

Truth 2.  You need to have a plan.

Living organisms adapt to imposed stress through a process called “supercompensation.”  That means that they not only repair damage done by the stressor, they build additional capacity in case the next stressor is even worse.  All physical training manipulates this response by stressing you just past your current capacity, allowing time and taking active steps to recover from that stress, giving your body time to supercompensate, and then stressing you a little more than last time.  This stress/recover cycle is both workout-to-workout and cycle-to-cycle (such as week-to-week). You can write your own plan or hire a trainer, or join a gym or group that provides one, just so long as you have one structuring your training.

Truth 3. You need to use functional movements.

The official CrossFit definition of “functional movement” is movements of the human body that “move large loads long distances, quickly.”  Notice that there isn’t anything in that definition which meets the more common understanding of “functional,” which is “practical, utilitarian, useful” and the like.  Fortunately, movements that are practical, utilitarian, and useful usually involve moving large loads over long distances quickly.  But it’s important to keep this in mind.  The Schwinn Air-Dyne and similar devices will apply a huge load to you very rapidly, but it doesn’t correspond to anything in you might do in the real world.

Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do in the gym that apply large loads and which do map to real world activities.  Squats.  Deadlifts.  Presses.  Pull-ups.  Sprints.

…the biggest and most dangerous mistake people make is going too hard too soon.

Truth 4.  Mechanics —> Consistency —> Intensity.

To get supercompensation, you need to push your limits.  However, the biggest and most dangerous mistake people make is going too hard too soon. Everyone wants to jump in and crush the workout (and themselves), because it seems like what everyone else is doing, or it’s macho, or they want to “win”.  Or they want to lose 30# yesterday because they’re going on spring break next week.  But you must first have the foundation in what we call “movement competency” – the ability to do the movements well, and do them well consistently.  Moving poorly is a sure road to injury.  Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will catch up with you eventually, and when it does, it violates principle #1.  

The first step is to identify any mobility issues that limit your ability to move as an exercise requires.  And then address them.  The Functional Movement Screen is a great way to do that, and we’re happy to help.  Or you can DIY with resources like MobilityWOD.com.  You can still workout during this phase, just respect your current limitations, and gradually push them out, rather than trying to force your way to fitness.

Related: Stop “Stretching”! Do Mobility Work Instead

Truth 5. Record your workouts.

What gets measured, gets managed. If you don’t know how many sets and reps you did with a particular weight two weeks ago, how can you guarantee that you’re actually getting stronger? If you don’t know how fast you ran a half mile last month, how can you use it to help you pace your quarter mile repeats today?

Tracking your progress is simple: get a small notebook and write down your workouts. We sell them, or you can use your own.  There are also plenty of apps available for smartphones.

So, how to apply these truths to break through the boom-and-bust cycle?

  1. Set a schedule. When and where, exactly, are you going to train?

  2. Get a notebook and pen to record your training.

  3. Identify your mobility issues and start working on them.

  4. Select and learn exercises that relate to real-world activities.  Increase difficulty by moving better and more often, rather than increasing load, until you are moving well enough to confidently move with additional difficulty.  Only add enough to create additional challenge, and never to the point your technique is in doubt.

  5. Contact me with your questions at john@crossfitslipstream.com. 

John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer