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Marathons and half-marathons are increasingly gaining popularity across the country. It seems as if every other weekend here in Austin some type of race takes place – typically of the distance or endurance variety. I will find out about such races because they often block east/west access through downtown Austin on a Saturday or Sunday when we’ll get a hankering for some good ol’ East Austin grub for brunch.
We have plenty of clients that participate in racing events to fuel the competitive spirit and sense of accomplishment. There are intrinsic motivations participants have to feed the urge to complete a marathon or half marathon and I am not here to stomp on those goals but merely put them in perspective.
The latest string of marathon deaths has me convinced of what I have always known but had not given much thought lately – the majority of the US population is NOT built for running distances. You occasionally find the person with the slight built frame and their running form seems effortless as they glide along at a pace most cannot keep. BUT, as I observe the many runners and running groups around Austin I see a majority of the crowd that looks like they are struggling along with poor form, knee braces, and looking for the motivation to keep up the pace of the group.
It is true, one can train to complete a marathon but many times there are short-term and often long-term detrimental physical consequences that occur because of such training. And yes, even death can occur come race time from those who appear to be in good physical condition for the race as in the most recent cases in Philadelphia where two men, 21 and 40, died from apparent cardiac incidents from the participation in the race.
Again, not trying to squelch the motivations of people considering taking on endurance-based activities or trying to come across with doom and gloom – I just want such activities to be considered for what they are by nature. Distance races and training for the races are by definition not exercise nor can they necessarily help you achieve physical health or fitness. For an excellent definition of exercise and recreation CLICK HERE. If you are trying to lose weight or fat – take a hard look at what you are eating. If you want a muscular look – consider adopting a proper resistance training program. If you want a sense of accomplishment – take a look at your family, friends, and loved ones and assess your relationships – you might be better off not spending hours each week logging those miles in favor of spending quality time with those you love.
Yours in Health – Efficient Exercise
If you browse through the newsstands, check out a fitness blog, or even ask a personal fitness trainer the question which exercise program is best, you will quickly see there are many answers to the same question. I would even venture to say that if you ask five personal trainers the same question you would get five different answers. The problem? Well the answer really is “It depends…” And to be honest, many fitness programs *can* work for a period of time before a negative deterrent sets in: lack of results, injury, time commitment, loss of interest, “life” gets in the way, and the list goes on and on.
So how do we answer this question at Efficient Exercise? The answer is simple: it is all about YOU. You as a unique individual are coming in with specific goals. We will answer the question of what will work best by assessing your current health and fitness level and progressing through a system that best matches your needs. We do not create random workouts of the day and expect everyone to follow blindly despite possible limitations and differences. Nor do we create a cookie cutter program that everyone follows for weeks at a time. Like a great artist, our instructors use the materials they have on hand to craft a masterpiece in you. We collaborate to solve problems and we continually strive for improvement by staying current with the latest scientific research to ensure our system is evidence based.
We always strive to be non dogmatic in our training approach, but if we do not have certain boundaries we end up standing for nothing. So what is the common thread in our training approach? Efficiency.
We always ask “why” in considering various modalities of exercise. When it comes down to it we strive to give our clients the most bang for the exercise buck as possible. What does that mean? High intensity resistance training that is safe, meaningful, and effective for the particular client. By definition, one cannot keep up an intense level of exercise or activity for a long period of time so this is how we keep our workouts brief. We choose resistance training because in a short amount of time, it gives the client the highest return on investment for all major health and fitness markers: increased strength, increased cardiorespiratory performance, increased resistance to injury, and an overall presence of feeling better.
Yours in Health – The Efficient Exercise Team
Olympic weight lifting has gained popularity in many training programs lately. CrossFit for example randomly selects various Olympic lifts in their WOD (workout of the day) programming. There is a unique rush experienced by the trainee when a properly performed Olympic lift is completed especially when it is a personal record.
I want to take a step back and ask the simple question: Is Olympic lifting necessary? I might be an efficiency fanatic and I make no apologies for that. However, I have always subscribed to the philosophy of asking “Why?” more often than not. In the case of Olympic weight lifting I am asking the big “Why” yet again.
The arguments for Olympic weight lifting are typically that there are specific muscle firing patterns similar to many power sports. These firing patterns with the hips/legs are often thought to be similar to jumping and the arm swings in the lifting are also thought to improve vertical jump. However, I have seen plenty of basketball players that can jump out of the gym getting their head at rim level and they absolutely suck at Olympic lifting. Why? Well a host of reasons but it comes down to leverage and specificity. Olympic weight lifting, and any other movement for that matter, is VERY specific to that activity and that activity alone. Could Olympic weight lifting help vertical jump? Maybe. But so could a host of other strength and conditioning movements in combination with the specific skill of jumping.
Another argument for Olympic lifting is that it helps develop power through speed and force of the lifts. This makes sense at surface level: you want to be fast well move a weight fast. Again though, I ask the question “Why?” In this study researchers discovered that power development was not specific to the speed of movement or type of muscle contraction rather improvement in power came from the muscle attempting to fire in an explosive manner whether the speed was slow or even if there was no movement at all (isometric contractions). So if fast movements of the weights are not necessary to develop power then again I ask why do it?
So do I think Olympic weight lifting is necessary? Well yes if your sport is Olympic weight lifting…or CrossFit for that matter as I think CrossFit is more of a game/sport than a strength and conditioning program (i.e. the CrossFit games…the Olympic games…you see the point). If you feel the *need* to perform Olympic lifts, which I think is more of an engrained philosophical and psychological drive than a physiological need for performance, then do so properly. Do not perform Olympic lifts when extremely fatigued…ahem CrossFit. Also, make sure you put in the leg work to solidify proper form and technique with the training plates and lighter loads. Olympic lifting is a skill, a sport, and needs to be done under the expert coaching of a trained professional if possible. I see too many potential dangers and risks out there to recommend it for the health and fitness goals of 99% of the population. Olympic lifting for the elite power athlete? Well yes these lifts could be a portion of the strength and conditioning program but the same rules apply as above: do not Olympic lift when fatigued, make sure proper form is engrained and implemented, and probably throw Olympic lifting out the window for those that naturally do not gravitate towards it because lack of skill, leverage, or capability.
President Efficient Exercise
“I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with variation.”
Not to beat a dead horse, but again — it is my opinion that the parallels between the culinary arts and the pursuit of optimum Physical Culture are uncanny. Substitute ”program” or “methodology” for recipe, “trainee” or “coach” for cook and you’ll see what I mean. No dogma here, just results. This much I know to be true: on-going success in the n=1 pursuit of fine Physical Culture comes down to the ability to pick just the right ingredient, at just the right time. It’s not at all rocket science really, but it does require a certain degree of devotion, dedication to the craft. Just as in fine writing, though, one must know the rules inside and out before those same rules can be broken in order to produce an elegantly-honed piece. We’ve all endured writing that is technically perfect…yet, colorless; lifeless, even. Consider such writing as the equivalent of linear periodization in resistance training. And then, every once in a while, we’re lucky enough to come across something breath-taking, like this:
“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
That’s the last paragraph of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; and that, my friends, is a true work of art. Cormac’s writing has a way of inducing epileptic fits among grammar Marms, and yet, what a vivid, sensual picture he paints. McCarthy undoubtedly knows the rules of grammar just as well as any technician, and yet he’ll trample those same rules in an instant in order to produce a desired result — in this example, a last paragraph that is nothing less than brilliant.
And speaking of bending the rules to produce results, remember back in January of this year when I spoke of the launch of Efficient Exercise’s Project Transformation? In this “project”, we at Efficient Exercise offered some 20-odd “everyday Joes” (and Josephenes!) 10 weeks of free training and dietary counseling, with the intent being to show that anyone can achieve and maintain a fantastic level of health and well-being with a minimum investment of both time and dietary intervention — or, another way of putting it, with a minimum of “headache, heartache and hassle”! Training consisted of two, 30-minute, CZT/ARX -based workouts per week, with “dietary counseling” consisting of little more than the equivalent of ”hey, follow more-or-less a Paleo diet, and here’s Robb Wolf’s and Dr. Kurt Harris’ web sites“.
I jest here about the diet…but only slightly. Actually we did offer the dietary counseling/intervention services of Austin’s Merritt Wellness Center for those who had a rough, initial “shaking the carb Jones” transition, or for those who we thought might be struggling with proper nutrient absorption, or other such issues. The main take-away here is that these people were largely left to their own devices, other than the 2x 30-minutes per week that they saw us for their workouts, and the virtual support network created by our Facebook page. A health and wellness program that is anything but a fad, mostly self-directed and administered, and that is sustainable for a lifetime. No involvement from the medical establishment, no insurance hassles, nor dealings with the poly-pharma industry. No sales pitch or endorsement from a celebrity talking head. Surely something that simple can’t work, right?
Well, let’s just see about that.
So, after 10 short weeks, how did it go? Just take a gander, if you will, at these results:
No gloss-over here, no top-performer bias, just the plain, raw, non-manipulated data. Everybody’s data.
Limitations? Sure. I wish we’d done preliminary and follow-up blood work. I wish that we had access to a more accurate method of measuring body composition (we used the impedance method; access to a university’s water tank/scale would have been nice). But hey, we’re a gym/fitness studio, not a university lab. Our aim was to show a trend, not measure absolutes, and in that, I believe we succeeded.
But the key points remain: this is a simple, realistic and sustainable program with a huge return-on-investment — not just in the measurable health and well-being parameters, but in the intangible measures — happiness, self-esteem, productivity. Our intent here was not to produce better athletes, but better everyday citizens. Citizens who will not become yet another drain on our country’s limited healthcare resources. Citizens who can continue, into an advanced age, to contribute to the nation’s GDP, rather than become yet another statistical drain upon that same measure. And, yeah (and here comes my “woo-woo” side) — citizens who can contribute to the overall “good vibe” of their communities. Healthy, fit people are happy, courteous, empathetic, loving and caring people. It is no coincidence that Austin is, at the same time, the epicenter of Physical Culture, and a city renoun for it’s tremendously good vibe.
But hey, enough of me yammering on about this, let’s consider a few of the actual participant testimonials:
So, can the nation’s health care crisis be tamed, one citizen at a time? You bet it can. One hour per week. Some rudimentary dietary changes. A huge return on a very small investment. Vibrant health is within everyone’s grasp, even the most time-crunched of individuals.