Imagine driving across town hoping to find a restaurant you'd like to try but with no directions whatsoever. You'd likely never find the place and give up due to frustration after aimlessly wandering around and eventually call it a day.
Of course, this is ridiculous and nobody in their right mind would ever do such a thing because today we can simply plug the address in our phones and sit back while Siri guides us every step of the way. Metaphorically speaking however, this is exactly what we do when we go to the gym without a plan.
Hitting the gym for a quick pump or strolling through the park to break a quick sweat is what I categorize as "exercise." Conversely, engaging in thoughtfully planned and structured sessions that build off of one another to reach a desired outcome is what I call "training."
There is certainly a time and place for exercise, but it is foolish to believe that the simple acts of showing up and working hard will yield effective results. The majority of individuals exercising without a plan eventually get injured, bored or frustrated and are forced to seek a better way to work. While I applaud those who attempt to better themselves through increased physical activity, an appropriate plan is necessary to achieve any significant progress.
Training vs. Exercise
The intention is not to bash exercise—I exercise often.
Our society as a whole is entirely too sedentary and we do not move enough as it is. Going for a walk, playing some pickup basketball, skiing with friends or even doing some gardening are all great ways to burn extra calories and increase one's mental health. A steady dose of enjoyable physical activity leads to a better quality of life.
Where most people get it wrong however, is in believing that by punching the clock at two random spin classes per week they will somehow land the aesthetic body or performance goals they desire. General practices do not lead to specific outcomes.
Most people have a rough idea of how they'd like to look or perform but never clearly define it. Instead of saying "I'd like to be thinner" or "I'd like to be stronger," put a number it. Clearly stating that "I'd like to lose 15 pounds" or "I'd like to squat twice my body weight" is concise and sets the stage for training.
Knowing where you'd like to go leads to knowing what you need to do. If you decide to lose 15 pounds in the next three months, you can work backwards and break that into losing 1.25 pounds a week, ultimately mapping out your training and nutrition to reflect the weekly caloric deficit you must sustain as well as the actionable steps you must do every day to meet those demands. Unfortunately most individuals go about the same goal by adding excessive amounts of cardiovascular exercise and starving themselves only to spin their wheels and get discouraged.
The What and How of Effective Training
Effective training centers around a specific goal under a given time frame.
Obviously once the goal is reached training does not magically end. It instead serves as a chance to reassess and refine our plans.
To map out training, coaches use a strategy called periodization. There are numerous ways to go about periodization, but the premise every style follows is a planned stimulus combined with functionally overreaching and adequate recovery that ultimately yields increased performance.
Unplanned exercise is often a uniform training stimulus that leads to a plateau, excessive stimulus that leads to overtraining and regression, or not enough stimulus that fails to move the needle.
Understanding the intricacies of exactly how to train and what dosages are adequate can be confusing, so I advise hiring a qualified coach to help. Somebody who understands human physiology and biomechanics can ensure that you are training in the most efficient manner possible to reach your goals through proper exercise selection and targeted training stressors. They will do their homework and conduct a needs analysis on the particular sport or activity at which you want to excel and use that as their roadmap for success.
I highly encourage you to take a look at your own current programming and ask yourself if you are doing the things necessary to achieve your goals and have put forth effort into your planning.
Photo Credit: Ben Gingell/iStock
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