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The Rules of the Game


PART I: TRAINING FOR LIFE

The best diet in the world cannot get you in shape or prevent the loss of muscle mass caused by sedentary living (sarcopenia). By itself, whole organic food cannot raise your vital capacity, preserve bone mass, strengthen your biceps or save your neuromuscular system from premature degeneration. YOU MUST EXERCISE and you must do it right. Without motion, you will lose the battle against oxidative damage and gravity long before your time. Guaranteed.

If you want better health, freedom from disease and disability, a reliable surplus of energy and a leaner more attractive physique, combine resistance training (weight bearing exercise) with aerobic conditioning and stretching. As you optimize your fitness level the benefits will manifest themselves in everyday life. You’ll feel and look better both in and outside of the gym. It’s really a very simple concept but most adults still find the process extremely difficult to master.

Principles to Train By

A principle by definition is a fundamental truth, which when applied elicits a specific and predictable outcome. The scientific law that explains a natural action is inherent not only in the effect (which can be observed or measured) but also resides in the method that causes the effect. Next time you go to the gym watch how people train. Seldom is science given its rightful and prominent position. As a fitness athlete, your goal is to train holistically, intelligently and to finish with a sense of accomplishment.

I have a little book filled with powerful words. It’s called "The Art of Peace", and was drawn from the talks and writings of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the Japanese martial art known as Aikido. Ueshiba says, "In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace", and again, "The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit".

The Principle of Overload

To get a tan you need exposure to light. To maintain a tan you need exposure at regular intervals. The same is also true with fitness. To build muscle or improve its endurance and strength, you have to stress the body beyond its existing capabilities. After that it’s a question of how much time and energy is required for maintenance. Muscle doesn’t retain its original size and shape forever and without regular maintenance you can expect to lose nearly 50% of it by the time you’re ninety!

That which you do not use you lose. For instance, you lose flexibility without stretching and cardiac function declines without some form of aerobic activity. This is an immutable law, although the degree of loss varies between individuals. Exercise is a form of stress. That’s why it must be controlled, like the light needed for the tan. It disrupts the environment within and forces a natural compensatory response. By controlling the cause you control the effect.

The most efficient way to overload a muscle group is to increase the amount of weight you lift (without compromising exercise form). This should be done progressively to allow for recovery and adaptation, hence the term "progressive resistance training". By progressively adding weight, you will keep pace with the growing strength of your body and ensure that your muscle fibers and neurons are working at their maximum capacity. This also creates an anabolic response, which acts like a defensive shield against the catabolic and corrosive effects of light, oxygen, radiation, gravity, cortisol and time.

The Principle of Intensity

Intensity is a measure of effort. It is closely associated with the overload principle, because increasing the amount of weight makes lifting more difficult. Increasing the number of repetitions in a set with the same amount of weight also increases intensity, as does increasing the number of sets performed per exercise, or adding extra exercises during a given workout. Another way to increase intensity involves reducing the amount of rest time between sets. It seems apparent that the harder you workout, the better the results.

Proponents of high intensity training refute the thinking that "more is better". Instead, they emphasize training specifically for power & strength, especially if your goal is to develop your muscles to the largest possible degree in the shortest possible time. But even if you don’t want big muscles, intensity is still the primary driving force behind growth hormone, testosterone, IGF-1 and insulin metabolism. Hormones function like muscle too. Without demand they dwindle in supply.

The Principle of Symmetry

When you develop your entire physique from top to bottom you create symmetry. Think of your body as a living whole composed of many unique but essential parts. Each and every muscle group requires training stimulation. Condition your heart and lungs. Flush your vascular tree. Strengthen your ankles. Finish your workout with a passive stretch. Learn to meditate and breathe through your nose. The outcome is a balanced, coordinated and highly functional body that is disease resistant and packed with esthetic appeal.

Symmetry is pleasing to the eye because excellent proportion creates visual harmony. Those who neglect important bodyparts such as legs, traps, calves, abdominals or the lower back, often regret their negligence. Symmetry is the hallmark of beauty and discipline. It always earns respect from those who understand the difficulty of its achievement.

It’s wise to work the entire frame but it does require thoughtful planning and analysis. Training patterns that favor the development of specific muscle groups over others can lead to injury. For example, if the chest and shoulders grow out of proportion to the rest of the body, the spine, rotator cuff and knees become susceptible to damage.

The Principle of Consistency

Consistency is defined as "dedicated conformity to a specific set of principles, actions or belief". But don’t make the mistake of conforming to the wrong percentage group. Remember, no positive changes will occur without regular training. You must get to a health club and engage in strenuous physical activity!

Your workouts should be practical, planned in advance and viewed as a top priority (like work). And not just for aesthetic reasons. Workout to optimize how you’re body works and for general health & well-being. Who the hell wants to be sick? And don’t kid yourself. Most people are vertically ill because they don’t take care of themselves.

Controlled exercise demands time, energy and a strong commitment. It’s not easy to maintain a youthful, lean body composition as you age, but the rewards are priceless! And without clarity of purpose and ferocity of intent, even your best intentions will get swallowed up in the sea of mainstream procrastination. You must focus on the reasons why you need to train…everyday!

Consistency is a brother to persistence. It’s that quality that pushes us through the hard times and past the myriad of excuses which we use to justify missed workouts. If you’re not consistent it’s because you either don’t believe it’s imperative to workout or you’ve been seduced by someone (or some “thing”) into thinking it’s just not that important. And let’s be honest, who other than yourself really cares if you show up or not?

The Principle of Periodization

Periodization is the concept of changing your workouts at regular intervals of time. It involves the manipulation of training variables, such as the number of repetitions performed per set, exercises performed, the amount of weight lifted, the form and sequence of exercise or the rest periods between sets.

Periodization prevents stagnation and greatly reduces the frustration of "training plateaus". It keeps your workouts fresh and alive. Changes in training patterns prevent boredom and diminish the risk of injury. Swim once in a while instead of running. Or run hills and sprint for intervals instead of running the same 10K day after day.

Lifting heavy weights without variation can cause severe joint inflammation and even erode the joint capsule. Eventually the stress is too much for the immune and neuromuscular systems to handle. With periodized training intensity is modified and cycled, so that the stress does not accumulate to the point where training paradoxically undermines good health. Taking the first two steps forward is easy; it’s the one step backward that challenges the ego.

The Body is Servant to the Mind

The real key to long-term training success is motivation, which emanates from the human soul. Motivation is a function of energy and right thinking. So check your mental diet and analyze it for content, quality and purity, because what you pour into your mind eventually works its way out into behavior. To stay on track you need passion, purpose, strong self-esteem and the power to confront and accept reality. And if you’re an exercise fanatic like me, join the club. I’d rather burnout like a rocket than quietly fade away!