What category do you fit into?

This year is more than halfway through and just a friendly reminder that another year is closing to an end.  So if you’re not working towards where you want to be or not living the life you want, it’s time to take control.  As far as where I’ll end up teaching, I’ll find out in the next 2 weeks.  Yea I know, having your fate in the hands of someone else sucks.  And I’ll be making a promise to myself that this is the last time I’ll be in this position.

Last Thursday, Amanda and I had our movie night and we ended up watching Divergent.  The storyline is similar to the Hunger Games in that the population is separated into different factions with each having a distinct role in society.  Divergents are those that encompasses all the traits of the factions and are rebellious to being confined to one train of thought.

There’s a common theme that I believe is important to understand.

Throughout history, we as humans have survived and conquered the world because of our ability to work together as a group through our intelligence and communication.  We were able to hunt large predatory animals, fight off neighboring tribes to defend resources, invade nations, and utilize technology to support superiority of a group.

It is in our human nature to feel the desire to want to belong to something, to be loved, to feel needed.  This pact mentality has allowed us humans to have survived the past 150,000 years or so.

Let’s fast forward to the year 2014.  The groups, pacts or whatever you want to call it, you can belong to is almost infinite.  You can separate people into so many categories: racial, socioeconomic, age, nations, religion, sex, political, personalities, and so on.

Currently, we live in a world that has gotten a lot smaller due to technology.  Large corporations are now multinational corporations.  As a result, I believe that one of the key traits to achieving success is to have an open mind and be divergent.

According to google, the definition of divergent is:

  1. Tending to be different or develop in different directions;
  2. (Psychology):  (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions

I believe that when you have become embedded into one particular group, your train of thought becomes narrower.  Rather than thinking broadly, you think in terms of only looking through a telescope (rather than being able to see the big picture).

Just like with anything, when examining the fitness world, there is so much division as a result of a pact mentality.

As a physical education teacher, we teach 5 components of physical fitness which are:

  1. Cardiovascular endurance;
  2. Muscular strength;
  3. Muscular endurance;
  4. Flexibility (which I prefer to replace it with mobility/stability); and
  5. Body composition

To define fitness, it is described as,

To prepare; make ready.  A combination of physical and mental attributes that allow you to: Meet the demands of everyday life and perform tasks that require ABOVE NORMAL EFFORT. Being physically and mentally Fit, decreases the chance of injury or bodily harm.  Most importantly it can improve your quality of life.

Now, I would have to agree with it.  If one achieves decent levels of those 5 components, it can definitely improve the quality of one’s life.

Now let’s examine our fitness industry and the various popular groups (that involves resistance training) associated to it.

Bodybuilding

This goes way back to ancient Greece.  It was the athletes in ancient Greece who trained not for aesthetics, but as a means to improve athletic performance within the sport they participated in.  By mid-19 century, it became increasingly popular that weight training was a means of improving health and strength.

Eugene Sandow, born in Prussia in 1867, is known as the father of modern bodybuilding.  He traveled to America in the 1890s and was billed as the ‘world’s strongest man.’  Along with his impressive feats of strength, his audiences were awed by his physical appearance which led to the development of modern day posing routines.  He helped promote bodybuilding and as a result official weightlifting competitions began to take place.  First, the World Championship in 1981 held in England.  Secondly, the 2 weightlifting events in the 1896 modern Olympic games.

Then Joe Weider, starting in 1936, further helped popularize bodybuilding in the United States.  He developed Your Physique magazine (which is now called Muscle & Fitness), built a set of barbells out of his garage, founded the first nutrition company, and is known for creating Mr. Olympia.  Then in the 1970s, both he and Arnold Schwarzenegger united (Arnold was influenced by Joe’s magazines back in Austria) and most of you know the rest.

It is important to note that during the 1950s, bodybuilders, powerlifters, olympic weight lifters all lifted together.  All performed a clean, front squat, back squat, press, and deadlifts because of the limited equipment (only had barbells to train with).

Powerlifting 

The modern sport originated in the 1950s in the United States and United Kingdom.  In these days, if it weren’t the clean and press, snatch, and clean and jerk, the other main exercises such as the squat, bench (gained popularity in 1950s), and curls were considered the ‘odd lifts.’  From 42 recognized lifts back in its genesis, the ‘strength set’ (curl, squat, bench) became the standard lifts. In 1966, the deadlift replaced the curl.  Bob Hoffman’s York’s Barbell company was influential in popularizing the sport in the United Stated.

Olympic Weightlifting

Originated as one of the field events in Track and Field in 1896.  In the early 1900s, competition lifts in the Olympics included:  ‘one hand’ snatch, the ‘one hand’ clean and jerk and the ‘two hands’ clean and jerk.  In 1924, the 2 handed press and snatch were added, making a total of 5 lifts.  In 1928, one handed lifts were dropped leaving only 3 main lifts: clean and press, snatch, and clean & jerk. In 1972, the clean and press was omitted leaving only the 2 main lifts that exists today: snatch and clean & jerk.

Americans had dominated this field from 1904 to 1968 and Tommy Kono was the best U.S. Olympic Weightlifter in our history having set world records in four different weight classes.  Since 1968, however, the U.S. has won only 3 medals (none being gold).

Strongman

Prior to the strongman competitions you witness on ESPN, in the earlier times, strongman referred to men who displayed feats of strength.  The recent competition you see yearly entitled, ‘World’s Strongest Man,’ was created in 1977 and evolved into what it is today.

Some of their staple competitive events include:

Atlas Stones; Axle Press; Car Flip; Deadlift; Dumbbell Press; Keg; Vehicle pull; Log Clean and Press; Squat; Tire Flip; Yoke; Log press; Farmers Carry; Sand Bag Carry; Power stairs

CrossFit

CrossFit, Inc. was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai (ex-wife of Greg Glassman) in 2000, prior to that it was coined Cross-Fit in 1996. CrossFit training is officially defined as “constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” That might sound like a random mash-up of adjectives, but it’s actually a succinct summary of the central CrossFit methodology.

“CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program, but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 recognized fitness domains,” says founder Greg Glassman in the Foundations document. Those domains are: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

According to coach Joel Jamieson,

Perhaps the best way to sum up what this training philosophy is all about is to look at their own description of their core training philosophy taken from the CrossFit website, “We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts.  We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.”  This simple statement cuts to the core of the entire “general rather than specific” philosophy and provides the context to their training methodology.

Now for the ultimate question…

Which training method is the best??

Before I answer that question, let’s all be clear on the semantics here.

Physical activity is everything you do when you aren’t at rest. It’s basic movement, with no goal beyond getting from one place to another.

Exercise is movement you do on purpose. It includes sports practice, jogging, yoga, backpacking, swimming, cycling, or anything else you think is important enough to take precedence over all the other things you could be doing at that moment. (Note: If you can operate your cell phone while exercising, you aren’t actually exercising. You’re just proving you can walk and chew gum at the same time.)

workout is an exercise session that’s deliberately strenuous. You start with the goal of working up a sweat, pushing your muscles and your circulatory system toward their limit, and giving your body a challenge from which it will have to recover.

Training is a system of workouts designed to achieve specific biological adaptations.

According to Mark Rippetoe,

Training is not about today. It’s about the process of going from where you are now to where you want to be later for the purpose of meeting a specific performance goal – usually at a specific time for more advanced trainees on a competitive schedule, but at first for the simple purpose of completing the novice phase of training, the first few months when it’s easier to add weight every workout and get stronger very quickly.

During a training cycle, each individual workout is important only because of its place in the whole process. Subjective judgments about how the workout felt are important only insofar as they provide information that would make the next workout better. Training can’t be accomplished randomly, because randomly applied stresses do not create a specific adaptation. This is especially true if during the intervening period many other stresses have been applied that conflict with the adaptation necessary to improve a specific quality (strength, power, speed, endurance).

Since Training is a process designed to produce an adaptation, this process necessarily entails more than a short period of time, because the adaptations necessary for high-level performance take time to accomplish.

Strength, for example, can be improved for many years if the processes that produce it can be continued uninterrupted by injury or distraction. The closer you get to your genetic potential for any given adaptation for performance, the slower progress will be and the more critical the method by which the stress is applied will become. This is merely the principle of diminishing returns, whereby a value approaches a limit asymptotically, and is in evidence throughout the universe.

It must be said that not everybody is interested in Training. For many, Exercise is good enough. They just want to burn some calories, get a little conditioning work, and have better abs. This is fine, for those people. But the second you want more – when you decide that there will now be a goal to accomplish with all this gym time – you’ve graduated to Training.

So now that we’ve all gotten on the same page, let’s delve into the question of which method is the best?

IT DEPENDS!!

Within these different styles of training, there are countless training methods associated to each and the reality is that there is no such thing as a perfect training program.  If you know of someone or you happen to find an advertisement that tells you of a perfect training program then be cautious of your wallet.  The reality is that every person on this earth is unique and not the same.  Yes there are many commonalities between all of us, however, there are also differences that exist.

So as a strength and conditioning coach (also known as a physical preparation coach) and personal trainer, I need to have knowledge in the following to name a few:  rehabilitation, prehabilitation/correctives, assessment tools, flexibility, mobility, stability, strength, power, endurance, speed, development of work capacity to include aerobic, lactic, and alactic energy systems, and nutrition.

I am a jack of all trades that specializes in none.  I choose what is best in order to achieve a specific result.  Before you engage in dichotomous thinking by labeling a training program to be good or bad, let’s examine the philosophy of and learn from one of the greatest martial artist in our history.  Bruce Lee was ahead of his time during the 1960s and his style of fighting was progressive for many of the traditionalist.  His philosophy was,

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

He basically utilized the best parts of each training discipline and discarded the useless ones to make his own style.  The rest of the martial arts community didn’t really catch on until the past two decades (40 years later) with the emergence of Mixed Martial Art, or MMA.  He was definitely divergent for his time.  Whenever you watch a fight nowadays, they don’t distinguish or acknowledge the different disciplines any longer.  A fighter has to be skilled in various disciplines to be successful and that is why there’s an enormous amount of time spent on skill development on the mat for these guys and gals.

Now let’s go back and examine what is useful from the various training methods:

Bodybuilding

  • This style focuses on building muscles, known as hypertrophy.  There are various methods used to accomplish these.  More advanced methods are: giant sets, rest-pause, drop sets, superset, staggered, German volume, 20-rep breathing squats, etc.
  • Repetition typically ranges between 6-12 (more reps can be performed for legs), sets of 3-4, and rest periods of 30 to 90 seconds.
  • Intensity varies between moderate-low to moderate-high.
  • Great if your goal is to build muscle or cycle in between strength or power block periodization (it gives the body a little bit of a break).  The great Tommy Kono used to use this method for 2-4 weeks after an Olympic weightlifting competition.

Powerlifting 

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.   It doesn’t matter how slow they move the bar, the primary focus is on how much they can lift on the squat, bench, and deadlift.
  • Big compound movements allows for better overall strength gains and strength is a quality that most sedentary adults lack
  • According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a professor of kinesiology and exercise science, estimates the average person can voluntarily utilize only about 65 percent of her potential muscle power. A trained power lifter might reach 80 percent.
  • Neural adaptations need to be made to increase muscle power potential to build muscle.  If you see someone who can squat over 400 lbs or press 225 lbs overhead you can bet they have more muscle than someone who can squat 135 lbs and press 90 lbs.

Olympic Weightlifting

  • Focuses on one quality, STRENGTH-SPEED (power), to perform the 2 competitive lifts in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.
  • Very time consuming to develop technique to be good at these two lifts.  If you can’t snatch your bodyweight, then your not that good.
  • Great and fun for people who likes to be challenged and for those that have time to learn.
  • Variations of these lifts are good for teaching triple extension to create power and to absorb force

Strongman

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.  Unlike power lifters, they exhibit their strength in multiple ways through their competitive events.
  • It’s fun and different than traditional methods of resistance training such as barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc.
  • It helps build overall strength and girth (which is needed for athletes to help build a protective armor).
  • Farmer walks or any other type of carries was stolen from these guys.

CrossFit

  • It has done more to promote fitness over the past decade and since the majority of Americans are overweight and sedentary, I’m all for it.  Whatever get people off the couch and moving.
  • Has done more to popularize Olympic weightlifting than Olympic weightlifting themselves.
  • It has promoted people to perform big compound movements and to WORK HARD which is lacking for most people that visits commercial gyms.
  • It has broken the barrier and promoted women to lift heavy!
  • It taught the value of competition and the power of working within a group or community.

So when training, don’t pigeonhole yourself to only one train of thought.  If you find yourself adamantly defending one training method based on a person’s comment, you are probably sucked into this tunnel vision mindset.  So an example of a training workout that incorporates these different facets may look something like:

1a) 1-arm DB snatch 3×5 on the minute

2a) Trap bar DL 3×6 w/ 2 min rest

3a) Goblet squat 3×10 on every even minute

3b) Chest supported rows 3×12 on every odd minute

4a) Farmer walks 2×40-60 yards

In closing, here are the key points:

  • Expand your vision and don’t get sucked into one train of thought, be divergent!
  • “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Every person is unique and there is no PERFECT TRAINING PROGRAM.  Every program is flawed so focus on developing a few qualities (Endurance/Hypertrophy/Strength/Power) at a time.

  • Physical activity, exercise, workout, and training all have different meanings and purposes.  If you are looking to achieve a specific fitness goal, learn to develop a training plan to help you achieve that goal!
  • Divergent is an okay movie, nothing spectacular.

 

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