Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's the Definition of Insanity? Part I: The Importance of a Program

When it comes to exercise, the only relevant question you need to ask yourself is, "What is the definition of insanity?" The answer of course is, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." To be honest, I have no idea if that's the definition of insanity, but when it comes to the above definition I can assure you there are lots of insane fitness-minded people.

There are two key principles of exercise:

1) Overload: When it comes to fitness, the body must be exposed to a stressor (overload) which results in an adaptation by the body to the stressor thus performing better next time the stressor is encountered. We typically think about the overload principle in regards to strength training (if your goal is to bench press 200 lb but your maximum today is 150 lb you need to overload the body to create an adaption that allows you to move 200 lb) but the same applies to endurance goals like an improved 5K time.

2) Progression: This is basically the "how" of overloading. We want to progressive create overload to make ourselves stronger/faster/buffer over time. If we take our bench press example from above, appropriate progression would not involve loading the bar with 200 lb (when my max is 150 lb) and praying. Nor would benching 150 lb for months at a time get me any closer to my goal. Progression is basically the sweet spot of overload -- increasing your overload in a way that maximizes adaption while avoiding embarrassing things like being pinned underneath a 200 lb bar at peak gym time. Yikes.

So what's the relationship between insanity and the principles of overload and progression? Unfortunately, I see it every day. If I were a wagering individual, I would say that greater than 75% of fitness enthusiasts are insane -- meaning that day after day, month after month, year after year, they are doing the same exercise program. They jog the same 5K, they take the same spinning class, they do the same strength training circuit -- and don't get me wrong, this is great, as long as their goal is to simply maintain their fitness.

But for most of us in the gym (or on the road or pool or whatever) we're looking to be better/faster/stronger/hotter than we were a year ago. If you are doing the same exercise program over time, you are going to get the same results. If you're fine with that, if you're Michael Phelps perhaps, then by all means, keep doing what you're doing. But if not, then this week's blog will help you set goals, create an appropriate program and then stick with it. There's a lot of insanity in the world, let's keep it out of fitness!

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences


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