“The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret.” – Henri Frederic Amiel
It’s often said that diet is second only to religion insofar as each topic’s ability to generate heated debate among “believers” who will defend to the grave their sacred beliefs. The same phenomena is true, though, in the health/fitness/performance world. And defenders of the faith here may be even more rabid.
As evidence, every so often the old HIT vs (name your favorite non-HIT methodology) rears its ugly head. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked some version of this same “HIT vs” question. And I always begin my answer by saying something along the lines of, “the only way to properly address this question is in terms of spectrum and shades”. Painting yourself into an ideological box will only serve to limit your growth. This is universally true, in a metaphorical sense, but in the case of the iron game, this “growth limitation” becomes literal. Quite simply, if performance and/or growth is the end game you’re gonna hafta allow yourself to step outside of ideological boundaries, and choose methodologies that will address your current weakness. In short, you’re going to have to become a Bruce Lee of the iron game.
I seriously believe that if I could attribute whatever success I’ve enjoyed in the S&C game to a single attribute, it’d be due to the fact that I’ve never subscribed to any one ideological box. But then again, I’ve never ascribed wholeheartedly to any ideological box, whether it be religious, political or otherwise. I’m too libertarian to be Libertarian, if you know what I mean. In essence, I’ve never let ideology get in the way of the goal.
I think we can all agree that various performance outputs require various and, sport-specific, “inputs” (or training methodologies). In other words, you can’t expect to train like a bodybuilder and have much success as an 800 meter sprinter. Training specifics matter, and every Physical Culturalist ought to keep a running inventory of his training goal vs the “Five Ts” in his alive in his head. Now the goal may change over time, and that’s cool — so long as the training stimulus follows suit. That this makes perfect logical sense will have you scratching your head as to why this is so seldom seen in practice.
We get lazy and married, over time, to not only our opinions, but to our training ideas. One’s current goal, of course, ought to dictate all. And as we continue to drill down, layer-by-layer, getting at the specifics of the goal, some methodologies will fall out of usefulness, and others will come to the forefront. No value judgments here (unless you’re biased by having something to sell), just careful benefit-vs-cost analysis.
And, as always, we have to ask ourselves if health even figures into the overall equation. And if so, to what extent. Again, I’m speaking in spectrum and shades here, but as we move more toward performance being the goal, we have to, by necessity, allow health to take a backseat. I don’t like it any more than you do, but alas it is painfully true.
I had an interesting “health vs performance” philosophical discussion not long ago with a friend over coffee…
*an aside: this is a so very “Austin” thing to to: health and fitness related philosophical debate. Over coffee, of course, in a very hipster, ATX coffee shop. And more specifically, we drank espressos. Double espressos. As turn-of-the-century Paris was to art, literature and philosophy, so is the twenty-ought-teens ATX to physical culture* 😉
…at any rate, we chose to debate the benefits and limitations of the diametrically opposed HIT and CrossFit. For the sake of argument, I chose to remain hemmed within ideological, either/or boxes — none of this Keith Norris style mixin’ and matchin’ of methodologies. Pick one, and defend it to the end; all very old-school LISTSERV/early-forum-days-like. And here’s where these discussions can go a little “woo” — because under these rules of debate, you are inevitably asked to predict the future. Very simply, we are ultimately asked to put a premium on either health or performance. And this in and of itself drives me nuts because I exist on that hairy edge where health begins to give way to performance. But hey, I’m a good sport — even more so when I’m being fed double espressos… in a very hipster, ATX establishment…and with my expensive fixie locked just outside 🙂
Although rather ill-equiped for the task, I took the HIT-defense side. Now, my Efficient Exercise colleague Skyler Tanner and good friend Dr. Doug McGuff are walking (and their respective blogs, written) repositories of the idea that the amount of intense exercise required for health is exceptionally minimal. And by “health”, I mean the efficient inter(and intra)-workings of the organs, blood glucose clearance ability, triglyceride levels, hormonal profiles, adequate strength and the like. Can some level of enhanced muscularity be achieved via the minimalist approach? You bet. Optimizing one’s genetic muscular potential? Probably not*.
*though this is still up for debate. Just as one can become healthy (as defined above) with a bare minimum amount of exercise, but with no appreciable improvement in (for example) VO2 max, we might extrapolate that there are those who, not matter how much (even intelligently programmed) effort is expended, will never put on much additional muscle mass. I’ve seen this played out empirically as well. But in the absence of any pin-prick test, one just has to throw his hat in the ring (if he is so inclined) to see what his genetic hand holds. For most, though, muscle gain is simply a game of diminished returns over time. Can methodology swaps help kick-start things? Possibly. But that may be more so due to renewed enthusiasm and intensity of effort rather than anything else.
But of course, optimizing one’s genetic potential, in a muscular sense, is just another measure of performance; the pursuit of which is, again, not necessarily the most healthy thing to do.
So this is all fine and well: very little “investment” required for optimum health. I like that! …until I don’t.
Because “internal markers of health” don’t matter much when your ass is trying to survive on a football field. Or if you’re a firefighter caught in the belly of the flaming beast. Or enduring the great zombie apocalypse. Exaggerations, yes — but you get my point. Because if you find yourself caught in a “shit hits the fan” moment, performance is the only thing that matters. This is herd thinning time, my friend — and you’d better not be anything other than the alpha.
So the “debate” came down to this: if you expect the live a Jetsons-like existence, then the minimalist approach will serve you well. Big health returns for the long-haul, and very little in accumulated wear-and-tear.
But personally, I like to prepare for the “unknown and the unknowable” (hat tip to Greg Glassman). Though, I like to prepare for it in an n=1, more controlled method. I put a premium on repeat, short bursts of power (sprints, and Oly power derivatives) because, hey, this is right in my wheelhouse. I try to limit the negatives (hat tip HIT) of wear-and-tear, overall stress and fatigue while accentuating the positives. I’m lucky that my muscle mass “just is” without having to necessarily “body build” it along. And it may just be that the psychological elation that I get from throwing iron, sprinting, and high-speed, city street fixie-hucking might help offset some of the accumulated physical trauma from doing the same. From my blood work, DEXA, and how I look, feel and perform, I’d say I’m managing the health vs performance tightrope nicely. So far, anyway.
But this is, essentially, all just an educated hunch. I won’t know that I’m on the right path until…well, until the end. And hopefully I won’t have a firm answer for another 60, 70 years or so.
And that’s a style of job security that I can really get behind 😉
In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –