Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Intensity Trumps Duration, R Cosgrove

What? Yeah, you heard me right. This is exactly how I felt after training for and completing in my first Ironman.
My body was soft, with no definition, and had definitely changed due to spending the majority of my training in the steady-state aerobic zone – the same "fat burning zone" many books and magazine still talk about.
I was in great shape as far as my endurance and cardiovascular system were concerned, but I had less noticeable muscle tone and didn't have the definition I was used to having in my abs and arms.

T Nation and its authors apparently do not understand CrossFit. It is staffed largely by those who would find CrossFit to be a faddish competitor, dishing out unsound training practices to those who are tricked by the trendiness associated with CrossFit. So, when I read even a good article there, I don't expect to find it will be all kosher.

What I like about this article is it reinforces my own experience, and that of many other experienced trainers - working out will not make you lean. Eating crappy stuff makes you accumulate fat, and you can't out train that - for long.

I also like the author's point about the deleterious effects of over-training in aerobic movments. I like to say intensity trumps duration, and it does so for nearly every desirable adaptation you might want from a workout. Strength, speed, power, or work capacity - intensity trumps duration.

What is not so useful is the writer's focus on exercise and fat loss, or exercise and calorie burning. Because if you eat like crap, you'll be hungry no matter what your workouts are, and if you are hungry, in the long term you will easily out-eat your workouts. On the other hand, you can lose fat just fine by eating good food, the food that's right for you. Workouts are not a requirement for fat loss for most folks. Eating the right food is essential, even more so for sustaining your body composition gains.

Lastly, working out to lose fat and build muscle is not as compelling as working out to gain physical capacities you value.  A friend said of CrossFit, "We bring 'em in the door chasing appearance, but we keep them by getting them to chase performance."  Most folks will not give up time to pursue appearance via exercise for long, and for good reason - it does not work well for that purpose.  Exercise to build new work capacity - lift more, lift faster, work harder, do more in less time, be a more awesome version of you - is sustaining because the results keep coming.  You get stronger, you notice the positive impact in your life.  You conquer things in the gym that used to scare you - hell, you face frightening workouts every day - and you notice that also translates to positive impact in your life.  You get so used to facing fear, nothing scares you any longer.  

So, lots of exercise, and a diet, is better than nothing. But long term success in health comes from learning how to stop liking, and therefore stop eating, crappy food. Even more important, you can workout and do hours of cardio and perhaps be lean - and still be sick. Exercise does not nullify crappy food, although it may blunt the damage to an extent.

You may be reading this and think "How can a fitness professional be dissing exercise?" Well, I'm not. I'm just telling you that I think the exercise you do should be intended to give you the physical capacities you need to have a vibrant life, and to feel your best. You were made to move, made to work, and made to strive. Exercise is awesome for each of those pursuits. I don't think very many of us can max out the human experience without exercise.  Any exercise is better than no exercise, but for me, high intensity functional movements delivered via short, intense workouts beats all the other training modalities I've tried - and I've tried many.

If you want a better emotional and physical experience of life, you need to be working hard at something - something with high intensity, relatively short duration, and which demands and develops strength, power, and work capacity.

"But Paul, what about all of the studies she cited showing fat loss or weight loss from interval training?" That's great. I hope it happens that way for you. But did you notice the duration of those studies? To know anything, you'd also want to know the age of those who participated (cause as you know, when you are young you can lose weight in a flash, and as you age, it's a different story). Bottom line - you will not meet many folks who can eat sugar, wheat, polyunsaturated oils, and still be healthy and lean, no matter how much they exercise. You'll also see this in any CrossFit gym - lots of folks who are working hard, and making performance gains, and ... not getting lean. That's not the end of the world but it is a clue - if that's you, you are eating crappy “food" (and/or doing too much "cardio").

If you want vibrant health and the appearance we associate with that, you will need to stop eating that nasty stuff you have called "food" for most of your life, and focus on meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar/wheat.

PS - if you love triathlete or marathon training, please accept my genuine admiration.  Those sports are awesome, and the athletes that do those things are tougher than a bag full of hammers.  I don't disparage your pursuit in any way.  My point is - endurance training is not the best exercise for health or fitness, and the benefits for fat loss are over-rated.
Reposted to March 2015

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