12 Truths About Training and Intensity

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As the 2013 Open season nears, have you had a moment to think about how you have been training for the past year? If this is your second or third Open, do you feel like your training has made you a better athlete than last year? Hear what these experts have to say about training and find out how much applies specifically to your training. Let’s start with Jon Gilson of Again Faster, who “reveals” 5 truths about training:

“The Truth”

1.) You will not get stronger without overload.

Simple math: If your average power output isn’t increasing, then you are not making gains.
This one is simple. Training has two guiding principles — volume and intensity. The first refers to the number of repetitions performed, while the second refers to the relative demand those repetitions place on the body. Over time, you must expose your body to gradually increasing volume in order to reap fitness benefits. You must keep intensity high throughout.

I like to track this in my workout log by recording the total amount of weight lifted in any session divided by the number of repetitions performed in that session. This calculation gives an average weight per repetition. This number must increase over time, or you’re just spinning your wheels.

Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Performance offers another perspective on the role of progressive overload in building absolute strength.

While it’s the most obvious place to start, surprisingly, there are many trainees who fail to grasp the notion that progressive overload is key when it comes to strength. Simply stated: The body will adapt to any stress placed upon it, and in order to get stronger, you need to make certain that you force the body to do so.

Need more be said? If you are not developing absolute strength, then you will not see many gains. Look at any of the CrossFit Games athletes if you need to convince yourself — their strength numbers are monstrous and their WOD times are smoking fast. Not a coincidence.

2.) You will not get bigger without eating more or smaller without increasing energy expenditure.

Are you eating enough? …lifting heavy and often will only increase lean muscle mass if the attendant caloric intake will support the new tissue.
All the girls want to get smaller and all the boys want to get bigger. Most women try to get smaller by eating less when they would be better served by increasing their energy expenditure. Most men try to get bigger by increasing their energy expenditure, although they’d be better served by eating more.

Each gender should take a page out of the other’s playbook.

Eating less only serves to lower your metabolic rate, meaning your body will attempt to conserve every precious calorie for future use. What goes in stays in, stored as fat. Rather than lower their metabolic rate, women would be better served by lifting heavy to maintain lean muscle mass and exercising with high intensity to ramp up fat-burning.

In the same vein, lifting heavy and often will only increase lean muscle mass if the attendant caloric intake will support the new tissue. The boys need to take in more food, not lift more. Nonetheless, they’ll spend three hours a day in the gym, burning off those stray calories that would’ve turned into new tissue if energy expenditure had been a little lower.

Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple states it pretty simply when it comes to getting bigger:

Eating less only serves to lower your metabolic rate, meaning your body will attempt to conserve every precious calorie for future use.
Eat bigger meals. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You just have to eat more food, especially once you’ve established that you actually aren’t eating very many calories after all.

Sneak in calories. Drizzle butter on your food. Incorporate coconut oil into everything. Take an extra serving of yams. Add an extra egg to your usual omelets. Grab some nuts for a snack. Just eat.

3.) Steady-state cardiovascular work will not lead to fitness.

We have touched on this topic before in a discussion of not becoming “skinny-fat.” Jon Gilson elaborates on the importance of anaerobic training:

The body uses three distinct energy pathways, each employed based on the demands placed on the body. Two of these systems (the alactic acid system and the glycolytic system) are called into play when the rate of muscle contraction exceeds the body’s ability to produce contractions using oxygen.

Did you know? The anaerobic systems are critical for high to moderate power output activities, such as the squat, the clean and jerk, and the 400-meter sprint.
These two systems, collectively known as the anaerobic systems, are not trained during steady-state cardiovascular work. Steady-state work utilizes the aerobic energy system, which is only capable of producing muscle contractions in the presence of oxygen.

Unfortunately, the anaerobic systems are critical for high to moderate power output activities, such as the squat, the clean and jerk, and the 400-meter sprint. If they aren’t properly developed, the corresponding activities suffer.

…Primary practitioners of steady-state cardiovascular work are incomplete athletes.

4.) Mental focus is more critical to training success than physical ability.

One of the primary differences between remaining average and becoming elite (or at least finding your personal best) is mental toughness. Don’t underestimate the power of the mind and mental training!

Mind over matter: Combine an ardent belief with months of training, and you have a recipe for excellence.
We are limited by our bodies, but our true limitations exist in the mind. Flat-out lying to an athlete about weight on the bar will often get them to lift a personal best, absence any organic change in the body. I attribute this phenomenon to the power of belief. “Knowing” that you can do something will instantly bring you closer to doing it. Combine an ardent belief with months of training, and you have a recipe for excellence.

On the flip side, God-given ability is easily negated by a poor outlook. I’ve seen otherwise-talented sandbaggers spend a lot of time claiming inability, giving them a ready-made hedge against failure. These folks fail a lot, and they remain in the realm of the novice athlete for years.

5.) There is an inverse relationship between the complexity of a piece of exercise equipment and its effectiveness.

Last but not least, a nod to the simplicity of barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, massive tires, and other equipment of that ilk:

Love that iron: Find the stuff that’s cold and heavy and made of metal. It’s the only route to fitness.
The most effective implements for building lean muscle tissue and shedding fat are heavy, blunt, and simple. They have few or no moving parts, and they don’t plug into the wall. A barbell, some weights, a few dumbbells, and a pull-up bar are all you need to achieve world-class fitness. Everything else just adds variety.

By their nature, these things require effort to use. You’ve got to pick them up off the ground and hoist them around. They don’t give you a place to sit, and they don’t read your heart rate every ten seconds.

…Find the stuff that’s cold and heavy and made of metal. It’s the only route to fitness.

Jon Gilson originally posted “The Truth” on Again Faster on January 19, 2007 (and again on January 27, 2012). Read the full article here.

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