We All Need Some ‘Balance’ With Our Exercise

Let’s talk about balance.  No, we’re not talking about the merits of maintaining short foot posture during split squats, or standing on a BOSU ball.

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We’re talking about balancing out different types and styles of training. Before we crack open the topic on hand, let’s address a necessary fact:  We all have our personal preferences.  Let’s celebrate that we’ll always have exercise that we appreciate or enjoy more than other styles, but that preference and bias are similar, and when we ignore the benefits of a well rounded exercise program, well, we aren’t being too smart.

Off hand, I can think of powerlifters who only want to power lift, cardio bunnies who only want their endorphin rush, yogis who only want to stretch and breathe, and Muggles who only want to binge watch the Kardashians.

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To remind us that we’re inherently biased and that one form of exercise is never markedly better than another, I like to return to the illuminating fact that the single best thing you can do for your health is to go for a 30 minute walk.

When we get carried away with periodizing our squats and percentagizing our heart rate, this is where I return:  To the benefits of a 30 minute walk.  To the benefit of a balanced approach to exercise, where we can appreciate the benefits of all kinds of physical activity.

It’s why in the last two years I’ve noted that going to a Zumba class is probably a great idea for those without much artistic movement in their lives, why strength training is integral for endurance athletes, and why meditation and breathing is important for the high-strung sprinter.

The things that we enjoy are essential, but it takes balance to build the complete package.  This means that each of us needs to set a minimum standard for what we include in our training, and understanding that there’s an upper limit on what we can do with the hours in our week.

The standards that I believe work best means a focus on getting stronger at least twice per week, a focus on building work capacity at least twice per week, and a focus on sustained movement at least twice per week.  Those are minimum standards that can be completed in as little as two or as many as six workouts, and that becomes the ‘art’ of time management.

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This makes the often un-respected CDC guidelines a little bit more simple, but makes me think about why we disrespect them in the first place.  Often it comes from intense communities or influential gurus that believe they have a better system to determine what we need to move.  I ask you with a heavy dose of sarcasm, that if you know of unbiased system that does a broader analysis of exercise requirements than the US Government, than please share that with me.

Surely I jest, but I believe we can put some stock in the recommendations to do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week.  I love the discussion and what we’re using to meet those requirements, but it seems a little bit silly to poo-poo on any one given form of activity.

The resistance-training community tends to specifically aggressive about this, and I’ve been part of that team as well.  However, when 80% of Americans don’t get the minimum recommended amount of exercise we’re missing the point.  As Joseph Ciccolo, director of TC’s Applied Exercise Psychology Laboratory said in THIS article, “If physical activity is a major message, we should promote all forms of it.”

In this slide from my NSCA Connecticut talk, I discussed what I believe is applying the Pareto principle to energy system development.

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The acronyms put the fun in fitness. Wait…

First long slow distance cardio was considered the ‘it’ thing to do, then interval training became popular.  If some intervals were good, then high intensity interval training must be even better, and then we started adding external load for metabolic resistance training.  There will be trends in the future, and I can’t tell you ‘what the fuck is next’, but I know that for certain, finding an appropriate balance for any one person is about using what feels most authentic to them.

When we deceive ourselves about unlocking the secret code to sexy, we do a disservice to our clients and their bodies.  It’s not rocket science, it’s behavioral science first and exercise science second.  Nobody gets better when we pass on our misunderstandings and biases, and fitness professionals don’t get better by perpetuating the same myths as last year.

We’re fortunate enough to have bodies and a body of evidence that suggests that almost everything works pretty well, and that it’s too easy to get carried away with the minutia.  Assess what you’re actually getting done when you exercise, consider what you enjoy and why, and build your balance from there.

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