What really works when it comes to achieving your fitness goals?
Train for performance, and the aesthetics will come.
When I was still green in the strength and conditioning world, one of my co-workers said something to a client who was concerned with the way that they looked and wanted to improve their overall physique. He said to them “train for performance and the aesthetics will come”. Train for performance… at the time, to me that meant train for sports performance because I had my blinders on and there was only one way to train. If you think about it that made sense, look at the incredible shape that high level athletes are in. Sports Illustrated literally has a “Body Issue” dedicated to showing off the physiques of some of the top tier athletes of the world. But not everyone is an athlete, nor does everyone want to be. As I’ve gained more experience the meaning of that saying has changed because performance can be a very broad term, especially when we’re talking about a general fitness client.
Lately I’ve had some questions for myself as to what really is the best kind of programming for these individuals. While some clients who come to a trainer still just want to lose body fat and get as lean and skinny as possible, many more people are finding an athletic build to be something that they want to attain. This is easily quantified by the onslaught of people signing up for Crossfit because they want to look like the top .01% that they see on TV, or buying the insanity tapes because they’re going to be the next person to submit their “success story”.
So is the metabolic conditioning model so popular now because it’s the best way to go? Is it clearly superior to any other form of training? Or is it just something new and shiny that we’re all obsessed with because we didn’t have it before?
What about the body building? Body building has been around for ages and has been popular among the public since Arnold made it popular. Body builders use proven methods that have gotten results for ages. Walk in to any Gold’s Gym and you’ll still see most people taking this approach. Everyone in their sleeveless shirts is doing a “chest and tri’s” (usually on Monday) or “back and bi’s” (Tuesday) workout. They’re all talking about their max bench or how many plates they did on the leg press, if they didn’t skip leg day that is.
So that’s performance too isn’t it? Again we will find people with great physiques in this setting who are achieving their goals and getting stronger.
So this brings us back to the main question at hand, what really works?
We can take people with all different training backgrounds and find common results: The serious college athlete, the die-hard crossfitter, the bodybuilder (natural of course), and the competitive Olympic lifter. All of these individuals have completely different training regimens and programming, but you will find all of these individuals with similar “athletic” looking builds. All training for performance, but different kinds of performance. So again, what really works?
Well to be honest, it all works. If you’re training for a specific type of performance, then the training associated with that type of activity is probably best. For the athlete it’s Olympic lifts with full body or split routines and sprint training. For the crossfitter it’s crossfit (as much as I may disagree with the programming for other reasons, there is something to be said for the principle of specificity of training). For the body builder it’s focusing on individual body parts and utilizing isolation exercises. For the Olympic lifter it’s (surprise) heavy olympic lifts.
All different types of programs, all different types of lifts, all similar results when it comes to aesthetics.
So what are we missing here?
While performance results differ with different types of training, most common clients are just trying to look better and should know that there are a few things that everyone who gets results have in common. The biggest is consistency, but intensity and nutrition are right up there with it. Consistency breeds results, because most of us don’t get results over night. The athlete who you want to look like trains at least 3 days a week and plays sports and is pushed by their coaches. The crossfitter goes to class every week to be pushed by their fellow cult members. The body builder goes to lift with their partner and fights for that one last rep every time for the feeling of the “pump”. The Olympic lifter never misses a session with their coach because they want to hit that PR.
They all consistently work out, they all push their limits frequently, and they all eat healthy because they know it will get them where they want to be.
All of these people have a different motivation, a different reason they’re pushing themselves, and a different goal in mind, but they’re all getting results because they do it all the time. While we all know someone who is a physical freak and stays strong and lean regardless of whether they work out or not, that person is the exception and not the rule.
The rule is that in reality, if you want results you need to stay determined.
Not just for a month, not just until beach season, but year after year after year. Gaining two pounds of fat per year doesn’t seem like much, until it’s happened 5-10 years in a row. Gaining muscle and strength is the same but it takes more effort to achieve. So what really works?
Making it a lifestyle works.
Going to the gym at least three days a week works. Pushing yourself on the days you feel good and fighting through a mediocre workout on the days you don’t works. Eating healthy works. Most importantly, finding something that you enjoy doing works. If you don’t enjoy it, then it’s a chore. If you like what you’re doing, and you like the people you’re doing it with, and you don’t have to force yourself to do it, that works. Consistency breeds results. Consistency is what really works.
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Steve Zarriello B.S., CSCS, TPI Certified is the Co-Founder of The Way HPI located in Cranston, R.I. He has been training people of all ages, ability levels, and training goals for almost 10 years.