Authoritative Voices vs. Doing it Your Way

The fitness industry has plenty of science to back up its recommendations, but there are still “to infinity and beyond” ways to get results. That’s one thing that makes weight lifting great fun, but it also means there are a lot of voices – saying rather authoritatively – that you should lift weights this way or that.

I have even heard a few people saying that you should not spend a lot of time lifting weights – you should spend your time doing things that are fulfilling, like throwing Frisbees in the park with your kids.

This bothers me a lot, because I love spending my time weight training – it’s my special little nirvana. And yet I still have plenty of time with my family even with six hours a week in the gym.

People are often speaking based on their own past demons and abuses from which they have learned, and we need to differentiate this. Often their advice is conveyed as though it’s fact – that they know better. But once armed with real factual data, only you know how often you should work out. And that will depend on your goals and what your own nirvana is all about.

This goes for lifting techniques and workouts as well. For example, many people will tell you to do only compound (multi-joint) exercises. However, there is a place for isolation movements – they are useful for supersetting and burning out a muscle and targeting a weak area. There are no “all or nothing” maxims in weight lifting, unless it’s to go all out or go home.

Train “This Way”

With all the choices out there, I’m also not sure why certain ways of training are pushed as the best or smartest. One example is “keeping your training simple.” Sure, there is value in keeping your workout simple: You spend less time (if that is a concern for you) and a simple routine may not be as intimidating as, say, one that entails a lot of different exercises or techniques.

But more complex training plans can also be fun and rewarding. They can help beat boredom and increase your knowledge. To quote an article from StrongLifts.com, ‎“Weight lifting is a technical and intellectual sport.” That means that if you want to do more than deadlifts, squats, and presses, then you have a vast array of choices. There’s nothing wrong with that and you will still meet your goals, providing you follow basic weight-lifting practices, such as general repetition and set ranges.

The bottom line is that if you’re time-crunched, don’t enjoy lifting weights, or if you believe that it’s a better training philosophy, then go right ahead and focus on only five basic exercises to your heart’s content. Otherwise, do it your way, which may include some isolation exercises, new exercises from magazines, equipment that interests you, or anything else to keep things red-hot interesting.

“Do This or You’re Not a Bad Ass”

A lot of people are caught up in “challenges” that become very popular in which to participate. A web site, a blogger, or brand or company, or just somebody will tell you that you need to lengthen the amount of time you can do a plank or that you need to be able to do 100 pushups or burpees within a certain time period. If you can’t, well, you’re not a bad ass like everyone else who can!

Now, personally this type of thing bores me and if someone tells me I should be able to do something, I usually push back. But the main reason I have never participated is because these types of repetitive movements can cause injury and burnout. If you’re doing 300 crunches a day, not only are you overtraining your abdominal muscles and risking low-back and other injuries, but you’re risking mental fatigue that could eventually cause you to stop exercising altogether. And your elbows or shoulders might not be too happy about doing 100 pushups, either.

It’s dangerous to follow “programs” that are one-size-fits-all. Although a 23-year-old with no previous injuries may do great with a six-minute plank, someone with shoulder inflammation will only exacerbate the problem trying to beat an highly unusual time frame.

You know I’m all for pushing yourself to achieve higher goals, but instead of trying to do 100 pushups, I’m for accomplishing pectoral strength via a more well-rounded training approach that hits the pectoralis minor and major evenly, without stressing one area too much.

There’s also plenty of epic fitness challenges out there being hyped – P90X, Insanity, you name it. Often the people selling these products do the workouts themselves in order to promote them. So, you say, I must do these too – they are the “best” way to lose weight, build muscle, etc. In truth, that remains to be seen. These are highly promoted programs that may have many benefits. But they are not the only way to achieve results. Not everyone can or should do high-intensity programs that squeeze so much into a short amount of time.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.

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Comments

  1. Brava,Suzanne–

    I love this post—and it is very clear how much deep knowledge you have of your topic.

    Saying there’s only one right way to train is a lot like saying there’s only one way to sing or to create art or to build a house.

    Yes, there are principles to keep us safe from injury—but there is so much room for creative expression.

    That’s one of the reasons strength training is so dear to me. It is infinitely adaptable to the trainee’s needs and wants, whether she is an overweight person trying to get in shape, an older person in rehab, a young adult finding her own power, a world-class athlete striving for physical perfection, or anyone in between.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..How strong is your upper body?My Profile

  2. ah yes…. as I’ve said before, the best workout is the one I’ll do… I tend towards sissy-ness, so anything that tricks me into going a smidge harder than I would on my own is dandy. Weights are WONDERFUL! so many shapes, sizes, times, exercises, reps, and ways to mix it up in terms of endurance or intensity or or or…
    But in the end, we have to trust our own body – listening – and trusting that all knowing voice and listening to the signals.
    Hmmm – are we our own experts?
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Dancing With the Pips | Music MondayMy Profile

  3. I’ve never been crazy about weights, I’m a runner and I’d rather well…. run. But what you are saying makes a lot of sense. If spending a whole bunch of time in the gym isn’t my thing, then why not figure out a few strength training exercises that I can live with and just do those consistently. It’s kind of like eating the same thing for breakfast every day. It’s easy, I don’t have to think about it and I get the protien and carbs I need for my run.

    Great ideas!
    Yolanda recently posted..The Secret to Getting Things DoneMy Profile

    • I’m always trying to encourage runners to lift. I’ve heard there’s quite a few myths surrounding how weights impact running, but I know that running also just plain comes first. I hope you get around to lifting even a little, and like you said, you can tailor it to however much time you have.

  4. You’ve touched on several important topics in this post, and I look forward to seeing how the conversation progresses.

    How many of the “breakthrough fitness devices/programs” are sold to the masses via fitness models who’ve never spent ANY time on the device except to sell it. Our impressionable consumer minds find it so easy to confuse correlation with causation .

    It seems to me that everyone’s opinion is a biased opinion, since we all interpret the world and filter it through our experiences and individual context. That’s one of the reasons why I really love social networking in the fitness arena, because we can watch each other as we’re transforming. There’s tremendous social proof in that experience, and though I agree individual experiences with methods may vary, at least we’re able to witness the cause and effect relationship in action.

    I LOVE the quote that “Weight lifting is a technical and intellectual sport.” To me it’s testament to the fact that you never really stop learning, especially in the gym. There are always new methods out there that you gobble up and digest by incorporating them into your own fitness journey and making them your own.

    I agree with Krazy Kris that it’s always important to listen to your own body, as you can become your own expert. However, your body will lie to you, especially in the early stages of your journey. It takes commitment and practice to hear what your body’s really saying.
    Lean Muscle Matt recently posted..10 Fit Tips to Battle College Weight GainMy Profile

    • Matt I love hearing your perspective. And true, the social media world has opened up so many doors that were previously not even visible, much less closed. I have to credit social media for motivating me to get certified as a personal trainer, and all the incredible people I’ve met and learned from. And I agree that you never stop learning in the gym. That’s why I get turned off by people who seem to think they have the definitive answer. There are many answers… and an open mind is a growing mind.

  5. There are so many different programs, workouts, techniques, etc., so it’s easy to get overwhelmed and never start. I think that’s why people like programs like P90X – because there’s no thinking involved. You just follow Tony in the video and if you stick with it, you’ll see results…

    But damn, that gets boring quickly, doesn’t it? The secret is to find a routine that you like – then change it up before your body gets too used to it.
    Lisa recently posted..How to Redirect a DomainMy Profile

    • Nicely put. Yes, just follow the program and the results will follow… somehow. In the meantime people continue to overeat or don’t work out consistently and wonder why they’re not seeing results.
      Changing it up has become my specialty- confuse that body into oblivion!

  6. I hate to comment on a blog with a blog, but sometimes I just gotta……
    http://contemplativefitness.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/a-case-for-strength-2/
    Emergefit recently posted..A Boy And His Wings…My Profile

  7. Great post Suzanne, one size does not fit all – each person is different and if throwing frisbees in the park builds muscle mass for some people, then good luck to them. It won’t work for everyone.

    Krazy Kris speaks a lot of sense, I hope people listen.
    Sarah Arrow recently posted..Are keywords / key phrases useful to bloggers? #bloggingMy Profile

  8. Interesting post Suzanne.
    Weights per se have never been my thing at all, even when I was an athlete in my younger days. I have always prided myself on my strength and flexibility which I maintain through ‘movement’ in general, and when I’ve been a gym member I’ve never really got on with the machines that involve weights.

    However, I have been known to amuse friends and family and probably increased my strength by exercising with a can of beans or some such in each hand, if that counts :-).

    My son on the other hand works out with weights every day and has a very defined and superb physique. As Sarah says, each to his own…

    I suppose my question would be – what if you have to give up for reasons of injury or health? How quickly do the very well-developed muscles disappear into flab and how can you avoid this? I saw that you have overcome neck injury and your body in your photos certainly shows how successful your programme is – would love to know more about that, please.
    Christine Miller recently posted..Christine Miller – The Resourceful Entrepreneur’s GuideMy Profile

    • Hi Christine- Yes, to each his/her own and not everyone is into weight lifting. Being able to lift a can of beans is amusing indeed! ;) A person starts losing muscle about six weeks after discontinuing weights. However, MANY people have injuries or illness or other circumstances that prevent them from lifting and they still maintain muscle. That’s because they continue to eat right and do body weight exercises or light weights. As far as myself, after my neck injury I continued lifting but was still in pain and didn’t make much progress. I focused more on light weights and cardio. Then when I had my daughter I quit working out all together for about three years. That’s when all muscle definition went away and a bit of flab developed. The worst part was I felt weak, like I couldn’t trust my body to do basic functional tasks without injuring myself. After I made the decision to get back into the weight room, my neck actually improved. It was getting more flexibility range of motion that really helped my neck. It’s been a wonderful lesson in not giving up.

  9. I think people should choose what they LIKE and what they will stick with. For me it was swimming. I still love it. I’ve added other activities to my routine to keep it fresh and challenge myself. I grew to love weight lifting too. It’s so important in the balance of fitness!
    Lisa recently posted..Filled With IronyMy Profile

    • Balance is important even if it means balance within a particular sport. Such as not overdoing it with too many repetitions of the same exercise, or training too often on the bike. Mixing up your physical activity can ONLY do your body good, and that is something to really chew on.

  10. I think as you pointed out, everyone needs to do what they enjoy doing to stay in shape, it’s the only way for a long term success. I personally don’t enjoy lifting weights, and 100 push-ups is more of my thing, but I’ve met people who love weights, it’s just a matter of preference. I definitely don’t like the 300 crunches idea, or any kind of crunches, but I would do hanging leg lifts, not 300 but 3o or so.
    Tatianna recently posted..My Top List Of Healthiest FoodsMy Profile

    • True, people should do what they’re passionate about. My main point being that doing the same exercise 50 times a day for 50 days cannot have the benefits of more varied exercise, and in fact can cause injury. Strength training can entail much more than weight lifting, as you obviously know already :)

  11. There was a time when I felt so out of place and uncool because so many people I know run, and continue to do so. I’ve known people for so long now, that they started with only a few minutes of running, but are now doing half marathons. But me? Eh, I just can’t get into, so I stopped aiming for that hard core running stuff. I do what I love now. I do what works for ME. I do what keeps me un-bored (because I get bored VERY fast) and I do it on the timetable I decide – not because someone says I should be doing it this or that way (including the Insanity calendar – I don’t follow that thing to the T – it’s too grueling). I aim to keep fitness fun, free-ing and out of the box. Otherwise? I’d have quit long ago. As for fitness challenges, they help to keep me accountable. I find that I push harder and stay more consistent with a challenge in place.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Yum Yucky Newsflash: Brand New Feature & Other Awesome StuffMy Profile

    • I like how you do what works for YOU… and look at the success you’ve had (Glamour mag?!). I feel like your attitude sort of encapsulates the non-neurotic side of working out (or is that assuming a lot? Lol). Plus you listen to your body so extreme challenges don’t have an adverse effect on you. They keep you motivated? Then they’re serving a purpose :)

  12. Nice blog post you have here and it is very obvious how much deep knowledge you have in your topic.
    Charisma recently posted..Trying To Get Pregnant TipsMy Profile

  13. This certainly makes me feel better. It’s very hard to NOT feel inferior (and not bad ass-like) when you are not at a level to do the insane number of reps or the super hard workouts. We’re all where we are at.. Thanks for this!

    AND..you quoted Buzz Lightyear which is just too damn cool for words. :)
    ragemichelle recently posted..Advice From Your Aunt Michelle – The ListMy Profile

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