Why Workouts Don’t Work For Health & Longevity
And What To Do Instead...
Stop Wasting Your Time “Working Out”
We’ve all heard it before when it comes to improving our health…
“You just need to workout more!” Surely that’s the golden ticket to health, performance, longevity and transforming your physique, right? Absolutely not. If it were that easy, we wouldn’t be seeing the atrocious obesity and other preventable lifestyle disease problems that have stricken today’s society with no real notable hope in sight for remediation.
But this simple idea that one must simply burn more calories by any means possible while likely forcing themselves into a highly restrictive and unhealthy diet simultaneously is unfortunately the idea that today’s mainstream fitness industry has been built on.
This dubious combination of punishing workouts that are deemed “successful” only by the calorie output on a device and a tortuous eating existence rallied behind how many days are left until this “diet” is done is downright dangerous.
And did I mention that it’s also one of the LEAST effective ways to lose weight, build your health or extend longevity with an improved lifestyle and skill set around training and nutrition that will serve you for a lifetime?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Just “working out” is failing you and your clients. But here’s the smarter solution…
A Paradigm Shift From Working Out To Training
Every new client goes through the same procedure before working with any of our trainers: you meet with one of our trainers, review health history, discuss exercise experience, conduct movement assessments, evaluate current and past nutrition, review current lifestyle habits (sleep, stress management, etc.) and eventually set your goals for the program following the SMART model (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals). This is an important and non-negotiable part of our training process. We also address a common misconception with “workouts” and set some guidance on how we conduct our training sessions.
First and foremost, we don’t use the terminology of “working out”, but rather refer to our sessions as “training” as this encompasses an evidence based and intelligent exercise regimen to optimize personal health, recovery, and longevity of your body. We help improve health outcomes and make people better, not just tired, sweaty, and sore (even though these will be by-products of training most times).
Distinguishing the difference between training vs “working-out” or “being active” is essential in determining overall outcomes and ability to reach goals. Understanding this difference is how we start the process of a shift in mind-set from the “no pain, no gain” or the “I’m really active” mentality to a higher mindset working on improving the body as well as overall health and fitness goals.
The Difference Between Training, Working Out and Activity
Training is designed to elicit a specific physiological or neurological adaptation that is in line with individual goals and limitations (strength, hypertrophy, balance, mobility etc.)
Working Out can be described as a bout of exercise, with the ultimate purpose of burning calories and exertion (burpees, Zumba, dare I say CrossFit.)
Physical Activity can be defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure (walking, gardening, splitting wood, sports etc.)
Let’s dig in a little deeper; without getting too nerdy on you, I’m going to explain the importance of why you need to train more, “workout” less, and remain active. You can then make an educated decision if you need to make some changes to your current routine to produce a better outcome that will be in line with your goals, lifestyle, and values.
Why Intelligent Training Matters For Results
An intelligent training program will address all areas of fitness: mobility (joint restrictions), VO2 max, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, stability, balance, strength, power, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. Conditioning can be simply defined as the ability to take these measurable qualities and turn them into performance. Everyone’s definition of performance will be different, ranging from being on the field as an athlete to keeping up with the grandkids on the weekend.
Each one of these areas of fitness require a specific stimulus to produce the desired adaptation to your body, however this may take time and multiple stimuli to gain the desired effect, especially with novice trainees. The more advanced the trainee, the more specific the stimulus must be to produce the desired effects. Hence, the SAID principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.
Simply put, your body will produce adaptations that you impose onto it, whether it be positive or negative adaptations. If you are not training properly, you may end up falling into the negative adaptation category, which is something as trainers that we want to help you avoid and educate you on how to achieve the opposite (positive) adaptations.
The 4 Stages of Training Adaptation
Let’s first talk about what some of these positive adaptations can be. During a training session, the body responds in a very specific way in various stages:
Stage 1– Homeostasis will be disrupted (this is our training session). Think internal temperature, blood pH, blood pressure, hydration, and blood sugar.
Stage 2– A variety of metabolic by-products and hormones will provide a signaling mechanism (the type of by-products and hormones will vary based on the type of session).
Stage 3– Genetic pathways are activated. Different pathways will be activated depending on the type of training.
Stage 4– Adaptation! You will adapt if your recovery (nutrition, stress management etc.) is adequate, but that’s a whole different article.
These stages help provide desirable adaptations that are beneficial to overall health, quality of life, and satisfaction found within each one of our training sessions.
5 Foundational Physical Characteristics For Healthy & Longevity
A few of these positive adaptations from the 4 stages of adaptation include the following:
Mobility: The ability of a joint to move freely through a range of motion without restriction from other tissues. Increasing range of motion, joint strength, and control with specific exercises for optimal function of your body is imperative for a positive adaptation. Decreasing joint pain and increasing functional movement capacity will be a game changer for you, which sadly won’t happen by merely “being active” and doing random “workouts” and seeking unprofessional help.
Stability/Balance: These are similar but separate qualities. Balance is your ability to maintain center of gravity over your base of support. Stability is the ability to return to a desired position after a disturbance. Training your nervous system (brain) and learning how to establish a grounded base of support with a proper foot position, knee alignment, hip engagement, and a stable trunk is important in all aspects of health and fitness. Standing on a balance ball will not help you with your balance, contrary to popular belief. Becoming more efficient with your balance and stability training will have a drastic impact on your strength (stability=increased strength), mobility (proximal stability= distal mobility), and activities of daily living that might not otherwise be obtained during a typical “workout” session.
Strength: The ability to accelerate a mass from a state of rest from the production of muscular force. Strength can actually be broken down into several categories (maximal strength, explosive strength, speed strength, strength speed, starting strength, relative strength, and strength endurance). I won’t bore you with all the rep ranges, protocols, and nuances involved when we train for strength adaptations, however there are various benefits of increasing strength, including the following: increased bone density, increase in muscle building hormones, improved intramuscular coordination, improved resiliency of muscle and connective tissue, improved aerobic capacity of working muscles (mitochondria health), improved postural endurance, and increased rate of force production (athletic performance).
Hypertrophy: Increase and growth of muscle cells. There are a couple pathways to elicit growth of new muscle tissue. Mechanical damage (micro trauma to tissue), mechanical tension (near maximal tension on tissue), and metabolic stress (depletion of local muscular energy/think muscle burning) are the three main pathways to establish new growth. Benefits of hypertrophy include but are not limited to increased muscle density, injury resiliency, strength carry-over, and increased energy expenditure (you burn more calories).
Energy systems (“Cardio”): Refers to the specific mechanisms in the body that produce the main molecule that transports energy, known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). These mechanisms can be broken down into three pathways: the Phosphocreatine System, the Anaerobic Glycolysis (Glycolytic) System, and the Aerobic (Oxidative) system. The aerobic system can be considered most vital in terms of health and longevity. However, all three pathways should be trained, and this is always done with individual nuances from person to person. Benefits of training the energy systems include but are not limited to: improved VO2 max (linked to living longer), improved resting heart rate, improved lung capacity, improved local muscular endurance, improved immune system, improved response to daily stress including training in the gym.
You get the point; this needs to be trained in EVERYONE, and with these various health benefits, why shouldn’t they be? However, we do have to keep in mind each training session and training adaptation will be drastically different and individualized from person to person.
Training Improves Your Health, Longevity AND Life
Training should improve overall health (yes, even those cranky joints), movement quality, and activities of daily living. If you are currently feeling broken down and beat up or if you aren’t reaching your goals with your current fitness regimen, you probably aren’t training and rather spending too much time “working out” or using the excuse that you are “active” when in reality you are not. This doesn’t cut it, especially if you value your health and quality of life; cutting corners doesn’t help you to improve anything, you are merely cheating yourself in the grand scheme of things.
I want you to really think about this article the next time you are “working out” or “being active”. It’s not that “working out” or “being active” is bad, I’m just suggesting you will probably never reach your fitness/health goals using these methods. It is what it is, which may be fun, you may sweat a ton and it can be very challenging, however, don’t confuse this with being specific, effective, and sustainable.
I hope I was able to express my views in a way that will make you reconsider what you are doing and why you are doing it regarding your health and fitness goals. As always, we are here to guide you in your journey to becoming a better, healthier version of you through our individualized training sessions.
About The Author
Lawrence Lee, CSCS, PPSC, FRCms owns and operates Lee Physical Therapy & Wellness with his wife in upstate New York. His goal is to bridge the gap between Physical Therapy and Strength Training. Larry holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Master Trainer, Functional Movement & Pain-Free Performance Specialist Certification (PPSC).
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