04 Jul 2009 21:25
By Eric Troy
Part 1 of a 2 (or more) part post.
This page is a blog page. That means that I am not going to provide a bunch of scholarly references at the end. I am not going to do a week of research to prepare. I might have done a little cross checking but these pages are meant to be informal reactions, opinions..me drawing on my experience, etc. And HOPEFULLY, to stimulate discussion of ANY kind.
That is my idea for this particular blog post. Many others use blogs with many different models.
It's all about tone. You do not need any particular expertise. You do not need to continue to educate yourself. You do not need to have trained anyone. You do not need any of that to make an authoritative sounding blog post. One that will have the air of 'truth' or 'fact'. In fact, you can get most of your 'facts' wrong and still convince/impress those who don't know the words you know or have just a little less exposure to the lingo.
You can bring your misconceptions with you to your blog, then make those misconceptions a REFERENCE for others who are looking for answers.
As a matter of fact, a few key bullet points and making it all sound "so simple" will probably win you more fans than ten true experts (whatever your definition).
And you know who will be some of your biggest fans? Those whose beliefs you reinforce! If your misconceptions are common misconceptions, then what you need is a modicum of marketing skills and some web page design savvy to be hyuuuuge. The fans…they were already in your camp before they read what you wrote.
Here are some BIG misconceptions around which you can begin to build a successful blog. Just pick a few and get to the blogging and the adoring fans are bound to come.
1. Strength training is the KEY to fatloss.
This is GREAT marketing. You can get droves of people to your blog by telling them what the KEY to fatloss is. So definitely use this one. But yes, sorry, strength training is NOT the KEY to fatloss. You can strength train your butt off for years, becoming incredibly "strong" and still have your gut proceed you into every room. Anyone who has been both strength training for a while and who has problems with body fat will tell you that strength training will not magically melt pounds off your body because of all the "fat burning muscle".
Yet, people are still hearing things like:
"A pound of muscle burns thirty calories a day!"
Not true. A pound of muscle burns maybe 6 calories just by virtue of its existence.
"Strength training stokes up your metabolism and turns it into a roaring furnace!"
BS. This is probably based on the EPOC effect which is part of the process of recovering from high intensity exercise like strength training in which oxygen is consumed at a greater rate for a certain time after exercise while the system returns to homeostasis, meaning a greater percentage of fat burned during this period. It's true and it's the claim to fame for HIIT (high intensity interval training) versus steady state cardio. But it is easily overestimated and overindulged by "fatloss experts" who want to re-invent the exercise wheel because they are too lazy or simply unqualified to do what needs to be done FIRST: Help people get their diet in line and change their eating (lifesyle) habits. Movement is a BIG part of that and a big part of health. But EPOC won't make up for a bad diet. Or for sitting around 23 hours a day.
The biggest factor that exercise brings, and especially strength training, is the preservation of lean muscle mass. Preserving lean mass while losing fat is of profound importance. Another very important factor that exercise seems to play a key role in is controlling visceral fat.
The different kinds of fat in our body are basically named by where they are located. So visceral fat refers to the fat surrounding our organs. Even very thin people can have a problem with visceral fat and lack of exercise does seem to be a primary factor. You can have very low subcutaneous fat and still risk your cardiovascular health because of visceral fat. To be clear, however, this problem has been somewhat misrepresented in various reports. While thin people can have an accumulation of viseral or "intra-abdomnal" fat obese individuals will tend to have more of it, especially men. Unless their activity levels are very unusual for an obese person, such as a sumo wrestlers, who have been found to have a remarkable lack of visceral fat, probably due to their training (although dietary practices could play into this as their diets are fairly unusual for athletes, although very high in calories).
In general, you cannot work off a bad diet. The way you eat, or don't eat is the KEY to fatloss and the key to keeping off the fat. Exercise is a factor in that. All strenuous physical activity is a factor. A big one. But not the KEY. The person telling you that strength training will make you thin…has probably never been fat.
But shhh…don't tell anyone.
2. Body-weight and martial arts training makes you "lean and toned" while strength training with weights makes you big and bulky.
Hmmmm…I'll tackle the strength training one first. Strength trainees come in all shapes and sizes. Now I'll tackle the martial arts one. Martial Artists come in all shapes and sizes. Including over-weight.
Body-weight trainees, if they weren't on the light side, would not tend to stick exclusively to body-weight training for very long and, logically, the most successful, and thus the most enthusiastic 'body-weight officianados' are not fat people.
This is similar to the misconception that all gymnasts are very muscular and ripped.
False. Just the elite ones you've been exposed to through the Olympics and other high-profile events tend to be very muscular and ripped. This is confusing cause with correlation. Gymnasts who are able to develop a great deal of body strength while maintaining a low body-fat percentage, tend to be the more successful ones and thus the ones we associate with representing gymnasts as a whole. But that does not mean that doing gymnastics type training will make you look like your favorite Olympic gymnast. This is simply selection bias at work.
Bryan Chung has a great name for this. Or, actually, a couple of great names. He calls it the "sport causality bias" or "the elite athlete selection bias"1
However, if you are into body-weight training and since body-weight training comprises gymnastics type training, you darn sure better tell people they will look like a gymnast!
Check out the following video about the legendary DEATH TOUCH of martial arts. I remember seeing this on television when it aired. And I laughed my ass off.
Here is a very good example for martial arts. It can serve two purposes. The first is to show how people will believe almost anything if you present it right..even the 'death touch'. That is the mythical martial arts skill that allows you to knock people down, knock them out, or even kill them from across the room! Apparently Stephan Bonner was one of the ones to be immune to the death touch. That is because Stephan did not play along. The instructor actually provides this explanation for the large percentage of people who are IMMUNE to the death touch: "they don't believe". Ummmm..I think you just discredited yourself.
This is a good example of people WANTING to believe things. So keep telling them what they want to believe and they'll go for it.
The other purpose of this video is to illustrate what I said about martial artists coming in all shapes and sizes. The resolution is not good but look at the students..all shapes and sizes in just ONE room.
3. You always progress in a linear fashion.
There are many ways of looking at linear progression but a huge misunderstanding in strength is that your training will continue to be a simple journey from point A to point B and there will always be a straight line between those points.
So, imagine that point A is at the bottom of a long flight of stairs and point B is at the top. EVEN if you go up two stairs and regress down one, up one, and down two, and so on and so forth until you eventually reach the top your PROGRESSION from the foot of the stairs to the top is still LINEAR.
This is exactly the model you want to assure people will always work if you want to be a really successful strength writer. You may not be such a successful strength TRAINER but that is not required. Lucky! A straight line is always more inviting than a curvy one full of detours and side-roads.
Detours and side-roads, are, of course, the reality. So-called linear progression…straight up the stairs… works for a certain period of time when you first begin but the more advanced you get the more creative your training must become. The more thought it takes. I didn't say complex. Complex is not always required. But simple-minded may not continue to work.
So, the first thing you want to do is get up a nice piece about Milos of Kroton and his bull. I know you've heard that story. It is required on every strength related website and most books. So, Milos got himself a bull calf and he carried it up a hill, or a mountain, depending on the version. He repeated this every day. As the bull got bigger he got stronger until, eventually he was carrying a full grown bull up a hill, or a MOUNTAIN! WOW!
Most people know that this is a fable. But most people believe it to be a true model of strength training. They believe that if you increase the load in very small, minute, increments, over a long period of time you won't ever "feel" the difference but eventually these very small increments (even one-half pound a day) will add up to hundreds upon hundreds of pounds.
You definitely want to use this story. It inspires people. If that is all there is to it, I can do it, they think. They can envision themselves lifting herculean weights without too much effort at all!
You and I both know that Milos would have failed miserably to continue to carry the bull up the hill. At some point this straight "linear progression" would have failed to continue. Remember, LOAD is the ONLY parameter that changes here. The distance he carries the bull does not change and the story is implying that the time involved does not change. He doesn't carry the bull any faster or slower each time. After all, he doesn't even 'notice' the changing weight.
Linear progression WORKS when it WORKS. We must except that the same thing will not continue to work forever. We are constantly changing. We are not static. We are dynamic.
When I use the term linear progression in this way, I am borrowing the term the way it is generally meant. The idea that there is a way to progress that is "non-linear" is ridiculous. Don't get "periodization" which regards training, mixed up with progression.
But we'll keep that between ourselves.
4. Skills are always developed in a sequence.
This is related to number two.
Each exercise or strength related thing that you do is an individual skill. They, in and of themselves are not "strength" but are a display of skill which shows specific strength. You put a bunch of these diverse skills together and you have something that can be called overall strength.
But each of these skills are made up of a sub-group of other skills. Movements or positions that are themselves fairly complex.
Let's say you want to do a handstand. The way most people would do this is to simply try a handstand. They would put their hands on the floor, throw their feet in the air, remain there for a second in a kind of handstand, and fall. Some of the more creative types might use a wall to put their feel against, thus providing some stability, and then try to wean themselves from the wall.
Either way this would be an example of linear skill acquisition. Ok, I don't even know if that is a real term, I just made it up but I think you get the point. The linear part is an increase in time as you continue to try to do a handstand. Each time you add just a little bit of time. It may be a microsecond. But eventually the microseconds add up and you are standing on your hands long enough for you to consider it a 'handstand'.
This can actually work. For some of the people some of the time. Depending on their base of conditioning and their boredom threshold.
A more efficient way of doing it would be to break the handstand down into a number of different components. Each of these skill components would be developed separately. You would, in effect, attack it from both ends, and as you try to move into the main skill a 'cross-training' effect occurs as each of these 'sub-routines' find their way into the complete skill. So a hand stand with your feet against the wall, since the wall is balancing you, might be endurance. Then attempts at free handstands might be balance. Many people might try to break it down into irreducible parts.
An extreme version of this is at work when people use body-part training to 'get strong'. Only they go too far and break the body down into a bunch of different parts instead of training 'functional-units'. The answer is to simply realize that you are TRAINING SKILLS OR MOVEMENTS not body parts or even body segments.
The most important thing to realize is that finding the most efficient way to learn a skill does NOT mean finding the most convoluted and complicated way. But it does involve finding an efficient and sustainable way. The kind of knowledge it takes to learn and perform new movements more and more effortlessly involves a process of elimination rather than accumulation! This is something about learning that most people do not realize. That is, a great deal of it is getting rid of the excess bits that have cluttered the program. We want to whittle down what we do to that which is absolutely necessary. Everything else is just excess weight to carry around with you…pun intended.
But when you write up your step by step plan for handstands, stick to the first method! If you can't tell people what they want to hear you're never going to make it.
5. Strength train stalls or Plateaus are 'inevitable'
The standard definition of a stall is a temporary stop in progression. When most people talk about a stall or plateau they are talking about failure to progress on one or two exercises.
That is an exercise plateau. Not a 'strength training' plateau.
The problem is that cessations in progression in particular exercises have gotten all mixed up with stagnation or even overtraining.
Complete failure to progress in strength training would indicate a much bigger problem than a "stall". Failure to progress on just one workout, however, or even a regression in one workout, does not always represent an actual regression in fitness. It is more likely a fluctuation.
But it gives rise to many silly ideas. Such as if you fail to add five pounds to your squat one day you should take a week off. Ridiculous.
When most GOOD strength trainers tell you how to break a plateau they are telling you how to break a plateau on a PARTICULAR exercise. Exercise plateaus are not even themselves inevitable, they are just very difficult to avoid. But even while exercise plateaus occur there is always another way to get strong. Pick up a new skill. Cross-train. Be creative.
Only people who are training to compete in just a few lifts should be obsessing over a handful of movements and even they must use variety in their training.
This is a tricky one in terms of winning over the crowds. You would think that telling people that strength training stalls are not inevitable would be a popular message. But don't be fooled. People want to feel better about their own failure to progress instead of being told HOW to progress. So, for sure, you want to stick with the "plateaus are inevitable" message.
6. That's five examples
Notice at the beginning I didn't tell you 'here is 5 misconceptions' Indeed, I didn't make the title of this post "5 Training Misconceptions".
That is because I didn't know what I was going to write about until I did it. Like I said, this is an informal blog.
Big mistake. Never let people think you don't have a plan. And I definitely should have named this post "5 Training Misconceptions". People love lists!
And what's even better is this last one is a bonus. Off-subject though it is.
Hopefully you don't take the cynical and facetious nature of this post too seriously. I am not, by nature a negative person. The facetiousness was meant to make a point and hopefully, somewhere along the way, that point was made.
Related Posts: The Failure Series
This page created 04 Jul 2009 21:25
Last updated 26 Apr 2013 17:33