Albert Einstein supposedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By this definition, a large portion of gym-goers would be considered insane.
Because so many people go to the gym day in and day out and do more or less the same thing, but they expect their bodies to change somehow. They have vague goals and loose definitions of success, like “getting fit” or “losing weight.” Then they fail to measure anything with any real degree of accuracy, so they never really progress.
There’s also the people who are constantly changing up their routine. They chase the latest “weird trick to get ripped” or “breakthrough weight loss strategy.” Some people change things up hoping to “confuse” their bodies, but this idea has been debunked. More often than not, it’s people’s brains that get confused.
There’s two major problems at the root of all this insanity.
First, many people simply do not objectively measure their fitness. At best they use imprecise vanity metrics like their weight or the size of their pecs.
Second, people don’t have a structured, deliberate approach to their workout routines. It’s mostly running aimlessly on the treadmill, or throwing weights around with no rhyme or reason.
Measure Your Workouts
When I say “measure,” I’m not talking about simply stepping on the scale or making mental notes about how much you can bench. Nor am I talking about writing it down on a whiteboard, only to be erased. This goes beyond the whiteboard.
I’m talking about tracking details for every workout – weight for each rep, reps in each set, time for each run, etc. I’m talking about putting those measurements somewhere that you will actually find them again so you can analyze and compare your performance.
If you don’t measure what you’re doing in actual numbers, then you have no idea whether or not you’re actually progressing. If you don’t want to be honest with yourself, and you simply want a false sense of accomplishment, then by all means just go to the gym and flail around. Then give yourself a pat on the back.
However, if you truly want to improve, you have to know where you started, then you have to methodically train your body so that it changes and adapts from where it was to where you want it to be.
The body responds and adapts to physical strain. But your body’s capacity to perform only increases when the level of strain progressively increases. And if you don’t measure the demands that you place on your body, you can’t properly increase those demands at a pace that will induce adaptation and produce real improvements in performance.
In other words, if you don’t measure it, you won’t improve it.
You have to be precise and deliberate about how much stress you put on your body. Your workout routines can’t be haphazard or random. You won’t get anywhere. You plateau, or you get injured, or both.
This deliberate, progressive approach is called training.
Don’t Exercise, Train
Consistent improvements in fitness and performance don’t come from exercising. You have to train.
Exercise is merely physical activity for its own sake. There’s no real end game other than wanting to “get stronger” or “get skinnier.”
Getting stronger and getting skinnier aren’t bad goals necessarily, but they’re pretty vague. If you’re you’re serious about achieving those goals, you have to quantify them with metrics. Then you have to train in a manner that will bring about the necessary adaptations in your body to improve on those specific metrics.
Mark Rippetoe put it this way:
Training requires that we plan what we are going to do to get ready for a specific task. Different physical tasks require different physical adaptations; running 26.2 miles is obviously a different task than squatting 700 pounds, and the two efforts require completely different physical adaptations.
If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It is just exercise….
Progress must be based on an analysis of the adaptation you want to create, and a program of training for the purpose of causing that adaptation to occur must be correctly designed and followed.
This is exactly why I created Fytt. I wanted an app that I could use to create a real workout plan, as well as an easy way to measure and track my progress.
I did P90X back in the day. I like CrossFit too. These are nice because the fitness programming is done for you. But even these programs amount to mostly random exercise if you don’t track what you’re doing.
You’re not truly training unless you’re measuring, analyzing and adjusting. And if you’re not training, you’re probably not progressing. Or at least your progress will taper off once your body adapts to the “randomness” of your workouts.
How to Train
Ok, so you need to train if you want to make real progress after your body gets used to exercise in general. The next logical question is, what training program should you follow? Or how do you build your own program?
The answer is, that it depends. No one really likes that answer, but as Mark says above, different tasks require different physical adaptations. Additionally, each person’s body will respond differently. So the best workout programs are tailored to the task being performed and the composition of the individual’s body (this includes things like genetics, current fitness level, stress levels, sleep, etc.)
The how-to of designing a truly effective training program is beyond the scope of this post. We’ll have to delve into that in future posts.
But I can offer some basic principles for effective training:
This might seem obvious, but a surprising number of people don’t set goals. Set specific, measurable goals that are performance-oriented. Decide on the metrics you will use to measure performance, like “1 rep max for all major lifts (bench press, shoulder press, back squat and deadlift)” or “average mile time.”
Use a Progressive Approach
Build a training program that will progressively increase the demands placed on your body. It can’t be random. And it can’t progress too fast. The body typically adapts in a logical, linear fashion.
Measure Your Workouts
This is the crux of the entire post, and this is a big part of why I built Fytt. If you don’t measure your workouts, you can’t progressively increase the weight, or decrease the time of whatever task you’re measuring. Nor can you objectively achieve any of your goals. Always measure.
Adjust and Adapt
Use your measurements to track progress and adjust your workouts to continually increase the stress on your body. You have to make yourself stretch every time, even if it’s just a little. If you’re not heading in the right direction, you’ll know it, because you’re measuring your progress. You can use this information to revisit your approach and make adjustments. But be patient. The body often takes time to adapt.
Many of these principles are probably familiar to you. But there’s so much information out there that it can be hard to filter out the crap, connect the dots and put it into practical, actionable terms. So hopefully this has been helpful to you in that regard.
Just remember, if you don’t measure what you do, you’ll keep doing what you’ve always done and always get what you’ve always gotten. And you might just go insane.