Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.
Last week, I mentioned a recent study conducted on the Hazda Tribe in Tanzania. They’re a group of hunter-gatherers that still live without modern technology, and you can read the study itself here. Doctors monitored the tribe members’ daily energy expenditure, and the shocking surprise was this: it turns out these hunter-gatherers actually don’t expend any more calories per day than the average Americans and Europeans. This study has been widely cited because it implies that sedentary lifestyles are not the main culprit of our obesity epidemic. So what is going on?
Anyone who has stuck to the same training program for several weeks at a time has likely seen a decrease in effectiveness. This is a common fallacy that many people have: they think they can reach a fitness goal, then adapt to a stable routine that never changes in order to “maintain” their results. I hate to break it to you, but this is just not the case. Continual improvement is essential, and you can achieve this through applying the concept of periodized progression to your exercise regimen.
Athletes use this concept to train methodically and build strength while at the same time decreasing the risk of injury. I’ve seen the evidence time and again, which is why all my clients are on periodized programs in which we build on and improve their abilities each week. Let’s go through a series of progressions right now, using the squat as an example. I often start many clients on a regular body weight squat, and then we add weight over the next few weeks as they perfect their form. Next we can switch it up by performing a single leg squat, and adding more weight over the subsequent weeks. Then we can cycle back into the regular squat, but add another exercise with it, such as an overhead press–you get the idea. The point is to progressively add weight or complexity to your routine each week. The possibilities are endless, and there are many different combinations you can use.
Some of my clients tell me that this is discouraging news: “You mean I have to keep progressing FOREVER, and exercise will ALWAYS be a challenge?!” Yes, your workouts should always challenge you mentally and physically. If you can mindlessly complete your workout, then you’re not working hard enough to produce any change in your body. The dream seems to be to reach a point in which you can work out with minimal effort, but as the study on the Hazda tribe indicates, your body will eventually adapt to your physical output. I think it would be far more discouraging to ignore this basic principle of our physiology and not get any results at all! And think of it this way: it means that you get to constantly learn and improve, and your workouts will never get stale or boring. Knowing how the body really works makes me realize on a daily basis how efficient it really is, so I always enjoy thinking of new ways to challenge myself!
I’ll be discussing more ways to get the most out of your workouts in the following weeks. Next week I’ll explain how a progressive, periodized strength program helped me drop a full dress size last year, even though I didn’t lose any weight on the scale!