cardiovascular

The Fitness Equation

The Fitness Equation

Things can look so simple on paper: fuel, work, rest, repeat.

In reality, we mess this up quite a bit.

If life were a math test, at best we’d earn a C. Maybe a C+. Deserving, since we zone out during most lectures, only hearing half of each life lesson. We probably fell asleep on our proverbial desk a handful of times, and we definitely asked to see a friend’s homework more than once. Plus, we never show our work.

And it's extremely likely we ordered ourselves a pizza at one point or another.

If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time?
If I'm here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time?

Pay Attention
We live in shortcuts and half-truths, cutting corners when possible. It catches up quick, in terms of lifelong health and well-being.

But we also try to make up for our fitness shortcomings, often compensating by overdoing. It’s like cramming for a test the night before.

We're slackers, and we should just pay attention already. Class is always in session.

Way to go, Einstein
Way to go, Einstein

In months and years past, topics within the fitness equation have received article attention. We recently focused on nutrition and using food as fuel, we previously examined sleep and soreness, and we constantly look into the wide spectrum of exercise movements and related aspects of physical work. But just because we examined one piece of the puzzle doesn't mean we solved all of our problems.

There's a big picture present, and in fitness it involves plenty of real math. VO2Max, caloric intake, metabolic rate, power output, and so on.

To Err is Human
It’s not hard to make mistakes in our training equation, though. In fact, if we’re honest, we all do. Or at least anyone pursuing physical fitness has.

It wasn’t necessarily a huge error, but something has gone wrong at one point or another, right? Simply because we’re human. We’re not perfect. Maybe it was moving incorrectly, with sloppy form. Maybe it was overtraining, putting our body through too much for one day, one week, or one training cycle. We’re not talking about a life-threatening mistake, necessarily; these minor issues just prove our training is in a constant flux. It’s a learning process through each and every week as we work out and advance in this fitness journey.

It’s not hard to make mistakes in nutrition either. I mean, come on… some of these issues aren’t even accidental. Because, donuts… that’s why.

Purposeful cheat meals are actually a usable tool for some people, and a personal belief that, for many of us who won’t spiral out of control, it keeps us sane. Yet nutrition is very often a missing piece of our equation, like a little mathematic misstep that takes us further away from the correct answer as things get complicated.

And what about recovery? Well, if it was possible to mess up something as simple as doing nothing, leave it to us humans. But we get impatient sometimes, neglecting to take rest days. Or else we use too much time off, starting over almost from square one each time. In addition, we might not even know what to do with the recovery time that is taken, or how to use activity in the correct way on rest days to stay loose and maximize physical gains.

Passing This Test Called Life
Follow the fitness equation. It doesn't have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it.

1. Fuel up, primarily for function.

  • Eat. Don't be afraid of food. It is our energy source, after all.
  • From Food = Fuel: "Our brain runs on carbohydrates. Our muscles do the same, and replenish with protein.  Our body systems use fats in so many ways... it's unfortunate they get such a bad rap. [1]  These are our calorie providing macronutrients, and with help from vitamins, minerals, and the almighty water, our day to day tasks can be completed."
  • Know your body and find out what works both before and after your workouts and competitions.
Calorie-Balance-Image.jpg

2. Correctly use the progressive overload principle.

  • The body systems respond to work. But they especially adapt when overloaded. Use the overload principle by placing your muscles and cardio system under duress yet within an exhaustion level that doesn't cause degenerative tissue breakdown. This will be noticed with overuse injuries, longer recovery cycles, and/or immune system weakness. A bit tricky, yes, but that's why you don't go run a marathon every day or attempt to deadlift a car just for fun. [1] [2]
  • From Scaling: "Keep the body adapting to new stimulus. Your muscles, connecting tissues, energy systems and central nervous system will thank you because you’ve improved. CrossFit doesn't really get any easier, you just become fitter. This allows more workload to occur."
progressive-overload.jpg

3. Follow up overload with recovery.

  • Healthy food can be put on the table. Strength and conditioning work can be done. Mobility issues can be addressed. Weaknesses can be attacked. But sore muscles should receive rest days as well as sleep and replenishment.
  • From Sleep: "We may spend an hour in the gym each day, but it's the 23 hours spent recovering where you make actual gains in your fitness. We do work and our cells adapt. The body rebuilds. Muscle cells, connective tissue, and cardiovascular efficiency all improve to resist future stress. During recovery, there are a series of natural hormone responses to the work that has recently been completed; growth occurs with your central nervous and endocrine systems as well."
  • Actively recover by using movement to stimulate repair. Our body can do its inherent job after a stressful workout or competition with mobility exercises and self-massage, aiding in recovery. But rest days are used for just that-- rest. So doing as little physical work as possible will help. It's tough, but try not to get roped into another hard workout, even if it sounds awesome. See the bigger picture.
stress-recovery-cycle.jpg

4. Repeat.

  • Cycle through these steps in an effort to be consistent, while still using variance. But remember, variety is not the same as being random; follow a program for maximal results.
  • Fuel up, work hard, rest when needed, and reap the rewards.

Alright, nerds, don't even ask if this will be on the test. Of course it will. This is the test.

- Scott, 7.27.2014

Nerds!
Nerds!

MetCons

No Puking
No Puking

MetCons

MetCon addiction is real, and chances are it's in a gym near you.

Metabolic Conditioning. A potent, potent thing, deserving of respect and responsibility. Which means abuse and misuse are rampant.

See, one thing people get a taste of when they are new to CrossFit is that feeling of being flattened from a workout. Usually in 20 minutes or less. There are even t-shirts made to brag this point. At home, in the park, at a Globo Gym, and especially in a CrossFit affiliate with a group of fellow sufferers-- the addiction can start immediately. It's an experience all its own, that's for sure. That feeling after a tough conditioning workout: dumb, dizzy, defeated... WOD drunk. And like being drunk, or high, or in love, or on a thrill-seeking adrenaline rush, the MetCon experience can be dangerous.

This is why we can't have nice things.

The human brain receives neural pathway stimuli from many sources in life, so it's not ridiculous to see something like this happen with physical fitness. Consistent exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, which are hormones secreted by your pituitary gland to block pain, decrease anxiety and create feelings of happiness. But oxidative stress, like that from aerobic cardiovascular training, also causes the hormone cortisol to be released. This is fine, but not in high levels.

There is research to suggest oxidative training and its effects can cause body cells to age prematurely. [1, 23] The biggest contention is that aerobic training raises cortisol levels, which accelerates aging because it increases inflammation in the brain, heart, intestinal tract, and reproductive organs. If your cortisol levels are chronically elevated, your body may store fat instead of burning it, adding more stress to the organs and body systems.

Which means cardio is a killer. Almost literally.

Of course the opposite would be to never endure sustained physical work in your life... and we know that's by far more dangerous, and immediately so. There is of course plenty of research suggesting the opposite from above-- that aerobic activity is a must and even in excessive use it can train the body to deal with the rigor of workouts (or life), becoming more resistant to stress of the future. [1, 2, 3, 4]

Which means not doing cardio is a killer. Confused yet?

This brings us to the point: it's the type of metabolic conditioning you use and the frequency at which you use it that matter.

The related memes that have circulated for a few years are those that portray endurance athletes without the musculature of strength or speed training. Although this is arguable and it isn't very fair to pit one person's body against another's, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Trying out different workout regimens ourselves, we can come to our own conclusions about body composition and make comparisons to the former "us." Ultimately it is me vs. me, you vs. you in this whole fitness endeavor after all. Being in CrossFit has it ingrained that all cardio and no strength training is not the path towards general and overall fitness across a broad spectrum. Constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity in order to increase work capacity over broad time and modal domains.

Yet, if we look at intense MetCon use in a CrossFit program we can still find the overtrained athlete. CrossFit's "mascots" even include Pukie the Clown and Uncle Rhabdo... what kind of message is that? If you haven't checked the scares of Rhabdomyolysis, Google search and/or see the Journal Article here.

"Beware the sexy MetCon." So true. Melissa of Whole9Life put it in these terms way back when in an excellent article on the topic.

So let's take a typical new CrossFitter-- all gung-ho and ready with new shoes, new apparel, and a new vocabulary-- on a binge of being WODrunk in public 3 days in a row. Having that feeling of being demolished by the longer, arduous (and usually named) MetCons can be a gateway for the belief that the only way to "get good" in CrossFit is to ruin yourself daily. As the addiction begins, this MetCon abuse can in fact lead to something very similar to the above pic. Neglecting strength work or shrugging off variance in CrossFit WODs, energy pathways included, is directly at odds with the program protocol itself. But in combination with lack of recovery days, said newbie has now set up a potentially lethal habit. Not to mention mental health experts warn that in the exercise addict we see brain activity and thought processes similar to that with eating disorders and drug addiction. Scary.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I'm taking the time to warn you about.

BUT... high volume training is not the same as overtraining. Let's make that clear. So if you train smart by providing enough stimulus for progress, but not so much that you overtrain, any oxidative stress from your training will not damage your health but instead will help your gains on the road to fitness. Especially if you keep your MetCons relatively short and sweet. Okay, at least short(er).

CrossFit is addictive, in the best way. But funny enough it walks a fine line with an unhealthy obsession. MetCons especially. So check yourself. Know when to lay off the MetCon pedal. And if you happen upon an addict laying in a sweat angel for the umpteenth day in a row, speaking in tongues of rounds and reps after succumbing to the lure of another high rep WOD, give them warning. But don't pass judgement. They're difficult to spot, you see-- they look just like you and me. Which makes it hard to know whether to give them a sweaty pat on the back, or to tell them to take a rest day.

Maybe both.

-Scott, 7.7.2013