A quick look around Fivex3 Training at the start of a new year and a quick look around most commercial gyms highlights one of the key differences between the two, the difference between training and exercise. The first week of the new year at Fivex3 was pretty much business as usual. The same people, training their same lifts. One “new” person, who was really a regular evening lifter, started coming during the day because his work had switched him to the night shift. Other than that, everyone who had been coming to train all fall, was there in January, continuing to work toward PRs (personal records) on their lifts and continuing to increasing overall strength. There was some conversation about the envisioned goals toward which individuals were training; number of large plates on the bar for deadlift, bodyweight bench, competitions being considered. Had the topic come up in the fall though, similar conversations would have emerged. This is a distinguishing mark of training. Training, in this case, is a systematic and scientific approach towards creating a stronger version of oneself, a conscious application of a controlled amount of stress to the body with respect for the rest of the cycle of recovery and adaptation. It is a long, slow process. If working towards a competition, thought is given to appropriately timed work and rest cycles so that a trainee can reach peak strength at the designated time. If training for life, thought is also given to work and rest cycles so the trainee can build strength rather than erode it, so as to avoid overtraining. Training is about finding a balance of stress, recovery, and adaptation that challenges the body to become stronger and that is sustainable in the long run.
Unlike Fivex3 Training or other similar training facilities, most commercial gyms experience an uptick in membership and participation in group fitness classes after January 1 rolls around. Sometimes sign up sheets are needed for the cardio machines, due to the January increase in exercise enthusiasts. Asked about goals, many individuals following through on New Year’s resolutions will mention something about losing weight or “getting in shape.” Unfortunately for most, their plan is less systematic and scientific than training and typically boils down to adding more exercise and drastically reducing calories. Essentially a haphazard and willy-nilly application of more movement without properly fueling it or balancing it with appropriate amounts of recovery. This approach often is reinforced by the fitness industry itself in its promotion of short duration, high intensity fitness and nutrition make-overs promising a “new you for the new year.” Not surprisingly these New Year’s exercise enthusiasts usually are able to maintain their new “healthier” habits for only a few weeks. The industry trend is that membership drops off again after St. Patrick’s Day. Sadly many of those who leave their resolutions behind in March walk away believing that the fault lies in their character, something along the lines of a lack of discipline, dedication, fortitude, self-control, rather than recognizing that the flaw lies in their unsustainable approach.
Yes, there are many people in commercial gyms who seem to take every class offered, who exercise for hours at a time, who never seem to take a day off, who exhibit disregard for proper rest and recovery, who under-eat, and who seem to maintain this behavior for years at a time. I know this because I have been one of these people; at times I still struggle against this tendency. Unfortunately these people are often the group exercise instructors whom others try to emulate. This behavior is not training, and it is not admirable. Often it is an exercise addiction. If you scratch the surface of one of these individuals, at least one willing to be honest about it, usually you will find someone whose identity and self-worth is tied to the idea of exercising. If these individuals paid attention to their bodies, they would find that it is exhibiting signs of overtraining, such as “heavy” and tired muscles, tendency to get sick or injured, irritability, disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, and an inability to build stronger muscle. But they are willing to deal with all of this because, in the absence of exercise, what they believe about themselves is worse. And in reality, they are not able to maintain this behavior in the long run, because eventually their bodies will rebel in the form of an injury or illness that forces them to slow down long enough to get some of the recovery that they have been overlooking.
While the New Year seems to be a culturally appropriate time to talk about fitness and nutrition plans, if you are training rather than just getting sweaty, that opportunity exists for you in April, October, or any other month. But if you are inclined to make a fitness-based New Year’s resolution, I’d encourage you to make a sustainable training goal instead.