Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
One of my favorite bits of exercise science knowledge that I commonly refer to are the seven principles of exercise. (One of the others is the fact that 24 hours after a hard workout, you are not sore due to lactic acid buildup. In fact, lactic acid is removed from the muscles within hours of the completion of a workout, if not sooner. The myth that you are going to go “run off some lactic acid” is Heather’s pet peeve, along with speaking about yourself in third person.)
So really quickly, let’s preface this blog post with a review: the seven principles of exercise are as follows (in Heather terms, of course)
- Individuality: Everyone is different and responds differently to training.
- Specificity: To get better at your particular sport, you have to train for that sport. Cross training is great and beneficial, but running all day isn’t going to improve your golf swing.
- Progression: You can’t jump from Couch to 5k to 50 miler. It just doesn’t work that way, and you’ll probably get hurt.
- Overload: To become stronger, faster, and have more endurance, you need to progressively add resistance or time/intensity to your workouts. Why? See #5
- Adaptation: Your body adapts to what you do, and becomes more efficient. Thus, as you adapt, you need to train harder. See #4.
- Recovery: Rest, or you will regret it. Your body needs time to rebuild in order to become stronger.
- Reversibility: Simply put, use it or lose it.
Today, I would like to ramble talk about the principle of specificity…and more precisely, why we should quit the incessant argument of who has the “better” workout.
I’d like to paint a picture for you…actually a few of them. I’ve been working out in gyms on and off since I was in high school. Over the past 15 years (ack) as both a gym user and gym employee, I’ve experienced a plethora of gym atmospheres, and witnessed a smorgasbord of gym users. .
- While in school, I performed my internship hours in a city gym that, while catering to all fitness seekers, was vastly made up of a senior citizen population,who were mainly concerned with the simple act of maintaining movement (never take range of motion for granted, kids!). Their exercises were simple, ordinary, and routine, the classic case of “use it or lose it”. Moderate effort on the cardio equipment, perhaps the circuit of resistance machines, and rarely ever picked up a free-weight over 10 lbs.
- Funnily enough, in that same gym, somewhere around 5:00 pm the power lifting crowd came in. Power-lifting, as in very large men (and some women!) doing incredibly heavy Olympic lifts. (Check out this video from that same gym. This guy squats 1260 lbs!) You never saw them on a piece of cardio equipment or weight machine; it was all free weights (and heavy ones at that).
- One gym I spent a few months in was notoriously known around town as the “meat market” (other’s words, not mine). A significantly younger crowd, and many well known socialites attended this gym. It was very much the “physique maintaining” gym: fitness classes were almost always packed, everyone’s workout apparel always matched nicely, you get the idea. *note, this is purely an observation, not a judgement call. I give high fives to anyone who would rather socialize over a smoothie bar than a traditional beer wielding one. Point being, there didn’t seem to be much of a specific goal, other than general fitness…and awkward conversation over the adductor machine.
- The YMCA. Everyone under the sun, and every training style you could imagine. Health seekers, to grandmas looking to keep up with their grand-kids, to the man training for his 65th marathon, to the teenage girl looking to make the Varsity basketball team.
- My current gym (and the inspiration for this post) has, again, a wide variety of members. However, in the same building complex is a circus school. I know that sounds funny at first, but it is a genuine circus performing arts academy (think cirque du soleil instead of clowns in a tiny car). A membership to the gym we attend is included in the school’s tuition fee for students, and therefore, we almost always see someone in some sort of contortionist position that makes my own hip flexors scream in sympathy pain. It seems so very foreign to me, yet clearly, these (incredibly flexible) athletes know what they are doing.
I bet you are wondering when I’m going to get the point, eh?Daily, via social media (you know, the facebook, the instagram, etc) I see people mocking other people’s choice of workouts. And frankly, I find it to be a huge bummer. As a fitness professional, my number one goal is to see people MOVING. In an ideal, perfect world, I’d like to see everyone have a fitness oriented hobby, such as distance running, or yoga, or cycling, or even whatever that guy in the picture above is doing. But the reality is, for the majority of our society ( 80 % in fact), it is a stretch to simply meet the recommended weekly levels of physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to help maintain optimal health (you can check out those guidelines here). That’s right, only 1 out of every 5 Americans move as much as they should.
But again, that’s not the point of this blog post, just a mere soap box moment.
The point is, just because your workout is kick ass and awesome for YOU….does not mean it is catered towards the goals of someone else.
Body weight exercises such as pushups and burpees are killer exercises (and free!), but they aren’t going to PR your heavy Olympic lifts.Riding your bike hundreds of miles a week alone won’t make you a stellar parkour athlete (trust me on that one).
That person you are mocking who is constantly slaving away on the elliptical? Perhaps they are recovering from a surgery or injury in which they are prohibited from performing high impact weight bearing exercises. Or maybe, they just *like* the elliptical? And if the choice is loving the elliptical or doing nothing at all, is loving the elliptical wrong? I think you get my point.
And for the love of all things, every time I hear the argument about how horrible long distance running is for your body, a tiny bit of my soul dies. Sure, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and heavy lifting are amazing forms of exercise, but there is no substitute for long distance running if you want to be successful at long distance running.
Let’s wrap this up, shall we?
We should all respect that fact that we are all on our own fitness or athletic journey. Just because your training program is vastly different from the regimen of someone else, does not mean that they…or you…are doing it “wrong”…different goals = different workouts. Further, just because someone is working out simply to help maintain a healthy status, and has no desire to be the strongest, most badass athlete in the gym, doesn’t make their efforts any less commendable. Most importantly, in a society where 35.7% of adults are obese, and 80% of adults do not exercise enough (if at all), we should all celebrate each other’s desire to constantly better ourselves physically. Even if it is mostly on the elliptical.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.