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Prioritising the low hanging in your fitness journey

There is a lot of noise in the fitness industry.


In the last decade the Australian fitness industry has been growing rapidly. For better or worse, as the industry grows so has the number of opportunistic entrepreneurs looking to mark out their slice of the pie and capitalise on the fitness fanaticism that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Thanks to platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok careers in fitness have been romanticized; from where the general public is seated a fitness influencer's toughest decision is what free active wear to don as they mozzie round enjoying the luxury of an empty 10am gym. Even if what is portrayed on social media was only a half truth it’s easy to understand the enthusiasm of new entrants in the industry. In amongst the chaos of influencers, collaborations and new brands I believe many of us have lost sight of why the industry exists in the first place - to help people improve their quality of life. For the people who are trying to better themself through fitness I sympathise with you. With so much noise it’s easy to be distracted or be misled by people and products that - despite the claims - at best are going to have a marginal impact on your progress.


Many of you would have heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. In essence the rule maintains that 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes, hence your time is best spent identifying and prioritising the 20% of inputs that will have a disproportionately large effect on the outcomes. If you're scratching your head at the relevance to fitness then bare with me. In fitness there are three fundamentals: training, nutrition, and recovery; within each of these categories there are numerous principles and products that will help you to optimise this facet of fitness. As the Pareto Principle rules suggest, a few of these products and principles will have a disproportionate large effect while others will have at best a marginal impact. Hence as recreational athletes our time is best spent seeking to optimise the pillars through heavy hitting protocols instead of getting caught up in the hysteria of more novel solutions.


This is easier said than done. As a personal trainer I consider myself a discerning customer when buying fitness products, and still have had to be discouraged by my peers from purchasing a $7000 infrared sauna. In an effort to educate readers on how to optimise the three pillars of fitness with the greatest efficiency this blog will illustrate where your efforts should be focused and examples of the novel products that should only be explored once the fundamentals are in order.


Nutrition

If you know anything about CrossFit then the name Matt Fraser will ring a bell. The only athlete to ever win 5 Crossfit Games, there is a strong case to be made that Fraser is the greatest male in the sport of crossfit ever. On a Joe Rogan podcast in 2021 Fraser revealed that he’d often eat snickers bars during events to get as many calories and specifically carbs into his body as he could in the short respites they had in competitions. While this may seem outrageous to the uninformed it highlights the importance of meeting your caloric needs. In keeping with the analogy of crossfit, the sport is dominated by high intensity workouts that have a high caloric expenditure. This is why a calorie dense snack such as a chocolate bar is appropriate. On the other hand, if someone has the goal of weight loss then they would be much better off looking at something less caloric and equally satiating such as a piece of fruit. This isn’t to say a chocolate bar has to be avoided if you want to lose weight, rather, there are other snack options that contain less calories meaning an individual is less likely to exceed their caloric target in a day.


If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss is about protein I’ll break it down simply as hitting your protein target is the second low hanging fruit in nutrition. When protein enters the body it is broken down into amino acids, these aminos are regarded as the ‘building blocks’ as they help to repair muscle tissue that has been damaged during training. This is where the obsession with protein comes from, without sufficient amino acids available the body is unable to repair the muscles and the training efforts are (somewhat) in vain.


To mitigate the risk of not hitting a protein target it’s not uncommon for people to include protein shakes in their diet to conveniently increase consumption. While this is an application of supplements that I encourage many of my clients to use, I believe many gym enthusiasts have an obsession with supplements without a firm understanding of the benefits of each. In addition to protein the only other supplement that I recommend to a client is creatine, used in the production of adenosine triphosphate that the body relies on for explosive energy. Beyond these two supplements consumers should be very critical about the sales pitch they receive as many of these supplements have limited evidence to support their claims


Recovery

Easily the most overlooked component of fitness, recovery is essential to promote the healing process within the body to ensure it is primed and ready to perform during the next training session. Adequate sleep is now widely understood as pivotal in this process; while the mind is ‘shut down’ the blood supply that is usually required to support function in the day can be redistributed to muscles throughout the body to help with the restorative processes. Importantly adequate sleep is more than just the time spent in bed, it involves spending enough time in the deep stage of sleep, having regularity in the sleep times and not being interrupted during sleep.


Although it is often assumed that recovery is a retroactive protocol, evidence also indicates that proactive measures can be taken prior to completing a session to help promote the bodies restorative processes. The concept of warming up can mean different things depending on the type of training and particular session that follows. In the past static stretching has been used widely under the pretense that lengthening a cool muscle serves as a good primer to load. This has since been dismissed by many in the industry due to the risk of damaging these muscles when cold, instead activation exercises should be used to to promote blood flow to a muscle group without straining them, for example doing bodyweight squats before back squatting under the load of a barbell.


Both of the discussed solutions are zero cost ways to improve recovery, but there is also an assortment of tools available to consumers that makes claims to help get you to your best betweens sessions. One of the most popular are massage guns, a power drill shaped implement that claims to help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness through percussive therapy (imagine rapid firm hard taps). The science behind the massage guns indicates that there is merit to these claims, the rapid pulses intending to simulate deep tissue massage that are known to improve blood flow to a particular area. Although the theory is there substantive research into specific products is yet to be conducted so who's to say that it is a gimmick or actually a useful piece of equipment, either way with many of the brands starting at $300+ your time and money is best spent focusing on the free recovery protocols above.


Training

At any gym the key motivators of each individual will vary significantly, some will be looking to improve their skills for a sport, others to lose weight and a few trying to look like Arnold. Despite these differences each of these individuals share the same desire to make an improvement in a facet of fitness that is aligned to their goal. While structuring sessions around a specific goal is a logical approach to training it continues to astound me how few people are following a program and measuring their progress. I believe this is driven by the overconfidence that many people have in their ability to adequately program and track training sessions. Truth is if it was easy everyone would do it and that’s why you're probably not looking like the Rock. To the reader who walks into the gym doing a Push, Pull, Leg split and doesn’t take note of the weights and reps in their sets this is your sign to add structure to your sessions with a coach and at the very least use an app or notebook to document your progress.


An unfortunate truth is that when you are relying on the body to undergo adaptations progress is generally going to be very slow. For beginners this often leads to them questioning the validity of the training advice and looking for alternative techniques to intensify their training. While advanced muscle building techniques such as drop sets, German Volume Training and negative repetitions are tried and tested ways of stimulating the muscle they are more complicated and high risk approaches to training that should be reserved for people who are experienced in the gym and under the guidance of a coach.


Simple is best

By now you’ve probably noticed a trend. When a solution is fancy or expensive there's a good chance that it’s been created to capitalise on the booming fitness industry. Some of these will provide value to you and certainly should be explored as you mature in your fitness industry but only after your nailing the fundamentals in nutrition, recovery and training.




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