If you work in the fitness business, you don’t get too far into your day without someone asking you what I call a “Good/Bad” question…
“Is Pilates good for you???”
” I heard that Upright Rows are bad for you. Is that true???”
You know why these questions are tricky? Because the answer is usually both or neither.
It is analogous to nutrition, in that there are only a few foods on either end of the spectrum that are universally “good” or “bad“. You would be hard pressed to find a nutrition expert in the world that will tell you leafy green vegetables are bad in any way for anyone. At the same time, you would have a tough time arguing for any nutritional benefit to eating a Big Mac. Most other foods fall along a spectrum, meaning some people can tolerate eating grains and others are intolerant to them. Some do better with a higher percentage of
|I’m sure some might argue the merits
of this spine wrecker, but it definitely
would smells like greasy fast food to me
fat in their diet, while others don’t.
The same can be said for exercise. Before you can answer if any exercise or program is “good” for you, you need to know a number of different variables, including, but not limited to the following:
-Daily Activities outside of training
-Season (Off/Pre/In/Post-Season for athletes)
One of my mentors, Gray Cook, talks often about Program Minimums. This means if I had write a program for you and I only had a very minimum amount of time, equipment and exercises to work with, what what would be the most vital elements that you NEED. Paul Chek refers in programming to “Big Bang” exercises, meaning that you are addressing a number of needs with one movement rather than isolating out a number of individual pieces of them. The Turkish Get Up for example, addresses multiple movements patterns in fell swoop, eliminating the need for a laundry list of more isolated exercises when time is limited.
The Program Minimum is what you NEED to do. Everything beyond that is what would be nice to do. For example, if you only have 2 days per week to train, there probably isn’t going to time for you to do wrist curls and calf exercises, simply because there are too many other more primary needs to be met and those things only cover a small isolated segment and you will be missing out on achieving the larger overall goal.
Now if you have 5-6 days to train per week, and you want to crank out bicep curls, you can by all means go after it once you have achieved your program minimums and it does not take away from your function or performance, or more importantly, cause pain.
What this looks like in real life is that on a 4-5 day program, Days 1 and 2 and/or 3 are comprised of “Big Bang” exercises. For a person on a 2-Day program, that is where is stops. For the trainee with more training time, the extra days towards the end of the training week can be used to satisfy their psychological as well as physiological needs. So for my endurance athletes, that is when you can add some extra conditioning work and for those looking for aesthetics / muscular development we can add in a “Tight T-Shirt” Friday workout to get a pump and feed our egos for the weekend:)
On the flip side, please also note that there is also a Program Maximum. This means that there comes a critical mass or tipping point where additional training will not only produce no result, it may have a negative affect and hurt and not help progress. Tim Ferriss discusses this extensively in his book the 4-Hour Body, focusing on the efficiency of your programming and that more is definitely not always better. A great example of this is programming for American football players in their off-season training. Research has shown that after 6-8 weeks of conditioning, there is minimal increase in aerobic capacity. In other words, if you want to build maximum work capacity or endurance for sport, count back 6-8 weeks from the competition and begin your conditioning there. Any additional time spent training this system will produce negligible, if not negative returns. So for the football players, the time you do not spend conditioning can be much better spent working on your strength, size, speed, power and athleticism. In football, you don’t win any trophies for being in great shape in April. On top of that, excessive endurance work will curb your ability to maximally create the strength, size, speed, power and athleticism that is absolutely necessary and critical for success in football.
Remember the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears??? The porridge couldn’t be too cold or too hot, it had to be just right. Not everybody likes their food at the same temperature. Sure if it is too cold it is intolerable and too hot you’ll burn your mouth. Everything else in between is along a continuum. Sound familiar? So next time you want to know if something in your exercise program is good or bad, think “how do you like your porridge and what is right for you???”