Are Your Exercises Working For You?

It was a rainy Saturday as we headed to Aspen to ski the legendary Highland bowl.  Paul Kulas, a tall and wiry gentlemen who rarely sits in silence has much to say about diet, music, business, the current political scene, and anything related to skiing.  Our conversation escalated as we considered diet and fitness culture.  What are we doing, how do we measure the effectiveness of our actions, and what are the longstanding consequences of our behavior?

Dietary Consequences

It became crystal clear for me as we considered our modern diet.  When you receive a teeth cleaning from your trusted dentist, you assume that her opinion to fill a few cavities is genuine.  But do you really know for certain it’s a requirement?  Do you really have any cavities in the first place?  Generally, I think dentists operate with integrity.  In other words, do we know that the food we buy is truly safe for us?  Are we giving the benefit of the doubt to Coca-Cola, and that maybe soda isn’t harmful to our health and waistline?

The long term consequences of poor dietary choices aren’t generally realized in the short term unless you have a food allergy or get food poisoning.  It can take years to realize the consequences of poor choices-type 2 diabetes and heart disease don’t take form over night.  This is largely why we ignore the popular ideology that processed foods are potentially dangerous to our health-we don’t immediately see or feel the potential harm, so we reason with ourselves that there isn’t any harm in the first place.  By the way, do we really know for certain that Aspartame is a neurotoxin, or that Doritos and Oreo’s are cancer causing?  Time will tell I suppose.

Immediate Feedback

On the other hand, the consequences of a specific exercise is usually, immediately apparent.  Even though it could take years to realize a degenerative knee injury caused by chronic running, the physical changes from exercise typically happen within weeks.  This is great news.  The effectiveness of a specific exercise will show it’s hand instantaneously.  This phenomenon serves many purposes.  First, if you have any outstanding injuries or movement problems, a specific exercise that doesn’t agree with you will usually cause problems, such as pain within a few hours post workout.  The immediate feedback will alarm you to consider alternatives.  Second, the physical changes of an exercise can be quickly quantified; if you squat for 3 weeks, and the load incrementally gets heavier during the training cycle, you can be certain that your strength increased.  Specific exercises provide very detailed evidence to be scrutinized quickly.

Consider that program design and execution will always give us personal, physical feedback almost instantaneously.  In order to maximize our fitness pursuits, we ought to keep a detailed journal of the exercise, load, sets, reps, and rest period.  More importantly, consider the objective and subjective physical feelings and changes that occur over several days to weeks.  This information is extremely valuable to make judgments and course corrections along your journey.  We’ll save the processed food conspiracies for another conversation.  Have a great week!

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