Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie

Amazing article, here are some blurbs:

Cardio machines are innocent enough, as they won’t actually make you any less fit, but maintaining cardiovascular fitness doesn’t really take much more than breathing uncomfortably hard for about 20 minutes, three times a week. And we all know that swimming, hoops, bike riding, and even Ultimate Frisbee can get the job done, and that treadmills or elliptical trainers are a pale substitute.

Weight machines, on the other hand, are far more insidious because they appear to be a huge technological advance over free weights. But quite the opposite is true: Weight machines train individual muscles in isolation, while the rest of you sits completely inert. This works okay for physical therapy and injury rehab, and it’s passable for bodybuilding, but every serious strength-and-conditioning coach in America will tell you that muscle-isolation machines don’t create real-world strength for life and sport.

Front Squat 1.5x BW
Dead Lift 2.0x BW
Bench Press 1.5x BW

Shaul’s guys out in Wyoming get massively strong and powerful on precisely three gym sessions a week, each lasting an hour and no more. Louie Simmons, the single biggest name in gorilla-style competitive power lifting, will tell you that 45 minutes is the max length of any smart training session.

But you can’t spend the first 15 minutes watching CNN from the treadmill and the last 15 “warming down.” Every second has to count, and it all starts with understanding the four basic muscular aptitudes: strength, power, muscle mass, and muscular endurance.

Strength means how much you can lift once, and it’s the backbone of every sport on Earth, from the crouch-holding power of a skier to the one-finger pull-up of a climber. Power is a more slippery term that means “speed strength,” or how much you can lift very, very quickly, and it gives you the explosive paddling speed to catch a big wave or the pedaling burst to fire your mountain bike up a grade. Muscle mass can be a liability in sports like climbing, where it’s all about strength-to-weight ratio, but mass helps enormously with games like rugby and football, and it can support strength and power — not to mention make you look better in a T-shirt. Muscular endurance means how many times you can lift a given weight in a row without stopping, and it’s the essence of running, swimming, and even a kayaker’s long-haul paddling.

As for your training sessions themselves, the number one thing to remember is that each of the Fundamental Four responds to a different number of repetitions per set. Lift a weight so heavy you can lift it only once, you’re building strength (and, oddly, not much mass); lift a weight you can move six to 12 times, you’re building mass (and, oddly, a little less pure strength); ease up to a weight you can lift 50 times, and you’re working muscular endurance (which is great for endurance sports but tends to undermine the first three, shrinking your strength, power, and muscle size).

It can be hard to believe a true strength coach the first time he tells you that by pressing and dead-lifting on even days, squatting and doing chin-ups on odd days, avoiding all other exercises, and adding a little to the bar each time, you’ll be stronger than you’ve ever been in only a month’s time. Thanks to the fitness industry, we’re so conditioned to equate sophistication with complexity — and to think we’ve got to “work each body part” — that our gut just says, No way; that can’t work. But it works like magic, and the entire body hardens up in unison.

Finally, keep it simple; understand that variety is overrated. Variety does stave off boredom — it’s fun to mix in new exercises all the time — but a guy who hasn’t trained in a long time, if ever, will get stronger faster on the simplest program of squats, dead lifts, and presses, three times a week. It’s true that you cannot do the same workout forever; you’ll go stale, and then you’ll go crazy, and 2010then you’ll quit. It’s also true that the stronger you get, and the closer to your genetic potential, the more you have to mix in new lifts and switch up the numbers of sets and reps you’re doing, just to make a little gain each week, or even each month. But I’ve learned the hard way that you’ve got to be careful about adding variety. If you constantly screw around with endless new exercises, you have no way of adding the precisely calibrated weight increases that actually make you stronger. To get it just right, keep meticulous records, writing down every rep and every lift so your targets for each workout are easy to spot and your gains are easy to measure.