The Unusual Suspects Of Fitness Training Will Get You Every Time
Have you ever had that week in the gym where everything just goes perfectly? Your training is on point, you feel strong, fluid and unstoppable. When you look in the mirror, Atlas is looking back at you with chiselled features and broad shoulders. Then something happens. Your next session comes along and you’re squatting 10kg lighter than last week, your energy levels are on the floor, and when the session finishes, it’s no longer Atlas looking back at you – it’s Mr Bean staring with dark circles under his eyes and a flat, stiffened physique. What the heck happened?
You already know the usual suspects of fitness: resistance training, cardio and bucketloads of protein. In the end (and spoiler alert for a 24-year-old film), it’s the Keyser Söze twist, the unusual suspects, that will catch you out in the pursuit of total fitness.
They’re as fundamental as they are deadly – and they’re always right there staring you in the face. Taking your eye off them? It can crater even the best fitness regimen.
Fuel is king. Think simply: without petrol in the tank, your car is never going to move – the same goes for your body. You know this, but it bears repeating: Food and water are completely essential to fitness levels and facilitating movement and exercise.
Nutrition is a minefield waiting for you to take a wrong step. Of course, it comes down to the quality of the food you consume. Eating trash hurts you because it reduces your muscles’ ability to turn glucose (from carbs) into energy, making you feel weaker and move less efficiently. And those are just the short term effects – you still need the right amount of protein for muscle growth and repair.
Second in command is hydration. Fluid is critical for maintaining blood volume, regulating body temperature and optimising muscle contraction while you’re working out. If you’re dehydrated, the consequences go further than a dry mouth: your muscles are in trouble. The body is an amazing machine with the capacity to operate on low levels of hydration – but as levels of dehydration rise, you’re looking at a decrease in performance through increased heart rate and rapid fatigue.
Then there’s the most cunning member of the unusual suspects. Take your eyes off of him for a second and he’ll decrease your performance – and probably injure you too. Sleep. A reduction in sleep quality and quantity can result in an autonomic nervous system imbalance, mimicking symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome. Cognition is also affected. Let’s step away from the science.
Have you ever been so tired you’re almost dizzy? Now imagine all the complex movements performed in one gym session. You’re looking at one wrong movement and you’ve pulled a muscle or, in the case of this writer, a dislocated shoulder. It’s as simple as this: sleep is not an ally you want to make a foe.
Those are the ringleaders, but they’re not alone. They have minions – smaller factors that can either chip away at your fitness gradually or take an axe to it immediately. Had a tough day at work? Tension in an important relationship? These stress factors add up. Your body doesn’t differentiate between mental, emotional or physical stress. Stress is stress. It has an unequivocal link to your physiology, slowing down muscle recovery.
When you’re stressed, your body contains higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress has also been empirically proven to impair motor control and coordination. It is often accompanied by increased muscle tension, which can impede physical performance and increase your risk of injury.
Next time you’re in the gym, stop for a second and take in your surroundings. Is the temperature so high that you feel stifled or dehydrated? If you’re travelling, are you at altitude, surrounded by thinning oxygen?
Now look down at your training shoes. If your feet pronate (turn out), you’re going to need to acquire some high arch training shoes because otherwise your walking gait, running mechanics and lifting positions will be affected by knee valgus (the knees collapsing inwards). This opens up the floodgates to long-term injuries.
And that’s the reality of this situation. Following the chain of where your lifestyle choices can lead you.
The key to success is striking a balance and seeking to control, rather than to extinguish, every fire. The risks will evade you or pretend that they’re your friend. They’re hiding in plain sight.