If you read my posts, there’s a recurring theme to the message I advocate for: health and wellness is a lifelong journey! Here are the rules (some slap in the face truths):
There are no shortcuts.
There are no quick fixes.
The length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result
Here are the key principles to understand:
Principle #1 - Reversibility
“The principle of reversibility pertains to the losses in function experienced after the cessation of a training program. Regardless of the gain in fitness achieved through a regular exercise program, those improvements will be reversed to pre-training levels…”
This is why when someone tells me, “Oh I used to do HIIT sessions 3 times a year ago” or “I used to run everyday a few years ago” becomes-- within the context of fitness level-- becomes insignificant. The good news is, our muscles do have muscle and motor memory, so people who have done some type of training or was an athlete in their younger days will generally fare better in terms of movement compared to a complete beginner, but in terms of fitness level, unfortunately (depending on how long you’ve stopped) you might be back to square one!
Principle #2 - Diminishing Returns
First and foremost it’s important to realize that fitness is a personal journey. From birth, we possess a unique genetic makeup which are factors to our fitness journey and potential. Furthermore, the combinations of these factors, like resting metabolic rate, muscle to fat ratio, and so much more are attributed to the individual. Here’s the truth: no two persons are the same. There’s no way two people can react in the same exact way to any exercise or nutrition program. There are common goods which are shared, but ultimately health and fitness is an individual journey, in which “performance outcomes among various exercises are highly individualistic.”
“The principle of diminishing returns suggests that the rate of fitness improvement diminishes over time as fitness approaches its ultimate genetic potential. The response to physical activity is not only associated with heredity but is also highly influenced by an individual’s current level of fitness,” because the capacity to improve also depends on the starting point. This means two things. One, what were gifted with at birth is a major component to the rest of our fitness journey. The reality is that there are just some of us who were born to be athletes and some of us who aren’t.
Secondly, although our genetic basis matters, training, in general, is proven to improve overall health for everyone. The only real reality to face here is that the more fit a person is the smaller the window of improvement is versus someone who’s starting from sedentary. In other words, the beauty is that no matter where you are, there’s always room for improvement! (Unfortunately, it just doesn’t mean we’ll all be the next Usain Bolt by committing to training).
Principle #3 - Specificity
First, of, it’s important to understand that in regards to the energy used during exercise, the body relies on three energy systems: phosphagen, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic glycolysis. For the current purpose, I will only go through the latter two very briefly. In simple terms, anaerobic means producing energy without the need of oxygen, while aerobic means requiring oxygen. The reason why this is important in regards to training programs equates to how the body uses energy through different training programs. “The principle of specificity explains the outcome of a given type of training program such that the exercise response is specific to the mode and intensity of training. In other words, only physiological systems emphasized during a training program will improve.”
Why does this matter to this discussion? The principle of specificity really emphasizes the three points above: there are no shortcuts, there are no quick fixes, the length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result. If I want to train for endurance, I need to put in the work and hours that will help my endurance. If I want to train for strength, I need to commit to the right kind of training to achieve strength. If I want to work on getting bigger (i.e. aesthetically increasing the size of my muscles), I need to train in a specific manner to focus on muscle hypertrophy.
What I am trying to highlight is what the health and wellness journey really requires. There’s no such thing as minimal effort to produce optimum results. The real questions are on understanding what do I desire, what is my goal, what is realistic, and how much commitment am I willing to put in?
Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council on Exercise, 2012.