The past month or so I’ve had an enlightening experience in regards to training that I’d like to share. I’ve started working with Jim Laird, an excellent strength and conditioning coach in Lexington, KY who has really opened my eyes to a different perspective on training.
I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m not against CrossFit; I support it for several reasons and have even taken CF Level 1. However, in programs like CrossFit where the focus is high intensity exercise performed several times per week, there lies potential for detriment to the body. At this point you’re probably thinking ‘wait…whaaatt? Isn’t high intensity exercise good for my health?’ YES it is, but we have to think about how it is dosed as well as the overall health status of the body before just jumping into a program (as should be the case for any exercise regimen!)
I’ll be the first to say that working hard in the gym is a good thing, but where it becomes an issue is killing yourself in the gym day-in and day-out over a long period of time while simultaneously dealing with stress in other aspects of life. This is a concept better known as allostatic load. Think about this: you’re stressed out because of work/school/relationship/family problems, you aren’t eating the healthiest food (even though you’d like to), you’re tired because you haven’t been sleeping well (probably because you’re stressed out), and you’re thinking ’time to go struggle through this super intense workout because exercise is good for stress’ or ‘I need to workout really hard because if I don’t I’ll never get results’. Sound familiar? This was me for the longest time, until recently.
Let me take you on my personal journey.
Those of you that follow us know that I graduated this past December from PT school, but didn’t actually start working until June 1st. There were several reasons for this, but the most important reason was for the first time in a long time I was trying to prioritize my health. I began seeing a functional medicine physician to address some long standing health problems I’ve struggled with (yes even Fit Nerds need help sometimes!) I’m not where I’d like to be quite yet, but I’ve made some great strides to get to where I am currently with my health. Without going into too much detail, the focus on working with this doctor became reducing inflammation in my body via proper nutrition, quality sleep, regular exercise at low-moderate intensity, and other recovery tactics such as guided meditation and using a sauna.
Fast forward to present day and thanks to eating a mostly Paleo diet, lifting in the gym 3-4 times per week, and walking for 30-60 min per day (while also avoiding being sedentary throughout the day), I have now lost over 20 lbs and look and am the healthiest I’ve been in a long time!
As you can see, I’m not killing myself in the gym, and I’m actually getting better results than when I was working out insanely hard all the time. But how? I’d be lying if I said that nutrition had nothing to do with this. It may be cliche, but you really can’t out-exercise a bad diet. This is not to say that I was eating cheeseburgers and milk shakes all of the time because I was still eating decently healthy, but when I took the time to really evaluate my nutrition after listening to Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser and the Paleo Solution Podcast with Robb Wolf, and reading several resources including Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf and Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo, I realized there were definitely some changes that needed to be made.
What was hard for me to grasp with the endless amount of nutrition opinions out there is that when it comes down to it, our body truly is a reflection of what we put in it and on it. I love this quote from Robb Wolf:
I had a hard time letting go of the fact that I just wouldn’t be able to eat a lot of these foods I was accustomed to eating if I wanted to feel better and look better. This is not to say I’ll never eat things like carrot cake or pie ever again, but what I’ve learned is that consistency matters, and if I do want to eat something I really enjoy then that’s okay as long as it doesn’t become an everyday occurrence.
[Would also like to point out that I fully support Precision Nutrition as it is quite an effective approach to nutrition as well.]
Sorry, a bit of a nutrition rant there 😉
What I’ve come to find through delving more into the functional medicine approach and my experience working with Jim thus far, is that piling high intensity exercise on top of a body that is already trying really hard to deal with chronic stress actually ends up doing more harm than good. If our body is constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode all of the time and then we add high intensity exercise to that, it is as they say ‘adding fuel to the fire’. We can’t expect good things to come from pushing our bodies to complete exhaustion repeatedly without allowing ample time for the body to shut down and recover. Eventually our hormones get out of whack and then we are forced to seek professional help.
At GYM Laird S&C the focus is training smarter. What you’ll find when you walk in is often a calm atmosphere (dim lit room with natural light from several windows), and coaches that take the time to examine your demeanor to determine how hard you should push in the upcoming workout. You’ll also find an infrared sauna and a float tank that are available for further recovery options. Interesting perspective, am I right?!
Needless to say, this has radically broadened my opinion on effective training methods for overall fitness, and the best part is that I don’t have to dedicate endless hours in the gym to get the results I want. And I have the time to do other physical activities I enjoy without feeling like I’m wasting my time by not being in the gym.
Thanks for sticking with me on this longer post! Hope you enjoyed it!
Until next time, happy recovery 🙂