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Wrong Theories

The Good Thing About Damage...

Gym coaches are still telling their students that the way muscles grow is that first muscles get torn down by exercise, damaged, and then they build up again, repair, only stronger. Yep. Damaging something makes it stronger. Like mutations and Evolution. Uh huh. Cuz that’s what the body does, y’see, when it gets big muscles. Something to do maybe with scar tissue.

No. It isn’t the damage that makes us stronger. The damage comes not from doing enough, or from being effective. Damage comes from doing too much, from overtraining, and from foolishness. Yes, it can accompany muscle growth, the way busted gaskets can accompany reckless driving. But jumbled in with all such associations is a profound tendency toward the post hoc logical fallacy. Correlation does not support causation. No duh.

The actual “cause” of muscle growth is hormones -- not movement, not exercise, not sets and reps and routines. None of these things could have any beneficial effect, without the hormonal signal to add protein to muscle cells -- whereas new size can be added if the hormones are there, with only a token amount of exercise. Effort stimulates hormones, but effort does not build muscle -- hormones do. Keeping it simple, of course. Steroids? The needle replaces the effort, so the same amount of work produces much bigger muscles. Smaller testicles though. An acceptable tradeoff, one must suppose.

The point is, how do we stimulate the clearest hormonal signal? Intensity. Major muscle mass engaged in powerful effort. The brain reads this as a call for more strength, and provides it. Damage? The brain reads this too, and sends out reparative hormones, to clean up the mess. The mess, however, does not make you stronger. It’s there because the workout was foolish. Coach was wrong.

So that’s one sort of wrong theory, arising from the wrong theory of isolation exercises, where doing bodybuilding, which is entirely about appearance, is supposed to make people more fit. Fit for what? In actuality, fit for standing on a stage in a thong, chemically bronzed, slathered with baby oil, glinting in the spotlight. Oooooh. The correct theory, we modestly asseverate, regarding how one might attain fitness, is that it is achieved by treating the whole body as a unit, rather than as a collection of mostly independent parts.

There's more to say of course, and perhaps it will be said. The future is such a hypothetical thing. What is certain is that under normal circumstances sensible exercise and sensible diet bring reasonable results. And who would want unreasonable results? Reasonable fitness goals, of energy and strength and weight and appearance, are not just honorable.  They're intrinsically rewarding. And personal excellence is a reasonable goal.

Be excellent.


CrossFit Burbank
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