The 3 Types of Fitness Conversations

The other day, I was thinking about the endless number of fitness articles and conversations that I’ve been exposed to over the last 20+ years. I believe that they all can fall into just 3 categories.

  1. Before You Exercise
  2. While You Exercise
  3. After You Exercise

I’m going to go through each of these in detail.

Before You Exercise

These are the articles that make the case that exercise is good for health. This is what the general unfit population needs to hear. Clearly not readers of this blog. Some people need to be reminded, scared or motivated into taking action.

There are so many of these stories, but they wash right over me. Since I have no desire to convince anyone they need to exercise, I have zero interest in this category.

While You Exercise

This is the bulk of the conversations. The endless debate on which type of exercise is better or safer or more effective. How many times per week? How many reps, sets, minutes, or whatever? Running vs Biking. HIT vs CrossFit. Yoga vs Hot Yoga.

I spent 20 years in this category. It exhausted me more than any workout. People ask me to post more on fitness like I did a few years ago. I don’t because I’ve said all I need to say. Find something that interests you, stay safe, and be consistent.

After You Exercise

Finally, there is the least discussed aspect of fitness. Recovery. How can we best recover? I feel like this is where are all the true gains are yet to be discovered. Right now this topic gets lip service. Get good sleep, don’t stress out, and don’t play in traffic.

As we get older, our ability to recover from a workout takes longer. I’m very interested in figuring out innovative ways to reduce this time period. If you assume that there are different ways to exercise that get results, then figuring out how to optimally recover from that exercise stimulus becomes the most interesting part of the puzzle.

This is where my interest is now.


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  1. After discovering Body By Science through this blog and some time working out on my own. I’ve been working out Discover Strength for the past two years, a gym in Minneapolis that follows a HIT philosophy. In addition to the weekly workouts they also host an annual conference on High Intensity Training, and there’s a monthly lecture on recent exercise research you can attend over your lunch break in exchange for a 10% discount on your training. Overall, I’ve had a good experience there so far. It’s a very thoughtful approach to exercise.

    I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, but I do think they’re worth listening to and one of the things they’ve changed their mind on recently (in 2013 to be exact) is they switched their recommendation from a once weekly workout to a twice weekly workout. Basically a full body HIT workout twice a week.

    The whole question of optimal recovery time is an interesting one. I prefer once a week myself, but I think its an interesting recommendation coming from people who are very immersed in HIT and exercise science.

  2. @tml_mpls – When I see gyms or trainers in the HIT space that use BBS as their Bible recommending 2 workouts per week, I wonder if they are motivated by revenue or are they seeing better results?

    Personally, I get better results with 2x a week, but I had to dial down the intensity to make that happen. At my lower level of intensity, I don’t need the fancy HIT gym $$$.

  3. Maybe most people aren’t able to sustain “ancestral” diet, so 2 workouts a week mean more room for them to eat more liberally..? I personally get the same muscle gains from 1-2x/week, but if the diet isn’t on point, second workout helps with abdominal fat accumulation etc.
    Even McGuff now trains every 5th day, although according to BBS, he should probably be doing Big3 every 10 days or something. That means his recovery model is different than it was in 2009. On the other side of the spectrum some people believe training yourself to train daily means you’ll be able to train daily, even in the HIT world (Ted Naiman).

  4. The owner of the gym gave a talk on fitness things he’d changed his mind on in the last ten years and workout frequency was one of them. He specifically stated that when he switched from 1x to 2x a week people he was worried people would accuse him on trying to double his revenue.

    So the financial angle is there and worth acknowledging, but I’m reasonably sure it’s not the primary motivation. To my mind, another big factor is the fact that people who love exercise enough to open a gym, major in exercise science, or shell out top dollar for personal training flat out don’t want to work out only once per week. With HIT gyms too, quite a few of their clients are not BBS readers or even all that familiar with HIT principles so there’s responding to customer preferences and that’s also a factor.

    I’ve actually had a pretty lively debate with the trainers about workout frequency (I just flat out don’t want to workout twice a week for personal and financial reasons but I’m open to the idea that I might be wrong about this) including some correspondence with an exercise researcher in the UK that they cited as the source of their changed recommendation. I’ll probably get some terminology wrong here, but one surprising thing that emerged from the correspondence is that there have not been any high quality research studies comparing 1x per week to 2x per week with the same full body workout and HIT approach which is hugely surprising to me. Again I attribute that to exercise people and exercise researchers not being all that interested in only once per week.

    After researching on my own and discussing with the trainers and UK researcher, it seems like 2x per week produces better results in untrained individuals because muscles are so responsive and might help get you to your genetic “muscular destiny” faster than once per week, there’s also a higher “perceived” calorie burn in everyone (though after that Hadza podcast I’m struggling with how to think about calories), and perhaps most importantly there’s the perception is that it twice per week can be sustained long term without incurring overtraining.

    For myself, I’m super curious if there’s something lost by switching from once to twice per week with full intensity. Maybe some compromise in strength gains for trained individuals or just some deleterious effect due to more overall stress on the body that could build over time and is avoided by allowing for longer muscle recovery. Alternatively, it could be an inability to reach the same level of intensity and corresponding reduction in muscle recruitment as a result of this reduction in intensity. But I don’t really have any special evidence for that, it’s more a hunch and perhaps just my lingering attachment to BBS and how I much I enjoyed reading it the first time.

    That said, I have noticed that the gap between perceived muscle failure and actual muscle failure which used to be identical or with a 1-2 reps when I began has widened as I’ve continued to work out and I try harder these days to push through the discomfort as another 3-5 reps is sometimes possible, so when I say I’m not sure I could reach the same intensity with twice a week, that’s what I have in mind.

  5. I also settled on once a week continued to increase quality and intensity and lower volume. All this was based on both literature and personal feedback. I love the idea of working out once a week and couldn’t sustain the workout I do, bodyweight big 4 (Skyler Tanner’s Desert Island workout) twice a week without getting ill after a few weeks. It also fits nicely into schedule and I’m exactly at the high point in motivation to exercise again. I’ll probably continue like this for lifetime.

    I haven’t cracked the diet code though. I’m either in “fuck it and eat everything ala Matt Stone” phase or “Stephan Guyenet simple food” phase, and neither is sustainable for various reasons.

  6. If you are interested in recovery then check this series:

  7. @MT3d – Nice. Glad to see others are seeing the math to better fitness is in better understanding recovery.

  8. That 8weeksout site is interesting. Like I’ve said here before, health & fitness blogs cater to either the very, very ill or the very, very athletic. 8weeksout obviously belongs to the latter category: they target people who have dialed-in their fitness regimes and nutrition, and who may go overboard on training and calorie restriction. Unlike 99% of the generally overweight, sedentary population!

    I dislike how he disparages the “intensity mindset”, but that’s just my personal preference, since I’ve done BBS-style HIT for so long. “Intensity” was always a holy word to me!

    As Arthur Jones, Art de Vany, and Doug McGuff have all said, whenever you up the intensity, you have to shorten workout time and decrease frequency.

    Well, today is my almost-cardio, super light weight high-volume workout day. My HIT workouts only occur every 10 days or so.

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