Diane and I often get readers asking us for "a routine" to lose weight, gain weight, get fit, train for a sport, etc., ad infinitum. They rarely give us enough information about activity levels, body-type, current training and nutrition regimes, etc. Indeed, it seems that many of these well-intentioned individuals seem to be searching for the "secret" to fulfilling their physical fitness dreams. The problem is that there is no one-fits-all routine. We all have different lifestyles, different metabolisms, different body types, etc., and each of these factors must be taken into consideration when creating the routine that works best for any one individual. That's why we often suggest hiring a professional fitness trainer until one must masters what is called in bodybuilding circles the "instinctive" training principle.
I've always hated that term because there is nothing instinctive about it. It's not intuition or psychic abilities that allow advanced trainees to perfect their physiques far beyond that of the rest of mortal beings. It's the intentional application of general principles with adjustments to individual differences. It involves using the trial-and-error method of discovering the best methods to employ at any particular point in one's march to perfection. If it weren't so cumbersome, I would call it the "deliberative-experiential" training principle.
What the term really is referring to is the ability one develops to listen to body signs (biofeedback) and adjust one's routine accordingly while applying the most current physiological principles of training. [Diane would say that intuition is a proprietary talent exclusive to women. "Women's intuition" really includes all intuition since men are totally devoid of this quality. Women, for instance, think it is stupid for men to ask "What's wrong, honey?" They would know if they were not totally devoid of the instinctive ability.]
Now, we often do recommend certain routines for beginners because any balanced routine that is neither too vigorous nor too easy will create amazing results for the novice fitness buff. But to move on to more advanced levels, including application of the instinctive training principle, beginners first have to master other things:
- How to properly perform exercises so as not to risk injury (avoiding doing max singles is a must, since the major cause of training related injury is max singles).
- How to find the "grove" of movement that most fits their physiology (learning to coordinate the movement stemming from the action of stabilizer muscles, synergistic muscles, and the primary muscles).
- When to train (working through circadian rhythms, work and family schedules, etc.).
- How often to train as one discovers his/her own recuperative powers.
As one moves on to the intermediate and advanced stages of resistance training, it becomes apparent to the deliberative trainee that although there are general physiological principles that all bodybuilders share as they attempt to reach their ideal physique, no individual reacts consistently to each training principle. That is, individual differences become of primary importance in determining the correct number of sets, reps, exercises and number of days to workout. That's where the instinctive training principle needs to be applied.
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Let me stress that no one can ever discover THE one routine. Why? Because our environments and bodies change over time and adjustments have to be made for those changes. What worked last year will NOT work this year.
No one knows this more than baby boomers. We see our energy levels and metabolisms change so that it takes even more attention to diet and training routines to just maintain or slow down losses of physical abilities. For instance, when I became a college professor, I spent a lot more of my time sitting in a chair behind a computer working on lectures, creating power point presentations, and creating and managing Web sites. This meant that I was not burning off as many calories as when I owned a health club and was constantly on my feet spotting and helping people weight train. My metabolism has also slowed as I have aged. Therefore, I now eat a much cleaner diet than I did in my 20s!
Now, just what is the biofeedback to which one should be developing sensitivity? Any joint pains, acute muscle soreness, irritability, chronic fatigue, or inability to sleep soundly are clear warning signs of over training. Whereas, an increase in muscle size or strength, a feeling of wellness and eagerness to train, sound sleep, and feeling of general health, alertness and well being are clear signs that your training is achieving the intended goals.
The bottom line is that the "instinctive" training principle has nothing to do with instinct. It has all to do with learning all one can about anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, biochemistry, and psychology and learning to apply these to one's own unique body and environment.
This attentiveness to the effects of training on the body should be extended to attentiveness to the effects of nutrition on the body. For instance, though some successful bodybuilders used dairy products extensively in their diets, I found that dairy products didn't allow my body to develop the definition I needed. Bananas also seem to keep me from getting the fine definition that wins physique contests. On the other hand, these products are fine in the off-season.
This brings up a great point about training and diet that I can't stress enough: the training year must be divided according to goals. I always divided the year in 3 month intervals: the first interval was gaining mass with as much rest, recuperation, and eating a wide variety of "clean" (unprocessed) foods as possible. The second interval was to continue gaining mass by eating as much clean food as possible with particular attention to extra work for weak body parts, but gradually lowering the fats while continuing to eat as much chicken, fish, raw or steamed vegetables and fresh fruit as possible. The third interval entailed continued concentration on size while maximizing symmetrical development with a gradual increase in protein and a narrowing of the types of foods allowed. Low carb fruits such as cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, and strawberries were the chief source of carbs other than raw or steamed vegetables. The last three months were focused on an attempt to maximize muscularity with a minimum of size loss while ingesting a maximum of protein, a minimum of fat and carbohydrates.
Again, I must stress the fact that what works for me might not work for you. That's why I have not given grams of protein, fats, and carbs for each of those 3-month intervals. Those numbers depend on your current body fat level, metabolism, body type, activity level, etc.
The bottom line is that without mastering the instinctive training principle no one can apply the various other principles of training to their maximum potential. Therefore, I think it would be appropriate to label this principle as the "master" or "king" of training principles.
Richard and Diane
Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC.
Richard Baldwin, Member. Legendary Physique, LLC.
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Copyright 2004. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.