by Charles Staley Brink Zone
Fundamentally, there are two ways you can approach physical activity. You can “exercise,” which is the term normally used when your goal is oriented toward improving your appearance. “Exercisers” tend to view the terrain through the prism of energy balance: if the exerciser wants to be leaner, she’ll restrict calories and increase energy expenditure, with the goal of a net calorie deficit.
Or, if the exerciser thinks he’s a “hard gainer,” and wants to beef up, he’ll try to increase calories (particularly calories from protein) while conserving energy by training hard but brief, and maximizing rest and avoiding aerobic activities. In other words, give the muscles reason to grow through brief, hard workouts, and then create the opportunity for growth by providing a caloric surplus and plenty of building blocks in the form of amino acids.
In both cases, the approach is scientifically sound, and will lead to the desired result. With that said, there’s another way to conceptualize your life as a physical being…
…which is the development of an athletic mindset. As an athlete, your end game is defined by better performance, and you don’t achieve this by exercising, but rather, through training.
As you may have already guessed, I greatly favor the athletic paradigm, and here’s why:
As an athlete, your physical endeavors have a purpose. And I believe that human beings are purpose-driven by their very nature. Personally, if I’m going to lift a weight, I’d much rather do it because it adds meaning to my life, as opposed to doing it simply for the purpose of burning calories. If I’m going to run, I’d much rather go somewhere than burn calories on a treadmill. To extend the analogy a bit, I’m more fulfilled when my work benefits others, as opposed to simply providing an income for me. This premise is intuitively obvious in my opinion, and if you need more verification, I probably won’t succeed in convincing you anyway.
The peripheral benefits of training are more significant than the side benefits of exercising. Specifically, when you train as an athlete, you’re very likely- in fact destined- to improve your appearance and real-life functionality. However, when you exercise, while your appearance may indeed improve, your health and functionality may not. The thousands of crunches you’re doing to tone your abs are quite likely wreaking havoc on your low back. Those countless miles on the elliptical machine are burning lots of calories, but they’re also producing a ton of free radicals and cortisol.
Exercisers are almost always engrossed in (and defined by) negative themes involving pain and restriction. But athletes are far more likely to think in terms of PR’s and personal achievement. They tend to compare themselves to the best, not the worst. They’re chasing excellence, not running from corpulence.
The exercise paradigm almost always leads to a volume-based mentality, at the expense of quality. It leads anaerobic creatures into aerobic lifestyles, often with tragic consequences. Over the past few years in particular, there have been numerous accounts of well-known and/or successful marathoners and triathletes who have succumbed to an early demise, typically from heart or cardio-respiratory disease.
Once you start thinking like an athlete, we might eventually coax you into becoming a competitive athlete. OK, I know, I know, you don’t have the talent for that. Actually, I can relate, because neither do I. However, I’ve learned much and benefited greatly by putting myself in the competitive arena. I’ve made my (admittedly modest) accomplishments a matter of public record. I’ve made life-long friendships with fellow competitors, I’ve traveled to places I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced, and I’ve successfully applied the lessons I’ve learned in competition to other facets of my life.
If you’re an “exerciser,” kudos to you- you belong to the minority of people who choose to improve their health and fitness levels in a proactive way. My goal here is to nudge you toward what I consider to be an even greater experience, with even greater end-results. Please leave a comment if I’ve managed to change your thinking, even if just a little…