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Treat Fitness as a Skill to Excel

It’s time to rethink fitness. It’s like practicing any skill; it takes time and repetition. If you want to excel, you’ve got to practice at your skill!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Greatness then is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I want to be stronger, faster, or more fit?” If you have, you’re far from alone. It’s probably safe to say there isn’t anyone alive who wouldn’t mind improving some sort of physical attribute. In fact, that’s what motivates many to get to the gym. A desire for improvement is present, so action is taken to make a positive change. This makes sense, but would another perspective make this process easier?

It might! When considering something known to take a lot of skill, such as training in a martial art or learning an instrument, it’s known you must put in a lot of time to practice if you expect to improve. It’s that way with any high-skilled activity you can think of: the more time you spend practicing, and the more effective your practice is, the faster you will improve.

What if we applied this philosophy to making physical improvements such as losing weight, gaining strength, or becoming a better athlete? Would spending more time, training more often, and practicing as effectively as possible really speed up your results? Absolutely! A systematic review in the journal “Sports Medicine” recently compared subjects doing the exact same amount of total performed exercise, but either split into many short sessions or fewer sessions that were longer. What they found was that exercising more often, even when doing the exact same amount of total work, yielded superior results in muscle gain and other measures (1). So when participants were practicing more often, they saw faster results!

It’s important to remember that there are many different fitness goals and many ways to achieve them, but this evidence gives a great rule of thumb: more often is better. Just like with learning the piano, if you want to trim your waist or increase your bench press, you need to practice often. And of course the type of practice you follow is important. Always go for your greatest return on investment (ROI) activities such as free weight training and high intensity interval training, and make sure you chose a modality that you genuinely enjoy! The type of training that will work best for you is the one you can actually do consistently!

Now, before you go off and start training as hard as you can four times a day, I must issue a word of caution. The one downside to more regular practice is the reduced time for recovery before your next bout. Because of this, intensity should be inversely related to frequency; the more often you train, the fewer workouts should be “all out.” If you dramatically increase your frequency out of nowhere, you will likely feel very sore and may be at risk of injury, so take your time, build up over a few weeks, and start enjoying more rapid progress!

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med Sports Medicine. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8

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