Jun 24, 2008

Does the answer “Inside the Box” still exist?...Plus, the Wisdom of 10 Year High School Reunions.

Recently, conversations with colleagues in the field of Strength & Conditioning (Steve Plisk—a dear, dear friend) as well as Post Rehab training (colleagues at Hayashida & Associates) have given rise to a similar topic: “What if the answer is inside the box?” (I must admit I stole this question from a colleague…thanks Jez). Be it in the fields of nutrition, performance, physical therapy, fitness, etc. It seems as though we are constantly looking for the “new pill”…that answer that lies outside the obvious fundamental tried and true inside-the-box knowledge.

It is interesting to see the similarities in progressions and advances within our society and within human nature. One such similarity is our attraction to a new idea or philosophy (not unlike bugs to a bug light) and our ability to take it to extreme. We love new ‘stuff,’ and more is always better. There's that little adrenaline rush of excitement that comes with it. Not only is it true in the realms of the health and wellness industry, but it’s true in the consumer market.

Why do we continue buying new clothes when we already have enough to last us for years to come?

Why do I continue buying new DVDs when I have more than any sane person could ever want?

Why does marketing work? It’s that funny ‘need’ that is created in us because we love new stuff. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it must be the answer.

It’s no different in the health and wellness and strength and conditioning fields. In the industry for the past several years is this desire to seek the new answers to maximize performance and bodyfat losses. And while we are certainly continuing to gain in our understanding of the human body and it’s adaptations to the stimuli we apply to it, it seems we’re taking it a bit too far.

One such example was at the onset of “Functional Training.” I remember back in 1997 when much of this “new” information started to hit the training industry. People (myself included) took it and sprinted into the realms of extreme. If swiss ball work was good to improve coordination, neuromuscular control, and stabilization based on the Physical Therapy research, then we might as well apply it to everything.

Crunches on Swiss Ball = Good
Barbell Loaded Squats Standing on a Swiss Ball while Blindfolded = Better

You think I’m kidding. I honestly think I still have some old articles with pictures of guys doing this, and what’s more…encouraging it. By the way, if you haven't taken a gander to the right, it took me about 2 seconds to find this recent picture on a google search.

I hear some others of you saying, “What’s wrong with that? I do those on Leg Day along with Barbell Single Arm Single Leg Olympic Snatches standing on a Bosu Ball.”

Funny how this process works. It’s pretty consistent whether we’re talking Health/Performance/Nutrition or other ideas (bare with my process here):

1. New Idea = Excitement…the New Answer/Solution to our problems.
2. Excitement = Application to everything.
3. Application to everything = Applications taken to extremes.
4. Applications are exhausted = Boredom of New Idea.
5. Realization that New Idea was not much unlike a New Idea we had about 20 years ago = Reevaluation of how New Idea Improved upon Old Idea.
6. Identification of true benefits of New Idea = Ideas that stick around (new fundamentals).

The problem with this process I see is that we often get caught up in steps 1-4. And when we get to the end we often begin looking for a new Step 1 and never allow ourselves to gain the value of Step 5 and 6 (not to mention we spend too much time and focus on Step 3—i.e. Barbell Squats standing on a Swiss Ball).

For these reasons (or maybe if I’m honest with myself, perhaps it’s just because I’m a cynic) I often have trouble with the “new” trends coming through the fitness, nutrition, and performance industries. I get so tired of hearing about the new pill or new training method that blows the rest away. Right now some of the biggies I am aware of are: Old School/Odd Lift torture type workouts (i.e. CrossFit, the “300” workout), Low/No Carb diets (i.e. Atkins) are giving way to Increased Carb diets again, Food Allergy/Gluten Free/Dairy Free/Nut Free issues, All Natural/All Organic diets. Now if you’re a fan of one of these topics, don’t get bent out of shape. I’m not saying there’s no value in these things. There certainly are. But evaluate them for what those values truly are and then apply those to the correct populations. My contention here is that these ideas are not always the BEST answer for everyone.

I find that the longer I’m in the industry I really enjoy hearing the perspective and wisdom of professionals like Mike Boyle (www.strengthcoach.com), John White (formerly of USF and Velocity Sports Performance, Dublin, CA), and Steve Plisk--nationally renowned Strength Coach (www.excelsiorsports.com). I have learned a tremendous deal from men such as these about the process of taking in new information, sifting through it, and keeping what makes sense and will help for the long haul. While “real science and research” may not always be attractive or sell (as Plisk has said), it works. Pretty simple. Problem is that many times we aren’t interested in what’s fundamental. Matter of fact, Plisk mentioned that he was going to discontinue offering some of his performance workshops because he felt not enough people were interested in what the research was telling us about how to maximize athletic performance. Scary. This guy is one of the most intelligent guys I’ve heard speak, too.

Sidenote: Again, just so that it’s clear…Steve Plisk and I are the best of friends, have known each other for decades and have shared many a beer together.

If you read one of my articles several months back, I referred to one of the most important program variables. It was simply this: Consistency. Too easy right? Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s like saying that icing soft tissue injuries isn’t really very helpful for recovery because it’s just to simple a concept. Oh, wait… Exactly! This stuff works…IF applied. I just had this conversation with some of my Personal Training students. It’s doesn’t need to be about the flashy stuff all the time. Throw some of that in for fun, but do the fundamentals regularly. Why? They’re fundamentals simply because they work.

Had your 10 year high school reunion yet? All the jokes and funny stuff aside, one of the most interesting observations I made at mine was that the people who “made it” were not necessarily the ones I expected would have. Without getting into what truly defines success and such, I noticed that the individuals who were doing well in life and family and work had some commonalities:

1. They usually weren’t the smartest or most intelligent though they had worked hard to increase their knowledge base and continue to do so.
2. They had integrity, character, and cared about others.
3. They worked consistently and diligently toward goals.
4. When things didn’t go well they dealt with the situations and then did what they could in the meantime until things picked up for the better again.

What in the world am I talking about here? The answers are NOT always outside of the box. Sometimes they might be…true. But don’t immediately seek them out to the detriment of tried and true fundamentals. True in performance, true in nutrition, true in life.

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