“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.” Ellen Glasgow

The preceding statement could be applied to almost any aspect of life. I especially like to bring it up with anyone I train. One of the worst mistakes people make (and I’ve been just as guilty of this in the past) is to blindly follow a “routine”. I’ve alluded to this before when I first wrote about Aamir’s transformation.

Here is a typical scenario: Jack realizes that he’s let himself go. So he decides to get back into shape. He tries a number of different things. Running, yoga, Pilates etc and eventually settles on weight training. It works. The fat just melts, he adds some muscle to his frame and in a matter of months, he looks ten years younger. For as long as he lives, Jack will be a regular gym goer that loves his “routine”. He and his dumbbells live happily ever after. End of story.

Only, it almost never works that way.

The more likely scenario is this: Jack gets great results the first few months and then hits a plateau. He tries different weight routines to shake things up, cleans up his diet some more but those last 6 pounds just refuse to go away. Eventually, after years of juggling routines and disappointment, Jack injures himself, not realizing that years of nothing but weights left him vulnerable in other areas. “Screw it.” he says, “I’ve worked my ass off and didn’t get the results I deserve. Guess the nay sayers were right. I don’t have the time/money/genes/steroids to do this.” Jack gives up.

The fact is, committing oneself to only one form of exercise is generally a very bad idea. It doesn’t matter what your activity of choice is, it MUST be complemented with others. Too often I see folks who “stick with what works” with the exclusion of everything else. So a “runner” will just run. A swimmer will only swim and so forth. Now don’t get me wrong. Any exercise is better than no exercise. Each form of physical activity has its pro and cons and some people are certainly predisposed towards a certain activity. The problem lies in following just one path. There are many reasons as to why someone would want to “just” run for instance, but in my experience it comes down to two things:

1)      It’s fun. This is good. Doing something you enjoy is the only way of sticking to a plan.

2)      It’s easy, i.e., it is easier compared to other forms of exercise. This is bad. Enjoying something is way different from finding it “easy”. It usually means that whatever the person finds “difficult” is due to some sort of imbalance.

Imbalance here refers to a mismatch between different aspects of health. Very briefly, these can be classified as Strength, Endurance, Agility, Flexibility and Cardiovascular performance. Going back to the earlier example of Jack, he might have excellent strength, but if managing a few flights of stairs is too much, that’s hardly healthy. Jack’s body has adapted to that one specific act, i.e., lifting weights. And, it’s a good bet that it has happened at the expense of something else. What that “something” is differs from person to person but, flexibility is usually the first to go with people that rely too much on the weight rack.

Now, let’s get this straight, weight training is awesome. Nothing wrong with pumping some iron. I have no qualms in saying its actually downright essential. But to do JUST that is a recipe for disaster. So what advice would I give Jack? I call it the 70/30 rule. Keep your preferred form of exercise (weightlifting and resistance training in Jack’s case) as the core of your program (around 70% of time spent training) and with the remainder 30%, work on the other aspects of health.

This could be done in many, many different ways. Swimming, biking, running, yoga, Pilates, playing sports or even hiking.  The “how” does not matter nearly as much as the “why”. The idea is to make the body do things that lie well outside its comfort zone (And no, those 10 minutes on the bike before pumping iron do not count.) As a side benefit, this will often boost performance in the preferred (70%) activity. The more varied the better.

Remember, you don’t have to master anything that falls in this 30%. It is enough to just do them on a regular basis. The key thing is to never cross that 70% rule. Go lower by all means, 60/40, 50/50, whatever works. The intention is to cover all bases and eliminate weaknesses where ever they arise. And who knows, you might actually find something else you love.

Routines are all well and good. But the human body was never designed to do just “one” thing. As with most things in life, that which we find difficult is usually what we need to do the most.


(Image from flickr. Licence.)