Monday, July 14, 2008

"Are You an Exerciser or an Athlete? Part I" by Charles Staley

When I tell people that I don't workout or exercise but that I train, they usually think that I'm trying to be some macho-type guy, but that's not the case at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It's just a matter of perspective and how you approach being fit and healthy.

Well, once I came across this two-part article written by Charles Staley, the developer of the EDT (Escalating Density Training) System, which is something that I first heard of from strength coach Mike Mahler, I felt that I finally found someone to sum up exactly what I've been trying to explain.

Basically, EDT allows you to do a large volume of work over a specified time. The key to this system is that you try and beat the number of reps you did for a particular lift the very next workout. Now, this increase the next workout can be as little as one extra rep, which is fine because they name of the game is gradual and progressive resistance.

So, it's good to have a training partner to count your reps. EDT is a system I've yet to practice, but I plan on having a ball with it once I start my mass building phase after my 12 day extreme cutting diet, Lyle style.

OK, enjoy Charles's article and decide which one you are. I'll post Part II on Wednesday.

"Are You an Exerciser or an Athlete? Part I" by Charles Staley

By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Director, Staley Training Systems

Probably 90 percent of all American adults are sedentary, fat, and/or just generally soft and out of shape. The fact that you're reading this probably means you're in the remaining 10 percent, which is to your credit.

When I look at the active minority however, it's clear that 90 percent of them are what I call "exercisers." Allow me to explain and define:

Exercisers want to look better, and despite years of neglect and bad habits, they want it yesterday. They try to achieve this end through manipulating the law of thermodynamics. Eat fewer calories, burn more calories. In other words, create a caloric deficit and (hopefully) lose weight and be somebody.

Athletes want to perform better, and despite years of hard training, they still see new PR's in their future. They achieve this end through consistent and progressive training, directed toward a competitive goalMost exercisers assume that the more an exercise hurts, the more calories it must burn, and therefore, the better it is for you. Similarly, exercisers assume the worse a food tastes, the better it is for you, and if you buy into the law of thermodynamics, it's not hard to see the kernel of truth in this assumption.

Ultimately, being an exerciser is a hard way to go. The exerciser lifestyle is about denial, self-loathing, and guilt.

You've got to make sure you put in enough punishment on the treadmill, and you've also gotta make sure you never eat anything that tastes good. No wonder people hate exercise as much as they hate dieting. I happen to hate both practices myself.

There is a better way however, and that better way is to adopt the mindset and lifestyle of an athlete. Athletes, don't exercise, they train. They don't diet; they refuel. They don't avoid, they seek. If you go into any Olympic weightlifting club, you'll notice that they don't do exercises, they do "the lifts." (meaning, the snatch and clean & jerk). In fact, most weightlifters refer to their workouts as "practices" as in "I'm going to practice."

Exercisers are perpetually trying to "lose weight." When a wrestler or MMA competitor needs to drop weight for a competition, they call it "cutting." Notice how the former sounds negative and reactive, while the latter sounds positive and proactive?

The biggest problem associated with having an "exerciser" mindset is that it compels people to make exercise choices that are contradictory to speed, strength, power, and generally, Type IIB physiology. Here's an example:

You read an article about "time under tension," and since the author is a world-famous strength coach, you decide to give it a shot. On your next workout you decide to squat using a "4-1-2" tempo, meaning a 4-second descent followed by a 1-second pause, and finally, a 2-second ascent. You quickly learn that "TUT" is a very painful experience, and since you associate pain with gain, you're hooked.

It's not until 3-4 weeks later however, that you begin to realize that your agonizingly painful squat routine hasn't put any beef on your quads or hams, and as far as strength goes, you actually feel weaker!

Any motor-learning professor could tell you why...your 7-second reps dramatically reduce the tension on your working muscles, which in turn reduce Type IIB (fast twitch) fiber recruitment in favor of more slow twitch motor units. This sucks, because now you're weaker and slower.

You might assume that the athletic lifestyle is beyond your reach. But being an athlete isn't the exclusive domain of elite performers. In fact, quite the contrary: by strict definition, most athletes are not elite! Instead, being an athlete is a lifestyle and a perspective. It's the way you go about business in the gym. It's a professional attitude, as opposed to an amateur one.

The exerciser does it because he has to; the athlete does it because he wants to.

Making the transition from exerciser to athlete is simple, but not necessarily easy. Next week, I'll present 5 Critical Practices that'll help you make the switch.


Wyan said...

Hey Muata,

I really enjoy all the posts. This one is right on, that is how I have always kept working out for the last 38 years. From training for football to basketball (BB) in junior high and high school, college BB, then base team BB in the Air Force to finally playing Intramural BB and over 30 BB I always have looked at the workout as getting ready for something to get better so I could find a way to compete with the young guys even though I was getting older. Anyway, I started walking again today after a little over a month off for surgery. I used some of the warm up exercises from the Maxwell daily dozen. Since you know I had all the surgeries my goal is to be playing some type of competitive BB before this year is over. I am working on losing 18 pounds for my first weight loss goal but since I haven't been able to work out just cutting the cals and carbs back has only kept me where I am so will see what happens in the next 6 weeks. My ultimate goal is a total of 43lbs. I know I am long winded but please bear with me.


Sean Ryan said...

I couldn't agree more with your post. I have been a competitive athlete for the past 9 years and i have learnt that simply the words you use can cause an effect on how you train (or exercise). Not only words but the mind set also; without a positive mindset improvements towards goals and future personal bests are limited. I have seen many people (including athletes) give up before they try - "i can't do it, its too hard", "thats impossible", i on the other hand say things like "sounds like a good challenge", "this will be fun!". The difference between me and them is i will not only try, but i will out perform them as my mind has not given up and theirs has.

Great post, keep them coming!

Sean Ryan

MikeB said...


First off, incredible transformation. You did an amazing job. This upcomming series should really help folks understand how a lot of us stay motivated.


Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Wyan, you don't have to apologize. Feel free to come here and comment as much or as long as you want. I don't have a problem with that, and I'm glad that you liked Staley's post. Hey, there's a lot to say about staying active and continuing to compete well into your golden years. Looking at 50+ year-old athletes like Steve Maxwell shows us the possibilities.

Sean, I'm glad that you commented on the mentality aspect of it. I blogged about how weight loss is 80% mental before, but I'm thinking about raising that % because a simple change in your mindset from the beginning makes such a big difference. The more that I've developed a more competitive edge, mainly with myself, the easier it is to keep the weight off. How can I pass my personal best in pullups if I gain weight? Thanks for your post.

Mike, thanks for stopping by and I'm really looking forward to this upcoming series because we all need inspiration and to see that other folks have traveled the road that we're on ...

Michele said...

I love your description of an "athlete". I'm going to copy this and pass it on to all my "exercise & athlete" friends.

Mr. LowBodyFat said...

Michele thanks for your comment, but make sure that you give credit to Charles Staley and not me. While I would love to take the credit for such a powerful post, I can't; at least not with a straight face;)

Michele said...

Thanks for honest and "straight face", :). I will definitely sign this quote Charles Staley!