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Performance Enhancement – Why Draw the Line?

It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” – Benjamin Franklin

In light of the recent Lance Armstrong drama surrounding his performance enhancement during his competitive cycling days, I was inspired to write a little something about the topic.  I understand this all makes for good television and fuels the media circus to spin for days on end, however I have to ask myself “Why?”  I know I might be jaded on this topic because I have seen performance enhancement in the arena of sports evolve dramatically over the years from equipment improvements, sharpened and focused athletic training programs namely in strength and conditioning, better informed nutritional plans and approaches, and yes, more knowledge and subsequent improved application of many legal substances that when applied in many areas of sport are deemed “banned” and when they help a normal citizen fighting certain medical conditions they are acceptable.  So what is the solution?  In my opinion, it is to not draw a line at all and let talent, genetics, and training dictate the competitive spirit and peak athletic performance of each sport.

If I could give you a pill that would make you an Olympic champion — and also kill you in a year — would you take it?” Dr. Gabe Mirkin

This question was posed to competitive runners in 1967.  And the results?  Over half of the runners responded yes.  Fast forward over 40 years to athletes in competitive sports today, and I would venture that an even larger percentage of them would answer yes.  Why?  Because these athletes in 1967 were striving to be the best non-paid Olympians.  Athletes today have the potential of endorsement deals worth tens even hundreds of millions of dollars, they have the potential to be famous and highly esteemed in their respective arenas, and they can be a legacy for generations of their family tree allowing them to be raised from poverty to wealth.  All of this adds up to the fact the stakes are much higher in sports competition today.

Why does the mindset of an elite competitive athlete matter in this discussion?  Well, it is a mindset so far separated from the general public that we should know that an elite level athlete will compete with whatever it takes and a win at all costs attitude.  If being the best at their sport requires taking steroids and growth hormone will they do it?  Of course so.  It might be similar to asking a mother of a small child if she will do anything to save their child if that child is in danger.  Of course she will.  So why do we waste endless hours, resources, and money to fund the bad cop sport scientists to govern and test the banned substances in sport?  Beats the hell out of me?  I suppose the public likes the good cop/bad cop and hero/villain dichotomy.

I would like to conclude with several examples found in sport that clearly show evolution of the sport.  Now whether a purist might decide these particular evolutions are good or bad for the sport is irrelevant, my point here is competitive athletes will continually pursue peak performance in their respective arenas at all costs.  So let’s start with the currently hot topic of cycling and the Tour de France shall we?

Smoking_Tour_FrancePub_Break_Tour_France

Here are some photos of the Tour de France in the earlier part of the 20th Century.  What’s that?  Is that a fellow teammate helping the lead rider with a performance enhancing drug during the ride?  Yes it is.  At the time, cigarette smoking was thought to improve respiration so riders would often smoke during the stages of the Tour.  Is this any different than doping after a ride?  Not in my opinion.  They both are after the same goal: improving oxygen efficiency during a ride.  The doping techniques are just a superior and much more well-informed approach to the ever present problem of recovery during endurance sports like cycling.  And I like how the riders in the second picture are recovering – stopping into the local pub for a pint 😉  Another item to note, I am sure those bikes back then were not nearly as light as the modern day cycles used in the Tour.  Should we try to get Lance to saddle up on one of those ponies?  No.  And do we try to compare Lance Armstrong to those riders?  No.  And it should not matter.

 

Steeve_ReevesReg_Park

Ronnie_ColemanJay_Cutler

I know, I know, it is easy to pick on the sport of bodybuilding.  But herein lies a great example of the evolution of training in a sport which includes performance enhancing drugs.  Notice I like to call “training” anything under the pursuit of peak performance.  Are steroids, growth hormone, and a slew of other pharmaceuticals part of the concoction to make a top performer in competitive bodybuilding today?  Yes.  That all goes into the “training” program of that particular sport.  Would that same training program and combination of performance enhancing drugs help out a professional golfer?  No.  Can you really compare the bodybuilders of pre-steroid era with modern bodybuilders?  No.  And any sport historian knows this and accepts it.  The rules of bodybuilding allow for the use of such drugs that are banned in many other sports arenas.  Fans of competitive body building know historical comparisons come down to personal preference as the sport is more subjective than objective anyway.

 

Barry_Bonds

It was not that long ago, that Barry Bonds was the poster boy for performance enhancing drugs in baseball.  Major League Baseball officials and purists of the sport won in their battle against performance enhancing drugs.  But did the fans win?  Not in my opinion.  The baseball fan base is in large part lower than in the home run derby days of Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds.  Why?  Because that made baseball exciting and these athletes were achieving things never before possible.  How?  Improvements in training programs.  Again, did those training programs include performance enhancing drugs?  Yes, but does it matter?  Again, if you are sport historian or baseball purist and want to compare Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds, it comes down to subjective opinion because objective comparisons like statistics have to be thrown out the window for many reasons.  And to me that should be accepted.  After all, aren’t accolades like the Hall of Fame really subjective and political anyway?  Pete Rose not in the Hall of Fame?  C’mon folks.

 

Bill_Tilden         Rafael_Nadal

Tennis and golf are probably the two best examples of sport performance improving through the advancement of equipment designs.  Should we make Rafael Nadal use the wooden racket of the Bill Tilden era?  No. (ahem baseball)  Do we know and accept the fact that Tiger Woods can out drive Jack Nicklaus in his prime?  Yes.  Why is that?  Well, it is better equipment AND training.  Look at Rafael Nadal and Tiger Woods, both are superior physical specimens when compared to their yesteryear counterparts in their respective sports.  Why?  Simple.  Improved training.

In summary, athletic performance has for the most part improved over the years.  Why?  Variety of reasons like equipment designs for efficiency, accuracy and safety, better nutritional choices for athletic performance and recovery, and a host of focused training techniques.  So where do we draw the line in training for a competitive sport?  In my opinion, we stop drawing the lines and let the athletes compete based upon their genetics, skill, talent, and training programs.  What if these training programs include performance enhancing drugs?  Who cares?  These drugs just compliment the athlete’s training program not completely dictate success or failure within their given sport.  We must remember, these genetic specimens of elite level competitive athletics are different than the general population.  If Joe Blow off the street with normal talent levels in any sport picked up the same training programs he would NOT become the next athletic star in any sport.  Peak performance and elite competition are driven by SO MUCH more than the implementation of performance enhancing drugs.

So play ball!  Start your engines!  Kickoff!  Quiet please.

 

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A Win-Win, for You and a Friend…

Happy 2013, friends!  We hope this note finds everyone in the Efficient Exercise tribe happy, healthy and well.  Here’s to forging a solid commitment to health and wellness in the new year!
January is the time for resolutions, and Efficient Exercise is here to help.  Not with rah-rah and lip service, but with real, actionable items that can help you to see your health and fitness resolution through.
At Efficient Exercise, we believe that having solid knowledge of where you’re starting can have a profound impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of reaching your goals.  For many, those goals involve body composition betterment, and in our opinion there is no better tool for measuring body composition than the DEXA scan.
Subject lying in bed of scanner which is an open table with a scanner arm above subject
Though how you look, feel and perform ought to be the ultimate barometer of your progress, some prefer the pin-pointed accuracy that a DEXA scan provides.  And, as mentioned in the linked article above, the DEXA does provide a great counter (and sanity check!) to the oftentimes conflicting information provided by the scale.
In fact, we feel strongly enough in the DEXA’s usefulness — both as a diagnostic and as a motivational tool — that we’ve negotiated a special price for Efficient Exercise clients who choose to be tested at UT’s Fitness Institute of Texas.   Current Efficient Exercise clients are eligible for the $75, UT Affiliate rate.
And during the January, we’re offering a free initial Dexa scan to one lucky new Efficient Exercise client!
All new clients who purchase a 1-on-1 or group package during the month of January are eligible for the drawing.  And don’t forget: all existing Efficient Exercise clients receive one free session for each new client who signs on.  That, folks, is a serious win-win!
So be sure to tell your friends and family about this exciting offer.  January is a great time to commit to dialing in one’s health and wellness, and partnering with Efficient Exercise is a smart way to ensure that commitment remains on track.
Efficient Exercise – Get in.  Get out.  Get fit!

Cheers!

The Efficient Exercise crew

“Functional” Training?

“Functional training” is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit in the fitness industry, usually under the guise of providing magical powers to the trainee utilizing methods that fall under the “functional” umbrella. So is there any need for “functional training” in your workout program? Well, just as with any other aspect of life, what might be advantageous in small, smartly-programmed doses can turn tragically wrong when taken to extremes.

…and we do mean *tragically* wrong…

Wow.

Just remember that “functional” exercise should be considered as a continuum of movement patterns that, at the most basic and more stable end of the spectrum, *may* be safely performed under load. And remember, too, that a little goes a long way. Adding some sensible, unilateral (single leg) training to the mix? Yeah, that works.

Split Squat

Cirque de Soleil-like maneuvers while toting a barbell? Uhhh…not so much.

Here’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind: the more sport-specific a certain movement is reduces the likelihood that the movement in question ought to be performed loaded. With the obvious exceptions, of course, to sports where lifting heavy objects is the sport (powerlifting, Olympic weight lifting, ect.)

Strength. Skill. Balance. Flexibility. These are all qualities that contribute greatly to an athlete’s success, or to a “regular” Joe or Jane’s quality of life. And, too, these are qualities with very narrow overlap. Which is where your Efficient Exercise professional can help.

So don’t become a spectacle like the guy in yellow above. And if you do run across this specimen in the wild, send them our way. We (or at least, Keith) might not be able to provide any helpful fashion advice, but we can certainly put them on the right path to fitness with a smartly programmed strength protocol.

Taking the Long View

Taking the long view, whether in diet or exercise, is a concept we stress at Efficient Exercise. Quick-fix crash diets seldom work and worse, usually result in rebound fat gain over-and-above one’s pre-diet weight. And being too greedy for accumulated strength and/or muscle gain can result in burnout or injury that would keep one out of action indefinitely. Much wiser, then, to take the sensible long view.

Remember: health, fitness and wellness is a lifelong journey. Treating these issues as a race will only end badly. EE’s Westlake trainer Skyler Tanner has recently written a masterful piece on this very subject. Be sure to check it out, as it’s great food for thought.

And realize, too, that the needs and goals of the competitive athlete are very different from those of the of the client seeking lifelong health, fitness and wellness. EE’s Rosedale trainer Keith Norris has written extensively on the differences between training for health vs training for performance (here and here), and the assertion that athletic superiority does not necessarily correlate to superior health. In fact, the opposite is more likely the case.

So, although there are many things to be learned from the training of athletes (both from a physiological and psychological standpoint), the intelligent trainer is able to identify — and apply! — only those aspects that are pertinent and particular to the general public.

And that’s what separates our Efficient Exercise trainers from the rest of the pack. Our trainers oversee safe, effective, and professional exercise prescriptions appropriate to each client’s goals and abilities.

So here’s to intelligent training and diet — and to lifelong health and fitness — done the right way. The Efficient Exercise way!

Women, Weights, and Misconceptions

Strength training has come a long way in the last 40 years. It’s hard to imagine now, but there once was a time when even football players were advised *not* to lift weights because it would make them “muscle-bound” and slow.

But good information has a way of getting out, and nowadays even baseball players, ballerinas and golfers embrace the idea of incorporating smartly programmed strength work within their overall training regimen.

Still, though, there are misconceptions that persist. And one training related misconception we’d really like to see go the way of the dodo is this: the notion that women who partake in serious weight training will become “bulky and manly”.

Wow, this one drives your Efficient Exercise professionals bonkers for sure. For starters, women simply do not have the hormone levels necessary to build and support the shear mass seen in men who partake in serious training — no matter how much time and effort they put into it. In particular, women lack the testosterone level required for ample muscle gain, *and* they possess high levels of estrogen to boot — making it nearly impossible to gain the type of muscle mass most women are worried about. Often, when one sees an extremely muscular and vascular female lifter, there’s a pretty good chance that there is, shall we say, a certain degree of “pharmaceutical intervention” at play.

In fact, Efficient Exercise trainer Lesley O’Neal is the poster-girl for the train heavy-and-hard female. Lesley looks fantastic, and you can best believe that there aren’t any tiny pink dumbbells or “toning” exercises to be found in her workout routines.

The following video is a clip from one of our recent Efficient Exercise “training the trainer” sessions. The topic of the day’s discussion — autoregulation as applied to exercise programming — is of interest only to the training geeks out there. However, we’d like to include this so as to show just how heavy and hard Lesley does train. In the video, Keith takes Lesley through a deadlift and dip session — and the girl does some seriously hard work in the process:

Bulky? Manly? Hardly. A fantastically fit, shapely, and healthy female? Most definitely. Lesley personifies the Efficient Exercise prescription, and is doing her part to eradicate the “women in the weight room” misconception for good.

Know any ladies who are skittish about serious exercise because of the “she-man” misconception? Make sure to send them Lesley’s way. One free consultation will ease their fears, and put them on a path for a healthier tomorrow.

Farmers Markets and Co-Ops

It’s no secret that we at Efficient Exercise are enthusiastic supporters of our local farmer’s markets/a> and co-ops. And one of the luxuries of being here in Austin is that it affords us the opportunity to frequent many excellent, alternative, locavore food options.

And that’s good news — especially since, at the federal level, food policy can become so completely politicized and out-of-touch.

Which begs the question:how did something so basic as nutrient dense, nourishing food go so completely afoul of common sense?

Do your part to bring common sense back to the food you consume. The easiest place to start is by frequenting your neighborhood farmer’s market or co-op. It’s good for you, good for the community, and a blessing for sustainable farming.

Gary Taubes on Sugar

We don’t have to tell you that there are a proliferation of diet slants out there — vegetarian/vegan, South Beach, Paleo, Atkins…high fat, low fat, and everything in between — but if there’s one item that just about everyone can agree on, it’s that the long-term consumption of sugar and highly processed “food” is by no means healthy.

We all know we need to limit our sugar intake, but somehow the initiative to do so is lacking. So maybe you’re looking for that one good reason to drop sugar from your diet? Something to kick you into gear? Well, maybe this will strike a cord. In the following clip, Science journalist Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why we Get Fat) discusses his Mother Jones cover story Sweet Little Lies, an investigation into the sugar industry.

The politics of sugar might be complicated, but the answer, if you’re concerned about your health, is simple: just drop it from your life. And know that your Efficient Exercise professionals can help guide you through this tough process. We care, because eating right and smart exercise are the Yin and Yang of excellent health. Looking to go a little more in depth in crafting a diet? Ask you trainer today about Efficient Exercise’s nutritional counseling.

So make a vow to kick sugar from your diet, and don’t forget to RSVP today for either the Tuesday, 6:30 PM or noon Saturday HIIRT class. It’s a blast working out with like-minded folks. Or maybe you’d rather create a “private” class for just you and your friends or work colleagues? Round up at least 6 participants, and we’ll work out the logistics. Ask you trainer, or email Keith ([mailto]keith@efficientexercise.com[/mailto]) for details.

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