Training for a Purpose Versus the Byproduct
Training for fat loss and training for physique appearance are big money in our society and are typically what we consider for goals of “conventional training”. But these appearance goals self evidently are not compelling. Otherwise the societal norm would be lean, strong, and fast. In military and first responder occupations periodic fitness tests are usually the norm, and tend to predominate fitness training in order to pass the test, rather than support functional occupational skills. Yet, many struggle to meet the minimum test standards. The framework that physique and appearance are byproducts of another purpose achieved. Same for fitness tests: the numbers and scores are just a byproduct pursuing something else. Something more compelling. Functional movement skill, competitive sport performance, or occupational tactical skills are the goal. The numbers are NOT the goal. In fact, “goal” is probably not the right word. “Purpose” is the right word.
Start with Why
Purpose is always paired with a task in a military operations order in order to answer “why”. This allows the task to change to match circumstances. Commander’s Intent describes what the end state looks like in terms of the relationship of friendly and enemy forces on the battlefield and their remaining combat power. Usually it is then followed by a list of the most key tasks. Fitness purpose is very similar. The reason or purpose we give to our actions matters more than the specific tasks themselves, because the tasks need to change based on circumstance. Getting lean, strong, and building speed and endurance are costly activities for the body. Setting an appearance goal, “to get in shape”, a certain score on fitness test, and the ever elusive weight goal of “lose ten pounds” are typically not sufficient purpose to over ride our nervous system’s preference for efficiency and the status quo of the body. It requires a lot willpower, and willpower is biochemical, you only have so much every day. It gets used up every time you have to consider doing or not doing something. Best to use it wisely.
Training Versus Working Out
I’ll use the example of army fitness. The purpose of army fitness is to provide a physical and mental platform to fight in close combat. The end state is the sustained ability to rapidly move in all six degrees of motion to deliver, absorb, and retranslate force while retaining decision and tactical movement skills through rapid heart rate recovery. There are many ways to exercise, but just as athletes develop a training program for the off-season, the pre-season, and the post-season that are specific to their sport, so too should military personnel, law enforcement and first responders. The nervous system craves complexity and skill acquisition. That is what keeps athletes coming back to session after training session: they are developing greater skill, more so than greater athleticism. They are training, not just “working out”. Acquiring more sophisticated and tactically relevant movement skills each month requires less willpower, so you have more to apply to nutrition choices or sleep discipline for example. It is these nutrition choices that change your body composition into a lean physique.
Purpose Defines: Form Follows Function
But what of physique? Form follows function. If you have occupational or sport training purpose, your physique will reflect the athleticism of your training purpose for that sport or occupation. The lower your body fat, the more revealing the physique. The body fat levels will be driven mostly by the quality and quantity of your nutrition, adequate sleep, and low levels of stress. If your goal is only appearance, I suggest the metric be based on anthropological and sociological research. For men this is the ratio of the width of your shoulders to waist. For women it is hip to waist. The closer it is to the Golden Ratio of 1.618, the greater the social impact. It is a measurable goal, but it is a just a number. I caution that it may be a less compelling motivation than acquiring the expressible power of a complex movement skill such as a kettle bell or club bell flow routine or developing the full range mobility and stress resilience from the TACFIT protocols.
Training Requires a Plan
I encourage you to write down your purpose statement and develop a training cycle that progresses in relevant movement patterns and complexity as well as intensity or resistance. The nervous system responds best to this improvement in movement, power with grace. It is your primal birthright. Whatever path you choose, it is consistency that is most important to progress. Define your purpose and train for it every day, and never, ever stop.