Every single one of us is an athlete, whether we like it or not - some of us are just not willing to admit it yet.
I recently decided to take a break from my usual workout routine and try a different approach for a while. It is not that what I had been doing wasn't good or wasn't working. I simply wanted to change things up and to round out my fitness a little.
I bought a book called The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone; I can honestly say it has changed my life. I love it when books do that! Looking back, I don't know exactly what prompted me to buy it, but I am grateful for it. This post isn't intended to be a book review, but the ideas in it are very interesting and merit some discussion.
To (briefly) summarize the book's premise:
- In order to have good endurance, we need to optimize the body's fat burning abilities (as opposed to sugar) because fat is a very long-running fuel source. Due to our largely anaerobic lifestyles, most of us rely too much on sugar burning during our endurance activities.
- Endurance training is done slow, much slower than you would think, and by doing it slow you become fast. By building a solid aerobic base and building an efficient aerobic (fat burning) system, you will become faster because your body will be able to perform more efficiently at the same intensity.
- Our society is largely anaerobic: enamored with the notion that doing more, going harder, and going faster is what it takes to get results. This mindset heads us down the wrong path however, leading to injury, burn-out, stress, poor health, and decreased performance. That doesn't mean that there are times when we shouldn't push ourselves or go anaerobic, but that for endurance, the majority of training should be low intensity (fat burning).
- Physical endurance has a direct correlation with whole-body health. Training for endurance doesn't just happen during the workout, it happens when you eat, when you sleep, and how you manage stress.
- Physical training needs to be motivating and sustainable, and increase health and fitness over time, not break you down, burn you out or make you hate your sport.
- All physical training imposes stress on the body. Life imposes stress on the body. Too much stress will negatively impact health and performance - no matter where it comes from. Training for performance is actually all about stress management: keeping the stress of physical training and life in check so that it does not cause the body to break down.
I don't agree with everything he says in the book (i.e. his diet recommendations - we are pretty set in our ways on that one), but I found this to be one of the more refreshing fitness books I have read in a long time. A book that is wholistic in it's approach to endurance training; that causes you to look at your whole life in relation to performance rather than just your training sessions.
Reading this book has given me time to reflect on my own life and fitness practices. Namely, that the things I enjoy doing (and am continually trying to figure out ways to do more of - hence the reason for this blog) are largely endurance oriented activities: hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing, etc. That is to say that while muscle strength is involved in supporting those activities, they are - for the most part - primarily endurance activities.
Up until this point, I had never really given a lot of thought to training for endurance. I had never really considered myself an endurance athlete - I was just a guy who wanted to keep in shape so that I could keep up with my kids and live my life to its fullest, not just suffer through it - especially as I get older. I have spent more time with various forms of strength training than I have doing anything endurance oriented.
Then I got to the part of the book where Phil Maffetone talks about how he successfully uses the same endurance training principles for other professions - not just triathletes - like race car drivers, fighter pilots, and music performers. That's when something clicked in my brain: this means we are all endurance athletes.
Moms with young kids. Truck drivers. Office workers putting-in overtime. Guys sitting on the couch blogging. We all are required to be at the top-of-our-game for extended periods of time.Life is a marathon like no other, why haven't I been training for it?
The end result has been a change in focus for my physical training. Actually, not so much a change in focus, but a tighter focus. I am coming to terms with this idea that life is an endurance sport and I am an endurance athlete. Whether it be endurance to perform at my peak for a multi-day backpacking trip, or to push through a difficult work week. The end result is the same, I don't just want to survive, I want to thrive and the key is to ensure I am training for it in a sustainable fashion.
For some great whole-health and endurance training resources, I highly recommend visiting Dr. Steve Gangemi's site The Sock Doc. Dr. Gangemi is an online friend of mine who contributes articles from time-to-time on Toe Salad.