Friday, April 27, 2007

Something I Can't Prove

There's a little party game that's making the rounds among fitness professionals of late called "What do you know that you can’t you prove?" I'm not sure who started it but it's a pretty interesting little exercise, and a lot of the first-string fitness pros have weighed in with some pretty great ideas ( did a roundtable a few weeks ago).

In my tip from a few weeks ago, "A Little Thing Called Science," I talked about the importance of checking sources on any study that purports to offer objective fitness advice; I also warned readers of the prevalence of junk science in our industry, and basically sounded a note of caveat emptor among consumers of fitness information and products. As ever in our field, there are lots of charlatans out there.

That being said, I've just been named the new face of DELISH-O-DIET® Protein Weight Loss Muscle Gain Sex Drive Make A Million Dollars Snake Oil formula, and quite objectively I think everyone should buy a boatload today! It's GREAT!!

Just kidding, though let it be known I am very much available for endorsements.

Okay, anyway. Despite my healthy skepticism for patently unscientific claims, I do think that there's room for good ol' fashioned, hard-earned, learned-in-the-trenches wisdom that accrues from years in this-- or any -- field. You know how in buddy cop movies there's always the young, by-the-book cop and his wily veteran partner who follows his hunches and does things his way, and by the end of the film the by-the-booker has learned a thing or two about chucking procedure and going on instinct? Well now I'm speaking up for those wily veterans. The cantankerous Burgess Merediths out there who just know what they know, who do what they do cause it works, dammit.

Of whom I can hardly count myself one. Still, here's my j.v. version of the "something I know but can't prove" game:

The earlier in your life you get in shape, the easier it is to maintain or get it back.

I'd like to come up with a compact, rhyming version of that little principle, like, "grow it early, and you'll never look squirrelly," but it's still a work in progress.

Now I'm not just talking about "muscle memory." It's widely accepted that it's easier to rebuild lost fitness than it is to build it from scratch. I'm suggesting something further: that there is a window of time, say, from age 12 though age 20, during which, if you get in shape, you're more likely to remain in shape as you get older, and still more able to recover your former glory should you fall off the exercise wagon at any point thereafter.

Hard to prove, I know: I suppose you could do one of those famous "identical twin" studies where you separate a pair of twins at birth, have Twin #1 participate in a fitness program during adolescence and Twin #2 wait till his thirties to get healthy, let them both go to seed, then put them on identical training programs twenty years later and see who responds the best. It would only take a few thousand sets of identical twins willing to do your bidding for life. If you could persuade any reasonable adults to participate in such a preposterous study, I guess what I'm saying is that I bet Twin #1 would clean up.

[Side note: I wonder if you could make a living being an identical twin? With all the genetic studies out there requiring thousands of sets of them, and the relative dearth of such twins, couldn't you just fleece the NIH every time you get a call if you were an identical twin? Seems like the "Good of Science" argument might only work a few times before you'd ask them to pony up. I'm picturing a Will Ferrell movie where Ferrell repeatedly participates in such studies even though he has no twin. He does dozens of these studies for thousands of dollars. Genetic science is thrown completely off because he skews the results of every study he participates in. Hilarity ensues.]

So what proof can I offer for my theory? Well, there was my childhood friend, Derek Dean, whom I still see on occasion. I met Derek when the two of us were in middle school and we became lifting buddies. The keen eye of my teenaged machismo noticed -- and coveted -- his peaked, rounded biceps, which, he claimed he'd built stacking wood (we went to school in woodsy New Hampshire in the 80's, back when wood stoves were considered eco-friendly). Anyway, I saw Deano again a few months ago, and although he's pretty much given up weight training in favor of attempting to break the four-minute mile, the guy still has those enviable biceps.

I also think about other guys I've known who were athletes in college or high school, who, despite years of inactivity, either still look kind of athletic, or get their muscles back after just a few weeks of concerted effort. I suspect those guys drive their gym-rat girlfriends crazy.

Finally, many other physical functions appear to operate similarly. Preadolescence and adolescence are fertile periods (ha, ha…) for just about every kind growth. Child development experts speak of a window for learning a new language, during which retention and comprehension is high, and the child is less likely to forget lessons learned: fill in that language template early, and it's less apt to get erased. Bone growth happens in a similar manner. Exercise physiologists now recommend judicious use of higher-impact activities for young adults in order to achieve a high rate of bone mass in early adulthood. The theory goes that the higher that peak bone mass is as an adolescent -- when conditions for bone formation are optimal -- the less likely the child will be to develop osteoporosis and other skeletal problems in later life. Here again is the ideal window for optimal development occurring in early adolescence.

I suspect muscle tissue operates in a similar fashion: plant the seeds for muscle memory early in life and you can reap greater benefits later.

Admittedly, my theory is not much good for those of us who waited until later in life to make a real run at getting in shape. Still, the argument stands for getting yourself moving sooner rather than later, even if "sooner" means 75 instead of 85.

Furthermore, it's an argument -- along with the bone-growth theory, which actually has a scientific basis, unlike my little piece of armchair-physiologist hypothesizing -- to get our kids out there and active as early as possible. Better yet, let's go out and play with them. My three year old, Kate, has a new favorite game at the park called "obstacle course" where she and I take turns giving the other complex routes to run: through the swings, up the slide, down the slide, swing from the low bar, around the tree three times... etc. I go all out when it's my turn, and so she does too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

DF Tip #26: Periodization and You

figNow and then I'll be at a party and an acquaintance will sidle up to me at the hors-d'oeuvres table and ask me about my favorite topic. Muttering something about the little-known healing properties of the French bread-with-brie-and-fig-jam that I'm jamming down my gullet, I'll be hit with a question that goes something like this: "How's this fitness routine: I take two soup cans, lift them overhead fifty times. Then I run up my attic stairs and do 10 deep knee bends. Then..."

The fitness freak in me wants to stop them before they go any further, because their question -- "What do you think of this routine?" already tells me there's something amiss. The question implies that their exercise program -— whatever form it takes -- is a static and unchanging habit, like tooth-brushing or fingernail-clipping. Still, I'll usually wait till the end of the speech before I ask, as innocuously as possible, "So how long have you been doing this?"

The answer varies from six months to 12 years, and therein lies the problem.

As I've suggested in the past, getting fitter requires that you overload the body: stress it in a way it's not used to, forcing adaptation and improvement. It's a fairly simple concept, though as I've written at length, people fail to grasp it all the time. Your body is always seeking stasis, and has dozens of functions and systems in place that check and balance one another in an effort to preserve the status quo. Start a new exercise program and you introduce a new stimulus. After a brief period of improvement, your newly strong, supple, and enduring body becomes the new status quo, and you've got to make it adapt again by introducing, you guessed it, a new stimulus. This could take the form of greater resistance in your weight training, more mileage on the bike, more workout sessions a week, or simply, more intensity. Assuming you're resting and eating to support your fitness program, you just keep nudging the stakes higher, surprising the body with new stimuli, getting healthier, shattering plateaus, breaking through to new heights of fitness and performance with each passing year.

That’s the ideal, but so often it fails because people develop these accursed fitness "routines" that they run by their trainer pals at hors-d’oeuvres tables the world over.

Let me pause -- nay, backpedal -- for a moment here to first commend all those people who have fitness regimens going at all. Though I'm convinced there's a better way of doing things, I will say that the folks who have such regimens in place, even unchanging, repetitive ones, are already light-years beyond their sedentary brethren and sistren (?) who are trying to muster the resolve to commit to ANY form of exercise beyond curling mint juleps whilst reclining in their backyard hammocks.

I'd like to start a modest movement, here and now, to wipe the concept of routine from our collective fitness-minded consciousness. What if, instead of seeing our fitness practices as an unchanging daily task, we thought of it as a learning process, akin to practicing a musical instrument?

violinStick with me here: no one in their right mind would practice ONLY the scale they learned on their first day over and over again and expect to get better at anything but that one scale -- and pretty soon they’d even cap out on that simple drill. And no one short of Mozart would expect to become a master at a fingering technique, rhythm or picking style that they'd never tried before. In order to get better, you've got to do new stuff. It doesn't matter if that first day routine were designed and patented by the Phil Jackson of guitar teachers: keep doing it over and over and you'll stagnate, never reaching your goal of playing for writhing masses of screaming groupies.

Yet that's in effect what thousands of exercisers do every day (no, not the screaming groupies part). They repeat the same thing ad infinitum and expect improvement.

The carry-over lesson is that, like learning a new instrument, fitness should be approached not as a rote routine but as a skill you're trying to master, so that each workout is geared not towards maintenance but towards the incremental improvement of some skill or ability.

So progression -- and thereby, variation -- is essential. But the next, quite reasonable question is, how? Just keep lifting more and more all the time until you look like Lou Ferrigno? Run until your friends start referring to you as Mr. or Ms. Gump? Learn one new sport or skill after another until you win the decathlon or get headhunted by Cirque du Soleil?

lougumpWell, one short and flippant answer would be... yeah. I don't wholeheartedly suggest this for everyone, but that's sort of how I've stayed in shape for the last 20-odd years: by discovering some activity that interests me, going into it half-cocked until I get bored or intrigued by something else, and then jumping into that new thing with equal abandon. In addition to my decidedly average genetics, a major reason I would never have made much of a pro athlete is that I could never commit to one physical endeavor for very long. The closest I've gotten is triathlon, a sport I've kept up for a whopping two years -- and that's probably because it's actually three sports in one (four, if you count peeing whilst riding the bike). That, and the fact that it allows me to take about half the year off to direct my focus towards strength training, martial arts, and other bright, shiny objects.

cirqueThrough no great plan of my own (I assure you), I've managed to avoid the injuries that many athletically inclined guys my age suffer because I just don't have the attention span to cause myself any serious harm. And, to my astonishment, my athletic tomcatting has actually made me better at the sports I do practice.

A few years ago I discovered that fitness folks have a word for this type of training: they call it (with their usual tin ear for coinage) periodization. And since there's a word for it, it must be good, right?

Periodization was born in professional athletics. The idea was to create a training schedule that would allow athletes to progress steadily, avoid injury, over-training, and burnout; and, most importantly, achieve their peak performance in a given year when the stakes were highest, during the competitive season. The best way to achieve this, they found, was to break the year up into -- wait for it -- periods during which the athlete would focus on one particular aspect of athletic performance, be it endurance, strength, sports skills, agility, or something else. Without getting too much into the details, the point was to bring the athlete, over the course of a year, from general fitness towards greater and greater focus on the specifics of the athlete's competitive sport right up through the end of the season, when the athlete took some well-earned active rest. Such a system worked far better than simply practicing the sport at full tilt all year round, or performing drill after irrelevant drill until the cows came home, and this system remains in use by most trainers of professional athletes the world over.

So okay, you're not a professional athlete, you're not even an amateur athlete, and all you want is to look good, feel good, and stay healthy for as long as you can, and therefore, what does this have to do with you?

Just this: a pro athlete is really just an overpaid, overexposed, spoiled and egotistical version of you and me. Their training needs differ from ours not so much in kind but in degree. Like the pro athlete, the average trainee also wants to avoid injury and burnout, while continuing to improve. Like the athlete, he will also probably have a point in the year when he wants to look or feel particularly good: a trip, a reunion, a wedding, the holidays or the summertime. And like the athlete, he will want to have sex with thousands of beautiful women and make millions of dollars for doing very little work (periodization won’t help with that).

powderImplementing a layman's version of periodization into your training program just takes a little bit of planning: figure out when you want to peak -- look your best, feel your best, or perform your best -- and work backwards from there. Say you've got a reunion in two months. You might spend four weeks focusing on building muscle and another four focused more on losing fat so your newly toned muscles show and you look your best. If you've got more time, you might go through the muscle-gain/fat-loss cycle multiple times before your peaking date so that you arrive in the best shape of your life.

golfIf you do compete in a sport or a recreational activity like golf or skiing, you can structure an entire year of training specifically to get in top shape to play so that you hit the links or the slopes healthy and ready to go. Your off-season might include specific strength, power and flexibility drills to help you peak right when the season begins. When your season is over, take a few weeks off to relax and engage in some alternate activity that you haven't had time for when doing your sport. Then take some time to figure out what you might want to work on for next year's season. If you've got an injury, your off-season could be spent shoring it up so it doesn't hold you back next year. If you have more than one activity you enjoy, say, martial arts and tennis, figure out when you want to be at your best at each sport and cycle your attention accordingly. At no time should you stick with exactly the same program for more than six weeks.

The point is for your training to support your lifestyle, to help you live and enjoy yourself more fully in whatever activities you choose to participate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Training / Tabata Intervals

Quite some time ago this blog began as a training diary; a couple of people have been mildly interested in my training these days -- which I'll also touch on in a tip that's coming up -- but the bottom line is that I'm training for another season of triathlons. My first will be either June 9th or June 24th. Don't know whether I'm doing the one on the 9th yet, but now that I've written it I suppose I might have to. And I MAY just do one this weekend as well in Loma Linda, though that one's looking less likely as we may have a child care conflict.

So my training consists on a lot of swimming, biking, and running, in all kinds of fiendish combinations: fast bike/slow run one day; long bike up the hills/fast swim intervals; long run followed by sprint combinations... I mix it up. Good for a guy with the limited attention span I have.

My problem as a triathlete has always been that I don't have the patience to do a lot of really long, slow endurance work, so it makes me happy that this type of training has been taking a beating in fitness circles of late anyway. I've always felt a little on the inadequate side as a triathlete because I've never done, nor really aspired to do, an Ironman (2+ miles of swimming, 112 miles biking, 26+ miles running), primarily because, well, it's ALL long, slow distance work... for about 15 hours. Just doesn't interest me; I like speed; I like feeling the muscles working away, I like holding onto a modicum of the muscle mass I try to build in the off-season, so I much prefer the sprint distance: all out for an hour or so, much like a hard gym workout. Get it done, get out, go home.

A few weeks back, while on one of my seven-hour internet searches for new fitness information and techniques (long, slow internet hunting doesn't seem to be a problem for me), I discovered a technique (which was actually formulated and named about 11 years ago) called "Tabata" intervals, which are truly brutal but very effective. Those in the know will already be familiar with Izumi Tabata, Ph.D, a Japanese coach who came up with the 20 seconds on / 10 seconds off interval that sears body fat and raises the VO2 max to new and impossible heights. It's so brutal that the protocol calls for just four minutes of intense work: eight 30-second work/rest intervals in all. As long as you really push your limits during those 20 second intervals, four minutes (following a warmup and preceding a cooldown) is PLENTY. As Tabata himself notes -- with charming detachment -- in his report on the effects of this training protocol, "The subjects lay down on the floor afterwards." Yup, it's hard.

Hardcore gym rats do Tabata intervals with weight training, by choosing a full-body movement, selecting a medium-easy weight for themselves, and doing four minutes of 20 seconds on / 10 seconds off intervals. Front squats and "thrusters" -- a kind of front-squat/barbell-jerk combo -- are popular options. I confess I haven't tried this type of workout in the weight room yet, possibly out of blind fear of the stomach-churning consequences, but it sounds tough as hell. Instead, in the interest of developing greater speed and power for racing, I've been doing them on my bike, at the end of my harder running workouts, and in the pool -- the latter by doing all-out 25 yard sprints, resting 10 seconds at the edge of the pool, and repeating for a 200-yard interval workout at the end of my longer-distance work. As long as you stick to the time and intensity constraints, it seems to work. My swimming has indeed gotten faster and easier -- surprisingly so -- and I find myself able to bike and run at a higher intensity for longer periods as well. As the research suggests, Tabata seems to raise your ceiling a bit, making everything below top intensity a little easier.

The initial studies on Tabata indicated that subjects who performed this type of hardcore interval training experienced fat loss at a rate NINE TIMES faster than that of subjects performing a more traditional steady-state cardio workout. That's a pretty remarkable difference, and a little while ago some marketing genius attempted to capitalize on this little datum. Basically a few blokes built a piece of gym equipment that looked like a space-age exercise bike, claimed that four minutes a day on the machine would get you nine times the fat loss, and -- with a straight face, mind you -- slapped a $12,000.00 price tag on the contraption. This for a single piece of equipment intended for home use. Now I've never used one of these things, so it's possible that working out on it does indeed feel better than winning the lottery and nabbing an Academy Award while having sex with your dream lover, in which case it may well be worth the price tag. But short of that, it seems like you could substitute four minutes of Tabata-style bodyweight squats and save yourself the floor space, as well as a pretty hefty chunk of scratch.

I've been starting to recommend the Tabata interval to my fitter clients of late to see what kind of results they get out of it (Tabata is decidedly not for beginners). It's really a variation on the kind of sprinting work I've recommended in the past, but this particular interval seems to hit a metabolic sweet spot that keeps the body in EPOC mode (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, the acronym du jour for us fitness freaks) for an especially long time. And that's a good thing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Good Gyms

Last weekend I took a couple hours and drove up the 5 freeway to Newhall, where the legendary Alwyn Cosgrove runs a gym called RESULTS FITNESS.

I met Cosgrove a couple of months ago at a seminar and chatted him up. I knew his writing and fitness philosophies; I also know about his gym and expressed an interest in seeing how he ran things; he kindly told me I could drop by any time.

So last Friday, I did.

Given Cosgrove's reputation, I was half-expecting something enormous: a huge, multi-floored fitness emporium equipped with all the latest machines and fitness paraphernalia. A staff of behemoths, with Olympic bars and squat racks as far as the eye could see. People performing esoteric moves with great purpose and intensity. The occasional, massive trainer screaming, randomly, "DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?"

I pictured Ivan Drago training in "Rocky IV."

But RESULTS is not that at all: it's actually a fairly unassuming storefront in a strip mall in quaint-ish downtown Newhall. And once inside, it’s immediately clear that the equipment is nothing special either. A nicely-organized rack of dumbbells. A few Olympic bars and benches. A squat rack with a chinning bar. Some cardio equipment. Lots of floor space for stretching. And maybe two or three of the absolutely most basic fitness machines: a lat-pulldown/rowing station and an adjustable-angle cable station are the two I remember seeing.

The one nod to esoteria was a strange device that looked a little like a Pilates rebounder -- and the woman who was showing me around, Donna Bent, told me they'd won that piece of equipment the previous week at some function (no one touched it in the time that I was there).

So in its physical plant, RESULTS is a nuts-and-bolts place, and that really shouldn't have surprised me. In his approach to training, Cosgrove is a nuts-and-bolts guy.

The demographic of the clientele was fairly predictable: unsurprisingly, at 11 AM on a weekday, it was mostly women who either weren't working or whose jobs afforded them time off on a weekday to put in an hour or so at the gym (sort of like my job).

But what impressed me the most were the muscles on these women, and the energy and focus these women were summoning to build them. The one bare midriff I saw (it's not a flesh-baring place) was nicely muscled, as were the arms and shoulders these women sported. They all looked like strong, capable, athletic types, and it's no surprise -- they were doing exercises that required some serious strength and athleticism: chinups, deadlifts, rows, squats, all at a brisk pace, with some pretty serious weights. I heard some hearty grunting while I was in there. I'm not allowed at CURVES, but I don't imagine you hear a lot of grunting there.

I spent about forty-five minutes with Donna (who was very nice and a pretty darn athletic looking specimen herself), and in addition to getting the sense that the training at RESULTS is goal-oriented (hence the name of the place) and intense, I got a good sense of the vibe of the place as well, which is perhaps its most important feature, and the main reason a potential client would choose RESULTS over BALLY’S.

It's similar to a gym called CARL AND SANDRA’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is run by a guy named Carl Miller, a former Olympic weightlifting coach. I visited the gym about a year ago. Carl’s a great guy, very accomplished, and took 90 minutes of his day to work with me and talk about their philosophy.

If I were king of everything, all gyms would be run like RESULTS and CARL AND SANDRA’s. If I ever run a gym, these two gyms are the template I would model my gym after. What makes them different from, say, 24-HOUR FITNESS?


1) PERSONAL ATTENTION. Both gyms feel like Cheers: everybody knows your name. They're friendly places where you want to go, want to spend time.

2) RECOGNITION FOR ACCOMPLISHMENT. At RESULTS, there are before-and-after pictures of some of the gym’s more impressive transformations. At CARL and SANDRA's, you get a special notice on the wall the longer you've been a member. The notion of striving for improvement and change is reinforced in both cases.

3) CONTINUED INSTRUCTION. The programs followed by the clients at both gyms are designed by professionals who are aware of each client's goals, injuries, limitations. Each client follows their program to the letter, and every few weeks is given an updated program, thus ensuring progress. Supervision is provided: at RESULTS, it's semi-private; at CARL's, it's one-on-one every few weeks, but trainers -- all of whom share the same training philosophy -- are always on hand to assist.

4) TRAINERS WHO ARE ON THE SAME PAGE. At most gyms, trainers barely know one another, much less each other's clients. Asked to train someone else's client, most trainers would have no idea what to do. But at RESULTS and CARL'S, the training programs are part of a larger training philosophy which underlies everyone's program. So even if you might have a particular trainer that you work with, any trainer at the facility can pinch hit if need be.

5) METICULOUS RECORD KEEPING. Check out the trainers at the average gym. Then check out the trainees. Are they writing down what they do? Unlikely. Yet how can you be sure you're making progress if you don't keep track? That's like playing golf or bowling and not keeping score. Are you getting better or worse? At the good gyms, it just makes sense to keep track. Who said "What is measured, improves"? I don't know, but they probably pumped iron.

6) A FEELING OF "SERIOUS FUN." This is the complement to #1, above. Sure, everyone's nice. But it's not at the expense of the work that everyone's there to do. It's supportive but not distracting.

7) LESS FOCUS ON STUFF. Both gyms have everything they need but not much more. Given the choice between filling up a gym's floor space with a dozen near-useless machines that work tiny muscles in a non-functional way and just having that extra space for stretching, doing ab work, jumping rope, or calisthenics, I know what I'd choose. Cosgrove and Miller have chosen likewise.

8) INSPIRATON. Cosgrove himself is a former Tae Kwon Do champ. The trainer on duty when I visited RESULTS was a competitive powerlifter. Carl Miller coached two American Olympic teams. Cosgrove’s wife, Rachel, brave soul, is training for an Ironman-distance triathlon. These people practice what they preach.

I'm sure there are dozens more points I'm missing here. I don't know whether I would ever want the hassle or worry of owning my own gym, but if I do, this is how I'd want the place to feel.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

BLOG-A-PALOOSA: "Design" Rant


So for a year or so now I've been posting these tips, and am going to continue to do so, but I've finally become just a little more computer literate, and have been poking around the net quite a bit for other fitness information. Turns out that, to put it mildly, I'm not the only one doing this "fitness blog" thing. Most of the other folks appear to post... pretty darn regularly, rather than waiting around for some enormous inspiration to strike and spending months procrastinating and then figuring out how to phrase their ideas with just les mots justes. Well, I'm doing the same. I've decided that I'm going to post more often, darn it all! Yup, even if it's just to say, hey, here's my next post, I'm going to post more often! Even if the kwalitty of my riting suferrs.

The tips will still come -— don’t worry. I’m going to try to make them monthly instead of "quarterly," as fellow fitness-blogger Lou Schuler recently described my paltry output. But I'm going to do intermediate posts too, for my Mom. I mean, for all my fans (the self-deprecation will continue).

So what am I going to talk about? Same stuff, I'm just going to be a little less precious about it, and I might stray off topic every now and then.

Subscribers will continue to receive TIPS in their mailboxes, but not the more frequent musings posted here.

Aaaanyway —- I wanted to kick things off with a little observation here: remember "intelligent design?" Remember how for about five minutes this form of thinly-veiled creationism was threatening to nudge out legit science in our kids' classrooms? And remember how it was essentially pummeled into submission, first in the popular press, then in the courts, when a Pennsylvania judge ruled that intelligent design, by scientific standards, essentially... wasn't?

And I for one was relieved. A couple of years ago, my wife Heidi and I attended a one woman show called "Mother On Fire" by local artist and NPR commentator Sandra Tsing Loh. The show detailed her frantic search for decent schooling for her elementary school aged kids. After surveying the myriad stratospherically overpriced private-school options in the greater LA area, she begins to consider cheaper parochial schools, concluding that "The teaching of evolution just might not be a luxury my family is able to AFFORD!" My wife and I were a few months away from putting our daughter Kate in preschool, and we laughed hysterically -— probably because for us, hers felt like a dilemma that was just a liiiiittle too close to home.

Anyway, back to I.D. Thankfully, despite the protestations of our wise and moderate president, mainstream America seems to have dodged the intelligent-design-as-science bullet for the time being, and advocates for the cause have disappeared for now, or perhaps, karmically, devolved back into the single-celled-organisms from which they grew some few million years ago.

So I wonder: why do otherwise reasonable, eloquent authors -- some of whom are fitness authors, not usually a bible thumping crowd -- still use the term "the human body was designed to..." [fill in the blank with whatever point the author's trying to make]. I read this phrase all the time, and it perplexes me to no end.

Maybe I'm sounding nitpicky and pedantic: I've done that before. I certainly get what these guys are trying to say -- something along the lines of "the body functions optimally when..." I could stomach that phrasing much easier, because science is evoked, if only faintly. But saying that the body was designed to do this or that is tantamount to saying not only that there was a designer (which may be true but is irrelevant to the discussion at hand), but also that the author happens to have a clear line on just what that designer had in mind when they did the designing, and for you lesser mortals who don't have God on speed-dial, here's the dope.

I'm willing to concede that some of these fitness guys know a hell of a lot more about squatting and curling and omega-3 fatty acids than I do. But I'm not willing to concede that any of them has a direct line as to what the big Strength and Conditioning Coach in the Sky intended when he assembled the human body, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, in form and moving so express and admirable.