The Principles of Fitness – Part 1: Essential Fitness Concepts
The Principles of Fitness
If you are starting to get serious about fitness and want to learn more about the principles and science behind it so that you can get really good at it, here in this article I am going to briefly outline all of the different essential fitness concepts for you. You will learn about the science behind them as well as how to use them practically and effectively.
Part 1 – Essential Fitness Concepts
1 – SRA
SRA is an acronym that stands for Stimulus, Recovery, Adaptation. It is the process by which muscle grows (in what is called hypertrophy which will be defined below), strength is developed, and all athletic performance is perfected. First the training stimulus is introduced to the body. This stimulus forces the body to do what is called “functional over-reaching”, which means that it is going beyond its normal capabilities in order to perform the function you are forcing it to. This stimulus causes muscle disruption and tissue damage. And this over-reaching which causes tissue damage actually causes you to enter into a temporarily weakened state. Then what is needed to heal the tissue damage is recovery time. The recovery time allows repair to take place and the muscle to grow, in the process called hypertrophy that you are about to learn about next. Without recovery time, growth can not occur, and instead injury will be what occurs, which is why it is important not to do something that is functionally over-reaching repeatedly without recovery time in between. After the recovery time, adaptation takes place. The stimulus and recovery causes the adaptation, which is the muscle growth and increase in strength and other athletic performance capabilities.
This is also known as “Super-Compensation”, which is what happens when you do functional over-reaching – your body must then compensate for the fact that you are doing something that over-reaches your normal capabilities by increasing your work capacity. So it is actually through damage and weakening of our tissue that we get stronger. And the muscle growth is not actually happening during the training, but during the rest period after it. The fine point here is that while you cannot train hard (in a way that is functionally over-reaching) without recovery time in between training sessions, you also cannot do the opposite and allow for too much recovery time in between sessions. In order to keep getting more muscular, stronger and more athletic, you need to return to training immediately after the adaptation has taken place, otherwise that extra time will cause your body to think it no longer needs these adaptations and to lose them and go back to around the level you had been at originally. This is why people who only train each muscle group once a week take the longest to grow muscle. So every time you train you need the exact right amount of recovery time in between that session and the next one. This will be based upon how hard you trained, what body part you trained, and how much training experience you have, as these things all effect the recovery time.
2 – Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy is the enlargement of tissue (for our purposes – muscle tissue), which is done by a thickening of muscle fibers causing the growth of an organ (as opposed to an increase in the number of muscle cells which only happens to children as they grow up). To put it simply, hypertrophy is the scientific term for growing muscle and thus is the goal of many people who work out. If you are trying to grow muscle in order to look more aesthetic, the type of training you should be doing specifically is hypertrophy training.
Hypertrophy occurs in two phases: First is the damage of muscle tissue during the training session in which you are doing exercises that cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers. Then there is the recovery phase, which is approximately 24-72 hours after this, in which the immune system and anabolic processes (explained next) are repairing the muscle fibers and making them thicker in the places where the tearing occurred in order to be able to handle that type of loading better in the future, causing the muscle tissue to enlarge. This second phase takes place largely while asleep, and requires larger amounts of nutrients than you would get normally, especially macro nutrients (which you will learn about later), so getting enough sleep (8-10 hours a night, plus any naps you may need), and consuming enough food (healthy, nutrient rich foods, as well as any supplements you may need) are even more important for hypertrophy as is the exercise itself. For the exercise is a destructive activity, it is in the rest and recovery phase that the muscle building hypertrophy occurs. Without the rest and proper nutrients for recovery the damage you caused can lead directly to injury.
3 – Anabolic Exercise
This is exercise that is meant to stimulate what is called “anabolism”. Anabolism is defined by the American Heritage Medical Dictionary Copyright 2007,2004 by Houghton Mills (All Rights Reserved) as:
“The phase of metabolism in which simple substances are synthesized into the complex materials of living tissue.”
So Anabolic Exercise is exercise that is done in order to create the chemical/hormonal processes which grow your tissue (in most fitness cases, muscle tissue), as opposed to breaking tissue down (fat tissue), as is done in catabolic exercise. The hormones produced by anabolic processes are testosterone, growth hormone, estrogen, and insulin, just to name a few. It is noteworthy that anabolism, or an anabolic state, is a state that your body is in not just when working out, but during the eating, rest and recovery process long afterwords, which is when the growth part of hypertrophy occurs due to the anabolic processes of the body which greatly help to create muscle protein synthesis. This is why bodybuilders take anabolic steroids, to increase these hormonal processes in their body to produce a heightened anabolic state for increased muscle growth.
If you are wondering what the difference is between “Anabolism” and “Hypertrophy”, let me explain that now. When it comes to the forms of exercise that are Hypertrophy Exercise and Anabolic exercise, these types of exercise are basically the same things, (doing exercise to build muscle), and are just two different terms describing the same types of exercises. The difference between them is the biological level at which you are describing these processes. The physiological processes of hypertrophy and anabolism refer to two different processes in the body that are contributing to the muscle growth. Hypertrophy refers more to the thickening of muscle fiber/tissue, and anabolism refers more to the chemical/hormonal processes of the body that contribute to such growth. They are both two different components of the same larger process of muscle growth.
4 – Catabolic Exercise
Catabolism is the process which is opposite of anabolism, in which the body breaks down complex molecules (such as fat molecules) to use as energy. Some of the chemicals/hormones associated with this process are epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol, just to name a few. Catabolic exercise is basically the scientific way to refer to fat burning exercise. Catabolic exercises are aerobic or cardiovascular exercises (types of exercise that are going to be explained a little further down). This form of exercise is best accomplished in a “fasted” state, meaning done in the morning before breakfast (when one breaks ones fast), in order to burn away any fat that has been created by the previous day’s meals.
However catabolism does not only break down fat tissue, and if there is not enough fat tissue for it to break down it will pull its energy/resources from other sources and start to break down muscle tissue instead, and even organ tissue too if need be. So this type of exercise should only be done when you have fat to burn otherwise you will loose other important tissue. And it is extremely important after each work out, even when you are trying to burn fat, to give your body the vital nutrients it needs to repair the tissue you do not want damaged. While you may want to exercise before you eat in the morning in order to burn fat, you do not want to continue your fasted state afterwards otherwise you are doing yourself more harm than good. It is also worth mentioning that the catabolic process is actually a form of metabolic process, which I will explain now.
5 – Metabolic Exercise
Metabolism is the scientific term for the chemical reactions in the body that create the energy that sustains life. So metabolic exercise is exercise that is meant to convert calories into energy and use that energy to create healthy life sustaining processes in the body. So when someone is said to have a good or fast metabolism that means their body burns calories very well and gives them a lot of energy. Whereas someone who has a slow/poor metabolism does not do this well and may often lack energy and struggle with gaining weight, and thus they need metabolic exercise in order to stimulate their metabolism. Health Line states that metabolism “involves two processes – anabolism and catabolism – that help organize molecules by freeing and capturing energy to keep the body strong.”
Now that you know what metabolism means, on to “Metabolic Exercise” itself. This is a form of high intensity exercise using multi-muscle exercises done oftentimes quickly with little to no rest in between for the purpose of burning calories and increasing the metabolic rate (energy expenditure of the body). For example, eating big meals (which are not low in calories or fat) and then doing a fast paced work out later solely for the purpose of burning the calories consumed and thus preventing yourself from getting fat and keeping yourself healthy is the perfect example of using metabolic exercise.
6 – Aerobic Exercise
Dictionary.com defines the word “Aerobic” as:
aerobic [ ai-roh-bik ]
- (of an organism or tissue) requiring the presence of air or free oxygen for life.
- pertaining to or caused by the presence of oxygen.
- of or utilizing the principles of aerobics
And it defines Aerobics as:
aerobics [ ai-roh-biks ]
Also called aerobic exercises. (used with a plural verb) any of various sustained exercises, as jogging, rowing, swimming, or cycling, that stimulate and strengthen the heart and lungs, thereby improving the body’s utilization of oxygen.
So basically aerobic exercise is a form of workout that exercises the respiratory system and causes your breathing to become faster, deeper, or labored and thus to increase your oxygen intake, which is extremely good for you. It is the opposite of what is called anaerobic exercise, which is exercise which does not increase oxygen intake, and which is practically unheard of because it is such a rare thing for anyone to want to do, since aerobic exercise generally very good for just about everyone (except people with respiratory or other health conditions), and most forms of exercise are aerobic. The exercises done that are aerobic in nature are usually also done for the purpose of also increasing blood flow, which makes many or most aerobic exercises no different than cardiovascular exercise, which I will explain next. And aerobic exercise is also usually a form of metabolic exercise and is frequently used for catabolic workouts.
While most forms of exercise do create a need in the body for more oxygen and cause your respiratory system to work harder and to boost oxygen saturation in the blood stream, thus making them aerobic at least in part, that does not mean that all forms of fitness are considered “aerobic exercise routines”, as there is a big difference between an aerobic type of routine and other types of routines, such as a weight lifting hypertrophy routine which though it is increasing oxygen intake is primarily done for the purpose of muscular growth. However an aerobic exercise routine will be very similar and even may be indistinguishable from a metabolic or cardiovascular routine, and for all intents and purposes these terms are basically interchangeable as all three of them work together so closely to accomplish the same goals. So most of the forms of exercise that you would use for any one of these are also accomplishing the others and usually being done for those purposes as well. People who are exercising either to lose weight, get blood flowing, or increase oxygen, are generally interested in accomplishing all three things equally, since they are all cooperatively contributing to serving the exercisers primary purpose. It is unheard of for someone to want to do one of those three at the exclusion of the others. However you can do aerobic exercise without it being cardiovascular (for instance, meditating while doing breathing exercises will get your oxygen intake up without exercising the body and thus will not cause your cardiovascular system to be exercised), but that is rare.
Aerobic exercises are highly popular because not only is the aerobic effect on the body of boosting oxygen extremely good for you in a number of ways, but despite their name these types of exercises actually do significantly more than just increase oxygen intake. Aerobic exercise will keep you healthy, shred fat, and will keep you young as well. It is literally that good for your body. Thus this is a term that most people are familiar with because it gets used so often due to the large amount of aerobic programs, routines, classes and such. We’ve all seen the countless aerobic workout videos out there that you can do right there in front of the TV along with an instructor just like you were in a class, which is something you don’t see so much, if at all, with other forms of exercise. This is due to the aerobic effect being such an important one for the body, and this is because oxygen is the first and foremost thing that your body needs to survive, and increasing its intake has so many positive health effects on your body.
7 – Cardiovascular Exercise
The Cardiovascular system is the heart and blood vessels. So cardiovascular exercise is exercise that is done in order to get the heart beat up and the blood pumping throughout your entire cardiovascular system so as to increase the blood flow and cause it to circulate much more quickly. This type of exercise is essentially a type of aerobic exercise that does more than just boosting the oxygen in your system, but gets your blood pumping throughout your body as well. Which is extremely good for you in many ways as it causes your blood to carry oxygen, metabolites and nutrients to the muscles and organs more quickly; to flush out lactic acid, to clear the arteries, and to help rid your system of any other undesirable things such as toxins.
This is different from anabolic/hypertrophy exercise, which is also done to get a good pump, but which is a localized muscular pump and is a very different type of process even though it does involve getting blood pumping. Cardio is done to get the blood flowing throughout the entire cardiovascular system of your entire system and not just localized muscle groups. So even though blood is pumping in anabolic workouts that does not count as cardiovascular exercise, and people doing them for the purpose of hypertrophy and muscle growth still do need to do cardio in order to keep their cardiovascular system healthy. Cardio is equally important to aerobic exercise for ones health (and as explained above, the two bodily processes are usually being accomplished together whenever someone is doing a form of exercise for one of them), and cardio will also make you healthy and keep you young and is perhaps the most important form of exercise for fat loss and will really help to get you shredded, for the longer you can do cardio the more the fat will melt from your body. Weight loss exercise is basically cardio endurance training, and unlike with hypertrophy training the body can handle doing cardio for much longer periods of time – there is a very high ceiling on how much cardio you can do.
8 – Macro’s
“Macros” is a fitness term that is short for “Macro-nutrients”. The Macro-nutrients are: Protein, Carbs, Calories, and Fat. These nutrients are essential to both fat loss and muscle growth, and are measured in grams. When the word “Macro’s” appears it is usually either referring to the overall levels of these macronutrients that someone is getting in their diet, or the ratio’s and respective measurements of them (how much protein to carbs you are getting).
Unfortunately exercise alone is not enough for you to reach your fitness goals, you must also have the proper diet, so unfortunately for most people you cannot eat entirely unhealthy fatty hard to process food all day long and then spend a small fraction of your day doing metabolic exercise and expect to be able to metabolize it and stay thin and healthy. Nor can you expect to do hard ad heavy hypertrophy workouts and gain large amounts of muscle mass without getting the right levels of macro’s. When you are considering Body Composition, whether you are looking at the fat content or the muscularity of your body, macronutrients are the biggest considerations in your diet that matter more than anything, and there is no miracle pill micronutrient supplement that will be able to compensate for someone getting way too much calories, carbs and fats than they can metabolize. You simply must be eating right if you want to be healthy and fit. Your macro’s are going to have to be at the right levels in order for you to achieve your fitness goals, and are calculated based upon your Body Mass Index and where you are in your fitness journey. It is important to note that being concerned with macronutrients does not mean you do not need to be at all concerned with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and other supplements), for without them you will also become unhealthy.
Depending on the type of training you are doing and what your training goals are your macro levels/ratio’s will be very different. Someone who is trying to gain strength, bulk up and get big (and not in a lean way) will have all around high levels of macros and will need to be in a caloric surplus to ensure that they are getting more than enough energy for their intensive training. Whereas someone who is training to lose fat and get thin will have a low fat, low carb, low calorie diet as they will need to be in a caloric deficit so that they are using more energy than they intake in their food in order to burn away fat stores as well, and the only macro that will be even relatively higher is their protein intake so that they do not lose any lean muscle mass, and they will still need a little bit of fat in their diet for the protein to not become toxic. Someone who is doing a lot of endurance/cardio training will have an extremely high carb and relatively high calorie diet that can not be low in fat because they will need to give their bodies a lot of energy to burn, but they won’t have as much protein as other trainee’s. Whereas someone who is training for hypertrophy who wants to look “jacked” but also well defined (like a very massive but shredded bodybuilder) will have an extremely high protein, high carb and calorie diet, with low to moderate fat; and the levels of all of these macros will be calculated precisely to build the right amount of muscle without putting on any fat; so these types of athletes are neither in a caloric surplus or deficit, but are getting the exact amount of calories their body needs to burn for their training, no more & no less.
Many people these days put a lot of emphasis on protein intake and the amount of protein one needs has become grossly misunderstood due to marketing. Most people think you need far more protein than you need, and are eating the amount of protein needed for an elite athlete when they are no where close to this. This is actually hazardous to ones health as any excess protein you have in your diet does not get utilized in building muscle, and is inflammatory to your system as it gets processed into sugar and then fat. The right amount of protein is different for everyone as it is based upon your lean body mass, so when you have a family who are all eating the same size chicken breasts at dinner those with lower lean body mass (LBM) are probably getting too much protein (certainly if any of the other ingredients on the plate have much protein in them as well). This misunderstanding of the bodies protein needs is a huge reason why many people struggle to lose weight on a low fat diet, thinking that eliminating fat from a high protein diet will allow them to lose weight. Even with low fat intake if you have a high protein diet and get little to no exercise, you will struggle with weight loss.
The rule of thumb when it comes to protein is that you need as many grams as your LBM in pounds. So if you aren’t overweight you can just use the number of pounds that you way and that number is the number of grams of protein you need each day. If you are training very hard and want more hypertrophy you need just a little bit more protein than that, but not much. So if you are a 200 pound person with only a small layer of fat on your body and you workout for the recommended time every day, it is safe to say that around 200 grams of protein per day is ideal for you. However the harder and longer you work out every day the more protein you need. So athletes who do intensive workouts for hours every day will not be able to get enough protein from their diet unless they are eating large masses of meat at every meal, which is undesirable due to the high concentration of fat that would go along with it, not to mention that it is very heavy and thus can slow you down in certain types of training, and is hard for the system to process and causes digestive issues, as well as other health problems. So most athletes instead use protein supplements between meals in order to reach their daily protein intake.
It is best to spread your macro intake out throughout the day than to be eating a smaller number of large heavy meals consisting of large masses of meat with a high percentage of fat. This is why the most common bodybuilders meal is lean chicken breast, broccoli and rice. It is a type of meal that exercises strict portion control based upon calculated macro’s and getting the exact right amount of nutrients the body needs (including the vitamins in the broccoli, and the addition of a tablespoonful of a high quality oil) and if they want some extra protein they will add beans to the rice. They will eat this type of meal 3-5 times a day and then have 1-3 protein shakes such as their pre- or post-workout meal or high protein snacks such as a protein bar in between meals. These bodybuilders use kitchen scales to weight their food and they calculate all of their macros out down to the gram to make sure they are getting the exact right amounts each day. Without being so strict about calculating and portioning their macro’s bodybuilders would not be able to achieve the exact right body composition that gives them such an incredible appearance. And while you may not necessarily need to purchase a kitchen scale and start weighing out your food and portioning it in grams, if you have body composition goals you are trying to reach you do need to start calculating your macro’s and portioning out your servings accordingly, which can easily be done by reading your ingredient labels and writing down your macro’s each day, or at the very least adding them up in your head.
I hope that you enjoyed this first installment in the principles of fitness article series and found it very informative. And if you did, be sure to read the next one on the different aspects of exercise, which can be found at this link here.