Monday, April 23, 2012

Training with Aristotle

Do you know a person who can squat twice what you do, just came off of an injury, and still comes around complaining that they're not lifting enough weight? Or the guy who tries to do cardio for the first time in a year and runs himself into the ground and waits until next January to try again? On the other end of the spectrum, do you know the people who go for a ten minute run and use it as justification to down a gallon of ice cream? Aristotle has a solution for all these people that he was schooling back in the B.C.

One of Aristotle's most famous works is Nicomachean ethics and, if you will forgive the round-about discussion, is the best way to guide yourself towards your fitness goals. The basic theory is that for every virtue there is an ideal state between two extremes. This perfect state is not only different between people, it is also different from situation to situation. While he is discussing traits such as bravery, pride, compassion, etc. you can easily apply his methodology to how you should train.

The first kind of person is on the extreme end of the spectrum. They want to achieve their goal so badly that they try to do too many things at one time. These are the people who push so hard they get injured, will try and accomplish a dozen fitness goals at once, or allow form to break down completely to get the reps in. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing hard, but when pushing yourself starts to take you further from your goal rather than closer, you might want to  ask yourself why. If you find yourself in this camp you need to work on pulling back; not every day is going to be a PR day and sometimes you are going to have to listen to your body. Dan John wrote a good article over at T-Nation on how to balance your training year. I won't repeat the whole thing, but the gist is that there are only a few times in the year that you really push yourself and the rest is about enjoying the process.

The second group is a lot more popular, these are the people who just need a good kick in the ass. They are on the “not doing enough” end of the scale and never go the distance to create lasting results. The way Aristotle would help them is to have them set their sights on pushing too hard! He believed that when you are not in balance your perspective on your actions is off. So for the coward he must act brave, but not just that, he must act brash. Because he is a coward his idea of brave isn’t brave enough but what he thinks is being foolhardy is closer to being brave.So if you are someone who doesn’t work enough you need to work so much you think you are doing too much! 

If you follow this idea you will constantly be improving your work capacity and moving steadily towards your goal. Eventually you will reach the state we talked about earlier and be doing too much work, at that point just start working back in the opposite direction. Trust me, it will take a lot longer to get there than you might think but as with all changes to your program take it one step at a time, one day a week to five days a week in one go can just as likely screw you up as sticking with the once a week.

The final point to be made is that everything is situational. While it might take some time to get a hang of it, you have to learn when to push harder and when to back off in accordance with what is going on in your life. Going harder than is healthy a few weeks before a powerlifting competition makes sense, you are basing the extra push on the imminence of your goal. Doing the same thing 4 months before the competition doesn’t make sense. If you just suffered an injury the attitude you take towards your training needs to change compared to when you are completely healthy. Specificity trumps generality, the person who normally doesn’t push hard enough (should be pushing harder) does not have to push harder if he gets the flu (a case where pulling back is called for)

Just as being the perfect person is impossible so is doing your training perfectly, we can only aim to get as close as we possibly can. I hope reading this post gets you thinking about your own training and possibly helps make some changes!

*Picture taken from here

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