Most people know that you can’t out-train a bad diet.
If you don’t eat well, you won’t look, feel, or perform well either. Garbage in, garbage out. But a poor diet is NOT the only thing you can’t out-train.
This article will cover some of the things that you can’t compensate for with exercise or training.
You can’t out-train chronic sleep-deprivation.
There is overwhelming, irrefutable evidence that chronic sleep deprivation is really bad for us in practically every way that scientists can think to test and track.
Note: see the References section for a mere taste of the research available on this.
And try as you may, lack of sleep will eventually catch up to you. And you might kid yourself thinking that it doesn’t affect you or that you’ll “sleep when you die.” But if you don’t sleep enough, you’re more likely to be dead a lot sooner than you think! And your performance in virtually every capacity from health & fitness to creativity and mental acuity will suffer – usually unbeknownst to you.
In fact, you’ll think that you’re doing just fine, when in reality, your health and performance is suffering across the board. You’ve just subconsciously accepted this as your new normal and incorrectly assume that you’ve always been this way. It’s a lot like being drunk, actually. You don’t think you’re drunk, or maybe you think that you’re just a little buzzed or tipsy, but your performance says otherwise.
There are a host of things that sleep deprivation affects. Athletes who don’t sleep enough are much more likely to experience injuries. Those who are trying to lose weight, find it virtually impossible when they don’t get enough sleep. Even your willpower largely depends on a good night of sleep.
The bottom line: You can’t skimp on sleep if you want to look, feel, and perform at your best. You’ve got to figure this one out.
Having trouble with sleep? Start here: How to Sleep Like a Baby Every Night.
You can’t out-train a bad diet.
While sleep deprivation will have immediate, noticeable consequences, the consequences of poor nutrition often aren’t noticed until down the road. I think this is because most people aren’t in tune with their body’s in this way. Ironically, once you make the switch to healthy eating and then go binge on some junk food, you’ll notice the effects of a poor diet much sooner!
Now, you may know some people who seem to eat a ton of junk food, and yet, are still thin. That doesn’t mean your perception is accurate, that you know the whole story, or that they’re actually healthy. And while there’s definitely some leeway that you gain when you train hard (e.g. like an athlete), a poor diet will usually trump your best efforts to exercise. And in the end, it plays a greater role in your health and longevity; and to a lesser extent (but still a great extent), your fitness and performance.
I suppose that this is why we see a lot of professional athletes excel in their sports despite a poor diet, but then go on to have short training careers. It’s because their bodies can only handle the abuse for so long. In very simple terms, their fitness was extraordinary due to their exceptional training and a constant supply of energy (i.e. food). But their poor health eventually gets the best of them, which is when their fitness starts to decline no matter what they do.
The lesson: you are what you’ve eaten. Your food literally becomes your body. And until you get your diet working for you, you will perpetually struggle with health and fitness, along with many other things that your diet influences. On the flip side, once you finally do get your diet in order – and figure out what works best for you and your unique needs, goals, preferences, and circumstances, eating well will get easier – and everything else you do will, too.
It’s hard work, but the benefits are well-worth it.
Does your diet need help? Don’t try anything until you’ve mastered these basics: The 7 Key Components of a Successful Diet.
You can’t out-train a sedentary lifestyle.
If you regularly sit for prolonged periods of time, it’s going to wreak all kinds of havoc on your body – and not just structurally. And I’m convinced that unless you start to severely limit sedentary activity, there’s very little that you can do to counter-act it. Believe me, I’ve tried!
Research has shown that prolonged sitting has such destructive consequences that even exercise can’t make up for it. One recent study that compiled data from 47 other studies concluded that, “Prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity.” (Source) In other words, you can exercise all you want, but it won’t make up for excessive sedentary activity.
So, those confined to a seat for all hours of the day are in trouble. But it’s not all bad news because there’s actually a lot that you can do – starting with the simple prescription of sitting less and moving more.
Do you sit too much? Do yourself a favor and include as much physical activity throughout your day as possible. You can start with these exercises that will help you get un-chair shaped: 5 Simple Exercises to Reverse the Damage from Sitting in Only 5 Minutes a Day. Just remember that it’s going to take more than a few exercises or hacks to get you in tip-top shape.
You can’t out-train chronic stress.
If you’re stressed out most or all the time, then some exercise will be beneficial, but any exercise will be adding to your overall stress levels. Exercise IS stress. And used properly, it’s a positive stress that you use to get your body to adapt and get better. But if you’re already extremely stressed out, adding even more physiological stress to the equation can have a detrimental effect. And since exercise is meant to help us get better, this is obviously unproductive.
So, if you’ve been really stressed out (and especially if you’re also sleep-deprived and malnourished), keep your exercise choices limited to those that will restore and energize you. You can go a long way with things like walking, playing a game or sport, or other gentle exercise such as mobility training or yoga.
Are you stressed out all the time? This breathing technique will help (you’ll notice a difference in less than a minute): How to Relieve ANY Type of Stress and Relax Yourself Instantly With This Simple Breathing Trick.
Need more help? Click here for some more stress management ideas.
You can’t out-train poor training.
Training can be your best friend or your worst enemy. You see, if you train improperly, no amount of additional training is going to help you get better. You’ll be working harder and doing more, but still digging your own grave. So, if you use poor technique or “cheat” during your reps, it’s going to catch up with you. If you train too much, too soon, too often, too heavy, too fast, or for too long, you’ll pay for it eventually.
If you ignore the warning signs of aches and pains, you’ll end up injured. Similarly, if you neglect your weaknesses and avoid doing the things that you know you should be doing, you’ll run into trouble down the road. So, you need to be training not just hard, but smart.
So, use proper form through a full range of motion, progress gradually, avoid pain, take time off when needed, cycle your goals and periodize your program, and adhere to the many other important elements of a fitness program.
Until you fix the CAUSE of the problems that you’re experiencing, you’ll keep chasing solutions in vain.
I see people constantly chasing their own tails with endless schemes of prehab, mobility, durability, resilience, and soft tissue therapy. They chase this symptom, then that one. They try to fix this issue, then that one. All the while, they’re ignoring the root of the issue. And I’ve done it myself, too!
Now, these are all good tools when used correctly. But they’re practically useless if the majority of your training is poorly executed.
For example, you may be a well-conditioned runner, but if your form is lousy, then every single stride that you take is going to damage you. And eventually, the damage will accumulate to the point where it can no longer be ignored. So, it would be better to nip the problem in the bud (i.e. poor running form) rather than try to do additional warmups or add various exercise hacks to your non-running days. Sure, these things are often helpful, but they can’t solve the underlying problem.
The Lesson: More is not always better. But better training is always better. So, be smart and strategic. Train the best way that you know how. Don’t train haphazardly or randomly. Follow a plan. Get educated, and if necessary, get coaching.
If you train this way, you’ll be much better off over the long term. And I can refer you to a long list of older gentlemen who will tell you the same.
I can’t imagine life without training. But physical training isn’t the solution for everything. And it usually won’t compensate for poor dietary or other unhealthy lifestyle habits. Eventually, the neglect will catch up with you.
The good news is that, oftentimes, the solution is much simpler (read: much harder). Like eating more vegetables. And going to bed earlier. It’s not extreme or revolutionary, but it’s effective. And more often than not, it’s the “missing link” that people need to succeed – that, when finally implemented, makes all the difference.
Those who intend to be healthy, fit, and strong – now and into old age – take note. And remember, it’s the doers, not the procrastinators, that get results. So, if YOU want results, act accordingly.
ACTION: What are you going to do after reading this? Are you going to have a nice rest of your day? Or, are you going to make a decision right now to do that thing you know you should?
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Health-First Fitness Coach