This post builds upon the prior post titled “A Brief History”. Its recommended that if you haven’t read the prior post, that you give it a go before digging into this one so that you have the context needed to appreciate the concepts that are chased after here.
Its easy to think that training has always been well… what it is today.
Its easy to think that what we think today as “the way” to train has always been “the way”, with perhaps a few upgrades along the way.
But consider another area in the sciences… say, medicine… there was a time when leeches were “the way” to heal, to cure, where blood letting was the go-to intervention for a laundry list of signs, symptoms, ailments, diseases, and so on. Imagine if today you were offered a set of treatment sessions of blood letting using leeches to cure your cold, your cough, … a diagnosis of cancer? Probably wouldn’t go over that well… would it?
Yet that is exactly what is happening in the area of sport science. Our understanding of how to train for lifestyle, for health, for performance has evolved yet in many cases, personal trainers, coaches, even those associated with teams and clubs continue to rely on “leeches” as “the way” to achieving a desired end point. In other cases, the continued reliance on “leeches” is being force fed by companies whose product line or service list has failed to evolve and in order to retain relevance – and revenues, and profits – they too have continued to market “leeches” as “the way”.
Let’s start with the training concept that evolved with bodybuilding through the 1960s and 1970s…
Concept #1 – Rip & Recover
This has been and still is the go-to concept for exercise physiologists, for personal trainers, for strength & conditioning coaches… in order to gain strength they will tell you, you need to stimulate muscle sufficiently in order for it to grow. To make muscle ‘grow’, you need to damage it by causing what they refer to as ‘micro-trauma’ (as in rip the muscle at a microscopic level) and then give the muscle time to recover through rest during which the muscle will ‘over-heal’ by building the size of muscle units. Although this strength training concept is not commonly referred to as “rip & recover”, I believe you will agree that it fits.
Just on this oversimplified description I bet you can now see how an entire industry was built…
Rip & Recover is the concept that holds up the entire industry of health clubs/gyms, personal trainers, strength & conditioning coaches, and… the add-on industries of sports nutrition, the industry of making, marketing & selling high protein diets depends entirely on rip&recover, as do all the recovery tools & aides, and even a major percentage of the rehabilitation division of the health care industry is designed to heal all those who ripped too much and ended up injured as a result of the rip&recover mantra of training.
Which begs the question… does rip&recover work? Absolutely… BUT ONLY IF the goal is to build muscle bulk, bulk which is non-functional, bulk built stricly for the purpose of being posed as in/during bodybuilding competitions. For bodybuilders and bodybuilders alone rip&recover is indeed the go-to solution. For any other athlete, any athlete who executes sport specific technique, rip&recover is the equivalent of anti-training for it undoes everything that a high performance athlete wants to achieve with their body and brain. Well, what about… as a tool for an active lifestyle, for health, in amateur sport? Absolutely…. NOT!
Allow me to explain using the physical sciences as a proxy…
In physics, in order for a hypothesis to scale the heights of reliability and validity to the point that it can become a theory and eventually a law of physics, the hypothesis has to be tested and tested and tested and then tested more eliminating every possible and plausible scenario which could prove the hypothesis wrong thus building confidence that the hypothesis stands true because no physicist has been able to or can come up with a scenario in which the hypothesis fails to remain reliable and valid. Let’s use gravity as an example. When the concept of gravity was first derived it was merely an idea, a guess, an hypothesis. Over time, and with countless studies performed gravity has been proven to be true not just when an apple falls from a tree, but true with every fruit, with every tree, with every fruit, with every tree on every place on the planet… and even beyond the planet earth… across our solar system, across our universe. Gravity is no longer an hypothesis… its a law… hence why we call it the Law of Gravity. What makes gravity a law? Its universally true – so far – everywhere, all the time, without restrictive conditions or criteria without fail. There is no situation where someone has shown … there is no gravity.
Back to sport science…
If the concept of rip&recover was to become a “Law of Physical Training” then the concept needs to work universally… for all people, for all athletes, for all levels of athletes, for all sports, at all ages of athlete, during all seasons of training… I hope you see the point. Immediately, I hope you also see from this abbreviated list of conditions that rip&recover can never become a Law of Physical Training simply because no one should ever educate children (as in youth athletes) that they need to train so hard as to tear muscle in order to get stronger. Since we already have a set of conditions where rip&recover doesn’t apply, then rip&recover can never become a Law of Physical Training (the post could stop there… but there is so much more to this story).
But before we even tackle all athletes, all ages, etc… lets just go back to the simplest test to see whether rip&recover has any chance ever of becoming an healthy form of training. If rip&recover is healthy… then no matter how much we rip muscle… the results should be desirable? Is that so… hell no! “Rip” as in train too much, too often, too heavy, too fast… and rip too much muscle and you are beyond the desirable ‘rip’ amount and have now inflicted enough damage that you are injured. By over-ripping (as in over-training) you have sustained – you have given yourself – a grade I, II or have fully ruptured the muscle yielding a grade III injury which will most likely require surgical repair.
Muscle doesn’t exist in a vacuum, muscle is intertwined inseparably with connective tissue. If you rip muscle, you are definitely going to rip connective tissue… irrespective of the grade of damage, connective tissue either within the muscle, the connective tissue around the muscle, and/or the connective tissue which attaches muscle to bone will suffer some degree of damage. These connective tissues are called tendons and ligaments and fascia. Rip muscle and you rip connective tissue.
But… hold on there a moment… does rip&recover apply to connective tissue? Well it better because the two are inseparable.
So lets think about that for a second…
If the concept is to rip muscle so that it rebuilds bigger and stronger, then that surely applies to connective tissue too, right? Hell no!
Tearing especially repetitive tearing of connective tissue leads to scarring, to calcium build up, to tendons and ligaments becoming inflexible, rigid, and brittle. Eventually connective tissue will sustain its own grade I, II or a full rupture grade III tear and you are back to rehab in the best case scenario and surgical intervention followed by rehab in the worst case.
So if rip&recover is literally an epic failure as a training concept… why is it used by bodybuilders? Because bodybuilders do nothing BUT rip, recover and at some point… pose in competition. At no point in their sport are they ever required to perform anything functional with that bulk of muscle that they have built. They don’t swim, they don’t bike, run, row, climb, jump, throw… they don’t do anything functional. Bodybuilders have perfected rip&recover so rip&recover applies ONLY TO bodybuilders and no other athlete… in no case, in no sport, anywhere anytime.
So how did a concept inappropriate for anyone except bodybuilders get sold to the masses? Exercise physiologists, personal trainers, sport & conditioning coaches and sport specific coaches eager to get in on the birth and boom of the health & fitness industry figured that if rip&recover was ‘toned down’… as in made lighter, gentler, easier (e.g. 3 sets of 10 reps… ever hear of that… or maybe your trainer or coach is still giving you strength sets like this), then the hope was that rip&recover could be a marketable concept. To endorse a low impact version of rip&recover came universal strength training equipment and with that the business of corporate health clubs blossomed. Not only did the health club business boom, it spun off all sorts of side businesses that had to help everyone who as a result of starting to rip&recover started to end up with injuries, illnesses, in need of “recovery” tools, products, recovery nutrition, rehab, etc…
The entire health & wellness industry is built on a flawed training concept of: Rip & Recover
Is your personal trainer, is your team strength & conditioning coach, your team head coach sending you off to the gym to bench press, shoulder press, leg press, or perhaps do a circuit of all the equipment pieces following a protocol of 2 sets of 3 sets of 8, 10 or 12 repetitions… well then they are stuck in the 1970s and 1980s. Which means that your training and your performance potential is as equally stuck in the 1970s and 1980s. Is that what you want?
Next post… what did the 1990s bring us in terms of concepts in physical training?
This demands an entire post or series of posts on its own, but for now this will have to suffice…
What does rip&recover speak as a narrative when we accept and abide by this training philosophy? It speaks that inflicting damage to yourself, hurting yourself repeatedly, day after day, week after week, year after year… is acceptable. Think about that…
When and why did self inflicted damage ever become synonymous with health?
Yet today we hear athlete after athlete, Olympian after Olympian share that they have or are having mental health issues.
Gee… wonder where that could have either started or been fueled?
Gee… inflict harm to yourself, hurt yourself, cause damage and pain to yourself for years… and we expect what… an athlete not to have mental health issues?
Anyone thinking that must have their own mental health issues – this applies to exercise physiologists, trainers, coaches, everyone who promotes rip&recover – because long term there isn’t any benefit seen in the camp of bodybuilding: click here, here or here for prior posts on the topic of how bodybuilders are harming themselves straight into their own grave with rip&recover.