Why does my personal trainer tell me to exercise less?

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The exercise and health equation is pretty simple. “A” increases with “B” right? Wrong.

Exercise is medicine. I don’t say this in a cutesy way either. Exercise, just like any pill you can pop, initiates a number of chemical reactions within your body. It must be carefully applied so as to elicit the desired effect while minimizing any negative side effects.

Believe it or not, there is a time when exercise can be toxic for you. As my great human physiology professor often reminded us, “The dose makes the poison.”  His most shocking example of this truth is when he would relate how endurance runners sometimes perish by drinking too much water after a race. (see hyponatremia)

Before I go any further, please let it be known that this will not be another cardio-bashing blog post.  There are enough of those out there in the blogosphere.  My purpose is only to attempt to pre-emptively justify why, after just receiving your payment for personal training, your personal trainer may now be telling you to stay out of the gym.

When I first attempt to explain this concept to my clients, they often ask me why I bothered studying exercise for so long if I’m telling them it is bad for them.  In order to answer this, allow me to give some quick background on what a degree in Kinesiology entails.

My formal education has been full of studying athletes, seniors, stroke victims and cadavers in applied settings as well as exercise physiology labs.  All of this after basically completing a pre-med track of courses.  I’ve studied how the body responds to exercise in all conceivable environmental variations.  Aside from all the anatomy, biochemistry and physiology, I have ultimately learned that exercise is nothing more than self-induced stress.  Your hypothalamus and limbic system can not tell the difference between running in the park and getting yelled at by your boss.

Stress is stress is stress is stress….

The end result of too much stress is as varied as the possible sources.  Every living being utilizes the awesome force of adaptation.  Central to that force is the concept of hormesis: (as described at gettingstronger.org)

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.

We realize that stressors can serve a purpose however when we fail to account for all possible stressors, we find ourselves writing checks our body can’t cash.  Be it physical stress, chemical stress, emotional stress or financial stress, your body knows not the difference.  The “stress pathway” within you is very complex and deserves its own post (soon to be linked here).

Exercise is only a stress-reducer when the one exercising is perfectly healthy and free from chronic stress in the first place.

The point is that it is most likely the case that you hired a personal trainer because you don’t feel and/or look as healthy as you would like to.  This current state of dissatisfaction was not brought on by a sudden case of the “lazies”.  It is probably closer to the truth that you have packed on some pounds due to an overload of stress in one form or another.

My Golden Rule of Wellness

I  hesitate to declare a rule of Wellness “Golden” this early in my life but I feel that even through my continuing exploration of all things in wellness and human performance, I will not have to revise the following statement.  The single characteristic all humans operating at an optimal level of health and performance share is that they are honest with their bodies.  The first truth they allow themselves to believe is that they are infinitely unique in mind, soul AND BODY.  We all know we each possess a unique personality and spirituality yet we relinquish our authority when it comes to our biology.  We let others tell us what healthy is rather than experiencing it for ourselves.  Every major traditional system of medicine has respected the biochemical individuality of the patient despite having the technology necessary to articulate this principle in full.  Our ability to break down everything to it’s biochemical pathway has left us with an inability to see the forrest for the trees.

To thrive is to realize that our physical bodies are but an intermediary to a causal universe.  The world around us is always striving for homeostasis or balance.  Our bodies do the same; we just have to listen to them.  In order to acheive true wellness, we must learn to take every sub-clinical symptom (those idiopathic nagging headaches, bouts of brain fog, fatigue, gas, joint pain, etc) and use it as a means to discovering our own personal triggers.

Fat is Energy; Energy is not Fat

For far too long, we have thought of weight gain in terms of sloth and gluttony.  Ask your MD why you are overweight and they’ll tell you that your intake of calories must be greater than your level of physical activity.  It’s simple Newtonian Physics as far as most obesity authorities are concerned.  Thankfully, there are some prominent researchers who actually get it.

Fat is a symptom, not a cause of chronic disease.  Gaining weight is the body’s way of preparing for drastic conditions.  This change is brought on by real stressors perceived by our glands and organs.  If we are honest with our bodies, we will notice this change and truly ask ourselves what factors may be contributing to the problem.  Going straight to, “I need to eat less and exercise more” is an irresponsible knee-jerk reaction that will only pile more stress upon all the stress that got you fat in the first place.  Be honest with your body.  Pay it the respect it deserves by fully and truthfully investigating any and all causes of stress and imbalance in your life.  Do not be afraid to start slow.  Becoming a Mover takes time.