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The Secret to Fitness

Follow these steps for the results you've always wanted



John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-B | | Friday, September 24, 2010

In my past two articles, I discussed putting together an exercise plan to start your journey, and I also demonstrated how to modify the strength training for those of you who were well into your journey. This article will focus on advanced training. It’s probably one of the most important articles I’ll write on exercise because I’m going to finally expose the secrets to getting the results you've always wanted.

Do you want to improve strength? Endurance? Body composition? Read on, and you’ll learn the secret to obtaining the healthy and fit body you've always wanted.

There have been many fads over the years in the fitness industry and quackery to match each and every one. Each semester in one of my classes, I show several taped television advertisements that promise incredible results and demand the attention of the listener with catchy phrases such as the following:

• "The Fat-Trapper" – a supplement that "traps" dietary fat and passes it on
• "Exercise in a Bottle" – a pill that increases caloric expenditure without effort

The company advertising these particular products had bikini-clad women and men with shredded "six-pack" abdominals claiming they didn't have to do anything but take the supplements, and that they could eat as much of anything they wanted while on the program. The "Fat Burner," Zantrex, had commercials running during at least two Super Bowls – do you think they’re making money? A commercial on one of the most widely watched events on television costs approximately $2.6 million these days. Zantrex is definitely making money!

Why? Hedrick Smith, author of Rethinking America (1995), stated that nothing is more American than baseball's home run. It is, he says, the instant drama that Americans love. In business, the home run is an invention that produces an unbeatable competitive advantage for the inventor. The Polaroid camera, the photocopy machine and the computer chip are good examples. Smith believed that American industry has a home run mindset that relies on technological breakthroughs to give them their competitive advantage. The home run mindset reflects a culture dominated by a short-term mentality, impatience and an all-or-nothing attitude that’s quick to give up if the return on investment doesn’t come fast enough. Indeed, this mentality is as alive in the American approach to health and fitness as it is in American industry.

This short-term mentality is the reason fads and products based on quackery have made enough money to pay for expensive television advertisements. The truth is this: there is no secret to health and fitness. The journey toward optimum health and fitness is never-ending and requires commitment and effort. If there’s a secret to making significant strides toward improving fitness, it’s this: Most people simply don't train with enough consistency and intensity to make the improvements they desire. It's that simple.
The exercise physiology concept related to this is called the principle of overload, which states that when demands are made on body systems that the systems are not normally accustomed to, the system responds by becoming stronger given appropriate nutrition and recovery time. That is the objective of exercise training.

In my past few articles, I outlined several different programs. The difference between a beginner/intermediate strength program and an advanced strength program is less about what to do and more about how far you can push yourself. In weight training, most people end a set when they feel moderately tired, but there’s a huge difference in taking a set to eight repetitions when you could have actually completed fourteen. Try it. In my previous article, I suggested this program:

Program A        
• Leg presses
• Leg extensions
• Leg curls
• Hammer deadlifts
• Lat pull downs
• Seated cable rows
• Dumbbell incline or bench press
• Push-ups
• Bent knee sit-ups
• Abdominal curls
• Hyperextensions (aka “hypers”)
• Swiss ball reverse hypers

The guidelines given by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are to perform two to four sets per muscle group. Program A has four lower body exercises, two abdominal exercises, two low-back exercises, two upper body pressing exercises and two upper body pulling exercises, satisfying the ACSM guidelines. You could cruise through this program with low enough intensity that two, three or even eight sets of each exercise would be easy, although perhaps time-consuming. Would this create an overload situation? Maybe, through volume alone. But, if you pushed yourself to complete as many repetitions as you could with strict form, by the time you got through the 12th exercise, you would have created an overload situation, and your body would have to adapt to that stressor by becoming more physically fit.

The point is this: the intensity of the program is a significant factor in its effectiveness. When each exercise within a balanced strength training program is taken to muscular failure, even low volume "basic" programs become more effective and efficient.

This is one of the secrets of exercise now revealed to make your journey more worthwhile.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety, Zantrex, Rethinking America, John Amtmann, Hedrick Smith, health, fitness


John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-Bis a professor of Applied Health Science at Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte. He’s an EMT with A-1 Ambulance in Butte, an ACSM certified preventive and rehabilitative exercise specialist and an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. Contact him at


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