Data, The Millennial, and Exercise
While I may not know everything in the world, I know a thing or two about fitness. And I have one thing crucial thing my generation needs to learn. A single word that will change the way you evaluate your workouts for the rest of your life: EFFORT
We live in amazing times. Computers that used to take up rooms spanning football fields now fit into your back pocket. Enough computing power to launch a rocket, map the human genome, or even travel to Mars!
We have technolgies that allow us to screen for cancer, blood diseases, and genetic pre-dispositions. We have studied every metric of exercise down to the micronutrient and nano-cellular level. We know how many calories an activity burns, when you are achieving maximum VO2 uptake, and how efficient you are at converting stored glycogen into ATP. Now some very innovative thinkers out there have begun translating these very complicated technologies into items that we can wear on our body! If you want data, they have it:
Samsung Gear Fit
Polaris Heart Monitors
These wonderful devices let us know our heart rate, how many steps we take in a day, when to stand, when to take a break, and how well our yesterday compares to today. We can even use them to download information from our local healthclub's treadmills, ellipticals, rowers, and stair climbers.
And to beat all else, we get BADGES for achieving these goals!
If you want a number, a stat, a milestone, or a goal to hit, these tech companions have your answer. We have truly quantified human physiology. Now we have truly figured out exercise! Then how come it seem like people are no closer to achieving the physiques they want? What gives?
All I have to do is...
Follow these charts...
Hit these macros...
Take this many steps...
Stay under this many points...
Do this Pinterest Workout...
Watch this new exercise method...
Complete this WOD AFAP...
Keep your heart rate at this % for optimal fat burn...
The reason lies in one word that is the missing piece:
I want you to think about how much you rely on these pieces of tech. Do you use them to help improve the difficulty of your workouts? Or do you just use them to validate your daily activity? The more I coach the modern generation, the more I am seeing the latter.
We are in danger of trying to please the progress chart. We want to make all the bars green or collect a sticker. Instead we should be evaluating if we are actually trying our hardest! So instead of ranting on this, I figured I would throw together some easy methods to help you work on the QUALITY of a workout, not just the QUANTITY:
1. Numbers from a machine are constant. You are not.
This is the core principle that needs to be taught; an example of perception versus reality.
Simply quantifying your work does not truly show you the QUALITY of your work. Your FitBit cannot know if those 10000 steps were done moving back and forth to the refrigerator or sprinting for your life from a Grizzly Bear. Trust me there is a difference! Numbers aren't everything in the fitness world. There is still a very real HUMAN element that you need to consider.
Modern exercise equipment is catering to the numbers craze. People are seeking out the pieces of equipment that provide the most data, rather than pick up some barbells or sling around some kettles.
But it says I burned this many calories! I ran (distance) and worked at (percentage) of my maximum heart rate. My FitBit even told me GOOD JOB!
Just one question: How much HARDER could you have gone?
2. The Talk Test
A tried and true method for testing exercise effectiveness. I learned it in my early days perusing my Exercise Science degree. It was one of the standard tests used to evaluate a client. The test is quite simple actually:
When exercising, can your client speak to you in a normal tone of voice?
Make it harder.
Now are they talking in between breaths?
Communicating in one word sentences; simple 'yes' or 'no' statements?
Being able to talk during exercise indicates a low load being put on the cardiovascular and muscular systems of the body. The body does not need to make any special arrangements or divert any extra energy to continue with the activity.
Basically, you're not doing much more than sitting on the couch!
3. Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!
Do we really need to continue portraying the quentisential stereotype of the millennial generation? Do we really need to always have someone cheer for us? Someone to hand us a trophy for doing ANYTHING and say we're a winner? C'mon guys...
I'm all for positive reinforcement, but being rewarded daily for hitting some arbitrary number is absurd. It is impossible to simply group people together by age, weight, and height and create goals that fit.
EveryBODY is different
What is effective for you, may only be a warm up for someone else. All factors need to be considered.
4. Evaluate progress with body measures, not charts.
In the end, it is all about results. If you feel like your current level of activity is adequate and I'm just ranting then you may be missing my message. I want you to succeed. I want you to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. And in order to succeed, you need to be striving for improvement in every way possible. Evaluate your data and compare them to your physical results:
Your Body Weight
Your Body Fat
Take your measurements and go about exercising as normal. Then do them again 4 weeks later. Has anything changed? Are you getting smaller? Bigger? Not changing?
This is the only real way to measure progress. Not a chart, not a badge, not a like, not a share, just numbers and a decision to give more EFFORT.
In the end, just remember that all the data in the world cannot predict the future. That wonderful piece of tech on your wrist only serves to tell you what you have done; not where you are going.