Exercise program design is a big subject. The starting point you need to take in looking at this whole body of information is: what does game day look like? This is very defined and specific for a football or soccer player. They know what kind of motions they will be going through, have a pretty set time frame and even know where it will be.
On the other hand, if you look at a firefighter, law enforcement or a soldier, they don’t know what their game day will look like. In contrast to an athlete, they don’t even know if there will be a game that day. But when it hits the fan, their day may involve running 2 miles with 50 pounds of gear and then lifting 300 pounds of debris off a victim, then running back with someone over their shoulder. Or a firefighter may have to make 10 trips up 7 flights of stairs in a smoky building to rescue people.
What Do You Want To Be Prepared For?
In order to be prepared for the unknown, your workouts have to be somewhat unknowable. They have to be varied in the amount of weight you move and the speed at which you move it. Some days it is a long slog, others involve a short sprint of effort. Some days it’s your arms and some it is your legs. Some days you train your arms twice in a row. More often than not, it will be high-intensity work because that really is the difference between exercise and doing some easy task (the difference being that it takes much more of your resources to perform the task).
I’ve trained when I was hungry and I have trained when I was full. Exercise at varying times of the day. It is not easy or pretty, but sometimes life isn’t easy or pretty. If you are okay with failing (also known as reaching your limits) then you’ll be fine. If you have persistence, then it is a skill that can be developed.
If you know exactly what you want to be prepared for, then your training program would assess your capabilities within the known parameters of performance, and be designed to handle any deficiencies and to further develop and refine the skills necessary.
How Does the Body Change Under a Randomized Exercise Training Program?
The best way to explain this is with a negative. The benefit it is what your body doesn’t do. Your body doesn’t find ways to get more efficient at the workouts because there is no pattern. If your body can predict the pattern, it will stop allocating resources elsewhere.
I’ve got to be somewhat vague when I say resources because it is a whole can of big words and concepts and this isn’t a technical manual. But let me give you an example:
Jerry has been doing whole body workouts along with random tasks at work and he works in construction. Then Jerry just stops working his legs for a few weeks and does a 30-day push up challenge. Most of Jerry’s muscle mass was in his legs (like everyone else). But now his legs start to lose muscle and the resources that go to rebuild muscle and build it stronger are going to his arms. That is an immune system response.
His nervous system is also firing on all cylinders and dedicating more activity to his arms because that is what is needed. More calcium is deposited in the bones of his arms so they are stronger. Jerry’s arms even start to grow new blood vessels (capillaries) to supply oxygen to the muscles.
None of this is happening in his legs now.
It all comes down to an old saying: “Use it or lose it.”
How “Use It or Lose It” Applies to Your Body
A question you might have is “Why doesn’t the body just keep the muscle there all the time?” Why would it do away with perfectly good bone density?
The answer is simple: It is expensive.
It takes a considerable amount of resources to maintain these high levels of bone density, muscle mass and even the smaller things like complex arrays of capillaries. Your body will not continue to make them if there is no need.
Your body is programmed for survival. Food wasn’t always available throughout the history of man. It takes protein to put the structure there and fats and carbohydrates to fuel the process.
Your body has a simple hierarchy of needs and while I don’t know everything about the body, the basic gist is that it will dedicate resources to repairing what is damaged (your sore muscles) and then it will store every bit that it can. If you are still growing up and haven’t passed puberty, then you are also devoting resources to building additional bone and all sorts of other structures.
This is why many kids (of a normal activity level) can eat well beyond the amount that they burn through exercise. Their bodies are building the structures and enlarging them and it will follow whatever genetic pattern it has.
How Your Immune System Reacts to Exercise
Now that you know why your body is so willing to ditch perfectly good and hard-earned muscle, you can do something about keeping it there.
The first thing to know is that you need to exercise to produce small tears in the muscles. Your body then goes and repairs these and builds them back a little bit stronger than they were. This is an immune system response, actually. People who exercise regularly recover faster from surgery because their body gets very good at rebuilding tissues.
But kind of back on the point, your immune system is actually stressed after you exercise. You’ve done damage to tissue and it has to repair it just the same as if you got a cut. The blood circulation to your muscles is much better than your skin where you get cut so the healing time is faster.
Blood circulation is actually why muscles heal so fast. Bones, ligaments and tendons heal slower because they don’t have near the number of capillaries feeding them.
If you exercise too much, this has been called “over-training” and describes a situation where your muscles can’t repair themselves as fast as you are damaging them. Your “repair resources” are taken from other parts of the body to try to handle this. You get more susceptible to illness. Energy levels begin to drop and on and on.
So this gives you an idea as to how hard you can actually train yourself. Few people train themselves to the point where their immune systems can’t keep up, but I have seen it before and done it myself.
The Random Destruction of Your Muscles
The question actually is: should I destroy my muscles in a methodical way or should I destroy them in an unpredictable way? If game day is known, then go methodical and use a well-designed program.
But if game day is not known, give yourself over to the craziest fitness trainer/program and be prepared to be uncomfortable. If you’re military or a first responder, your game day will be much easier if you follow a randomized training program.
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Which One Is the Right One?
If you are an athlete with a game day that is very predictable, train for that.
But for everyone else, in the spirit of being random, change it up. Good life advice here would be: “Do whatever gets you in the gym.” That has always been my mantra. If there is a gimmick – such as using kettlebells in your workout or the TRX system or if you like Insanity workouts – then do it! CrossFit is a great randomized training program.
I have done all sorts of programs and I would be a hypocrite if I said to do one and not the other. The only real reason I would preach against a program would be out of a concern for safety, but any qualified fitness professional can look you over and work out a safe program. A good fitness trainer knows how to train you to the point of breaking, but without hurting you.