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  • Writer's pictureChris Atkins

Fitness at the Expense of Health. Is it Worth It?

Strength training should be considered to be like medicine for your body. It needs to be the correct prescription for your body’s needs, the right potency and the right dosing frequency.

Health and fitness are not necessarily interrelated. They can be, to a certain degree, improved in a similar trajectory. But many people sacrifice their long term health for short-term fitness gains. While the appropriate does of exercise improves our body's composition and performance, including boosting our immune system, the wrong dosage leads to overtraining and irreversible joint injury, and the suppression of our immune system.

Just like anything, we need to begin to think critically and independently about fitness and health and how we can attain both without sacrificing the other.

How Can You Tell if Your Fitness Pursuit is Damaging Your Health?

1) You are getting injured from your training.

What good is it to be training with great intensity in your 20’s and early 30’s only to stop training before you are 40 due to wear and tear and injury?

Fitness is a delicate balance between catabolism (breakdown of the muscle tissues during strength training) and anabolism (the repairing of the muscle tissues while at rest and recovery). That means that training frequency (how often you workout) needs to be at the point where the body has had enough time to recover beyond the point (supercompensation) at which you entered into the training session. If you don’t give your body time to get stronger, then what exactly is the point?

How long does recovery take? It depends on the person. It could be anywhere from one day to one week, depending on the persons genetics, lifestyle and the intensity of their training.

Proper training should lessen the likely hood of injury, not be the cause of injury. Some people wear their injuries as a badge of honor (if this is you, please reevaluate your priorities). But what they fail to realize is that they will likely be plagued by that injury for the rest of their life or will need a knee/hip/shoulder replacement before the age of 50. Sport is a separate issue. If you play sports, you are in a sense agreeing to the possible risks of injuries. But your supplemental strength training should never cause injury.

If you want to keep training well into your 60s and 70s (and beyond), avoid ballistic and highly repetitive exercises that cause joint and connective tissue damage. Instead choose exercises that follow your joint function and are low impact in nature. Avoid excessively loading of the spine and take great care of your knees and hips by using good form. Have a good coach help you learn to perform exercises correctly. Listen to your body, focus on getting good quality sleep and include more rest if you are losing your zeal for your training or are frequently getting sick. Know your limits and try to improve gradually over time.

2) You have reached the point of diminishing returns

How strong do you really need to be?

After about 3-5 years of consistent strength training, you will reach your genetic limit for muscular and strength gains. After that, if you do not adjust your training you will eventually meet and surpass your body’s structural integrity. This is when ligaments and joints start to get damaged (check out Youtube 'Workout Fails' if you don’t believe me). You may continue to see increases in your lifts after that point, but that is because you are getting more efficient in that lift (better technique). If it were possible to continue to make incremental strength gains indefinitely you would witness 'regular people' at LA Fitness deadlifting 1000+ pounds.

The truth is that we can have better health and higher fitness levels if we approach training from a long range, sustainable point of view.

If you are an athlete, your strength training should supplement your performance in your given sport and not require learning another skill that takes away from your ability to practice your skills in your sport. For example, practicing the skill required to increase your deadlift from 400 to 500 pounds will not make you a better baseball player. If you enjoy lifting heavy weights and are good at it, you could view powerlifting as your sport and focus your energy and training towards those three lifts, but make sure you have a good coach. But just remember the risks associated with it and that there are safer, more sustainable ways to get and stay strong.

For us regular folk, proper strength training should leave us feeling strong and mobile enough to do whatever we want to do at any given moment without risking injury. We shouldn’t be walking around with aches and pains everyday. It is not necessary, and it negatively affects our quality of life by making every day tasks more labor some. Not only that, but chronic stiffness is a symptom of overtraining and negatively affects performance.

Understanding that we are all human and accepting our mortality should not be looked down upon. Simply enjoying the journey of life and all of its ups and downs should be the end goal, not trying to hang on to the past glory days and being nearsighted about our performance in the gym. We should instead be thankful for what we can do today and look to preserve our strength into old age. The truth is we will all one day grow old and weak (should we be blessed to live a long life) but we can slow that process down to a great extent with the right approach.

We only get this one body. We need to care for it in such a way that our 80 (or 90) year old selves will thank us.

In Strength, Chris

If you are interested in learning more about how you can attain and maintain better health and fitness for your lifetime, please feel free to contact me.

20 Minute Virtual Training Sessions are Now Only $20. Limited Time Offer.

You can look on my website for more information on the services I offer.

You can also email me with any training related questions at

Pictured: My 67 year old client holding a handstand for 40s at the end of his workout.

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