Go hard or go home. It’s one or the other. These are the binary options laid down by fitness boneheads who see “gainz” as a direct result of effort. On a simplistic level this is true enough. Trouble is, effort in certain circles has come to mean self-flagellation rather than self-improvement. Sorry, but what happened to good old-fashioned try your best?
Stepping into your Nike MetCons and throwing heavy metal around has become akin to joining a cult. Just look at #FitFam or US bone-crunching export CrossFit. Zealots punish their bodies in search of a hormone spike to build biceps like boulders. Less rock solid, though, is the longevity of these pursuits. What’s more, the hormonal quest isn’t quite as straightforward as all those Instagram muscle poster boys would have you believe.
To chase a testosterone boost from exercise as if it’s a video game power-up is to misunderstand the biochemistry at play. Next time you load up the squat rack with 200 kilograms, consider this: each rep uses up testosterone. You’re spending all that your old boys produce during the day. So what? Well, your body brings a base amount of T to the party. Factors such as sleep deprivation, stress, lack of exercise or too much exercise can cause your levels to dip.
When the hormone takes a severe enough tumble, your body switches to its back-up generator. This is adrenaline. You might be familiar with its effect. Ever trained in the evening and spent the first few hours of the night lying awake with your heart pumping harder than an out-of-control jackhammer?
Perhaps you’ve taken on a fitness challenge only to find yourself totally sapped of energy? That’s adrenaline overload for you. This hormone exists as a jolt to the system when your body is in peril. To court it daily is like pumping yourself with poison. With this level of under-recovery you will burn out. Perhaps not today. Perhaps not this year. But eventually injuries will pervade and your immunity will suffer.
So what options are left to gainers on a mission if going at the weights room like a jacked-up berserker is off the cards? While it may go against everything your shouty PT stands for, try slowing down. If you fear your gains will sap away, take a former MH cover star as inspiration: Jason Statham now trains very much to his limits, rather than pushing past them. He’s listening to his body instead of battering it. And he doesn’t look half bad for it, you’ll agree.
He’s not the only one. One-man action-hero factory Patrick “P-Nut” Monroe has produced some of Hollywood’s best physiques. He eschews weights and doesn’t push his A-list clients to failure. His focus is on training fascia and muscle in a healthy, consistent manner, rather than hammering it into shape for get-me-ready-for-that-film-quick results. This allows your physique to develop without burning through testosterone. It’s training safe and smart.
The message is clear: know your limits. However fit you think you might be, you’re not a professional – you’re a civilian. Hitting it hard then slogging in the workplace takes its toll. Testosterone regulates your health and mood, so man up and stop emasculating yourself at the squat rack. Go soft from time to time – or go home in an ambulance.