Judging by late night television infomercials, training, cardio, and diet have only recently been discovered. So who would have thought that in America, the concept of a training routine combining weight training, aerobic exercise and a formalized diet plan is as old as the country itself? This winning trifecta was introduced by none-other-than Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.
He advocated weight lifting in the 1700’s, would swim “an hour or two” at a time, told us that an apple a day would keep the doctor away, and his devotion to keeping properly hydrated by drinking copious amounts of water would eventually cause his fellow Brits to dub him a "water-American."
In looking back towards perhaps our greatest founding father (Editor's note: I am partial to Jefferson, myself), we find that Franklin had already predated and predicted nearly every wave of the current fitness industry! So bear with me as I look back towards this fitness pioneer, and show you how his training philosophies can benefit you - nearly 300 years later! Remember, he lived to be almost 90 in a time when the average life span was 37 years old!
The amount of exercise, he said, “…should be judged not by time or distance” but by, "the degree of warmth it produces in the body." The harder you train, the more you increase your body temperature and sweat - therefore, Franklin was perhaps the first advocate of High Intensity Training! Not until the 1970’s was this concept formalized and implemented at American gyms.
When he worked as an apprentice at a printing press, his physical strength (built through calculated training and cardio) allowed him to carry twice as many heavy lead type-trays to the press as his coworkers...resulting in his doubling their work output, and getting him a quick promotion!
It's no coincidence that the school named after him, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, is called BFIT ("be fit") by students, and boasts a soccer team called "The Shockers."
Mr. Franklin once swam the Thames river (three miles, anyway), alternating his strokes, in effect swimming a three mile individual medley! He is listed in the Swimmer’s Hall of Fame, by the way.
He was also famous for his maxim, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." And this is the philosophy we must adhere to if we really want to gain when we train. Without preparing a plan, you are merely going through the motions of doing “whatever” to accomplish “whatever.” Training on the other hand, “is the formulation and implementation of an exercise and diet plan intended to achieve a specific goal.”
Funny, that’s what a peculiar man with a Kite and Key suggested 200 years ago while he was out discovering electricity.
Do you want to maximize the results of the physical and mental effort you expend at the gym, or merely do, “whatever” to accomplish “whatever”? That's not how our forefathers would have done it! When Benjamin Franklin set about conquering something, he listed the exact thing he wanted to achieve (the famous 13 virtues for example), defined them precisely, then charted his monthly and weekly progress in attaining them.
So in the spirit of Mr. Franklin's list of 13 virtues, I'm going to list the top 5 things needed to make sure you’re training rather than just spinning your wheels working out.
1- Form a Specific Quantitative Goal. Quantitative means measurable.
Non-Specific Non-Quantitative Goals
1. “I want to lose fat”
2. “I want to get stronger”
3. “I want to get my arms bigger”
Specific Quantitative Goals
1. “I want to decrease my bodyfat by 3% by “insert date””
2. “I want to Increase my 1 Rep. Max Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift by 5% by “insert date””
3. “I want to add .5 inch to my flexed bicep measurement by “insert date””
2- Formulate a plan of action
First, you must determine the amount of time you have available to train. After doing so, the next step is to prioritize which training modalities you will be utilizing in your training. You may realize that due to factors beyond your control (family life, work obligations, etc.) that your goals are set too high. I’ve always been one who believes in the saying “Shoot for the moon because if you miss you’ll land upon the stars." However, in setting training goals, particularly when first starting out, don’t get too crazy! Don’t set yourself up for failure.
You’re better off being conservative and setting short-term goals, which are attainable. The bar can be elevated at any time, but try not to have to lower it.
3- Keep a Training Log
You must write down EVERYTHING. I have a stack of 10+ training logs beside my desk which I also have electronic copies of which will tell me not only each and every workout I’ve done within the last ten years but will also tell me how I felt before and after each session, what the weather was (this was important as I ran track for 15 years), when I was sick, along with other information which I deemed necessary to add. The more information you provide yourself with the easier it will be for you to go and look back to figure out what worked and what didn’t work in order to help plan your training in the future.
4- Be Consistent
Training must become a priority in your life. There are no excuses! Making sure you get to the gym on time each scheduled day becomes habit.
Once you’re there, making sure you’re busting your ass in even the most simple of training programs will trump the most advanced program if performed inconsistently with a lack of intensity.
5- Conquer the workout
Simply completing a workout is failure. Conquering it is victory. Every time you head to the gym, the track, the mat, or the ring, give it 110%. Allowing yourself to make excuses is unacceptable. You will have bad days. Don’t be discouraged. Be honest with yourself and even on a bad day you must know you gave it all you had.
And remember, it’s not how long you spend at the gym; it’s what you do while you’re there.