It's no secret: The fitness industry is an industry for a reason. It's there to make money.
Recent years, thanks to the "obesity epidemic" and the growing number of people suffering from heart disease related to an unhealthy lifestyle, the fitness machine is booming. Blogs, magazines – all mass media, essentially – are competing against one another to capture readers' attention with the newest fitness craze or fat-loss secret.
I'm here to tell you there is no magical trick that is going to help you shed fat or gain muscle quicker. But there is one secret that can help.
Before I elaborate on the only secret – which is just common sense – that really accounts for anything in health and fitness, I want to go over a fragment of what exercise does to your body physiologically. When you lie down on a bench-press machine, hands on the bar, muscles tensing for the heavy load, you are about to damage your body. Yes, damage it. As you lift the bar from your chest to the air, contracting the chest and triceps, you are creating microscopic tears inside of your muscle. These tears that you are creating, the weights you're lifting, are not what make you stronger. The body repairing those same microscopic tears is.
The repairs are made by using the nutrients you eat throughout the day. The compounds are processed by the body, and used in creating new or longer muscle fibers to fill the tears. With that in mind, here's the moment you've all been waiting for, the one health and fitness "secret" that trumps any other: progressive overload.
Your body is constantly trying to reach a state of homeostasis. It wants to function adequately while using the least amount of energy possible. Unfortunately for us, the more muscle you have (including the most important one, a strong heart) the more energy is required to operate your body.
Progressive overload is your way of telling your body that its current state isn't quite making the grade. You want to be stronger, faster and more efficient. The root of progressive, "progress," describes what everyone wants to achieve in the gym. So that is the simple secret to fitness: progress.
In the simplest terms, progressive overload is adding weight or repetitions, or cutting the time it takes to do execute an exercise. That applies to every fitness goal there is.
My favorite example of progressive overload couldn't be more straightforward. Adding weight to whatever lifting you are doing is an example of progressive overload. Each time you add the weight, you create bigger tears in your muscles. And each time your body rushes to repair those tears and make the muscle stronger. In order to get further, to gain more muscle, you have to create ever-bigger tears.
Cardiovascular exercise follows the same principle.
As you run faster, or longer distances, your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood through your body. Your diaphragm and lungs become better at respiration. You can maintain that level of fitness by running the same distance at the same pace. Or, you can run longer and faster, and improve your fitness.
Something not often discussed in fitness circles, though, is how slow progressive-overload process can be.
Adding weight to the bar or distance to your run works best in the long term, with recovery (time off) being far more important than the time you spend in the gym. With ample recovery time in mind, just follow that "secret" to improvement. Every day you step on the pavement, turf or wherever you work to stay fit, do one thing better than you did the time before.