The Myth of "Universal Scalability"

Outside of the ACTUAL health and fitness world there exists a mysterious realm.  In this realm, (faux) health experts present (pseudo) scientific facts with impressive charts, graphs and computer programs.  In these impressive documents "secret" formulas are introduced which claim to possess the keys to improving your health and fitness in the quickest, easiest and most injury free manners possible.  To attain these keys all you need to do is learn these keys (buy them), plug your numbers into their formulas and - POOF! - the rest is just a matter of application.  Variables? What variables???

This kind of thing is just plain STUPID.

Attaining health and fitness is still an art.  It is replete with individual variables and factors which are dynamic.  These can change daily, even hourly.  While there is good science out there that we can use to improve our chances of becoming healthy and fit while preventing injuries, there is NO fool-proof standard for accurately predicting this.  NONE.  Well, maybe there is just ONE, but we'll come to that later.  When storming GPP workouts, always keep in mind there is no weight light enough to guarantee safety while assuring effectiveness of a workout.  There is no rep scheme considered more safe than others.  No recommendation for sets that will unilaterally guarantee safety while granting health and fitness.  In other words, there is no such thing as Universal Scalability. 

A universal scaling model is quite impossible.  It exists NOWHERE in the health and fitness world.  Where it is claimed to exist, it is vehemently disputed by most other (well qualified and experienced) experts, including myself.  There are too many variables in exercise to assign a guaranteed safe value of reps, sets, weight or rounds that would apply to ANYONE, let alone EVERYONE.  The very suggestion of a purely scientific method would eventually and inevitably lead many to become injured due to a false sense of security.

Several years ago, a dear friend of mine injured his shoulder during a workout.  At least he's pretty sure it was during a workout.  Sometimes you just can't know, right?  He went to the doctor to have it examined and was told he needed surgery to repair the damage.  His doctor (probably a guy with little or no exercise experience) asked what he was doing when he thought it was injured.  My friend (a triathlete), said he wondered if it happened while doing heavy overhead push presses.  Or it may have happened while swimming, or..., or...  The doctor zeroed right in on the heavy push presses. 

"A man of your weight and height shouldn't be going that heavy for that many reps.  That's how people get hurt."

What a stupid, irresponsible thing to say.  Unfortunately this upset my friend.  He shot me off an email asking how I could "allow" people to do exercises which were "inherently" dangerous.  I answered. 

"I'm sorry about that shoulder, brother.  I can imagine how disappointed you must be...It is unfortunate your doctor speculated that high rep, heavy weight exercises, done by a man of your age and stature, caused your injury.  In doing so, he may have added to your frustration by leading you to believe that your injury might have been foolish and/or avoidable."  

My friend was needlessly frustrated by his Dr.  Even his Dr. would have been aware that he could have sustained the EXACT same injury with VERY light weights and VERY low reps.  Or even with that same weight on the very first rep. He also knows that many, many factors come into play when a person sustains injury.  Sleep, stress, focus, energy level, nutrition, hydration, electrolyte balance, fatigue, balance, coordination, skill, experience, previous work load and many, MANY other factors could contribute to an injury. Due to this, your resistance to injury changes constantly (day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute).  In fact, you could do a lift one day and be perfectly safe, then several days later perform the very same lift with the very same form and sustain a lifelong injury due to one or several factors from above.  

I'm not sure what his Dr. gained by telling him it was the push presses.  

All physical activities are potentially dangerous.  This is true of everything from ping pong to running to hockey to even yoga.  A lady I know blew her knee out and needed reconstructive surgery from a beginning Yoga class.  She was the instructor.  Your competitive nature combined with GPP, biking, running, swimming, and etc. are risky behaviors that have the potential to cause ACCIDENTAL injury.  There is only ONE way to assure you do not become ACCIDENTALLY injured while participating.  Told you I'd eventually get around to it.  Here it is ...

Do not participate. 

Of course there is a flip side to non-participation.  The flip side of this is by not participating you run what I believe are even greater risks.  Some of these include the risk of developing lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, dementia, cancer, etc.).  Of course these are just the physical (and we really haven't touched on the diseases linked to inactivity).  

It is important to know that depression, low self-esteem and other mental illnesses are rampant among those who do not participate in "dangerous" physical exertion.  

Let's not even get started on the poor example we'd be setting for those who depend on our judgements (our future generations) for helping them make and learn valuable life choices.  Oh, you can make a case for the importance of "telling" and "explaining," but ANY leader worth their salt leads from the FRONT!  

If you ask me, ALL of the above are much more hazardous, painful and expensive in all ways possible when compared to any injury you might suffer while exercising.  Seems like a silly trade off, but no doubt some would (and do) take it.    

Do all you can to avoid injury.  When performing any exercise, try your hardest to learn and perform it correctly. Take into account all that has been said above and use it to determine the volume and intensity of each workout you perform.  On top of that, use methodical preparation, more than a little common sense and an eye toward situational awareness as your best allies for avoiding injuries.  

Do NOT buy into the dogma of Universal Scaleability.  There are NO programs, formulas, experts, charts or graphs which would guarantee your safety for any given workout.  Not at ANY weight, using ANY rep scheme.  Until we develop some sort of consistent clairvoyance - nobody could possibly make this guarantee.  Not a scientist.  Not your doctor.  And frankly, not even you.