3 and Fitness
The number three comes up frequently in the subjects of health and
fitness. Sometimes, it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes,
applying three helps you progress toward your goals. Other times, it works
Let's look at various 3s and see how they stack up--and why.
- 3 meals a day. Against. See our article Single Digit Body Fat on Six Meals a Day for a detailed explanation.
- 3 whole-food meals and 3 protein shakes a day. It's better for the non-athlete to have 6 small
whole-food meals a day.
- 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Against. This is the most common mistake people make with their training regimen. Gyms like to have you come 3x/wk, because that works to their advantage. For a beginner, this is acceptable. But once you reach a minimum fitness threshold (it really isn't very high), this kind of schedule leaves you permanently in the fitness basement. For a clue as to why, see our next item.
- 3 days a week for a workout schedule. Against. This defies everything we know about physical training. If you work a muscle with sufficient intensity, the recovery time is typically 3 to 4 days (several studies produced numbers like "96 hours." There is an exception. When you do one of the "Big Three" (squats, deadlifts, or good mornings), these put such an energy drain on your body that many experts say to do this kind of exercise only twice a month.
Personally, I find even that a bit much sometimes. That is, I sometimes need an extra week to fully recover from my last front squats workout.
If you are "doing squats" every week, you are doing something wrong. Very wrong.
One very effective approach is to plan a rotation to work three upper body muscle groups (one per workout day), for four days per week. Let's say you do these on M, Tu, Thu, Sat. You won't do the same workout every Monday, because you have three workouts and four days. So, you'll end up doing one of those workouts twice in a given week. Just keep doing those workouts in the same order, whenever it is your day to do upper body workouts. This schedule allows you to work abs and calves one week, and squats the next--on one of the days not slated for upper body. Use the other two days to play sports or just rest.
- 3 reps in your third set. Toward. If you do 3 sets of the same weight and number of reps, where is your intensity? Answer: Nowhere. Your progress will be in about the same place. If you are training properly, that third set is going to be a bi--. If it's the same weight as the first set, you'll be doing great to get a full three reps.
- 3rd set is your final set. Against. If you are training with intensity, you aren't doing very many reps per set. Instead, you are doing many sets that are very, very hard to do. Simply doing three is the pansy way of "working out." Put some serious effort into it, if you want serious results.
- 3 steps: Stretch, cardio, weights. Against. There's a common pattern of "total fitness" that involves stretching, running on a treadmill for half an hour, then attempting to train with weights. This does not work.
First of all, don't stretch before lifting weights. Warm up, yes. Stretch, no. Stretching lengthens the muscle body, weakening it. There goes any hope of intensity. Many experts advise stretching between sets. They are right, if you listen to exactly what they are saying. You've compressed the muscle, now stretch it back to its normal length. This is very different from what most people think. Engaging in hyperextension before lifting is a bit like driving with one foot on the gas and one on the brake. Except with weights, you increase the chance of a muscle tear or ligament injury.
Second, "cardio work" isn't necessary for fitness. Yes, that's heresy to some. But if you are weight-training properly and leading an active lifestyle, you get plenty of heart and lung development. The key there is "properly," so maybe you should do the cardio work just to be sure. But do cardio work on your non-weight days. Your body has only so much energy. If you burn a bunch of calories before weight training, you aren't going to be able to push those weights enough, and your workout is wasted. Don't "do cardio" after weights, either--you'll just pace yourself during your weight training. Keeping these on separate days will prevent your cardio from interfering with your weightlifting.
- 3 macronutrients. Toward. Fat-free, low-carb, low-protein, high-fat, high-carb, and high-protein are all diets for the duped. You need all three macronutrients in roughly the correct proportions. There are different schools of though on what exactly those portions are, but everyone agrees that the correct answer isn't all that far from "equal." For example, some say 30-40-30 (fat-carb-protein), while other say 20-40-40). Nobody with any kind of decent track record suggest cutting any one of these macronutrients way down or jacking any one of them way up. Yes, Atkins says to do that. But they're stupid.
- Divide meals by 3. Toward. The typical American meal is 2 to 3 times the size it should be. Cut it to 1/3. Then, divide it by 2, because it's sized per the 3 meal a day plan. You need to spread your food intake across 6 meals.
- 3 times the dose. Against. People are taking megadoses of vitamins, minerals, and sports supplements. This does absolutely nothing for you, except waste your money and increase your risk of toxicity. Read the label and follow instructions. And understand something: the purpose of taking vitamins is to prevent a problem due to a deficiency.
For example, a deficiency of Vitamin A results in visual problems. Get enough Vitamin A, and you don't have the deficiency--and thus you don't have the visual problem caused by the deficiency. But taking more won't improve your vision. Actually, you should never take Vitamin A unless under the supervision of a doctor because it's toxic in relatively low doses. Instead, take a multivitamin that contains a Vitamin A precursor--or just eat your vegetables as you're supposed to.
Analogy: You are climbing and are harnessed to 6 feet of rope to break your fall if you should slip. Adding two more 6-ft ropes won't break your fall at 2 feet.
- 3 legs of the health and fitness stool. Toward. One reason people make zero progress in their program is they are doing it two-dimensionally. Just exercising isn't enough, and just eating right isn't enough. You need to do both those things, but you need a third leg of the stool: rest. Our sleep course will definitely help you, if you have problems getting enough sleep.
These are just some of the 3s that arise in planning for fitness and health. You can probably think of more. To determine if they are correct, you need to broaden and deepen your understanding of how the body works and how to train it to be strong, healthy, and beautiful. The articles on this site will help you do just that.