Why do you only Strength Train once per week?

The short answer is that once per week is all that it takes. If once per week is effective, why train more often? The long answer is that at first, we probably could tolerate more frequent workouts. But as you get stronger and more capable, it requires a more intense output of energy to stimulate any change. The natural consequence of the greater effort is a greater impact on the body, necessitating a longer rest period. We aim to teach people how to train intensely enough to justify such a low frequency right out of the gate. If a person would rather take it a little easier and come more often, the trainer could certainly do that; it just costs more to train more often.

How will this help me to lose fat?

A simple analogy works well here. Consider the fuel efficiency of a Toyota Prius vs. a Ford F150. The vehicle with a bigger engine and more horse power burns through more fuel. In this analogy, your muscles are the engine and calories are the gas.

Taking this thought experiment a bit further, the biggest difference in fuel economy is when both vehicles are idling at a stoplight. When the light turns green and both vehicles take off, the difference is much greater because the Prius consumes far less fuel. What about if both vehicles not only take off, but stomp on the accelerator? Now the difference is huge, as the Ford barrels ahead of the Prius, practically watching the gas gauge drop.

Will Strength Training make me bulky?

No. That is, not unless you have the specific genetic characteristics required to get big muscles. It is a common misconception that anyone can and will get excessively large muscles from strength training. The truth is that we are all working with the genetic endowment passed to us from our parents. The length of our muscle bellies versus the tendons relative to the length of our bones and our muscle fiber density and composition are all inborn characteristics that cannot be changed by exercise. Women in particular have an unwarranted fear of growing their muscles for fear of getting too big. Very, very few women possess the genetic characteristics necessary to get truly bulky.

The truth is that what everyone really wants is to carry less body fat. Avoiding developing your muscles is not the answer. In fact, our muscles are what give us our shape [fat is shapeless, and burn calories. The best long-term strategy is to develop your muscles as much as possible to keep your metabolism revved up and keep that youthful shape, while addressing your nutritional strategy, which is where the game is truly won or lost.

What about Functional Training?

Functional Training is a buzz word right now. The idea is to use exercises that simulate the demands of daily life so as to better prepare your body for those particular demands. A classic example is the lifting, twisting and setting down of groceries. At first glance this makes a lot of sense. After all, you don’t bench press groceries, right? The problem is that a pure functional training workout ignores a couple of important exercise principles.

First, the Overload Principle, which basically states that our tissues will only respond and fortify themselves when introduced to a challenge that exceeds present capactiy. In order to make functional movements intense enough to get a result you have to either add enough resistance (which can make such movements dangerous) or do many, many repetitions (which is the road to overuse injuries).

Second is the SAID principle, or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, which basically states that our bodies will respond to training stress according to the specific conditions of that stress. This sounds like a an argument in support of functional training, except that you must ask “how specific does the stress need to be?” The answer: very specific, in fact, identical. A classic example is a weighted golf club. Many people believe that swinging a weighted club will strengthen the core specifically to the demands of the golf swing, making you better at it. The problem is that none of your clubs weigh that much in real life, so it’s not actually going to improve your stroke from a skill standpoint and performing such a ballistic movement with added weight is risky.

We argue that you are better off to train your muscles and subsystems as safely and efficiently as possible and then actually do the things you want to be better at. Our nervous system responds very quickly. So long as your musculoskeletal system is ready and capable, you can learn any new skill or movement very quickly, without doing a million reps in the gym that “sort of” resemble the demands of your life.

All of that being said, there is some value to a lot of the balance challenges and bodyweight movements that one encounters in a functional training workout. The benefits are an improved sense of balance and kinesthetic awareness. Recognizing this, we have found ways to include these kinds of challenges in our workouts without relying on them to provide the stimulus alone.

Finally, the real value of functional training is in rehabilitation. When we become injured or when we spend prolonged periods of time doing repetitive motions, we develop muscle imbalances or deficiencies that can lead to greater injuries down the road. Adressing these very specific problems is beyond the scope of fitness trainers and is best treated by a physical therapist.

How does your program compare to Crossfit?

First, what we have in common: Intensity. If you were to hang out in a Crossfit box, and then our studio, you might hear some similar language. This is because playing around with intensity (how hard) lends itself to certain values; such as, pushing against limits, of overcoming the voices in your head that say to quit, of going beyond yourself to reach new heights, etc..

This is where the common ground ends however. The most glaring difference is in how we handle Frequency (how often) and Volume (how much). At Horizon Line, we focus on delivering muscular strength and development (and all the metabolic adaptations that go with it). If you take Intensity to the maximum, Frequency and Volume must be modulated, or you will encounter some form of overtraining, whether an acute injury or systemic fatigue. This is why we only train once-per-week. By comparison, Crossfit incorporates elements of strength training into the program, which allows (requires) more Volume and Frequency. That is, longer workouts, more often.

Philosophically we differ in how we propose to handle chaos. Crossfit makes the assertion that life is chaos, and that you should train accordingly. We agree that life is chaos, and we need to be adaptable. But we argue that training is an area of life where we can actually mitigate risk and that training should be focused and direct. For Example, if you want to be able to run better, longer, or faster, you work on technique, endurance or speed. If you want to be more flexible, you adopt a program focused on flexibility. If you want to become stronger, you strength train.

Programs, like Crossfit, that seek to deliver a be-all-end-all workout experience are often fun and interesting and engaging, but they are seldom efficient. We believe training should enhance your lifestyle, rather than be your lifestyle.

Lastly, we differ in community. Our services are delivered one-on-one. It really is the only way to work this hard and stay safe at the same time. On one hand, this means relative privacy (at maximum, you’ll share the studio with 3 other clients) and attention to detail. You will get to know your trainer well, and they will get to know you. On the other hand, it means that our community is spread out, over time and distance, coming and going at different times. This means that we cannot deliver the kind of camaraderie that you find in a group fitness setting, that you frequent more often.

In sum, we are with Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus exercise equipment and early innovator of High Intensity principles:

“Instead of trying to figure out how much exercise we can tolerate, we should be trying to figure out how little we require.”

Will training effect my endurance?

Most will experience an improvement in endurance. There are two reasons for this:

When your muscles are stronger, every stride or pedal stroke requires a lower percentage of effort, which means you can do it for longer.

Threshold training stimulates an increase in mitochondria, which is the key to sustained muscular effort.

Obviously there are some limitations to this rationale:  If someone has the genetics to develop excessively large muscles, the increase in mass may negate the benefit of greater strength. Elite competitors may want to avoid hypertrophy [increase in muscle size] in general since they are looking for any edge. But for most people just looking to get fit, strength training will actually improve their endurance.

As with anything else, the thing to keep in mind is that if you expect to perform well, you must practice. Strength Training alone will not automatically translate into greater endurance. You must be conditioned to the very specific requirements of the activity in question.

Can you recommend some other resources to support my progress?


We like these books:

Body by Science, Doug McGuff

High Intensity Training the Mike Mentor Way, Mike Mentzer

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

An Omnivore’s Dilema, Michael Pollan

Cooked, Michael Pollan

The Collaborative Way, Lloyd Fickett and Jason Fickett

Movement Matters, Katy Bowman