There is a lot of talk in the news today about performance enhancers. In recent news we have Alex Rodriguez and 13 other baseball players being suspended for drug use. In 2012 Lance Armstrong was disqualified from cycling because of using performance enhancing techniques. With all this scandal and horrible press, why would I promote performance enhancers? Because “banning performance enhancers” is like banning “dihydrogen monoxide”. Sure, they can kill you if used improperly and they give athletes an advantage, but you like to drink water, don’t you?
First, let me clarify, what a performance enhancer is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a performance enhancer is defined as
- (of a substance, especially a drug) that people use so they will be more successful in a sports competition
So let’s think about this. “Of a substance, especially a drug” this means not only a drug but usually a drug. Why do I point this out? Because I want you, dear reader, to think of everything that is not a drug, that a person could use so they will be more successful in a sports competition. Go ahead. I’ll wait. When you’re done thinking of them, scroll down and I’ll list the things I use every single week.
*cue jeopardy music*
Ready for my list? Here you go
- Music (Steady 130)
- Stability balls
- Foam Rollers
- Zombies, Run! (and similar programs)
Now, you may think I’m making light of the whole situation, but I’m not. In training, we define a performance enhancer as “Anything, external to the body, that gives a psychological or physiological advantage.” Music has been banned from many races because of the psychological advantage it gives to runners and some winners have lost their winnings because they were using music players during the race. Some quotes from the articles (if you don’t want to click-through – all emphasis mine)
USA Track & Field, the U.S. governing body for running, this year barred the use of headphones and portable audio players like iPods at its official races. The rule was created to ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge.
A couple of years ago I visited Mammoth Lakes, California, to assist in filming Josh Cox as he performed an epic tempo run in preparation for the California International Marathon. The workout consisted of 15 miles at marathon effort at 7,000 feet of elevation. A few miles into it Cox pulled an iPod out of his shorts and completed the workout jamming to some of his favorite tunes. (A few weeks later he finished second at CIM, setting a new PR. Not with music, though. Elites are ineligible for prize money if they race with headphones.)
One runner lost the prize purse and her medal for listening to music for 2 miles of a 26 mile race. Race officials and governing bodies have acknowledged that music is a performance enhancer. Scientific studies have proven that there is a psychological effect when one resonates with the message of the music or the lead singer. I use music every day in my classes and my own training. I deliberately choose music that suits the mood and intent of the class.
As for Barbells, dumbbells, and sandbags, the simple fact of the matter is someone who trains with external resistance has an advantage over someone who doesn’t. Take two people – one who trains using external resistance, and one who does nothing but body weight training – the one who trains using external resistance will be more cut. They can put their body through more because you can load plates on the barbell or pick up heavier dumbbells. The person using strictly bodyweight doesn’t have that advantage. Stability balls and foam rollers are a little on the extreme side of the example, but many athletes will tell you 30 minutes on the foam roller is hell when you’re in it but heaven when you’re done.
Now I know some people will tell me I’m being extreme, and maybe I am but it’s to prove a point. Performance enhancing devices are everywhere. They are pervasive and required. They will injure and possibly kill you if used improperly (how many people are injured or die every year from doing something stupid with exercise equipment?) but they should be used. Dihydrogen monoxide does horrible things too – it’s a major contributor to rust, a major component of acid rain, can cause drowning, major cause of soil erosion, found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and it’s used by athletes to enhance performance but I don’t want it banned either…. I like drinking water.
In no way do I advocate the use of drugs. If you are an athlete, a true pinnacle athlete ready to push your body to it’s natural limits and beyond, you don’t need to use drugs, but you will use every other tool in your arsenal to be the very best you can be. These other things are performance enhancing in a way that will push you to meet your goals – whether it’s to lose 10/15/20/50/100 lbs or break world record high jumps.