One of the many training principles created by Joe Weider is the Instinctive Training Principle. In theory it sounds like a good idea and many people have used to over the years. But for most people, the practical application of the principle is rather limiting.
Let’s look at the basic principle. You listen to your body and don’t always follow set in stone aspects of working out and dieting. On Chest Day at the gym instead of following your program and doing 5 sets of bench presses followed by incline flyes and ending with dips you instead superset incline dumbbell presses with push-ups. You made an instinctive change to the program to do something different.
The same could be done for following a prescribed diet by changing up meals. Or maybe you don’t even keep track of sets and reps and just do what feels right. Those examples would all be practical application of the Instinctive Training Principle. In theory, it seems like a good idea because you think you are doing what is best for your body.
…and that is why it is usually wrong.
Instincts are our survival tools. They are the things that warn us about danger or have us do certain actions to help prolong our lives. Sometimes instincts tell us we are tired and a nap is a good idea or to eat more food because you never know when the next meal is coming.
So how does that help in training with fitness?
It doesn’t. A good fitness and nutrition program is counter-intuitive to our instincts. We force our body to work harder than before and in essence shock our system with hard work and pain to create growth and change. We also force a specific diet on ourselves to regulate our intake to reduce fat. These things all go against our instincts which instead say ‘eat more’ and ‘don’t stress the body so much’.
Should You Use Instinctive Training?
In my experience this is a very advanced training method. To begin, you really have to be in tune with your body, your diet, and your ability to workout. The basics of a regimented system ensure that you are doing what you need to do to get to the ultimate goal. When you jump of the map then you are subject to the old adage of, “short-cuts make long delays.”
But with that being said you can and should consider using Instinctive Training as an advanced lifter. Here are some examples and how they benefit:
Diet – With the years of calorie counting and such I can do the math in my head for what I need in any given meal. While I typically follow a very boring and repetitive diet, I don’t force myself to. Some days I feel like having yogurt mixed with fruit and protein powder for my lunch instead of a tuna sandwich. So I swap things out knowing that I am still getting exactly what I need during the course of the day but also catching a mental break.
Workouts – I hardly ever do the same number of sets and reps anymore. Some days I feel stronger than others and do low reps while other days I might go slightly higher. But what never changes is the effort or intensity that is utilized. No matter what, I push that final set to complete failure and then usually go further with drop-sets or some other method. By the same token I don’t really count sets. When I am warm enough and have worked up to my target weight I go all out regardless if it is set number two or four.
Instinctive Training is a good for an advanced lifter with a lot of discipline. It can help break up some of the monotony and also be advantageous on days when you just don’t have the same strength. But it only works if you still push yourself to the limit otherwise you are sacrificing gains by deviating from a program. For the newer and even intermediate lifters using the ITM might be counter-productive if it takes you off the track that you need to follow for the results you want.