How to Train with Intelligence and Purpose
Why training too hard to often is counterproductive
We’ve never had so much access and availability to help us get fit and in shape but very often the message that we receive when we want to get in shape is that we have to suffer because when you’re resting your competition is training or some #fitspo quote that’s supposed to motivate you but actually makes you feel like a failure if you’re not continually flogging yourself.
Most people are taught to train in a manner that has high intensity and deprivation at the top of the pedestal of importance and this is leading many to sacrifice their health in favour of their fitness. I want to give you three key points to help you get more out of your training without causing you to feel burned out and injured.
1. Stop abusing intensity – to elicit change and adaptation in your body you need to subject yourself to a loading/volume/intensity that’s higher than your current level to which your body will interpret as stress. This reaction will then force your body to change but the degree of this stress is like a bell curve i.e. too much and your body takes too long to recover from and can lead to injury and too little leads to the tiny pink dumbbell effect – you experience no change because the loading it’s significant enough. The purpose of training is to “create the maximum amount of adaptation with the minimum amount of recoverability”, Mike Israetel. Therefore, if you want to and enjoy training frequently and only feel good in training sessions (feel wrecked outside of training) it can be resolved by following a properly designed program, getting more sleep and lowing training intensity and frequency. If you are new to training, don’t believe this hype and firstly earn the right to train at high intensity by displaying your capacity to exercise at a lower level first.
2. 80/20 Rule – 80% of training should be done at a low to medium level, 20% should be done at a high to very high level. The high or very level training should only be performed by those that have no current illnesses, injuries or significant external stressors going on in their work or personal life. People love to cover up their lack of consistency with intensity and this is a mistake. My approach to training will give you all the benefits of the low intensity work which can let you get in plenty of training sessions that won’t require long recovery times and give you that pop and speed you need to train at a very high intensity. The most common thing I notice with clients that have been abusing exercise intensity is that they don’t have an extra gear to shift into when it’s needed because they’re constantly operating at 70% of their capacity. Stephen Seiler is a Norway based Sports Scientist and has been central in helping us understand that the top endurance athletes in the world train in this manner so why are we still being told that harder and higher intensity all the time is better. This can be applied to those looking to get stronger and leaner as much as those wanting to be better runners, cyclists, rowers.
3. Get assessing or you’re just guessing - I’ve long been a proponent of building a strong conditioning base through lower intensity workouts first. This means working on your capacity to handle having your heart rate elevated. How elevated? You could use the standard method of 220 minus your age and then take a percentage of that number but I prefer Dr Phil Maffetone’s MAF (maximum aerobic function) measurement which is 180 minus age.
For example, if you were 30yrs old and wanted to perform conditioning work, metcons etc. at a sustainable and aerobic pace then you’d put on a heart rate monitor (we’ve found the fitbits to be very inaccurate so best to get a monitor with a chest strap) and stay as close to 150bpm (beats per minute) but reduce by 5bpm if you’re recovering from over training/injury/fatigue and add 5bpm if you’ve been training consistently and sensibly for at least 6-8 weeks and have no issue doing sensibly programmed conditioning at 150bpm.
What we have seen with those that we thought were over training is that when we slap that monitor on and ask them to train at a MAF pace they just can’t do it. Their body is chronically tired and they massively must lower training intensity to stay in this low/medium zone. This inability is a huge red flag and if he/she was to continue training above this level in any and all sessions they no longer FEEL fit yet they may LOOK fit.
Too many people fill their training with what’s possible to do on the day and not enough of what they need to do in the session. This applies more to the recreational gym goer than those that do it as a full-time job. Your dedication to training is NOT shown by how long you can spend on the gym but by the results or lack of results you’re seeing. Constant colds, frequent injuries and fatigue are all signs that you need to back off because if you don’t you’re laying the foundation for a serious injury that will put you out completely. You’re holding on to unnecessary higher intensity because you feel you’re not good enough and it’s all you know.
Adaptation requires effort, results require consistency, that’s impossible to achieve if you want to, as Matt Fitzgerald Author of How Bad Do You Want It, keep holding on to your “hard work security blanket”.