Train Smarter, Not Longer

It’s not uncommon for potential clients to contact us asking questions about our training programs. In fact, I always try to thank them off the bat for taking the time the do so. I think it’s important that people do more research before jumping into any type of new fitness program. I recently had a conversation with a potential client who asked several questions that seemed to be more focused on the length/duration of our workouts as opposed to what we actually do in them. After I explained that the majority of our group workouts are around 45 minutes, she wanted to know if we had anything longer – like 90 minutes to 2 hours long! After digging a little bit and asking about her current routine, it turns out that she belongs to a local health club where she routinely does 60 minutes of cardio on her own followed by some type of group exercise class. She heard good things about our program but wanted to make sure we had something to fit her need for 2 hour workouts! After continuing my barrage of questions (and, more importantly hearing her answers), I learned that she has been doing these 2 hour workouts for nearly 5 years and hasn’t seen much – if any – change in her body. This interaction inspired me to share some thoughts on why we should all learn to love intensity and not duration when it comes to your workouts. It shouldn’t be a badge of honor to spend two hours in the gym. In fact, I call that bad time management! Get in, work hard, get out, start the recovery process. 20-30 minutes of focused, hard work will always trump an hour of just going through the paces. And if you tell me you can work at max capacity for 45 minutes to an hour, I probably won’t believe you. Your goal should be to get the desired training effect in the shortest amount of time.

Training with intensity requires the ability to do so.

Before diving into higher intensity workouts, your body MUST be ready for it. In other words, if you have a movement dysfunction or some type of an injury, that is an issue that must first be addressed. Trying to push through or ignore these things leads to bigger problems. Do the work necessary (corrective exercises, mobility work, etc.) to clean these issues up and you will be able to up your intensity in the future. If you injure yourself further, then you are really not going to get anywhere.

You must earn the right to up your intensity.

In other words, you earn your exercise. Master the sequence of exercise progressions. You must learn to crawl, then walk, then run. In the same way you must master the basics, lay a good foundation, and then when appropriate progress the exercise. Doing weighted jump squats might look cool, but if you cannot properly squat with good depth and form using your own bodyweight, than you have no business working at that level. Master the basics and progress when ready.

Everything is training.

Our philosophy is the moment you step on the workout floor you are training. Soft tissue quality improvement (foam rolling), activation, warm-up/movement prep, strength training, metabolic/heart rate conditioning, flexibility and recovery. It is ALL training. The variables change. Length of the set, rest periods, total work duration – these may change. Your goal should be to work as hard as you can, all the time.

You have control of how intense the training is.

Sometimes you just have to look inside. You can hold back if you want to, but the overall effectiveness of that workout will not be what it should.

Your level of fatigue has nothing to do with how effective the training is.

Tired does not mean better. Better means better. Should there be fatigue after training? Yes. Should you be crawling out the door every day? No. We stress to our clients that if they’re looking to get beat-down every time they walk through the door, they’re in the wrong place. You are in this for the long haul, your whole life. Our job is to help you get better, day after day, year after year.

Working at high intensity all the time usually has more negative consequences than positive.

Most of us have a hard enough time getting enough sleep, keeping up with the family, dealing with stress, work, etc. You should do enough to get the positive effects out of your training program without adding one too many bricks on the pile. Who wants to be sore and tired ALL the time? If you are, it’s time to take a look at some other stuff going on (good nutrition anyone?). This is also a big reason why we add in regular recovery periods for our clients – the body needs them! Don’t feel like you have to exercise for hours at a time. Schedule your workout, have a plan, and do what needs to be done. You’ll find yourself feeling better and will have more time to enjoy life outside the gym. About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.