How Hard Do You Need to Workout?
How hard do you need to work out? I’m often asked by people at seminars just how hard do they need to workout to see results. Well, the answer may surprise you, but all you really need is a bit of elbow grease put into things and the rest will take care of itself. Kind of a letdown isn’t it? Most people expect a trainer to say something about “no pain, no gain” or to give some quote about leaving blood and tears on the training floor. In fact, I knew a trainer once who lost a corporate gig because he told human resources that if the client’s can’t keep pace with him, “they’re outta here!”
He’s the trade off though: you need to be consistent. No one gets in shape by accident, and if some stroke of luck gets someone in shape temporarily, they won’t keep the results. Getting fit is more about the grind itself than a flash in the pan workout. Like Aerosmith said: Life’s a journey, not a destination.” The question you have to ask yourself is what’s realistic: just because you had a tough workout one day doesn’t really mean anything. Can you keep that pace? Can you progress from that workout and make things even harder? If you answered no to either question, then you’re working out to hard. Hard workout routines usually mean less and less people exercising, and this isn’t a good thing.
Besides, your body doesn’t change during exercise. It makes changes after the fact. When I write a program for clients, I always program a “deload” week into the program. This allows their body a chance to recover and make the changes from the previous few weeks; us sport scientists call that supercompensation. Researchers state that every three weeks, you should incorporate a week to deload from all your hard work (1). My experience with people is that you have a 3-6 week window depending on how challenging the program is along with the individual doing it. Another option is to simply vary what you do each workout, so one workout is an easy version while another workout is more demanding (2). This will allow you to continue each week without suffering burnout.
Speaking of burnout, it doesn’t take much for it to happen. A study done with collegiate rowers found that it only took two weeks of hard training for rowers to experience a drop in testosterone (which is a bad thing) along with an increase in the stress hormone cortisol (which is also a bad thing) (3).
So do you need to have each workout be a gut busting, throw up inducing experience? Nope. But you better be consistent.
1. Turner, Anthony. “The Science and Practice of Periodization: A Brief Review” (2011) Strength and Conditioning Journal 33;1, 34-46
2. Presetes, J. et al. “Comparison Between Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Resistance Training to Increase Strength.” (2009) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Rsearch 23;9, 2437-2442
3. Jurimae, J., Jurimae, T., et al. “Behavior of Testosterone and Cortisol During an Intensity Controlled High Volume Training Period Measured by a Training Task-Specific Test in Men Rowers.” (2009)Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23.2,645