Training and Life: How Hard Should I Workout?

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                It takes me a while to get to know a client. I love working with people but I won’t ever throw out this idea to you that things are perfect from the get go-it’s not like we start the very first session telling one another about our family problems, backpacking in Europe, as well as what we think the meaning of life is (I probably won’t end up talking about any of this stuff, ever, but you get the idea). It takes time to get to know a client: to see how they tolerate carbs, how much work do they need to elicit a change, and what type of training are they drawn to.

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”right” alt=”Hard Workout”][/image_frame]

However, no matter how much I discuss this, every client thinks they need a hard workout. By hard, I don’t mean breaking a sweat- I’m talking about “I need to be crawling out the door as well as some assistance getting into my car in order for this to be an effective workout” hard. Even when a client gets great progress, they still think they could have done more if they simply sweat, cried, and bled more. Don’t get me wrong; a hard workout is always a great accomplishment worthy of a pat on the back, but when do you say enough is enough?

Here’s one thing I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older: muscle soreness has very little to do with progress in the gym. I’ll get sore from time to time, as will clients, but there’s no scientific link between a certain level of soreness and success. I actually just had a client lose twenty pounds in 16 weeks and she’s reported very little, if any, soreness along the way. Trust me when I say this: this girl trained hard. As of this writing, she’s dropped twenty pounds while adding nearly 50 pounds to her deadlift. So maybe instead of saying she trained hard, I should say she trained smart.

I can still remember when I had a huge epiphany in regards to my own training: I had written out a program based around density training. This requires doing a lot of work in a certain amount of time. I felt great about getting these tough workouts in but life wasn’t so much fun the next day: I had trouble walking up stairs. When I say trouble, I’m referring to the fact that my hamstrings felt like they were going to tear with each step I took. I had a little talk with myself after my dog was urging me to play with him in our backyard and I simply couldn’t. The poor little guy looked at me and I could swear he was giving me “sad eyes” as I had to shrug him off and park it on our deck. As I sat on the deck nursing my wounds, he tried to entertain himself by rolling around in the grass but he kept pouncing and waiting for me to spring into action. Maybe I had done wonders trying to put on some muscle but I was failing at being a good pet dad.

There’s an interesting gentleman in the strength community named Pavel Tsastouline. He’s from Russia and has a very simple philosophy: train hard but train frequently. This means that you can’t constantly go to fatigue and exhaust your body. In fact, he always says to leave a workout feeling like you can have done more. People have commented on his published routines as “being too easy” even though they lead to results.

Less is more. Here’s a few things you can take with you the next time you exercise:


  1. Regardless of your goal, frequency is usually the key. If you can’t train because your body is too beat up, then you’re not making progress.
  2. Always leave the gym feeling strong as if you could have done more
  3. If you want to train hard – a fast run, a 20 rep back squat, etc- save it for every third workout.
  4. If you need a hard week to force the body to change, do it after two to three weeks of hard training. After that hard week, do 50% of your workload the following week
  5. Focus less on hard training and more on sleep, food quality, food intake, and water. Most people who think they constantly need to train hard are doing so because they aren’t seeing results. The culprit behind a lack of results is usually a poor diet.


Outside of dancing around an aerobics room and shaking color coded dumbbells, there isn’t a general type of workout I haven’t done myself or had a client do. So you can trust me when I say this: less is more. Get in the gym, train smart, and go enjoy life.


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