You see the imagery everywhere. People laying on the floor completely annihilated, covered in a pool of sweaty chalk, bruised and battered ready to go home and feeling like they could piss excellence. The images more closely resemble something out of the Hostel chair scene than a workout that’s supposed to advance your goals.
A lot of folks feel that if they’re not plastered to the mat after a workout then they failed, falling prey to the “if you ain’t first you’re last” mentality. We are proud of every member that takes themselves to that level of exhaustion. It takes balls to get yourself to that state and a level of mental toughness most don’t posses. There is absolutely something to be said for that. To go that hard in the gym means you can go that hard at life.
Does that compounded, day after day display of exhaustion produce excellence or just the ability to be good at exercising?
Do you really become stronger, fitter and more athletic when you’re revving your RPMs to the red day in and day out?
While you may acutely survive it, are you really improving by unleashing complete hell on your body five times per week to the point where you must immediately assume a horizontal position after every single workout?
Routinely pushing yourself is one thing, and while you always need to work hard and efficient, committing Samurai seppeku on yourself during every workout with no focus on development is another.
Speed for the sake of speed is stupid and gets you nowhere.
We are all guilty of it to some degree, and to be clear, there is nothing wrong with the occasional feeling that you want to mainline oxygen after a challenging workout. It’s healthy for the mind and the body, and if you have an athletic background, the notion of going as hard as possible is somewhat inherent in your DNA. You were always taught to go as hard as you can whenever you stepped onto the playing field, so it’s human nature and part of the American competitive upbringing.
The conundrum is that somehow the gym became the playing field over the years. No longer do we use the gym as a tool to reach the goals. For a lot of folks, the gym is the goal, begging the ultimate question.
Is reaching exhaustion physiologically productive or is it a mental mirage?
“Never Chase Fatigue, Always Performance” – Christian Thibadeau
We always talk “hard vs. efficient” when we’re programming the gym’s training cycles.
What does this workout do? What is meant to accomplish?
If the answer ultimately reverts to “just to crush people” then we don’t do it because frankly, that carries minimal benefit over the long-haul.
We always think of a quote by Molly Galbraith, “Anyone can you make you tired. Not everyone can make you better.”
By now, if you are a long-time reader of ours you’re aware of our respect for our former college strength coach, Jim Roney. This idea of maximum efficiency over duration was first introduced to us by Roney, who as a competitive power lifter could squat 650# and deadlift 585# from a 165 pound body.
He brought a power lifting background to baseball-specific movements, shortened the workouts from 60 to 25-30 minutes in a Westside Barbell type approach, trained what was needed and allowed no wasted movements. It was based around a single heavy movement of the day like a squat with complimentary work such as box jumps or GHDs, still the formula that we use at Performance360 to this day.
This crazy asshole was so range of motion obsessed he had a device we strapped around our knee that beeped when we broke parallel on squats. If it didn’t beep, no rep.
And you think we’re obsessed.
When you feel like Charlie Sheen under house arrest while trying to rep 300# on a squat, you understand why we are engrained to be more than a little crazy about our beloved range of motion.
The change in protocol to shortened workouts, exclusively barbell movements and heavy stuff only two or three times per week contributed to a school record of 53 wins and an NCAA Regional Championship.
The increased efficiency and reduction in training hours taught us that when less is at maximum efficiency, less is typically more.
The Minimum Effective Dose (MED)
Coach Roney prescribed exactly what was needed to make us substantially stronger and more explosive, while not overdosing into what would restrict us on the field. He avoided constant muscle failure and applied the Minimum Effective Dose to our training, as defined by “the smallest dose to produce a desired outcome”. This idea was popularized in Tim Ferriss’ book, The Four Hour Body based on the idea of as little as needed to produce your goals, not as much as possible to beat them into the ground.
It’s a concept used by top strength track & field coaches around the world and more popularly brought from theory to practice by the mad Russian Pavel Tsatsouline.
This graph from Whole9Life.com illustrates that too much stress does not equal too many results.
When you constantly take your body to complete arbitrary failure the following occurs on an acute level.
- You fry your Central Nervous System. Your CNS is like your quarterback. When he’s out, your offense is in shambles.
- You’ve completely torn down muscle tissue. It takes days for this recovery process to complete, not 24 hours. Can you work out on sore muscles and get benefit? Absolutely. But when you do this all the time you are in a constant state of diminishing returns.
- You’ve decreased power. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the first point of the CNS, but constant hammering of the body will acutely and chronically reduce your maximal muscle contraction, or “burst” for athletes.
- You build up lactic acid faster than you can flush it out. You end up callin’ dinosaurs. When you blow chunks, you are building up so much lactic acid from muscular breakdown that your body can’t pump it out fast enough, so it literally pukes it out. Dehydration is also be playing a role and lack of blood flow to your GI tract since your body is sending the blood elsewhere for immediate repair. Simply put, you’re in a state of acute meltdown and it should never be something you strive for. Our collegiate and professional athletes will throw up maybe once per twice all offseason when training for the rigors of team sport, and it’s only on intense conditioning days, never for lifting. For every day people who want to be at their peak it’s just plain unnecessary, so the glorification of puking is not something we are fans of in the fitness industry.
Over time, repetition of those acute side effects can actually reverse what you are trying to accomplish.
- Promotion of fat storage. Training to failure repeatedly can ultimately throw your testosterone:cortisol hormonal balance out of whack, decrease insulin sensitivity and tell your body to continue to store the fat around your belly rather than burn it as fuel (2). This is a big one and the number one way people tend to reveal their fatigue chasing ways.
- Permanent decrease in strength and athleticism. Training on a weaker version of your body every day will eventually achieve a self fulfilling prophecy.
What is that Sweet Spot?
There is little concrete data yet tons of empirical research on both sides of it. We believe that people can train harder than science gives us credit for and the reality is that the MED is a completely unique range based on a host of individual factors.
Beginners can likely continue to trend upward at a frequency of five days a week for six months to a year before feeling fatigue.
You have to find what’s right for you and it’s typically going to live somewhere around four days per week, half of those days focus on strength and the other half on conditioning.
The goal is to challenge but not completely fry the circuit to where you have no energy the next day. Soreness is fine. Lack of sleep, energy and appetite are not. Those are red flags that it may be time to dial back your intensity and focus on your performance.
A workout should leave you energized, not exhausted.
How Do I Focus on Performance?
Renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe has an amazing quote in this article.
“You aren’t training. You’re just exercising. And you’re never going to get any better than you currently are that way.”
In short, slow yourself down a bit and focus on the movement directly in front of you.
If you ain’t first, you’re last mentality is rewarding in the short term but ultimately restrictive as you attempt to reach your goals.
Work your ass off, but have a plan with tangible, performance based goals.
Train stronger. Not faster.
Range of motion over speed.
2-3 minutes rest between strength sets.
Taking a minute to breath if it means reps six, seven and eight will be quality.
Resisting the urge to go from A to B to C as fast as humanly possible and sacrificing load in the process.
These are all things you can do to allocate your energy towards capacities that will improve you.
If you don’t care about specific goals, quite frankly, you need to. That’s not to say you necessarily need to care about having a 200# squat as a female, it’s the understanding of what happens to your body and physical ability over the course of reaching that squat. You become leaner, your muscle fibers shift to type-II and you become more toned, your energy increases and your ass gets a whole lot sexier.
When you are fit, you look fit.
Take a look at where you’re at physically with a number of measurables like box jumps, deadlifts, push press, squat or anything else. Have you been on the same weight for a while? Rather than focus on finishing at lightning speed, pick up a heavier kettlebell. Instead of flying through box jumps, take a deep breathe and move up six inches.
Performance manifests goals into reality, not fatigue.
Anyone can do 100 kettlbell swings with 25 pounds. Not everyone can do 50 with 72 lbs.
Squatting 30# more at a bit slower pace will always do more for your body than a weight that provides no physical challenge.
Always have physical goals.
Always have purpose.
If you don’t know where to start in your goal or performance setting, talk to coaches. We are at your disposal. All you get by aimlessly ending up on the floor after every workout is a pretty good level of conditioning and most likely some stubborn fat around your midsection.
Just like Jager, the Kardashians and crying babies, we all have different tolerances to outside stimulus and weight training is no different.
We repeat. Over training is always better than under training, and there is a 99% chance you will never reach the point of harmful overtraining. The way to ensure that is to listen to your body, monitor the curve of your results and always focus on challenging weight above challenging speed.
Pump the breaks a bit if you’re an all or nothing kind of guy or gal, stop the addiction to chasing fatigue and focus a bit more on your athletic performance for optimal results.
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