Go harder! Go faster! You gotta just keep pushing! No pain no gain!
Many gyms that look like ours are obsessed with this idea that the ONLY way to make progress is if to push yourself to the absolute limit each and every time you walk into the gym.
These gyms measure success by how much you sweat, how quickly you collapse into a convulsing puddle of goo after the workout, and how much your time improved over the last workout (regardless if going faster, or lifting heavier was a good idea for you).
Heck, at one point, a vomiting clown was the visual representation for whether or not you had satisfactorily pushed yourself to your limit of performance. I know many people that have actually tallied the # of times they have vomited after a workout as some sort of badge of honor. I have seen gyms create advertising around this idea as the end all solution for better living, and at one point, the photo below was used in marketing material across the board in the functional fitness gym model.
To people chasing this ideal, I say “congratulations.” You win the “I’m the most awesomest work out person in my neighborhood” award. A prize I am more than willing to defer to you. I’ll get into the negative effects of this mindset in a moment, but generally speaking…the biggest issue for me is that I find this type of personality to be tough to be around all the time…not because I don’t like the person, but tough to be around because they are often disappointed when they don’t meet some sort of self imposed personal benchmark. It is literally hard to watch this person beat themselves up day in, and day out.
So let’s put the idea of intensity in perspective…
Intensity is not an objective, one size fits all “thing” that is measured by the amount of sweat you produce, or your proximity to nausea at any given moment. Intensity is relative to the individual. Simply put, it is the relationship between how much work you do, and how much time it takes you to do said work. How you react to different levels of intensity depend largely on your level of fitness, your threshold for discomfort as much as they depend on how recently you consumed a meal before your workout and the amount of sleep you received the night before. A true mix of your physical makeup and environmental factors.
All this to say that playing with the intensity of your workouts isn’t ALL bad. By doing so at reasonable intervals, you will certainly see adaptations and positive changes. Your body will adjust to the increased workload and quicker pace. An entire industry has been developed along this model…so it is certainly an effective tool, when appropriately applied.
The problem is, if the only tool you have is a hammer…everything starts to look like a nail…
If you measure your workout success in terms of its intensity alone, you’re going to run into one, or many of the following problems:
-You’re one stressed athlete - Working to maximum intensity 4 to 5 times a week (or more) leaves you prone to exhaustion, and can cause some hormonal imbalances to develop
-It will hinder your long term progress - Our bodies are very good at adapting to the stimulus we provide it. If all you do is “go hard” you’ll only get good at “going hard” and eventually gains in other areas will slow or stop.
-Puts you at risk of injury - Stands to reason that if you’re going at it like an ape with it’s hair on fire every workout you’re going to end up with something torn, broken, or tweaked.
-It’s annoying - Your constant obsession with intensity is making it weird...stop...
So what do we suggest instead?
Mix it up: Lift heavy things one day. Do a longer and moderately intense workout the next. Go all out the following day like your hair is on fire. Then go for a walk, or hike…or *gasp*... rest! Lather, rinse, and repeat as needed.
As with all things, add variety. The more you mix up the movements, as well as the intensity, the better off you are going to be in the long run. You will be happier, you will keep improving, and you’ll have more fun!