TRUCKEE, Calif. - Too much of a good thing is, well, too much. Stuffing yourself at a massive holiday spread, despite the incredible food, will leave you moaning. The same goes for training. Despite a culture of bigger, faster, stronger, a bit of moderation will not only keep you injury free, but will instill consistency and smooth training progress for a lifetime.
The old-school myth training harder and faster will make you better and stronger, or "no pain no gain," is one of the most dangerous training practices today. I am a fan of hard training, but high intensity training must be well orchestrated, occur infrequently and coordinate the right protocols. Having adequate mobility and stability are requisite, as well as competent and well-developed movement patterns. A deep understanding of fatigue and its management is key. Even more importantly, you need to properly develop mechanical control of your body in a variety of tasks, positions and metabolic demands.
Big issues arise when people decide to "get in shape" and proceed to participate in a program that makes quantity and intensity the cornerstones. Without first discovering what type of physical roadblocks may be present and how much risk for injury is lurking under the surface, training can do more damage than good, despite the best intentions.
Training is stressful. When done in the correct fashion and dosage combined with active rest, your body adapts to the stress appropriately, a response called supercompensation. At the least, too much stress leads to overtraining. At the worst, injury. Training too hard, too fast and turning exercise into a constant competition (day in and day out) is even more detrimental. The body responds in a defensive manner to this type of workout, limiting your potential, decreasing vital potentiation, and frying your nervous system.
Training should be like dating. Showing up and simply going through the motions is a sure fire way to go nowhere. On the other hand, pushing things into overdrive on the first date is also guaranteed disaster. It takes time and patience to get to know the likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, of a date, and your body. Take the time to be intimate, engaged, interested and gentle while you build trust in each other.
Your body wants to move and get strong, but if it senses you are training in a harmful way, your brain can throw itself into high alert lockdown. When this happens, you are blocked from the healthy bond of a relationship with your body. Even worse, your mind and your body could become locked in some Alien versus Predator death match. Your mind will be yelling "Push it!" while your body screams "NO!" This approach to exercise creates a threat instead of an enjoyable pursuit designed to make you healthy, strong and better at everything life has to offer.
Here's a list to help you evaluate your exercise program
1. Does your training leave you tweaked, bruised, hurting, unnecessarily sore or actually injured? Run as fast as you can from that program or mentality. When you train, you should always be better after your practice than before you started, rather than a sweaty sobbing train wreck.
2. Repeatability is key. You can gauge the consistency and safety of your program by asking yourself this question: Can you repeat the same practice day in and day out? (I'm not stating that your workouts should be the same, that's a different discussion. The goal of training shouldn't be to maintain your peak, but to raise your base levels.) Consistent perfect practice will give you an appreciation for subtleties and mechanical details that will empower you and keep you safe. Even at an elite level, controlled periodized protocols keep an athlete from overtraining or injury, a very real and harmful outcome from training too hard, too frequently.
3. Train somewhere between 60 - 80 percent of maximum effort, intensity, and capability to build steady improvement. Leave those high intensity sessions for a blue moon. When intense sessions are utilized, only use exercises you have already mastered and in which you are very skilled, while selecting the correct exercises designed for specific responses and protocols.
Remember, your delicate yet powerful nervous system is running the show, regardless of what you want your body to do, your brain is keeping you safe in times of stress or injury even if you think you're engaged in a healthy pursuit.
Get better; not sore.
Train smarter; not harder.
- Ryan Egan is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and a certified kettlebell functional movement specialist