Whenever I get a new personal training client there is a disconnect between what they think they need to do to get fit (hard effort, pushing it, pain) and what I actually get them to do (consistent, low to medium effort over time).
The reason they expect this is due to a combination of factors such as awful PE teachers at school, out dated fitness training stereotypes and Personal trainers continuing to purport the effort myth. The reason I do not push this approach is that I understand how the body gets fitter and I’d rather you just take the easiest path to results.
The origins of hard, high effort fitness training comes from elite athletes and army induction training. I know everyone loves to copy what professional athletes do but the last time I checked every pro athlete has probably been consistently training 5 times+ a week for over a decade. If you are keen in January, stumbled through February to April and then give up training come May and June, I don’t think it is a fair comparison in training techniques.
Army training is not a good role model for normal fitness goals neither because army training is about developing character for war as much as it is about getting fitter. Army recruits are being moulded into solders, they are getting trained to be tougher mentally, to follow orders, to react under pressure. This is necessary for war, I don’t think it is overly necessary to go and sit infront of a computer all day.
The hard fitness effort approach continues to be pushed across the board in various forms from boot camps to motivational videos on Instagram. Personal trainers usually sell their services based on pushing you harder, which gives them justification to being used. I am different, I understand how the body works, my role is to help you get to your goals in the easiest way possible and in a way you will maintain the results long term. There is effort involved of course, but it is not how you think it would be.
How Does The Body Get Fitter?
Your body does not just develop fitness for no reason. It needs a stimulus to initiate change. This could be you get slightly out of breath going up a hill, you lift a heavy weight, do new movements while gardening or stretch for five minutes. If you give the body anything that slightly challenges your current fitness abilities it will respond by becoming ‘fitter’ (better at that ability). What this stimulus needs to be depends on your current abilities and training background. A new exerciser or ‘unfit’ person needs to do hardly anything to make progress initially.
As you get fitter you have to give the body a progressively harder challenge to make further improvements. The higher your fitness levels the more advanced methods or techniques you will need to use. When developing fitness there is a difference between feeling hot, out of breath or sweating vs getting fitter. Just because you are doing exercise it does not mean you are actually improving your fitness. Increasing fitness means you are improving month on month, e.g. you are getting faster, stronger, developing better endurance or are more flexible.
The body soon gets bored of doing the same thing. If you have been running for 20 minutes at 10km / hour for months you will not be getting any fitter from this training session. You will get hot and breathe more deeply, it will burn calories and benefit your healh, but your fitness is static.
When the body is on a plateau you need to change the training session to create a new fitness stimulus. You do not need to go harder as people traditionally purport. You just need a more strategic approach. The body does not get fitter because you go hard, it gets fitter because it encounters a stimulus it perceives as different and therefore must respond towards it.
There are many different ways to do this. It could be by doing more volume in the session, training more often per week, changing what you do within the session or using higher intensities (intensity is not the same as effort/pain). This applies to all areas of fitness from aerobic to strength work. In the previous example you could run for 10 minutes at 12.5 km/h instead of 20 minutes at 10km/h for a month. When weight training you can change your rep range from 12-15 to 6-8 reps, therefore increasing the intensity (weight used) in all exercises.
To avoid this exercise plateau you need to be changing your training sessions/plan fairly regularly once you have reached a good level of fitness. The fitter you are the more advanced and scientific methods you will need to use. This is shown by the sports science used with professional athletes.
This changing of training stimulus is what gets you fitter, it is not about going harder, more pain, higher effort, getting psyched up for sessions. It is about doing the same exercise format (running, weight lifting) in a slightly different way consistently over time. This is called progressive overload, this is what gets you fitter. When you apply this, you do not need to kill yourself training.
There is a place for high effort work in fitness, however, that only really matters when you have been consistent using progressive overload principles for a long period of time (years). In my experience, almost everyone can achieve their goals without having to go to this next level and pain zone. Obviously, if your goal is to get to the Olympics that is a very different objective to wanting to get fit, lose some weight or be more healthy.
To take action today, if you have done nothing recently then just do a short easy effort TODAY! If you have been consistent but have stagnated in your results you need to introduce a new stimulus of some sort. So reduce the time of your cardio and raise the intensity slightly, use interval methods, change the rep scheme you are using, exercise order or training plan with your weights routine. Add in a new stretching method type for your flexibility. If you need help with any of this then feel free to contact me as detailed below.
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