Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Your Choice of Workouts, Part II

Yesterday I presented two options - A (work all-out and come home exhausted) vs. B (moderate workout).

Most people seem to aim for A. They want to work hard. This can be self-punishment ("I've been lazy lately, I have to make myself work!"), misguided ideas about the diet/exercise connection ("I ate three doughnuts yesterday . . . I have to work them off!"), or even misguided ideas about exercise ("I skipped a few sessions, so I'll make up for them now.") It can be a need to always push to the limits to see where they are. The advantage to training like A is that you're always intense, you're getting everything you can out of each workout, you're banging away at the exercises and not just going through the motions. Or you should be, anyway. This kind of workout approach can also lead to overtraining and injury, especially because you're gauging success by how badly you ache.

With B, you're aiming for a more measured approach. Each workout builds on the next, but it doesn't leave you breathless and toasted and tired. But you didn't work as hard. Your intensity isn't as hard, so you might not make as much immediate progress.

My bias is towards A in my heart, but B in my head. Why is that?

A makes me feel like I worked, like I milked each session for everything it was worth. B makes me feel like I really didn't work as hard as I could have. It can be hard to gauge what is "enough to improve optimally" but it's not hard to gauge "I worked to exhaustion." But working to exhaustion isn't always optimal.

Charles Staley discussed that recently in an interview with Mark Rippetoe but it's not a new idea. Joe DeFranco mentioned this way back in his Ask Joe column, too - that any coach can exhaust you, but not all of them can improve you (he discusses it a bit further here. The idea is that each workout builds on the next, culminating in some pre-determined result (improved lifts, improved results in a contest, the body of your dreams, whatever. It might not actually send you home thinking you did everything you could possibly do today.

To close off this rambling, I'm reminded of a saying credited to judo master Jigoro Kano - that the goal is to do the minimum effort to get maximal results. In other words, do only what is necessary to get optimal results and nothing more. Is that A, B, or a mix of both? If your workouts always look like A, is it really aiming for maximal results or just the satisfaction of maximal effort?

I don't pretend to have all the answers here. This is just something that's been on my mind a lot lately. How do I train my clients so they feel like they've done hard work, but also so that they aren't doing any more than they need to get to their goals as fast as possible? How do I train myself for the same thing?

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  1. You've got me thinking, as you so often do. I'm thinking that if every time in the weight room were an "A" day, I'd live the rest of my life in misery. I'd be sore and exhausted. You and I have actually had some conversation about that in regard to some recent changes I've made in my training. But I think that it's "B" hat holds the most promise for long-term gains.

    However, I don't think one needs to make an absolute choice. You can be on steady systematic program (do we sound like an informercial for Wendler, or what?) with an occasional killer workout. I think that can add to your progress, and be satisfying and fun at the same time. I suspect that with my son home from college for the summer, I'm going to be goaded into some "max-out" sessions. I'll try to make them fit into my over-all program, but I'm going to do them and have fun with them.

  2. I'm glad I'm thought-provoking.

    Like I've said, this isn't new. I'm not the first person to ponder this either. But the answer isn't so cut and dried. I think you're right. The systematic approach is best, but if you don't occasionally go all-out, you're missing out on something key. Even if it's just the fun of going all-out. A can also be included in your schedule as competition - that powerlifting meet, MMA fight, marathon, etc. If you don't go all-out there, what are you training for?

    I'm just concerned when people judge an effective workout as ineffective, because they don't feel tired. As if going home tired was the point. If it is, "A" is for you every time. If the goal is a given, different result, well...B + some A seems to be the way to get there.


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