When to push...

Our last blog was all about the no pain, no gain mentality and how it can be physically and emotionally destructive. While pain is not an indicator of a good workout, there are times when it’s necessary to push yourself past comfortable limits to grow stronger, fitter and healthier.

I like to think of this concept as finding your training sweet spot or, as science would call it, the principal of progressive overload. This principal states that your workouts should be just a tiny bit more challenging than what you’re capable of so your body is forced to create adaptations (increase the size of muscle fibers, utilize fat for fuel, etc.).

Constantly overloading your system with high intensity exercise doesn’t allow sufficient time for these adaptations to occur. But never overloading your muscles and cardiovascular system doesn’t allow for the stimulus that produces these adaptations.

If this idea leaves you with a big question mark over when to push forward and when to pull back, welcome to the club.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone as to how much, how hard or how often you should exercise to reap maximum benefits and avoid overtraining. Every body is different, with a different set of genes and experiences, and will respond to training differently. Beyond that, every person is different everyday.

I live in a world where I love things to be black or white. Healthy or unhealthy, beneficial or detrimental, good or bad. For years I tried to fit exercise into these categories, believing “intense exercise is best” and “light exercise and rest are a waste of time.”

Not only is that not true in a general sense (light exercise is awesome), it is different on any given day of the week. What works for my body today is not the same as yesterday. And it won’t be the same tomorrow, next week or next year.

While figuring out when to “go hard” and when to “go home” (or just ease back a little) is an individual learning process, there are a few easy tips that can help you find that sweet spot where you achieve maximum results and avoid overtraining.

Tips and Tricks:

  •  Intensity and duration are inversely related. High intensity exercise can be a great way to provoke physiological changes, but when done too much, it’s also a great way to overtrain. If the exercise you’re performing is of sufficiently high intensity, you actually can’t do it for a long time. So keep the high intensity stuff short but, you know… intense.
  • Follow hard days with easy days. To allow your body time to recover and reap the most benefit from highly intense or strenuous exercise sessions, follow with lighter days. Light is different from one person to another (I do not find a jog to be light exercise, but a highly trained runner would). Focus on exercise that leaves you feeling refreshed and energized, like yoga, walking, or gentle biking or running.
  • Keep it moving. Easy days are easy days, not off days. Finding some movement on the days that you don’t have strenuous workouts may help you recover and will help you stick to your exercise regimen.
  • Aim to honor and care for your body rather than fix it. When you care for someone, you want what’s best for them, regardless of whether it is what’s easiest. Sometimes what’s best is challenging and tough; sometimes it’s gentle and encouraging. If you approach your workouts from this perspective, you will be better able to understand what your body needs each day and better equipped to respond to those needs.

Learning when to push forward and when to pull back isn’t something that will happen overnight (Seriously, it’s taken me 5 years to come up with a reasonable sense of it). But it is a worthy endeavor in the pursuit of lifelong physical and mental health and happiness.