I love a tough workout. I love that feeling of exhaustion after pushing myself hard in spin, or finishing the last interval of a sprint workout knowing I could not have possibly run faster. I know I’m not alone because every class description I read gloats how, “you’ll crawl out of this class!”, or, “this class will kick your butt!”. These are appealing notions because we feel when we are trashed after a workout, or so sore the next day going down stairs is a process, we’re making ourselves better, when in reality we’re breaking ourselves down.
Here is why grueling workouts won’t always get you to your goals:
Exhaustion Doesn’t Equal Effective
I spent last Saturday on my hands and knees cleaning the entirety of our wood floors, steps included. I lounged on the couch afterwards, and the next day my shoulders were more sore than after BodyPump.
Does this mean I should throw out my training program and clean my floors everyday to see results? No! I wasn’t building muscle this way, just overtiring the same muscles with a repetitive motion, and feeling tired afterwards.
Like I said before, I love the feel of a tough workout. But that’s just it, I love the feel of it. It’s an emotional boost to tough something out, but there isn’t always a physiological translation.
No Recover Means No Rebuilding
I have trained for 7 marathons, and the toughest part – mentally – of training is the taper. 2-3 weeks before the race, you drastically reduce your training volume. My long runs of 14-20 miles are cut to 6-8, and my weekly mileage goes from 40-50 miles down to under 25. Physically it’s easy to run less, but mentally all I’m thinking, “how am I going to run a marathon, I’m barely running!” Luckily after 7 marathons I trust the taper.
During an intense workout, your muscles are being broken down, developing tiny tears. They need to repair themselves after a tough workout, through a cellular process (protein synthesis) that rebuilds broken down tissue, resulting in a bigger and stronger muscle. (This is a very basic explanation, and the exact process is still being studied). This happens when your body is resting, so giving ample time for them to recover is imperative.
If you repeatedly perform grueling workout after grueling workout, you eliminate the rebuilding process, thus spinning your wheels. Plus, without recovery time, you’ll burn out fast by not being able to give your all while running on fumes.
Stress Equals Stress
Work deadlines, family drama, and minimal sleep are different types of stress in your eyes, but your body just recognizes that it is stressed. Add strenuous exercise on top of that and you’re compounding more stress onto your pile. True, you need to stress and challenge your muscles for them to change, but too much stress will throw off your hormone balance, raising your cortisol levels. This doesn’t mean you should never work out intensely, but if there are other vary stressful circumstances in your life at the time, throwing everything you have left into intense workouts every day is not going to get you anywhere.
This is not a post intended to scare you away from a tough workout. It is a post to encourage you to look at your training and figure out how often and where tough workouts have their place. It’s also to give you relief, that if you aren’t crawling out of your bootcamp class, it doesn’t mean you didn’t get a great workout!
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, monicashealthmag.com, golfoid.com, edgehunting.com & nicershoes.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.