In the first three installments of this series found here, here, and here, I discussed how it can be difficult to admit you’ve been wrong, especially when others count on you for rock-solid advice. I also discuss how it’s important to stay open to new information to prevent your knowledge base from becoming stale and dogmatic.
Of course this is easier said than done, but forcing yourself to read and study information, ideas, and arguments that go against your current beliefs is healthy and it’s the sign of someone who is truly willing to learn.
In the final installment of this series, I will discuss how important recovery is and I will also de-bunk the myth that you have to get your butt handed to you every session or you’re not making progress. I hope you enjoy!
What I used to think: I don’t need much time to recover! I am going to lift 6 days a week and do cardio every day too! I can rest one day a week and that will be more than enough.
Umm… yeah. I literally used to lift 5-6 days a week every week. Did I get better? Well sure I did! I was a “newbie” and I was 20 years old. It doesn’t take much to get better when you are basically brand-new to weightlifting. And having youth on your side doesn’t hurt either. I am sure the idea of lifting 5-6 days a week doesn’t sound all that odd to some of you. There are plenty of bodybuilders and other athletes who train hard with weights 5-6 days a week… but often times bodybuilders are doing body part splits and while they may destroy each body part every time they train, hypertrophy training for 1-2 body parts isn’t usually as CNS-intensive as training for pure strength (which is what I do now). And the athletes who train hard 5-6 days a week have likely been training that way for a long time and their bodies have adapted to the workload. Plus, many of them have the luxury of focusing purely on getting better at their sport. It’s their job and they can put a lot of time and focus into it. I don’t have that luxury. I have 2 small businesses and a household to run, a boyfriend, family and friends to spend time with, clients to coach, and much more. I need to get the most out of the least amount of work, and I need time off to recover and regenerate.
What I think now: Most people will get their best gains lifting heavy 2-4 days a week, doing 1-2 sessions of interval cardio, and doing light activity 3-4 days a week (walking, yoga, etc).
If you’re an Average Joe who just wants to look and feel better, training 2-3 days a week is probably perfect for you. You can do an upper/lower split, a push/pull/legs split, or a full body routine, and you should get great results. This is what the majority of my training clients do (full body 2-3 days a week). We add in some Prowler pushes, Med Ball slams or Battling Ropes 1-2 days a week, and then they might go for a bike ride or walk their dogs on the other days. This gets them amazing results, while allowing for full recovery, and also allows them to have a life outside the gym. If you are a bit more serious about lifting and you’re training for pure strength, 3-4 days a week of heavy weight lifting is probably perfect for you. You can do a program like 5/3/1, Westside for Skinny Bastards, or even a true Westside template. They are all perfect for making great strength gains while giving your body time to recover. Sure you can go in on the other days and do “extra workouts” or drag the sled or do your mobility work and foam rolling… but I would keep the heavy stuff to 3-4 days a week, max. Remember, you are only as good as your recovery.
The good news is, you can enhance your body’s ability to recover! A couple of ways to do this are as follows: eating lots of unprocessed, wholesome food, getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night and going to bed before midnight if possible, getting 20 minutes of sunshine most days of the week, and taking 5-10 minutes a day to relax and clear your mind while taking deep, diaphragmatic breaths. You can also speed things up with Epsom salt baths, contrast showers, massages/ART, foam rolling, and anything else that gets as much blood flowing to your muscles as possible. Doing these things will go a long way in speeding up your body’s ability to recover, which means you will have no problem being in top form for your next workout!
What I used to think: You absolutely must get your butt handed to you during every session or it doesn’t “count.” You must be sweating buckets and out of breath and you must be sore for days after the workout or it wasn’t hard enough.
When I first started working out I made the same mistake than many people make (and many people still do make) and I was always seeking that feeling of exhaustion, that burn, that shortness of breath that you get during a tough session. I always wanted to feel sore the next day too. If I didn’t feel those things, I thought it wasn’t a “good workout.” Now I realize that you can absolutely have a wonderfully productive session that doesn’t make you any of those things, and vice versa. You can have a session that makes you all of those things that isn’t productive at all. Whenever clients tell me that they want to be sore, I promptly tell that that I can punch them in the face and make them sore… but it doesn’t make them any better. That seems to get the point across well. =)
Of course there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself to exhaustion on occasion, or wanting to do an exercise or a set of exercises until you “feel the burn…” Just don’t get caught up in thinking that you must be doing those things all the time to get a productive workout. In fact, I will let you in on a little secret. Since I have been training for pure strength, I very seldom sweat during my workouts. Yep, it’s true! Most of the time when I am lifting, I DO NOT SWEAT. I am not one to sweat much anyway… but the way my program is set up, I have a decent amount of time between sets of exercises (1-4 minutes) so that I can lift the maximum amount of weight, and that much rest time results in me not breaking a sweat (unless I add in conditioning at the end, and even then I don’t really sweat much). If I used how sweaty or how beat up I felt at the end of my workouts as an indicator of how productive they are, I would be under the impression that my current workouts suck. However, since I am hitting a PR (personal record) almost every time I step foot in the gym right now, I would venture to say that my workouts are perfect for my current goal (increased strength). Below is a video of one of my recent PR’s!
What I think now: As my partner Jim Laird and I always say, “Anyone can make you tired. Not anyone can make you better.” I also like the quote, “More is not necessarily better. Better is better.”
In my humble opinion, it’s more important to focus on the quality of your workouts instead of the intensity. There is no point into going into the gym and doing set after set of jump squats and mountain climbers if your form is crap. You’re much better off going in and working up to a heavy triple on squats and going home. You will get more out of the heavy squat workout than the other workout and you will also live to fight another day. Performing crappy jump squats and mountain climbers when fatigued is a recipe for injury.
You also want to pay attention to how your body is feeling. If you are exhausted and stressed, the last thing you need is to get your butt handed to you at the gym. Sure, working out can be great stress relief, but don’t use it as your only source of stress management. Your body can only handle so much stress at once and since it doesn’t know the difference between an intense gym session and fighting with your spouse or getting audited by the IRS…you must adjust your workouts to account for your energy and stress levels. If you’re having a tough day, go to the gym, foam roll, do your mobility work, and maybe do a couple sets of KB swings and go home. Don’t force yourself to spend 90 minutes in the gym. Get in, get out, and go home and rest and relax.
It’s not always easy to be kind to our bodies and let them rest when they need it, but I guarantee, if you don’t let your body rest when it needs to, eventually it will force you to rest by getting sick or injured… and nobody wants that. Now don’t think I am getting all soft on you! Hard workouts are awesome! I am all about kicking the butt of someone who is prepared for it and someone who understands the importance of the less-strenuous workouts that prepare them for that butt-kicking. You just need to find a balance between sitting in a room saying, “Om….” and obliterating yourself in the gym 7 days a week. Trust me, your body will thank you for it.
So there you have it. The final installment of 9 Things I Have Changed My Mind About. Hopefully you enjoyed this post, and hopefully you enjoyed the whole series. I can promise you there will be plenty more in the near future that I am wrong about…so have no doubt that articles like this will pop up again soon! Please share this article and let me know your thoughts below!