We live in a society that often equates “more” with “better.”
Going overboard is engrained in American culture, and our approach to fitness is no different. When talking about training, many athletes feel the harder their workout is, the better. If they aren’t exhausted by the end of the session, they feel their workout was a waste of time. Workouts do need to be challenging for your body to make the adaptations you desire, but many athletes fall into the trap of training too hard, too often.
They can combat this issue by asking themselves a simple question before each session: “What am I trying to accomplish with this workout?”
The reality is that it’s easy to program a hard workout. Programming an effective workout, however, is much more difficult. For example, many athletes turn their speed and agility workouts into conditioning workouts by keeping their rest intervals too short. Say the workout calls for 12 40-yard sprints. Performing those sprints with 20 seconds of rest between each rep as opposed to two minutes of rest between each rep is going to make the workout a lot more tiring, no doubt. But it will also result in the athlete training the wrong energy system. That workout will not make them faster. The only sprint that was effective for speed training would have been the first one, before they were fatigued.
Or let’s say your goals include becoming more explosive, so you start training the Clean and Jerk. You saw a Youtube video of a guy doing 30 Clean and Jerks with 135 pounds as quickly as possible (which is an actual Crossfit workout known as the “Grace”), so you decided to try it. While you’ll find the workout to be extremely challenging, it’s not going to help you achieve your goal of becoming more explosive. It’s training you to create sub-maximal force repeatedly (60 times between both the Clean and the Jerk), which is more dependent on muscular endurance than it is muscular power.
Prior to a workout, athletes should always ask themselves: “What am I trying to accomplish today?” The answer to that question should remain a focus for the duration of the session and help dictate things like load and rest intervals. Training to exhaustion every time you step inside the weight room or onto the track may sound beneficial in theory, but it’s really going to limit the variety of benefits you can reap from your workouts.
Fatigue has a residual effect. If an athlete does not give their body ample time to recover, that fatigue never goes away. It continues to build and build until the athlete’s body starts to break down.
Before doing a monster workout, an athlete needs to consider what their workouts have been doing to them. They often do this in-season, knowing that their workouts need to be adjusted due to a schedule filled with practices and games, but it should be a consideration year-round. This is where the concept of periodization comes from.
The human body needs time of reduced volume and intensity to allow it to adapt to training. More than just considering the workouts that have been performed and the fatigue resulting from them, athletes need to consider everything they have been doing in their life. How well did they sleep last night? How is their diet? Have they been stressing over a test or deadline? All of these things will factor into the overall fatigue the athlete experiences.
For example, say an athlete just got back from a cross-country road trip. The athlete has been stuck in the car for two weeks, eating fast food and sleeping in a camper. They are excited to get back and begin training again. You could kill them with a workout to make up for lost time, or you could consider that their body has gone through a lot even though they weren’t technically training during their trip. Their nutrition has been mediocre, they’ve been sitting for extended periods of time, and they probably haven’t been sleeping too great. It would be much wiser to ease this athlete back into training rather than smash them with a brutal workout.
Athletes need to stress their bodies if they want to get training adaptations, but just because a workout is hard, does not make it good. To decide if their workout is appropriate, an athlete shoulder consider questions like:
Will this workout help me reach a goal?
Is it the right time of year to perform this type of workout?
Does this workout make sense for my training level?
Does performing this workout make sense with the way I’ve been living/training recently?
Athletes need workouts that are both challenging and intelligently designed to progress towards their goals. When your workouts are just difficult for the sake of being difficult, you’ll probably build good endurance and mental toughness, but not much else. The sooner you accept the fact that a good workout doesn’t require you pushing yourself to near exhaustion, the quicker you’ll achieve the gains you seek.