Getting stronger with less work

Getting stronger with less work

Training itself doesn’t get you stronger, fitter, and healthier. You get all those things because of how your body reacts to the training you’ve done. Nothing new there.

You want your workouts to stimulate the positive reactions in the body. You know, hormones and stuff. The ones that encourage your body to pour energy into making you a more capable human being. Whether that means not getting out of breath when catching the ferry after a long lunch on the sauce. Or absolutely owning the steepest side of the mountain when skiing.

You don’t want the body to think it’s under attack after each training session

When this happens, the body will limit some or all of the resources needed for the positive reactions that progress your strength, fitness, and health.

It will instead spend the resources on what it understands as trying to keep you from dying. Mostly figuratively speaking. (But not always. The long term consequences are a blog for another time.)

The more severe this staying alive reaction, the less you have to show for your training efforts. You cannot progress when the conditions in your body aren’t favourable for progress to happen. You’re wasting your time. In fact, you might get worse.

Stuff that can trigger a staying alive response

The negative kind, that is. Not the restoring Bee Gees disco vibes.

This first list you’ve heard before: not eating enough calories, carbs or protein, eating mostly rubbish, high stress or other psychological issues, not sleeping enough, dehydration, too many Sunday afternoons on the sauce, listening to Justin Bieber, watching The Kardashians…

Pretty much anything that makes you feel something isn’t quite right. Whether it’s in your body or the world as a whole.

Then there are the negative consequences of training too hard

Approaching each training session like it’s a battlefield. As if you’re David and the stoic kettlebell, the personal trainer in the sleeveless shirt and sleeve tattoos, or the fitness instructor in those tight spandex is Goliath.

But training too hard doesn’t mean going heavy. Because if you can go heavy, have at it. But you have to do it without the triggering the negative reactions in the body.

Which brings us to the juice I’ve been squeezing in this blog.

Training too hard = ignoring the need to rest

The battlefield mentality means limiting rest periods and not letting the body recover enough for the next set. It’s about chasing tiredness. Treating each workout as an opportunity to figuratively beat something or someone into your embracing submission.

Such as dominating an hour HIIT class (an oxymoron in itself) or a workout with rests that are on par or less than the work set durations. And then measuring the success of that based on how tired and sore you feel.

Because getting tired still doesn’t mean getting better.

Getting tired doesn’t even mean just getting tired. Getting tired means getting worse. It forces the body to pour its resources into staying alive instead of improving.

And things only snowball when people do this multiple days straight. Something not too uncommon for fitness class enthusiasts. Eventually, they get to a point where they wonder why their strength, health or fitness isn’t improving. And why, despite all that effort, they’re not witnessing the promised sexification when they look in the mirror.

But wait! There’s more. The risk of injury also goes up. Muscle activation and coordination take a hit when we’re tired. As you can see, it’s an all around shit show for the ages.

Fitness junkies (Hey I should know. I was one.) are not seeing results because their body thinks it’s living under constant artillery fire. It makes little sense to spend energy on worrying about improvement or longevity when the immediate focus is on survival.

Great things happen once you appreciate the importance of rest

You’ll remove the handbrake that’s holding back your progress. You’ll see and feel your strength, health, fitness and body composition improve.

And you’ll turbo charge those results because you can now train harder without triggering the negative reactions in the body. You will notice how much more power, strength and energy you can drive into each set. Instead of feeling like you’re paddling against the current in a river of melted cheddar.

The upside of prioritising rest in the workout is that you don’t need as long breaks between sessions. Even if you went hard in the training.

But limiting rest in both the workout and between the workouts? You cannot have both and still expect to see great results.

Your work:rest ratio shouldn’t be less than 1:1

Anything less than 1:1 work:rest only makes sense when your training loads are so low (for you) that it wouldn’t deliver the positive training response anyway. Rested or not. Which makes me question why anyone would go that light in the first place…

Unless it’s for the social or mental benefits. In which case, yes. I am all for it.

If your work set takes 45 seconds, you need at least 45 seconds of rest to get the most out of the work you’re putting in. And the closer you are to your max effort, the longer you need to rest. Both in strength training and in cardio.

You’re not a powerlifter. But to use them as an example, their rests are often five times their work sets.

Now, obviously you don’t need rests that long since your goal is to not win a powerlifting meet. And since training is unlikely to be your number one priority in life, it’d be ridiculous to ask you to spend a few hours on your training each time you do it. Let alone to ask you to rest most of that two hours.

All of us want the best possible return for our training investment

But we have families, jobs and whatnot. To get any meaningful training done, we have to settle for shorter rests.

And accept that most of us are not getting the best possible response from our body to build our strength, fitness, and health. But if we’re as smart with our rest as we are with our training, we can get pretty close. Ideally above 80%.

To get to that, aim for 1:1 – 1:2 work:rest ratio. Erring on the higher side. And take care of the other aspects that boost your body’s positive response to training. Stuff we covered earlier.

You’ll probably end up doing less work compared to the past. But the work that’s left is going to be hard. And then you need to rest even harder.

Getting >80% return for your training is good enough for anyone whose job, income or survival doesn’t depend on being Batman or Sarah Connor for 24/7.

I happily put my spoon into that soup.

-J

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