How do you know if you’ve worked out productively? Do you feel a burning sensation? Do you fall exhausted after the set? Does your whole body hurt? Are you turning inside out in a specially prepared bucket? Can’t walk after a leg day? Can’t drive after an arm day? The Lion Health has summarized for you the opinion of trainer Christian Thibaudeau from T-Nation on how hard should you work out.
Severe athletes use the above intensity criteria, but none of this guarantees improved performance. And, unfortunately, many of us note only these external manifestations, and not objectively measured progress. Why? People love it when training is a battle. They like to feel like heroes going through severe trials.
I Overcome Myself
I once worked with a famous TV presenter. There was little free time in his busy schedule, so the classes were extremely short and intense. We did a lot of sled pulling, flipping tires, and farmer’s walks along with strength work with almost no rest. Once he said: “When I train with you, I feel that I am overcoming myself.“
At first, I took it as a compliment, but then I thought about my approach. I didn’t want to be a coach whose clients “overcome themselves”. I wanted them to get results. It is easy to arrange an excruciating workout for them; making continuous progress and achieving goals is much more difficult. Most of my clients used to work out with some kind of sadists, so at first, it is difficult to work with such guys. They are convinced they have wasted their time in the gym if they can walk after training. Then they see the results and start listening to me.
Super-Intense Training Consequences?
If you want to reach your goal faster, then you need to train harder. However, after reaching a certain threshold, increasing the load does not add anything good, but, on the contrary, ruins your progress in the long term.
Let me give you a personal example. Recently I had this “Crossfit-strong” workout:
- 4 Atlas stone lifts from ground to shoulder (175 pounds)
- 4 Front squats (225 pounds)
- 4 Bench presses (225 pounds)
Only one minute was allotted for each exercise, including rest. If, for example, 4 repetitions took 30 seconds, then I could rest for another 30 before the next movement. Of course, the weights are not record-breaking, but believe me, squatting with a barbell on your chest 20 seconds after lifting the stones is extremely difficult. I was all sour, “pumped”, exhausted, but proud – I “overcame myself.” Therefore, I decided to conduct similar training three times a week.
This intention disappeared the next morning. First, almost everything hurt: quads, biceps, shoulders, back, etc.
Secondly, I was very tired, sleepy and didn’t want anything anymore. And it dragged on for five whole days. Of course, once I tried to go into the gym and start training, but I had to quit after ten minutes. Here I do not mean to say that you cannot deal with post-workout pain, but it was too much. And I asked myself, “How productive is this workout if I miss a few days after it?“
Who Can Work Out Hard and Still Grow?
I’ll put it this way: it’s hard to deny the facts. There are very tough guys and girls who succeed by regularly killing themselves in training. Why?
- First, it depends on the frequency. If you only work out a muscle group once a week, you can do it properly. Can’t walk for five days after a leg workout? So what, you only do this once a week. However, those who exercise more often need to correctly select the load so as not to disrupt the workout.
- It is important with what weight (relative to 1RM) you train. For example, 60-70% of your maximum can take more pain than 80-90% without destroying yourself. Forget about 90-100%. Weight limit and failure cannot be combined. Bodybuilders, of course, work beyond the limits – drop sets, rest/pause, partial reps – but not at all with submaximal loads.
- We must take into account the “altered state of the body”: some “doping” helps to recover but has a disgusting effect on health. (“There is no system in the body that would not be negatively affected by anabolic steroids” – the opinion of a sports doctor). I’m not saying that all people who train and grow atrociously necessarily take something, but in general there are various tools that help to cope with deadly training for a long time.
- People differ not only in appearance, but also in response to training stimuli: some people are better able to tolerate large volumes with moderate weights, others find it easier to do less, but with higher intensity. Someone more easily gets failures, while someone has a limited ability to carry the load. For example, I trained one athlete (bench press 190 kg with a weight under 80), who only coped with 6-8 work sets for the entire workout. And there are clients who can calmly train for 2-3 hours.
- We became “more” motivated. At first, we skip workouts due to fatigue, but gradually we sit down, watch inspiring pictures on the Internet and still go to the gym. And then we even consider constant fatigue to be the norm.
- Professional athletes recover faster than ordinary people who go to work, especially physically and mentally exhausting ones. A professional receives money precisely for their results in the gym and spends it on massages, saunas, and other restorative gadgets. Of course, they endure loads that injure the average person.
How Hard Should I Work Out? Should I Forget About Training to Failure?
While I personally think regular exercise and progressive weights are better, there are benefits of extreme loads.
First, training to failure (drop sets, rest/pause, etc.) is effective for hypertrophy. Although it is possible to stimulate growth without these methods, they definitely load more muscle fibers.
Second, you develop both physical and mental capabilities. Once or twice a month, I include some interesting challenges in my workouts: the aforementioned doing different exercises for a while, 100 bench presses, 100 barbell lifts (the author is a former weightlifter, not a fancy gym goer – editor’s note), 50 squats and etc. Of course, after them, you come to your senses for several days, but they still teach you to overcome yourself and give a new charge of motivation.
But the disadvantages are no less significant. It should be remembered that failures occur not only due to fatigue of the muscles themselves – energy may run out or the nervous system can get tired, and frequent trials will only bring injuries.
A Few Words About Puking Buckets
You may have never seen one like this in your glowing fitness club, but there are gyms that have buckets of vomit in them. And trainees take pride in finishing their sets in the bucket. What leads to this?
There are two main reasons:
- Your workouts cause blood to drain powerfully from the digestive system into the muscles.
- The pre-workout meal was too late (indicating your lack of discipline).
What kind of workouts is causing this remarkable effect? The most energy-intensive, with the maximum accumulation of decay products or metabolites. Pulling and pushing heavy weights, 400-800m sprints, CrossFit, and intense bodybuilding sets produce massive amounts of lactic acid and cause the body to turn inside out for an emergency dumping of all waste.
What does this mean? Yes, you are very cool if you can get to this point in training. It’s as cool as walking naked in the sun and getting sunstroke.
However, this does not help the development of strength and muscle growth:
- You are losing electrolytes, which impairs the quality of your workout and recovery.
- Of course, you are wastingly transferring nutrients that may have gone into growth.
- Obviously, you lose your appetite for several hours after training.
- Sometimes you have to end your workout early.
- You become dehydrated and dehydration greatly affects the quality of your workout.
As you can see, this is not particularly destructive, but rather counterproductive.
- Working out the muscle group to complete failure will not allow loading it for the next few days. This can be done once a week, but if you want to work out the muscles or work out the movement more often, you must forget about training to failure.
- Recovery abilities (including subsequent growth) are not unlimited. If you are using training methods beyond the point of failure, the volume must be reduced, otherwise, you will only get stagnant.
- Some people, due to their physiological characteristics (genetics, doping), can quickly recover from extremely hard training. Most do not recover if such loads become regular.
- Hard training sets can be useful both physiologically and psychologically – if they are carried out rarely, for example, once every couple of weeks.
- The most important thing is progress. You must objectively add in strength, mass, or performance in your sport. If this does not happen, then you are training and/or eating incorrectly.
If going crazy in the gym doesn’t lead to week-by-week progression, then it’s likely holding you back.
More about this topic:
- Free Weight vs Machines: Let’s Ask Studies
- How Long Should You Rest Between Sets
- Does Number of Sets Matter to Build Muscle?
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