World-renowned track and field coach Henk Kraaijenhof is famous not just for the work he’s done in the field of sports science and coaching, but also for this quote: “train as much as necessary, not as much as possible.”
Consider this: Kraaijenhof has spent his career working with some of the highest level athletes on the planet. We’re talking about athletes who are arguably some of the finest human specimens we’ve ever seen. Most of us reading this won’t ever come close to being able to do what these athletes have done. Yet, with their dedication to physical activity and likely genetic favorability, Kraaijenhof still recommends a rational, efficiency-based approach, not a maximally taxing approach. In other words, he prioritizes improvement over fatigue, and a smart approach (that works) over an extreme approach.
Shouldn’t it bother you, then, that the fitness and wellness industry – that primarily caters to non-athletes – continues to recommend and promote extreme measures and drastic quick-fixes? On top of that, let’s not ignore the realities of a busy person’s life these days, with high stress levels, improper nutrition and insufficient sleep being the acceptable norm.
In a culture where the ability to power through fatigue and handle even more are seen as positive character traits and indicators of ‘likely to succeed in life’, it’s hard to get people to approach exercise rationally. In fact, it’s not uncommon for our coaches to report that they’ve spent more effort on a given day trying to slow people down so they stay safe than on motivating people to push harder. While it can be helpful to use exercise to vent your frustrations, we have to start thinking more rationally about this whole thing. Furthermore, collectively, we need to stop perpetuating the mindless battle to outdo each other with harder workouts, longer workouts, more intensity and heavier weight.
Instead, how about this: let’s keep it science-based, let’s keep it safe, let’s do it responsibly, and let’s make it about health, improvement and betterment, not the senseless pursuit fatigue.
Should you be proud of yourself for pushing so hard you can’t focus at you important 3pm meeting?
Probably not. You’re doing this to help optimize your health, resilience and capacity – not to have a detrimental effect on your personal or professional life.
Should you aim to push yourself to do super long HIIT sessions or a dozen HIIT sessions a week and wear them like a badge of honor?
Probably not. The research is pretty clear – short spurts of intensity are what you need, and pushing yourself at a high intensity for too long in a session isn’t just unnecessary, it’s actually potentially less productive. Your technique breaks down so you risk injury, and you end up pushing ‘sort of hard’ for too long, which causes quite different physiological effects than pushing ‘really hard’ for a short amount of time. Furthermore, pushing for a ridiculous amount of volume or frequency is also a bad idea in the long run because it can result in serious physiological issues like chronic fatigue, overuse injuries and hormonal issues, amongst other things. 20 minutes really is all you need, and you would be hard-pressed to make a case for ever needing to do more than one session a day every week day (5 session in a week), and even that may be too much if your nutrition, sleep and stress levels aren’t dialed in appropriately. In fact, we generally recommend listening to your body, and varying your training frequency and intensity accordingly. Don’t forget that your body gets stronger and fitter after it recovers from exercise. In order to improve, you need to give your body the time to rest.
Should you try a starvation diet or ridiculous 3-day juice cleanse?
Probably not. Your body has it’s own built-in machinery to ‘clean you out’, and they work better than anything you can get in a bottle. I’m talking about your liver and kidneys. Moreover, look up substance toxicity and then see if you think (a) that you’re actually poisoned with ‘toxins’, and, if so, (b) that a juice is actually going to cure you from real poisoning. Don’t get me wrong – I know juice is delicious, and that juices can provide a great amount of nutrients if done right. But drinking a juice every now and then is far different from trying to live on juice and claiming it’s healthy and ‘detoxifying’. Nourish your body with real food from the earth, drink water, and feel your body work it’s own magic.
Positive change starts with awareness. We’re all about pushing hard and working hard, but we’re also very much about doing it right. Now that you’re (hopefully) more cognizant of the potentially harmful nature of the “as much as possible”, “I can do more” and “drastic measures work better” mentality that permeate our lives, maybe you’ll choose to make wiser, more rational decisions.
Be brave enough to do it better.