How Hard Should I Train?
Trying to determine how hard you should hit the weights on any given day can make you go berserk. Sure, you could go 100% on every exercise in every workout, but at what risk? For some exercises, going 100% or pushing to failure is safe and even necessary. For other exercises, you are risking almost certain injury. Today I hope to give you a good framework for how intense you should train during your workouts.
You Can Only Train As Hard As You Recover
Overtraining is a very real and possible outcome. Overtraining leads to massive fatigue, stiffness, soreness, and heavily increases your risk for injury. However, overtraining is not simply training too much. It’s training too much for how well you can recover. The athlete that controls and optimizes their sleep, protein intake, hydration, and stress levels will be able to handle higher intensity training and higher volumes for a more consistent period of time. In contrast, the athlete who is short of sleep, eats low protein, is chronically dehydrated, and has massive stress levels will be severely limited in the amount they can train before their body’s recovery abilities are overwhelmed.
Lucky Number 7
In a world of 10s and 0s, be a 7. Most people fall into either training way too hard or way too light. Fortunately, since we handle the programming, you know that your volume of work is sufficient to make good progress. Now you just have to figure out how hard to push yourself. If you rated your fatigue throughout your workout on a scale from 1-10, 1 being little to no fatigue and 10 being a feeling that you are dizzy and/or sick, you want most of your workouts to be a 7. An 8 or 9 is acceptable here and there (especially on peak week) but a 10 should almost never happen (read below about compound vs isolation movements to learn how hard you should go on different exercises). Sticking to this mentality will keep training fun and refreshing and limit your injury risk. The most drastic results come from training consistently over time. Keeping your workouts challenging yet fun and reducing small injuries is key to long-term training success.
Work capacity is a term we use to define how much work can be handled in a given time period. You can think of this as how “in shape” you are for different types of lifting. This will vary massively from person to person based on their training history. Our Dynamic Strength classes specifically aim to increase work capacity and improve endurance. Regardless of your current work capacity, a good rule of thumb for any workout is to never redline! The Redline is the point where our body no longer can keep up with the oxygen demand of our muscles and starts to fatigue faster than we can recover. This is that whole body feeling that hits you when you sprint on the assault bike. High heart rate, heavy breathing, and full body fatigue/burn. Once you redline, you usually need an extended period of rest to fully recover again. Learn where this limit is for your body. Teach yourself to get near that line without going past it.
Compound vs. Isolation Exercises
Keeping your workout at a 7 fatigue level does not mean that you should go 70% on every exercise. You want the workout as a whole to be a 7. Certain exercises require you to go close to 100%. We typically categorize exercises into two groups: compound and isolation.
Compound: Exercises that utilize multiple muscle groups and joints to complete the movement. These are our big exercises: squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups, etc. These exercises activate the most muscle and are usually the most taxing when done with a challenging weight.
Isolation: Exercises that utilize only one muscle group/joint to complete the movements. Movements such as hamstring slides, pec flyes, band pull aparts, tricep extensions, bicep curls, etc. isolate a single target muscle group. These exercises are great for achieving a localized burn/pump and are done with lighter weights.
Since compound exercises are our heaviest and most taxing exercises, lifting at a 10 will certainly fatigue you quickly and put you at high injury risk. Think about it. How often do you go to true failure on your squats, deadlifts, and rows? Rarely. Usually, the technique goes to crap or we get too fatigued to truly take the muscles to failure. These exercises are best done at a 7/8. Isolation exercises, however, can usually be taken close to muscle failure without significant risk. You can burn out extra bicep curls and tricep extensions without being overly fatigued or being at significant injury risk. These exercises allow us to push a single muscle group to its limits without completely wrecking our workout and our day.
Putting It Into Action