Fitness is a lifetime endeavor. Whatever you choose to do to stay in shape, it should be something that you can realistically foresee keeping up for your entire “exercise life”, or at least the “exercise era” that you’re currently in.
Unless there are valid reasons for you training beyond that level. Here are examples of some valid reasons:
- You are training for a specific goal; eg. a marathon, sport, event you have to participate in, etc.
- You are an athlete and need to be competitive at a high level
- You absolutely love exercise
- You are relatively young and can quickly recover from super-intense workout regimens
Here are some reasons to moderate or temper your exercise routine:
- It’s easier to stick with long-term when each session doesn't overtax your system;
- You will avoid burning out, losing motivation and enthusiasm for exercise;
- You will avoid overuse injuries (repetitive stress) on your joints;
- You will be keeping the gains you make from your exercise sessions.
When you train too hard, you must continue at that same intense pace or else your body will start to reverse back towards whatever pace you’re maintaining long term. Translation: if you were “extra intense” for a few months, but then find that you’re unable to keep up that level of intensity, all of that extra effort will only profit you DURING that intense phase; you will slowly lose that progress when it’s not maintained.
Why train harder than you’re able to gain from? That’s like having a bank account that can only hold $100,000, yet you’re working overtime at your job month after month earning extra money, but only able to permanently keep that which can fit into your account.
Here’s what you should do: train for the season of life that you’re in.
- If you’re an athlete- train like an athlete
- If you’re in your 30’s- train as someone in their 30’s
- When you’re in your 60’s- train as someone in their 60’s
- Consider your schedule, the time you have available to train, your resources (access to equipment, gyms, exercise areas, etc.), your preferences, your level of self-discipline and motivation, and your needs (whether or not you are at risk of disease due to obesity, etc.)
So how does all of this relate to “Good- Better- Best”?
There are a lot of programs out there that are absolutely great. They are super intense, will get you in great shape, will challenge you to your ultimate capacity. This would be considered by the casual observer to be “best” (= most difficult). What are some of these, specifically? Cross Fit is a great program. P90X, Insanity, TRX, certain bootcamps, etc. You can get on these programs and be pushed to your very limits, or perhaps beyond.
But the question you must ask yourself is: how long can I keep this up? If I begin to dread my workouts because they are burning me out, what will I do? You will probably do what most people do: quit exercise. Maybe permanently, but at least for a while. The result: you will feel bad about yourself, you will question your “commitment” and discipline, and you will wait month after month until you can finally muster the inner strength to start back on an ultra-rigorous exercise scheme. After all, you’ve been lead to believe that that is “the best”, so why would you want to waste time with anything else? “No pain, no gain”.
Person A rides their bike twice a week, plays tennis with their friends, goes on evening walks, engages in a weight training session twice a week at home… and loves it! This person stays in great shape, is happy, looks forward to their exercise, keeps a positive mental state, and is a consistent exerciser for their entire life.
Person B signed up for “The Ultimate Workout”, whatever that is, was pumped about it for the first several weeks, was getting in much better shape, and was super happy about actually getting started on this long-put-off exercise goal. After a couple months, burnout began to set in and it became much harder to force him/herself to go; however, he mustered every ounce of willpower and was able to be consistent for another few months. But you can only fight YOURSELF for so long, and eventually he was able to come up with excuses to go much less frequently, and finally- not at all.
Person B gave up on exercise even though he was on the “best” program. Person A was only on a “good” program, but 10 years later is in very good shape. And Person A will continue to be in very good shape (notice I did not say “phenomenal” shape) for his entire life. Person A enjoys exercise and will therefore DO it! Person B has been taught that exercise must be painful and grueling and has therefore come to dread it.
Which person is on the best program?
Perhaps its time to take a realistic look at what’s “best” for you. What is best is what you WILL do. You can achieve this with will “power”, or by simply being “willing”. Using “power” implies overcoming a force in the opposite direction. Overcoming force is conflict. Conflict causes stress.
When you are simply “willing” to do something, this usually means that you like it. There is no inherent force to fight. There is no dread of exercise or fear of burnout.
So you can see that there is no “one size fits all” exercise solution. It depends on the makeup of the individual, and his/her circumstances. Person B may be perfectly “willing” to do the ultra-intense phenomenal extra-strength workout program. Person B might actually like it and it causes no inner conflict at all, and if he can do it continually and still recover and grow from it- great! That is his best workout.
But if you are 35, 55, or 65, and have never been an exerciser and need to lose weight in fear of diabetes or other weight-related ills, perhaps doing Person B’s workout is not “best” at all as far as you’re concerned. There is nothing about a “workout program” that makes it best. Best only comes from the MATCH between you and your workout, the compatibility of your makeup and circumstances to the workout’s demands.
There are of course workouts that are better than others. For example, lengthy endurance workouts that wear out your joints and promote muscle loss are not going to be good for much except your heart/lungs. There are also certain ways of working out that are just not as efficient or effective as others. Some of them aren’t using the best of science and research when they’re created. Some are much too convoluted and complicated as the trainer/designer gets too “cute” with the exercises in an effort to be “unique”. Some want to get out stability balls, resistance bands, one-footed/one-handed, off-balance, funky movements when a simple lift or movement could easily serve the same purpose.
So, you have to be smart in your selection and choice of an exercise routine. Use what you know of science, common sense, and your “gut instinct”, and choose what you feel will work best for you. Don’t fall for hype, propaganda, commercialism/consumerism, and fads. What you don’t know- learn. And while you’re learning, DO something- walk, do pushups and situps, stretch, whatever. Just GET STARTED and create the habit of exercise (and start enjoying its benefits), and you have the rest of your life to “fine tune” your program, to add or remove what does or doesn’t work for you.
Your BEST program is one you like, believe in, will actually do, and can keep up for a long, long time. If it doesn’t fit that criteria, go ahead and do it if you can, but keep searching for one that does. Remember, there is no “best”, just “best for you”. And don’t let anyone tell you differently!
All the BEST to you!