We’re the 30-minute gym that talks about intensity, so the sessions must be absolute chaos, right? The gym must be filled with people competing to see who can do the most of everything, ever, right? Wrong, and wrong again. But I get why you might think that - it’s how a lot of “short, quick, insane workout” places do it. We just happen to do it pretty differently.

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Intensity is important, but it’s important to realise that it’s also relative. Your ideal intensity for today should be relative to what else you plan to do today, to how much sleep you got last night, to how tiring tomorrow is going to be for you, to what you did yesterday, to what you’ve eaten today….and it’s relative to your current fitness level. My point is that perhaps it’s a better idea to look at the intensity you need in each session in relation to what you need right now, and in relation to everything else that’s going on in life, instead of in isolation.

At the most basic level, it might be helpful to think about intensity this way: suppose we ask Jane and John to conquer 10 flights of stairs as fast as they can. Jane might take 2 minutes to finish the task, and John might take 5 minutes. They are both huffing and puffing and have their heart rates up pretty damn high by the end of it. They are both going to experience positive effects from the intensity they just experienced.

You see, what Jane did (and needed to do) and what John did (and needed to do) were completely independent of each other. There was no need for John to try and match Jane’s pace, because her pace has nothing to do with his physiology, current capabilities, and current needs. Similarly, there was no need for Jane to try and slow down to keep pace with John.

Even if John had to walk the last 20 steps because he simply couldn’t run anymore, he was still hitting the right intensity. If he had tried to push himself to keep pace with Jane, he might’ve hurt himself, or at least exposed himself to an unnecessary amount of risk of hurting himself. His mind would’ve been clouded by keeping up with or beating Jane instead of focusing on doing what he needed to do for himself today.

It’s not at all about trying to do more than everyone. It’s about doing what you need to do to send a signal to your body saying, “Yo, I need a little bit more from you than you can handle right now.”

This doesn’t mean that competing in fitness won’t get you fit, though. It probably will, but at what cost? It’s kind of like going from sitting behind a desk not doing any exercise for 10 years to running a marathon every week to get fit - it’ll probably work for a while, but what kind of damage might you be incurring in the long run? Ok, that analogy isn’t something that I can back up with a bunch of science, but you get my point, right?

The funny thing is this: there’s no finish line in fitness, yet everyone seems to be rushing to get there. Think about that for a second. There’s no real end goal. I get it, you’ve got short-term goals that might be keeping you ‘on track’ and all that - and that’s great - but you’re never going to get to a point where you can say “Done! I’ve finally conquered fitness! What’s next?”

It’s an ongoing thing, and you should probably be thinking about doing it for the rest of your life. I get that this might be a bit of a paradigm shift, but it’s also kind of cool and could work to your advantage because patient, consistent effort becomes a long-term project you can commit to; you’re not rushing to finish anymore, you’re just making gradual improvements and making it a part of your life.

Competition is great when there’s a prize or some sort of glory at the end of it, or at least some bragging rights to throw around because you beat a friend at a game of tennis. But maybe it’s a better long-term strategy to look at this ‘fitness’ and ‘going to the gym’ thing as your way of keeping your body and mind primed and supercharged, ready for action and ready to serve you well whenever you need it. If that need comes in the form of mental or physical competition, you’ll be ready. If it comes in the form of helping a friend move to a new house, well, at least you’re doing a good deed!

Push hard, by all means, but do it for yourself; challenge yourself to be better and demand more from yourself so you can accomplish more. Maybe just don’t do it for the sake of beating the guy next to you.

Be Brave!

Ian Tan