When was the last time you woke up with no alarm? Sure, the human body is very resilient and can handle a lot, but the variables that affect your ability to smash through a session at maximal intensity all the time are stacked against you, as we talked about in Training Logically. You’re not in the same situation you were in when you were 23 and could handle all kinds of chaos.
Looking better is a great fringe benefit of regular exercise, and training so you can look better is definitely a viable motivator. But looking at aesthetic appeal as the sole end-goal is doing yourself a huge injustice. Like I talked about in You Get One Body (Part 1), we’re all given just one body, and once you realize this, you’ll see that taking care of your body is absolutely worth the effort. Beaten up athletes and ex-meatheads in their 40s and 50s will tell you the same thing. With the right mindset and approach, you can stay healthy, active, strong and functional for a really long time.
Living a healthier life by exercising regularly is an investment. Why shouldn’t human beings put as much effort into taking care of their bodies as they do their finances? What’s the point of having money in the bank but no health and energy to enjoy it with?
Build yourself a body that will serve you well. Demand more from it. Challenge yourself. Push through and show yourself that you can. And do all of it without running yourself into the ground and without injury. Athletes and soldiers have to take risks to accomplish goals and tasks - that’s their plight and their choice. They’ve chosen a path of potential glory, and are willing to sacrifice their bodies for it. You’ve chosen to train for health, which means you can (and should) approach it logically and safely.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not promoting taking it easy during training. Ritual is a gym that believes in high intensity exercise, and you do need to push maximally a couple of times a week to get results. But if your intention is to keep training for a long time, it’s probably in your best interests to vary the intensity that you train with every now and then.
When preparing an athlete for a competition, a strength and conditioning coach will guide the athlete through a series of specific phases leading up to the competition date, so the athlete can ‘peak’ at the right time. This is called periodization. What most people don’t realize is that after the competition, it is not healthy (and not a wise long-term strategy) for an athlete to jump right back into intense training. His body is broken down and beaten up, and he needs time to address overuse injuries.
Before jumping into training for the next competition, a smart athlete, or one with good coaches, goes through a pretty substantial period of “down-time” to rest, realign and recalibrate. In fact, at the highest levels of competition, some athletes have to choose the most important competition in the next 1-4 years, and peak for that one (e.g. the Olympic Games, Tour De France, Wimbledon or Ironman Hawaii), because trying to peak for multiple competitions in that time period would be too risky and tiring.
One of the most common mistakes we see in fitness enthusiasts is that they train hard all the time and force their bodies to maintain maximal intensities every day of the week. When you add in the stress from work, family and poor nutrition, you’ve got a sizeable amount of stress on your hands. Part one was an appeal for you to be patient. This part is about training intelligently by intentionally using moderate and low intensity sessions to your advantage.
We generally recommend starting with about 3 sessions per week, and gradually adding more sessions if and when you feel ready to handle more. A lot of clients love the efficiency and find that they can train 4-6 times per week, and there’s nothing wrong with this if you do it right. Some people enjoy their “every weekday at 8am” ritual - it’s a great start to the day. Some people enjoy their disciplined “Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm” approach - it’s great to be consistent. Some people simply need the release after a stressful day - it’s great to prioritize exercise as a stress-management tool. By all means, do what works best for you - but acknowledge that if what you want is 5 days of training per week, you don’t have to push maximally at every session. In fact, varying the intensity throughout the week may help you get better results in the long run.
With moderate intensity sessions, which you should ask a coach about if you’re curious, you focus on using less weight, lower levels of difficulty, and a submaximal pace. This enables you to work on perfect technique in each repetition and figure out the finer details of the less-talked-about variables like breathing patterns during and between reps. The easier pace allows you to focus on appreciating and understanding the movement and your body’s natural rhythm. Essentially, through moderate intensity practice, you’re reinforcing good neuromuscular connections and patterns. You’re effectively priming the body to be able to perform better, faster, stronger, and with more confidence in future maximal intensity sessions. This is the reason why all athletes, from basketballers to martial artists, practice drills at all intensities, and intentionally slow things down when honing in on technique and strategy. Oh, and if you’re really sore from two maximal sessions earlier this week, going at a slower pace is also a great form of active recovery because you encourage good circulation as you work on refining your movement patterns. Athletes need to train with the right periodization model so they can peak when they need to. What we’re recommending for you, since you don’t have a competition you’re trying to peak for, is to think about ‘natural periodization’ - varying the training stimulus according to what you need right now.
You don’t need to ‘baby’ your body, but we hope that by being aware of the common mistakes people make in fitness, you’ll be better prepared to make good decisions about your own training. You want to train really often, and by varying the intensity appropriately, you can do this safely and for a really, really long time. Approach training with the clear purpose of developing a body that will serve you well in all of your life, for all of your life. You get one body. Appreciate it. Take care of it. Invest in your health and then earn it.