Is high-intensity the answer to your fitness problems - or secretly ruining your life?

In today’s immediate-gratification society, it’s no wonder the concept of a quick-hit fitness program appeals to so many of us. The promise of a 15 to 30 minute high intensity workout plan has became increasingly popular in the past few years, with places like Orange Theory, CrossFit gyms, and many other intensity/interval style gyms popping up on every corner. 

For 90% of those out there who walk into a gym, the general consensus for goals is to look and feel better. As much as we (as coaches) want people to focus on how strong they become, how well they move, how healthy they eat, or how many lifestyle habits they can create/sustain, it really won’t matter to that person if they don’t make a physical transformation in their body. 

However, does that make high-intensity training ‘the answer’ for you to get into shape and reach your health goals?  The answer is probably not.

In a similar article written by Marcus Filly (known for his Functional Bodybuilding approach), he outlines two different training-related obstacles that most people face when it comes to achieving their health goals. 

1) You don’t work hard enough - While yes - you go into the gym and ‘put in the time’, we both know that the time being ‘put in’ is mostly spent chatting with a buddy or scrolling through your phone.  

2) You work too hard For you, you’ve sipped the high-intensity Kool-aid. You need that hit in the face, leave you gasping for air type of workout. But more times than often, this has either left you hindered by an injury, feeling burnt out/little-to-no energy, or plateaued with your body.

Either of these camps are okay to be in, and we are not here to tell you which side you fall under or judge you either way. But be realistic for me… which side do you truly fall under? 

For the rest of this email, I’m going to focus on the latter - the idea of working too hard. In my experience, 85% of clients we work with have some type of exposure to high-intensity, interval/circuit style of fitness. With this, I find that the mentality going into any workout becomes ‘I need to do better than last time, lift heavier than before, or push myself to the next level’. 

The problem comes from what this leads to - STRESS. 

Honestly, stress can be attributed to A LOT of the problems in our everyday lives and we should do our best to avoid them…. BUT why would you let your workouts contribute to that stress if you know stress comes from every other aspect of your day. 

Most ways that people visualize stress comes from the things that are the most obvious - work, life, relationships, or balance between these. 

But consider for a second how a high-intensity workout, day after day, could also contribute to stress. 

1) Lack of control over appetite - As your body is being constantly crushed by workouts, it needs to refuel itself. And often it searches for those foods you crave the most, sugars and salts (AKA junk food). 

2) Persistent injury - The return of an injury could take your training frequency go from regular to sporadic. The consequences of an inconsistent training schedule will potentially lead to peaks and valleys within our emotions, our eating patterns, or our general motivation to do anything. 

3) Elevated levels of cortisol - Without getting too scientific, cortisol is the chemical your body produces to protect itself from stress. If you already are under loads of mental or emotional stress from life, and then add the physical stress of a high-intensity workout, it’s a recipe for disaster. Cortisol actually hinders your body from utilizing other hormones, resulting in keeping ahold of its fat storages - thus making it even harder to drop the extra pounds. 

As you can start to see, the impact of high-intensity training is quite detrimental to our overall health… and it goes in cycles. Let’s say you start doing these high-intensity workouts, your cortisol rises, you end up injured. Then your eating habits go to crap, and you try to get back into these high-intensity workouts again to burn it off…. but then you end up injured again. The cycle is vicious and it never ends.

Instead, what we chase after at OPEX Morgantown is providing a well structured and controlled program to achieve these goals of physical transformation. If you take a look at those who look the most aesthetically appealing (I know we all have someone in mind). Look at what their training looks like - tough resistance training and controlled/easy aerobic efforts, all on top of great nutrition. 

Okay, that sounds great - but how do I put it into practice?

Now that we’ve laid some ground work, let’s briefly chat about how we can put this into practice to become the best mental and physical versions of ourselves. 

Step 1 - Drop MOST of the high-intensity and opt for more controlled aerobic pieces instead. Now what I’m not saying is to avoid all high-intensity. There is a time and a place for high-intensity workouts, but it needs to be calculated and controlled. Throwing yourself into them day-after-day is NOT the time or place. 

Step 2 - Properly warm up and cool down in order to better preserve your body and its functions. By taking the time for these two pieces, you give your body the chance to not only get loosened up and prepared for the upcoming work, but then also place yourself in a position to properly recover and recuperate from the work it has just done. 

Step 3 - Put the intensity into where it matters. In nearly every case, especially in regards to fitness, MORE IS NOT BETTER. It does not work for you, it is not sustainable, and it will lead you further from your goals.  Instead, focus and put effort into the things you ARE doing. Are you really sticking to the tempo? Are you focusing on what 70/80% looks like? Are you thoroughly going through your warm ups and exercise movements?  Or are you just there to punch the clock, or go through a workout half-assed? 

Step 4 - Get a coach :) While all of this may sound nice, it may also be a little challenge to know what is too much or not enough, but at OPEX Morgantown, that’s exactly what we as coaches pride ourselves on! We have done our due diligences - we’ve learned about it, studied it, even experienced it ourselves. We know what it needed to attain those goals. So why not let us help you?

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