What is more important to you – being stronger, bigger, or fitter in 6 months? Or having a more fulfilling, functional, and independent life in 20-30 years?
Are these options mutually exclusive or can you have both?
Let’s first talk about longevity.
Hard work is necessary. Being sore is normal. But if you give everything you’ve got everyday, if you are sore every single day, is that healthy? Is it sustainable? Are you going to see results that way?
While you may see results in the short-term, this is not an approach that can be sustained for extended periods of time. At least, not for people who have other obligations outside of the gym and aren’t using performance-enhancing substances.
The keys to keep in mind when training for longevity are preserving function and avoiding overuse. If you do these two things you can achieve lasting results and enjoy your gains in the long run.
Preserving function means a couple of different things. We want to make sure that over the long haul your normal daily functions are not inhibited by your training. If your regular training results in your arms being so stiff or sore it’s hard for you to take your shirt off, that’s a problem.
This could be the result of soreness on a daily and weekly basis. Or it could be something that builds over an extended period of time due to poor movement patterns.
Does your training result in you being so sore that you are limited in your daily activity? By Wednesday has the accumulated stress of the workouts resulted in you walking funny, not washing your hair and struggling to pick up the pencil you dropped?
Does any of that sound healthy?
We get it in our heads that all of those things are good. We wear our soreness on our sleeve like a badge of honor.
“Sure I could touch my toes yesterday, but I torched my hammies so bad I can’t even get close now.”
“It’s Friday and I’m still so sore from Monday I could barely tie my shoe this morning!”
Are these good things? Or should we be trying to use our training to improve our daily lives?
What if your training didn’t make you quite as sore? What if instead it energized you? What if you took classes or lifted weights 4-5 times a week and didn’t feel like you were run over by a train when the weekend rolled around? Is this fantasy or reality?
It should be reality!
If you are overly sore or tired by Wednesday or the end of the week you are quite possibly in a state of under recovery. I don’t want to say overtrained because this is a clinical term and is actually very difficult to do. This is not what is going on in most cases.
Still, not allowing yourself to fully recover can be detrimental to your results, daily life and longevity. How do we slip into the state of under recovery? The most common possibilities are:
- No days off
- Over extending with scaling choices
- Inability to adjust intensity
- Poor sleep schedule
- Poor nutrition
There are obviously a lot of factors at play here. Nutrition and sleep are their own animals and deserve their own posts for discussion separate from this. For the other possibilities it could be very straight forward.
If you are not in the habit of taking days off and feel like you’re not seeing the results you want, the answer is simple: take a rest day.
Don’t workout at intensity for more than 2 or 3 days in a row. You can move and do physical activity on an off day. But don’t do any “purposeful exercise” – a 3 to 5 mile jog is probably not an off day. Go for a walk, do some gardening, clean the house – all great physical activity!
Some of us overestimate our skill or current abilities, or we try to do too much because we feel like it’s what we have to do to get better. For example, always choosing the hardest variation you can possibly do in a workout is not helpful. Doing ugly singles after the first 7 reps in a workout with 50+ reps total is a recipe for trouble. This would be like loading up our 3 rep max deadlift and doing a workout that has 30 reps in it.
We can all agree that doesn’t make much sense.
The best end result of this is being extremely sore for two or more days after, thus inhibiting the workouts the rest of the week. The worst result is that we aggravate or injure something. This will prevent full recovery between workouts, or keep you from working out like you had planned.
So check your ego. Choose weights, movements, and scales that will allow you to hit the intended stimulus in the workout. Prioritize technique, consistency, then intensity. This will allow you to hit the planned stimulus and target the correct movement patterns. Use your coach as a resource, they will help push you to find a targeted and challenging scale for that day.
Others of us struggle to adjust our intensity level. “Sprint, pace, grind – all the workouts feel the same to me!” You probably just need to slow down! If you struggle to moderate your intensity, most likely you will benefit from slowing down on every workout that is not a deliberate sprint workout. Practice finding a pace you can keep moving for longer periods of time without stopping. Think jog, not run. This will help you build up your aerobic endurance and over time be better able to moderate your intensity overall.
Following these guidelines will help you preserve your function and avoid overuse. This will in turn allow you to train for the long haul while still allowing yourself to build strength and fitness. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. But don’t compromise longevity for the sake of short term gains!
Train for the long haul.
Yours in Health,