That’s right ladies and gents. There are really only 4 approaches people take to their workouts. Some are helpful, some drastically increase your risk of injury.
We are going to examine the differences between workouts built to exercise, compete, test, and train. I can guarantee a lot of folks aren’t accomplishing what they think they are with the way they work out. By adjusting your approach, you can see new progress toward your goal.
The approach you take to training depends on your answer to these questions:
How do you decide whether a workout was effective?
How intense do you have to train to feel it was “worth it”?
What are your performance goals for your sessions?
The average gym-goer adopts answers to these questions without examining if they agree with them. An article, social media post, or YouTube video tells them how to feel and they don't question it. Worse, they rarely challenge these “common-knowledge” approaches, even when they aren't yielding the results they want.
Even though the specifics of programming change, there are 4 types of exercisers in your average gym. Without further ado, here are the 4 general approaches to workouts.
For the person who has decided pouring sweating and breathing hard is a good workout we have: aimless exercise. These folks work very hard in no particular direction.
While light-years ahead of everyone on the couch, folks who simply exercise go months, even years without making significant progress.
That’s because their key feedback is how difficult the workout was, how sweaty they got, how out of breath they were, and maybe how sore they were after.
Unfortunately none of those factors directly correlate with the effectiveness of a workout. Doing difficult things is always hard, but not all difficult things are useful.
These also tend to be one of the groups who will gladly sacrifice form for intensity. Inattention to form combined with pushing through fatigue often leads to injury and chronic pain or discomforts. Folks who have a “trick ankle” but never had an acute injury are almost always aimless exercisers.
These are folks who would benefit a TON from as few as 6 weeks of a professional coach. They have the dedication and intensity to make progress, but they need someone to point them in the right direction.
These are the folks who show up with the sole intent of setting a PR and crushing the other folks in the gym every single workout. (I’m looking at you Crossfitters.)
Constant competition is a ridiculous way to train for a few reasons.
First, there are too many other factors in life that affect your physical performance to expect peak performance every workout. Your food, sleep, stress, mindset, attention, and technique are just some of the factors that would have to be dialed in 100% every single day and this isn’t an expectation you can fulfill.
I’ll use my only real issue with Crossfit as an example. This isn’t a universal truth, some boxes are better programmers than others.
If your highly technical olympic lift (like a clean, jerk, or snatch) isn’t first in the workout, you’re not going to max out your performance. I have seen SO MANY Crossfit WODs (workout of the day for us lay folks) that have a circuit of exercises FIRST, then heavy compound lift or olympic lifts AFTERWARD - and often for time for some stupid reason.
I’ll do another post on how your energy systems work during exercise, but know that the cardio-first approach is ass-backwards and makes heavy and/or technically challenging lifts exponentially more dangerous when performed afterward.
You can’t compete every workout. The risk outweighs the reward. Even pro athletes and real-life Olympic lifters don’t do that. They’re the best in the world so maybe they’re onto something.
These are usually the gym bros.
Very similar to Competition lifters, these guys tend to start on a decent training plan. They abandon that plan to randomly max out on a lift the second they’re feeling particularly good.
The problem here is sacrificing the progressive improvement of your program for a pointless ego lift. If your 5 x 5 Deadlift at 345 feels great - that’s already good. You don’t have to wreck your workout tomorrow by suddenly deciding to try to pull 405 for a new 1 Rep Max.
Guys tend to do this WAAAAY more than women. The testosterone goes straight to our heads and suddenly we’re getting injured on what should have been a light-weight day.
Stop it. You’re not in High School anymore. Lift like it.
Here it is. The only approach that keeps you healthy AND progressing.
Training is different from the other three because there is a system in place. Recovery practices are taken into account. Progressive overload is used to build strength and endurance.
Sure, you won’t feel like you killed yourself every workout. You won’t be attempting a new PR everytime you hit the weight room. Some days you’ll feel like you had more in the tank. Your overall progress - regardless of your goal - doesn’t depend on these things anyway.
You’re building something. These realistic, scientifically designed programs keep you on the path to progress and make room for recovery, off days, and the common setbacks of life. Most importantly, with the high focus and measured intensity of a real training plan, your risk of injury shrinks as close to zero as it can get.
Pro powerlifters only hit a 1 Rep Max a few times per year outside of their meets. Athletes train for maintenance, mobility, and injury prevention during the season. Most progress happens during recovery from exercise rather than during exercise.
True story: a gym member I knew did 60 minutes of intense cardio 365 consecutive days (even found a hotel gym on open Christmas) before asking me to coach them. They made more progress in the first 3 months than that entire year of cardio.
Training is built to be effective. Not hardcore. If you have a goal you need a plan and the plan is your training program.
Train. If you compete without training first you’re much more likely to get hurt. If you aimlessly exercise you put a ton of effort into achieving zero results. If you test your strength instead of staying on-program you don’t make progress like you should AND your injury risk goes up.
A majority of my clients are folks who had used the other approaches and were either returning from an avoidable injury or hadn’t made progress.
If you’ve never had a coach (or a good coach) before, it’s hard to explain how world changing the difference can be for your rate of progression and your overall health.
Hire a coach, get a plan, even for just 6 weeks.
If you have questions about coaching or how to find a good coach in your area, I’m very happy to help you find the right person.
Contact me by email or on social media and let’s get you moving with purpose.
Articles filled with actionable information to improve your approach to the 4 pillars of fitness.