The ability to prescribe workouts that have thoughtful progressions and manage intensity is a skill that must be trained. Are you pushing hard for the sake of pushing hard? Are you sacrificing quality movement? Are you actually getting stronger? Are you leaving the gym depleted or energised? How do you know?
As coaches, it is our job to provide our clients with an opportunity to be successful. At TSTM we don’t like to follow the typical mainstream fitness media which often has very little scientific backing and often gets it wrong. For example, the typical mainstream fitness message would like us to think that high levels of aerobic conditioning are the best way to get fit. It's scary to think that people believe that the best way to get in shape is by doing more “cardio” training. These insane people continue to waste a lot of time on high volumes of aerobic-based training protocols year-after-year even though they never reach their goals.
If you're plan to compete in an endurance event like a half-marathon, marathon, triathlon, tough mudder, or something similar, it makes sense to do more cardio training. Good luck with that. But if you're like most people we coach, your cardio needs are probably a lot less than you think. High volumes of cardio training are not healthy and they come at a price (if you need to know more check out: Why are you still doing steady state cardio?)
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for aerobic training in your weekly schedule, but you certainly don’t need to be basing your entire training schedule around it and you certainly shouldn’t be doing aerobic based training every single training day. We wouldn't go to the gym and train the same muscle every single day, so why would we only train one energy system? By spending the majority of our time on aerobic conditioning and performing large volumes of work in short periods of time we fail to develop in other important areas of health and fitness like anaerobic conditioning, strength, skill, mobility, power, and speed. We may end up with a great set of lungs, but we will have very little of anything else.
Cardio training has recently been dressed up in a new set of clothes and labelled "High-Intensity Training" (HIT). HIT is not supposed to be cardio specific training, and yet, so many have butchered HIT into something it's not. The "so-called HIT classes" are nothing more than high volume circuit based training which is not high intensity. High volume and high intensity are two very different things. HIT training should be about short powerful burst of activity followed by an extended period of rest. The anaerobic energy system (energy produced without oxygen) is a high powered engine that allows us to deliver high levels of force for anywhere between 10seconds to 3minutes, depending on the individual. This high powered anaerobic energy system requires anywhere between 3-15 x interval work duration in rest to fully recover.
For example: If an athlete was to perform an 800m sprint in 120seconds at high intensity (sprinting as hard as they can), it would require 14-30minutes of rest for this athlete to recovery fully and be able to perform the 800m sprint at the same intensity again. If the rest time was shorter, the athlete would not be able to repeat the same high-intensity effort. Yes, they could run the 800m, but not in 120 seconds. Why? Because the underlying biology of the human body does not allow it. The anaerobic energy systems cannot possibly recharge any faster than this. What does this mean? If the rest time is cut short the body must find energy from somewhere else to meet the demands of the exercise. Hello, aerobic energy system, the body will now start to use oxygen to produce energy. Why is this an issue? Because the aerobic energy system is not as powerful or as explosive as its anaerobic brother, it's a low powered endurance system that has very little to do with high-intensity training (it has a role to play in recovery between bouts of high intensity, but its overall input into explosive intervals should be very minimal).
How much rest are you getting in a “HIT Class?” Without the extended periods of rest, you have gone from HIT (anaerobic conditioning) to cardio (lower powered aerobic conditioning). The difference between the two is hugely significant in terms of the end result. We can see this by comparing a sprinter's body (anaerobic specialist) to a marathon runners body (aerobic specialist). Which one looks healthier? Which one is stronger, more explosive, more powerful, has less body fat, has more lean muscle mass, and is highly likely much healthier? (Hint: it’s not the marathon runner).
High volume training delivers feel-good endorphins - a feeling of pleasure can occur after an aversive stimulus or stress, which can activate the reward system and can then lead to a repetition of that stimulus. The increased production of neuromodulatory substances such as anandamide, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins may be associated with decreased anxiety and increased pleasure after intense stimulation.
High volumes of cardio deliver high volumes of cortisol - the hormone that puts us in a state of fight or flight (stress hormone). Our bodies are charged and feel electric and ready to go. However, most people already have high levels of cortisol in their lives due to stressful jobs, stressful relationships, family stress, poor sleep quality, financial stress, nutrition stress and now high levels of training stress. It’s not long before the adrenals burn out, they start losing more sleep, they have low energy levels and their immune system falls apart. They show early signs of adrenal fatigue as their bodies fail to keep up with the fast-paced demands of life and high volume cardio training.
Whats even scarier is the fact that many people also eat a low-calorie diet. This screws with hormones like ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and can lead to further health implications. Increase the demands of energy output (cardio) and decrease the available fuel (low-calorie), and most uneducated clients believe they are on the path to health and weight loss. In reality, they are on the path to illness and an early grave.
Working out until exhaustion is easy - Anyone can work themselves into the ground, it's not hard to put together a taxing circuit of exercises to destroy someone. Less experienced coaches feel that they have done a good job when their clients collapse in a sweaty heap at the end of the session. It often teaches both the coach and the client very little about technique, good form, movement quality, and training for quality of life. Yes, you may have been “working out,” but you've not been training, improving, learning and growing.
If you're training goal is to destroy your hormones, bring on adrenal fatigue, and wreck your body with high volume, high-speed low-quality movements, you should find your closest "so-called HIT class" and eat a low-calorie diet. If your goals are to build strength, increase mobility, prevent injury, improve hormone balance, build lean muscle, shift some body fat, increase energy levels, and improve your quality of life, you should start training and eating smarter than the average cortisol monkey.
Let's stop focusing on the short term feel-good endorphins and start focusing on the long-term health and performance changes. Being tired at the end of a session is a sign that you are doing it all wrong, the gym should leave you feeling energised and ready to attack whatever life throws your way. One or two cardio sessions (aerobic) per week is all we really need to “get fit.” Mix this in with 2-3 strength and HIT sessions (real HIT session with interval based training and extended periods of rest) and you're well on your way to looking and performing like a sprinter.
If you need help with a smart training plan please feel free to get in touch with us.