How (not) to ruin a workout

Going harder than prescribed doesn't improve performance, but it does satisfy the ego, soothe insecurity, and fuel some great revenue models in the health and fatness industry.

How (not) to ruin a workout
Photo by Hermes Rivera / Unsplash

While writing my 2,000-word summary of 8-second sprints—🙄—I was reminded of the bane of the training world: the "strong like bull, smart like tractor" approach.

Here's how not to make that mistake:

  1. Don't believe that more is better.
    The harder you strain, the more you gain, right? Not so much. Perception of effort is a useless metric.
  2. Don't shorten the warm up.
    With a lower core temperature, you won't be able to generate the necessary power when it counts.
  3. Don't extend work intervals longer than prescribed.
    This will increase your perception of effort while decreasing your actual output.
  4. Don't go as hard as possible with each effort.
    Your first reps will be too fast, a couple may be about right, and then the rest will be too slow. Your perception of effort will rise, your speed will fall, and your workout will be wasted.
  5. Don't go to exhaustion.
    By really digging deep, your ego will thank you, but your recovery will not. You won't reap the intended benefits, subsequent workouts will be slower and harder than they should be.
  6. Don't shorten the rest.
    Without a full recovery, you won't be able to repeat the right intensity enough times (even if it feels like you can).
  7. Don't change the cool down.
    A proper cool down is a great aerobic capacity exercise because it challenges the lactate shuttle. But it doesn't make for much of a tailgate story afterward.

Making a workout feel harder changes the stimulus; it does not increase it. More likely, it will be less beneficial, not more.

When choosing between The Incredible Hulk or Bruce Banner, choose Banner. (Unless it's race day. Then it's The Hulk's turn.)