I know, I know. That’s a strange title for an article written by someone who works in the fitness industry. But I’m serious. You need to stop working out.
And start training.
Let me explain.
Most people head to the gym with the goal of “working out.” This usually entails getting a good sweat going, maybe pumping up the biceps, or running a certain distance. It’s common to gauge the effectiveness of a spin class or a personal training session by how sore the muscles feel the next day.
“Oh man, you have to train with Patrick! His workouts are so good, my legs are killing me today!”
I know all about that attitude. I’ve shared it for most of my life. Back in college I used to consider arm day a failure if I could still put on my jacket without help on the way out. And I always took great pride in a leg day that left me unable to walk up the stairs to get back outside.
But like most decisions made in college, that was pretty stupid.
Here are 3 major problems with the way most of us “work out.”
PROBLEM #1: YOU’RE BEATING YOURSELF UP
I know you love that sore muscle feeling. So do I (sometimes), but here’s the thing: your body doesn’t. That feeling you think of as proof that a workout is effective is really a sign that your body is unhappy, and will probably repay you with trigger points (muscle knots), and muscle imbalances that will result in movement inefficiency and will, over time, greatly increase your chance of injury.
Now don’t get me wrong, a little soreness at the beginning of a new program or phase of your training is fine. But if it’s consistently happening? You’re being a dick to your body.
Your body needs some love, and all you’re doing is smacking it around.
Let’s take a look at the stresses your body has to deal with every day. I don’t care how active you (think you) are, everyone lives a sedentary life in 2015. You sit in your car or on the train on the way to work. You work at a desk in a seated position. Then, you sit again on your way home and probably head to the couch as soon as you walk in the door.
Even if this isn’t your typical day, chances are that if you’re over 30 your body has started to tighten those hips and shoulders, and you’re probably well on your way to joining the other 75-85% of Americans who are dealing with lower back pain.
So then, on top of this sore, tight body you hit the gym and train like you’re shooting a training montage from Rocky IV. Is that really the best plan?
Rather than mindlessly beating yourself up, make sure you’re improving your ability to move. In addition to looking good, the goal should always be to restore optimal movement patterns. Too often people focus only on the former and end up injured.
Your body needs some help. It wants you to restore all of that wonderful, pain-free motion you had when you were young. It needs you to build it a nice, solid foundation of core strength and functional stability so that you can keep doing all of those activities that you enjoy.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about golf or dodgeball. Whether you’re a yuppie or a hipster you need strength! Real strength, not the sore muscles and faulty movement patterns created by most “workouts.”
PROBLEM #2: YOU’RE MEASURING THE WRONG THING
Like I said, most people like to gauge the effectiveness of their workouts by how much they sweat, how hard they’re working, or how sore they feel the next day.
But what is your actual goal? Is your goal just to be sore? If so, then don’t change a thing. You’re killing it.
But, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, run a faster 5k, or look better at the beach, how are you measuring that?
Believe it or not, soreness in your muscles does not, in any way, guarantee that you’re getting stronger, faster or leaner. In fact, quite often, it means the opposite, because you are probably going back for your next workout before you’ve fully recovered.
That’s why that guy you see in the gym every day is lifting EXACTLY the same weight he had on the bar last year. And the year before. That’s why even though you are killing yourself on the treadmill and are drenched in sweat, you still can’t seem to lose those last 10 pounds.
Instead of focusing on how hard you’re working, focus on whether or not you’re getting results. Are you getting better? Stronger? Faster? Measure it. If you’re a runner, make sure you’re keeping track of your times. Are they improving? When you’re lifting, write down your sets/reps every workout. Are those numbers getting better? If you’re trying to lose weight get on a scale once a week, or get your body fat tested (even better). Track those numbers!
Keeping track of objective things that matter is a much more effective way to gauge how well your workouts are going than simply “feeling the burn.”
PROBLEM #3: YOU’RE NOT ON A PROGRAM
Let’s be honest. If you’re not approaching things in a specific, organized, and progressive way, chances are good that you’re not going to achieve your goals.
Too many people get to the gym and then wander around trying to figure things out on the fly. What machines are open? What do I feel like doing today?
If you’re just going by how things feel day by day, with no plan in place for how to progress (and regress when appropriate) week by week, you’re almost certainly going to see your progress stall. When you train this way, chances are that you’re doing (at least to a certain extent), the same thing every time. The same weights, the same exercises, and the same intensity.
In order to improve, you need to leave yourself somewhere to go.
Get on a program.
Start with a manageable routine that isn’t too intense, so that you can make it more difficult next week. And the week after. The simplest plan would be to continue to add intensity every week, keeping track of your sets/reps to make sure, and when you reach a point where you plateau, take a step back and make the workouts easier again (but still harder than in the beginning), to give your body a chance to recover and build strength again.
That way, you’ll avoid soreness (sorry, but you’ll thank me when you look the way you’ve always wanted to look), and keep gaining strength.
Too many of us go to the gym and just want to get in a good workout.
We should approach the gym the way a professional athlete does. They’re not “working out,” they’re “training.” They are working to improve their performance on the field, not in the weight room. And as a result, they are constantly able to gain strength and perform better.
It’s time to stop making yourself sore. Instead, go create a realistic, functional fitness plan that addresses your body’s needs AND your fitness goals. Help yourself to move, feel, and look better.
Trust me, getting those kinds of result makes fitness a whole lot more fun.