Nearly everyday on social media I see fitness celebs and trainers with countless followers posting to the effect of, “no pain, no gain”; “pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”; “go hard or go home”, etc.
Every week–Monday through Thursday to be exact–my 8 year-old and I head over to the local park for his Football (soccer) training, while young Marines–some marginally fit, others not at all–are ostensibly being molded into killing machines through some oddly arranged mix of all-out running intervals and advanced calisthenics.
Every month I meet with my in-person and remote coaching clients to discuss training and how we can best support it outside of the gym. At times, these have led to some tough conversations about balancing intensity, which in more than 1 instance, eventually resulted in having to part ways.
As someone who’s generally curious (a more acceptable way of saying I’m a relentless cynic), I often wonder–frustratingly so–at others’ apparent enthusiasm for “getting their asses handed to them”. As a coach, I understand my role as something of a servant educator, responsible for unraveling the powerful synergy that exists between naiveté and fitness propaganda. In this article, we’ll explore the misuse of high intensity programming, and how it hinders longevity in health and fitness.
Characteristics of the High Intensity Fitness Model.
Whether iterations of interval training, boot camps or CrossFit, the high intensity model has recently become the norm. With its endless variation, accessibility, and apparent commitment to results, clients are ushered into a fast-paced, no-holds-barred environment that rewards suffering above all things fitness. Below are some typical characteristics:
1. Speed-Based Movements: Whether we’re talking snatches, cleans, or kipping pull-ups, these are often used in place of the foundational movements of deadlift and strict pull-ups.
2. Variation: Everyone enjoys a bit of variety, but too much can negatively impact skill development and movement proficiency. Further, randomization may suggest a lack of planning, resulting in repeatedly cycling through the same movement pattern, such as squatting.
3. One-Dimensional: Whereas variation can work to mask the one-size-fits-all approach, a single program offering can never fully confront each individual need, including nutrition and lifestyle habits. Often times this calls into question the expertise of staff, while an overwhelming majority of clients wallow in stagnation.
The Cost of High Intensity Training.
One of my coaching mentors has a saying when it comes to intensity-based training: “there’s a steep price for admission”. Additionally, all of this hype incites a feverish obsession, transforming otherwise normal people into intensity junkies who are convinced that every training session has to leave them sprawled out on the floor, writhing in pain. In the immediate, this can create a sense of accomplishment, but in the long run it can negatively impact your body. Although many people cite exercise as a source of stress management, our bodies, in fact, recognize working out as another source of stress. Over time this can cause hormonal dysfunction (i.e., increase cortisol), leading to tissue breakdown, reduced muscle mass and increased abdominal fat.
All of the above is not to say intensity should be eliminated forever. I’m merely saying it shouldn’t make a majority of your fitness training. Really, it’s just common sense that going all out all of the time is not sustainable.