In my experience, most people tend to compete when they exercise; they want to beat their previous time or weight or training partner, and constantly set new personal bests. Whilst this may be motivating, we should primarily ensure that each workout has a purpose, and that purpose should move us closer toward our fitness goals.
When athletes compete, they’re being tested; they push themselves beyond their limits, in order to win. In competition they’re not trying to improve their technique or get stronger, and they don’t have sufficient time to fully recover between events – the purpose of competing is to win. Competing, therefore, is detrimental to their short-term health.
For the general population, I believe most of our time should be spent practicing and training. Practice is done with low heart rates, light loads (<60% of 1RM), it’s very controlled and focused, and the goal is to improve our technique. Training is done with high heart rates, heavy loads, and the goal is to improve our “engine” or strength. Imagine we had 60 seconds. If we were practicing, I would say do two to three reps every 60 seconds – very focused and controlled. If we were training, I would say do the exercise for around 40 to 45 seconds, then rest for 15 to 20 seconds – this will result in an elevated heart rate, and it’ll be more taxing on the various energy systems and muscles. If we were competing, I would say do as many reps as you can in 60 seconds – go all out. My advice to the general population is that practice and training should account for around 90% of our total workouts, whilst competing/testing should account for the remaining 10%.
Beginners usually see a big improvement in a very short period of time, however, as the returns inevitably diminish it can become demotivating for those driven by results. For example, a beginner could go from an air squat to back squatting their body weight fairly quickly with good technique, however, if they want to go from back squatting their body weight to double their body weight, they will need great technique. In order to master great technique, we need to practice with great technique. Repeatedly back squatting your body weight with good technique will have the opposite of the desired effect, because it would reinforce the good technique instead of improving your technique.
Working out with intention means that every workout we do has a specific purpose; we should know exactly what we’re aiming to achieve by the end of each workout. We should know if we’re practicing, training, or competing – they’re not mutually exclusive, a workout could include one, two, or all three, but we must know why we are doing what we’re doing.
Below are my Five Ways To Work Out with Intention:
- Aim for virtuous movement – the priority should always be to perform exercises with flawless technique. For example, if we are unable to do a pull-up or unable to do a pull-up well, attempting to repeatedly do a pull-up is not going to help much. What we could do instead is break down the movement and practice it. We could use a resistance band for assistance, we could do TRX rows, one-arm rows, reverse curls – movements that mimic the movement pattern and/or recruit similar muscle groups. This should help us develop both strength and skill, as well as establish the correct neuromuscular pathways. When we’re in our 80s or 90s it’s not going to matter how much we could back squat; what’s going to matter is being able to get up off the sofa, climb out of the car, or be able to safely pick something up from the ground. What will matter to us then is what should matter to us now.
- Break down the workout – if the main part of a workout is to do as many reps as possible of a particular exercise in 15 minutes, we could start the workout by doing a warm up; then do specific drills at a low intensity to prime us for the exercise (practice); then do a few sets of the exercise with an increasing load (practice); and finally do the main workout at a high intensity with the stipulated load (training).
- Reduce the load – as with the back-squat example mentioned earlier, if our technique is only good with a heavy load, but we insist on practicing with that heavy load, we’re going to reinforce good technique. If we want to practice with great technique, we should be humble enough to reduce the load to a level that would allow us to do so.
- Have a purpose – every workout should have a clear purpose that is directly related to our overall fitness goals. If our goal was to run a marathon, but we’re trying to set a new personal best for the back squat every day, the purpose of our workouts would not be aligned with our goal.
- Have a growth mindset – a fixed mindset says “everything is a test, and either I passed or failed. If I didn’t beat my score from the last time, I failed.” A growth mindset asks “how did it feel? How did it look? Did I give my best effort? Did I move closer toward my goal?”
Human beings are all unique, therefore, it’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach. My goal with this post was to provide a framework for the general population with regards to working out. I’m passionate about helping people make the most of their time.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I truly hope you found it valuable. Please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me.
All the best