Smaller community and performance-based gyms, with coaches helping, teaching, guiding you, are newer to the fitness world, and many people don’t know how to navigate this new environment. The fitness industry of 10 years ago was mostly big gyms, lots of equipment, and group fitness classes where the instructor did the workout with you. Now there are these smaller more personal gyms with strength, and or condition programs that have real coaches teaching and instructing actually coaching you in a strength and or conditioning program, not just cheering you on. These programs are designed to build fitness into your body, as opposed to burning calories. But people who only know big gyms, or the classic group fitness style class, are signing up, not knowing what they are signing up for. They think it’s basically another group fitness class. They don’t understand that the program they are about to begin is not about burning calories, it’s about building fitness. It’s about improving the capacity and function of their body. So, they don’t know that coming in and immediately going hard is the wrong mindset. Or that pushing themselves to the limits has risks. Short term, long term, and potentially permanent risks.
Now there are three programs that I am basically talking about—CrossFit, Powerlifting, and Weightlifting. What makes these unique, is that they are used as fitness programs, but someone can also compete in them. They all have a competitive side where you can literally sign up and compete against other people in that sport, with all the stress and excitement that comes with it. This possibility adds a dimension in the gym training environment that most have not encountered—are they there to train for fitness, or to train to compete? This is something that everyone, including the coaches, need to know and be conscious of. This article attempts to bring clarity so that the community members, and their coaches, can adopt a mindset that enables a healthier navigation of their environment.
Side note: If you really want to build fitness, one of these gyms is the best place to be. You have professional coaches teaching and training you on how to workout/train properly, in a safe and sustainable manner, that builds fitness into your body. If you really don’t care how your body functions, or how fit you are, and just want to burn some calories and hope for the best, then any basic bootcamp or calorie burning based program will do.
Okay, back to business. You need to have a healthy mindset and a sustainable approach for the program that you are in. From my 30 years of fitness experience, 12 of them being in CrossFit, I see three ways someone can participate in these strength and/or conditioning programs and therefore three different mindsets you can adopt to optimize the program. So, let’s start from the top, and work our way down to where most people are going to land.
One. You are getting paid. And not just money either – it can be social pay as well. You are in the competitive side of the community and are moving up the ranks, up to and potentially beyond a regional or national level. You are genetically gifted and have a strong work ethic. There is, or potentially is, a long-term future in competing in this sport for you. This can be very rewarding and provide a ton of value. Income may also become involved here. Bonus. You are mature, truly know the potential consequences of this approach, and accept them.
Two. You are competing for fun. You enjoy the highs and lows of it. The whole process (or most of it) is exciting and brings an interesting dimension to your life. This will require more intensity and focus but doing it for fun keeps a healthy perspective. It doesn’t go to your head. You know you are never going to get to a regional, let alone national level, and never take yourself too seriously. Some doing this are mature and know there are increased risks. Some do not and are way too careless with their bodies.
Three. You are doing this for fitness and longevity. You don’t ever want to compete in this sport. You have other things that are more important to you, like your career, your family, or something else which takes priority over the requirements of competing. For you, it’s all about building fitness, health, looking good, being part of a fun community, or all of the above.
Frequency Over Intensity
Now, for the biggest point of the article. If you are a number three, you should rarely push to the limits. If ever. Let me explain why…
Form and frequency wins over performance and intensity. Every time.
You can gain 85% of your potential fitness on 65-85% efforts. The major benefits of 65-85% efforts are 1) greatly reducing the risk of injury, and 2) they are maintainable and repeatable. Frequency wins over intensity. This has been shown time and time again. More moderate, repeated bouts of exercise accumulate more fitness gains over the long haul. Intensity creates a higher and faster adaptation but is transient and unsustainable. It also comes with a non-trivial increased risk of injury. Sustainable training focuses on building your base, not pushing up the top.
Also consider this. If you’re training for health and function, are you really any healthier if your deadlift is 300lb vs 260lb? Does that extra 40lbs make your body work or feel any better, or help to avoid disease and live longer? It sure doesn’t. Unless you are competing, there is no advantage. And your joints will thank you for it as time goes by. It’s probably more about bragging rights to your friends. If that’s worth the increased risk of injury, by all means go for it.
So, what are some other things you could prioritize over performance? Technique, consistency, longevity, and health are a handful that come to mind. Unless you are competing, making performance gains the number one goal is not your best approach. Always put one of these examples first, or one that you deem valuable, and you will have a healthy perspective on what you are doing in the gym, and any given workout. This will help keep you injury free and consistent, while also greatly increasing the enjoyment from your time spent “fitnessing”.
For a healthier future through personal responsibility,
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