In the familiar tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, we learn an important lesson about things being “just right”. From the coziness of our chairs to the quality of our oatmeal, Golidlocks finds that there is a perfect balance between not too much and not too little. In fitness and athletic training, the same principle applies.
In our fitness and sport culture there is a tendency to get stuck in the mindset that more is always better. It’s easy to buy into the popular portrayals of super athletes who appear to work out constantly, pushing themselves to the limit day after day without exception. However, if you have any real understanding of exercise physiology, you know that it simply doesn’t work that way.
The key to attaining fitness and/or performance goals is to a) follow an individualized, specific, and periodized training program and b) promote maximal recovery through rest and proper nutrition. In other words, we need to be like Goldilocks and find the balance of “just right”. Not as glamorous as a Rocky movie or an article from Muscle and Fitness magazine, but it’s the truth. For the best results, you must balance training and recovery, not just push yourself to the point of injury or chronic fatigue under the false pretence that you are gaining an edge by putting more hours in. Train smarter, not just more!
What smart coaches know:
- Athletes perform better when they are having fun. One workout each week should be for the pure love of doing your sport or activity. Take the pressure off and just enjoy what you’re doing!
Technique is key! If someone doesn’t know how to do a deadlift, I’m not going to load up the bar with 500lb and make them lift it before they master the movement. Similarly, I wouldn’t have a sprinter with bad form just do max sprints all the time without first correcting their form. Proper mechanics reduces the risk of injury, improves performance, and is a key component of a good training program. While some sports like swimming and track incorporate drills into their practices, it is a good idea for everyone to practice movement technique at least a few times/week. It can be as simple as including some drills and light lifts into your warm up or booking a few sessions with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist or professional-level coach.
Intensity and time are inversely related. That is to say, if you are doing a high intensity (anaerobic) workout your workout should be relatively short and if you are doing a low-intensity (aerobic) workout your workout should be relatively long. There is no need to do a high-intensity workout for 2 hours! You might as well punch your adrenal gland and schedule yourself some physiotherapy for when you get hurt!
Variety IS the spice of life. Mix up your weekly training schedule so that you are doing different types of workouts each day – some easy, others really tough, and some in the middle of the road. On hard days, you will be able to really give 100% because you will be recovered from the previous hard workout. Awesomeness 😉
Periodization is like MAGIC. As a general rule, if you plan an easier training week every 3-4 weeks, you will see improvements during the next training cycle. I’m sure you’ve been told that it is during recovery after a workout that your muscles get stronger, faster, and/or bigger (it’s true). The same principle applies on a higher level too. If you back off a little after an intense few weeks of training, your body will respond by adapting and be ready to push your limits again the following week. Alternatively, if you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing, your body WILL get injured and your performance WON’T improve. Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better!
While getting your training program “just right” may be more complex than finding the right bowl of porridge while breaking and entering, finding the right balance between training and recovery is really important and will pay off big time!
For more information about periodization, you can check out this book: “Periodization Training for Sports” by Tudor Bompa, PhD, or consult with a professional (perferably in your sport) who knows what they are doing.