slow and steady wins the race. here's why.
Bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion. Double tap. While there’s no doubt that seeing individuals on Instagram endure and complete insanely tough workouts can be inspirational it can also be detrimental. Why? If you’re not careful, it can be easy to believe that these guys are, day in and day out, maxing out during every single workout. Every. Single. Day. All in the name of reaching peak performance. This however, is likely not the case. Not to mention, it’s not something that you necessarily want to be striving for if you are in fact trying to progress in the name of fitness. Think of fitness as a marathon–not a sprint. The “go hard or go home” mindset has got to stop. What should replace it? More moderately taxing workouts. Here’s what I mean.
First, let’s look at running. Running coaches don’t have their athletes hitting the pavement hard, doing long run after long run or sprint intervals back-to-back. In fact, it’s been said that in order to go fast, you need to go slow. This same principle can be applied to other areas of fitness as well. I learned first-hand that going hard day after day does not help you achieve your fitness goals. Instead, it leads to burnout, fatigue, and in my case, injury. Have you ever hit a workout so hard, maybe in the name of keeping up with someone else, that you needed to recover for the next week (raises hand…)? While recovery is an important aspect to any fitness routine, a non-negotiable if you will, if you focus more on the long-term goals of your workouts or the big picture and get just 1% better everyday (think, moderate workouts), it’s much more likely that you’re going to get to where you want to be, quickly.
Go slow to go fast.
A study that came out of the the University of Guelph, in Ontario looked at the impact of blood pressure and blood glucose control from two groups of men, one of which partook in HIIT rides (which included 30 seconds at max capacity followed by two minutes of rest) on a stationary bike three times a week, while the other half rode five days a week at a pace they could endure anywhere between 30-40 minutes. Dr. Jamie Burr, one of the study leads, noted that “all exercise is good exercise, whether it’s fast, furious, and infrequent, or slow, steady, and sustainable…compared to infrequent interval training, daily moderate exercise appears to be more effective at improving blood pressure and at blood glucose control.” Now, don’t get it twisted, the study also found data in support of high-intensity interval training, specifically in relation to improved aerobic fitness and an increase in lean muscle mass. That’s to say, their overall findings suggested that having the ability to exercise daily may be the key. Which, let's be honest, is hard to do if you’re going at it like a mad man everyday. While this is just one small study done on a small group of men, based on its findings instead of HIIT 5 days a week, your best bet for an ideal fitness “cocktail” will likely include alternating between moderate and vigorous workouts.
A similar idea was explored in a separate study including 60 men, randomly split into two groups, one participating in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, the other 60 minutes. It was concluded that those participating in 30 minute bouts of vigorous exercise had “enhanced arterial elasticity and generated minimal oxidant stress. In contrast, the 60-minute sessions amplified oxidant stress and transiently stiffened blood vessels.”
Consistently hard workouts can lead to that word athletes and fitness enthusiasts don’t like to hear—overtraining. What happens when you overtrain? Injuries, exhaustion, depression, a decline in performance, poor sleep, cortisol spikes, and adrenal gland overload. How to prevent overtraining? I have a feeling you might be able to guess the answer at this point: vary up your workouts, add in more moderate level workouts versus vigorous, ensure you’re getting enough rest, and target different parts of the body each day. Lastly, don’t forget about the importance of sleep, nutrition, and a positive mindset.
Moderate Workouts and RPE
So, we’re considering focusing on more moderate workouts throughout the week, while sprinkling in those higher-intensity days. What then, qualifies as a “moderate” workout? Say hello to the RPE scale, otherwise known as Rate of Perceived Exertion. As defined by the Cleveland Clinic, the RPE runs on a scale of 0-10 in regards to how easy, 0, or difficult, 10, you would rate an activity to be. A HIIT workout for example may very well have you screaming 7 or 8 while that morning walk with your dog might land you at 1 or 2. This can be a simple and effective way to hold yourself accountable to staying in that moderate range during your workouts.
While I personally love to get my heart rate up and sweat dripping, altering a workout from vigorous to moderate may look like adding in longer rest periods in between reps and sets. Instead of adding in a set of burpees or jump rope, I might consider really resting, focusing on my breath and preparing for the next set of reps.
In general, consider slowing down. More active rest days, more moderate workouts, more rest and recovery. All in the name of fitness longevity and yes, the ability to really “go hard” on those vigorous workout days. Rome wasn’t built in a day and building your body won’t be either–focus on consistency and moderation if you’re looking to stay in the game for the long haul.
Medical Professional, C. C. (2019, February 25). Rated perceived exertion (RPE) scale. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17450-rated-perceived-exertion-rpe-scale
University of Guelph. (2021, November 1). Frequent, moderate exercise better for health than HIIT workouts, U of G Study reveals. University of Guelph. Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://news.uoguelph.ca/2021/01/frequent-moderate-exercise-better-for-health-than-hiit-workouts-u-of-g-study-reveals/
Staff MC. Exercising for Health and Longevity vs Peak Performance: Different Regimens for Different Goals. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2014;89(9):1171-1175. doi: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196%2814%2900638-7/pdf.